The history of the parish of Tidenham has always been deeply influenced by its geographical position at the confluence of the rivers Wye and Severn, with the need for early man to establish crossing points and settlements. The rivers, as well as being important communication routes provided an abundance of fish whilst the forests teemed with game of many kinds.
The Broadstone at Stroat may have had religious significance but it was also probably a marker stone visible from river craft whilst other stones way marked forest routes such as the Stoneway at Stroat.
In the Iron Age the local tribes the Dobunni and the more warlike Silures built defensive settlements such as at Spital Meend at Lancaut. As agriculture developed assarts or reddings (forest clearances) increased, especially in the fertile lowlands such as at Beachley and Mopla.
The Romans crossed the Severn from Aust possibly to establish a camp on Sedbury Cliff; they also drove a road south from Glevum (Gloucester) passing through Tutshill and down to Castleford where there is generally thought to be Roman bridge which was featured on a Channel4 documentary in 2005. With the exception of the villa at Boughspring and the discovery of an altar stone on Tidenham Chase, little evidence has yet been found of other Roman settlements.
The rise of the Kingdom of Mercia saw the construction of the great earthwork now known as Offa’s Dyke by King Offa, which finally established the Wye as the border between England and Wales. By charter Beachley and Lancaut were left under Welsh control.
Off Beachley Point can be seen the remains of an early Celtic cell perhaps established by a hermit, whilst at Lancaut stands the church of St. Cewydd also the site of a Celtic settlement; this church was later dedicated to St. James. The flourishing Celtic church in this area was supplanted by the Church of Rome with the coming of the Normans.
Lordship Influence and Civil War
The Saxon Kings had a well documented manor at Tidenham, originally Church End, which the invading Normans absorbed into their Marcher Lordship of Striguil (Chepstow). This Lordship made inroads into the Royal hunting forest of the Dean which originally stretched south to the bridge at Chepstow.
Tidenham Chase was the hunting ground of Chepstow Castle and there was also a hunting park at Sedbury.
The growing political power of Striguil was matched in the early 12th century by that of the Church with the foundation of the Cistercian Abbey at Tintern, whose original lands had been granted by the Lordship and much of the northern part of the parish was in the hands of the Abbey. The acquisitive monks also held one third of the tithes of the parish church and appointed the vicar as well as holding the fishing rights along the lengths of both the Wye and the Severn.
It was the Lordship however that dominated the life of the parish throughout the Middle Ages until the establishment of the county system in the 1530s when Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire were created out of the old Marcher Lordships; however the power of the Dukes of Beaufort remained until the end of the 19th century.
Parish life continued much as it had done with life dependent on agriculture, fisheries and the river trade. The Reformation removed the influence of Tintern Abbey.
At the beginning of the 17th century the Marquis of Worcester’s support for the King against Parliament brought the Civil War into the Parish, strategically situated as it was on two major crossing points on the Wye and Severn. There were major conflicts at Beachley and Lancaut; Parliament subsequently had all standing buildings demolished on Beachley peninsula.
Tidenham Parish like the majority of Britain has seen huge changes over the last two centuries. In the 1800s the majority of the local population were involved in agriculture, fishing, quarrying or brick making; most people lived and worked in the local area, many working on tenant farms or smallholdings owned by the Duke of Beaufort though there were other large scale landowners such as the Marling family who owned Sedbury Park which was sold in 1921 and included twenty five farms in Tidenham, Hewelsfield and Woolaston.
Until the 19th century the parish consisted of scattered farms and the only concentrated settlement was at Beachley where the fishing and ferry led to a greater density in population. In the 19th century the development of large hamlets at Woodcroft and Tutshill changed the pattern of settlement and the prosperity of Chepstow as a port linked to Bristol meant that merchants and shipping entrepreneurs moved across the Wye to build their country villas.
In the early 20th century William Royce Lysaght who lived at Castleford House was one of the chief landowners in the parish; his holdings were sold off after his death in the 1940s and by the 1970s most farms were owner occupied. It was not until the mid 20th century that the village of Sedbury was developed and Tutshill became a larger village.
By the Second World War very few of the original dwellings in Beachley or Beachley Green survived but the in-filling of the Loop at Loop Road re-established the previous settlement of Beachley Green where only five or six of the original cottages survive. The rest of the parish remains much the same..
In the mid 19th Century there were over one thousand salmon putchers (cone shaped baskets) in ranks in the Beachley area and nine stop boats fishing out in the bay, but by the 1990s the putcher ranks had ceased operation in Beachley Bay and at around the same time the stop boats, then based in Chepstow were also no longer being used.
In the mid 19th century Isambard Kingdom Brunel lived in Chepstow whilst his railway was being laid and a bridge constructed between Tutshill and Chepstow; a unique tubular bridge which was opened in 1852 but re-modeled in the 1960s when the tubes were removed.
There were brickyards at Tallards Marsh, Sedbury and at Elmdale near Chepstow Bridge. The two brickyards made good use of local clay and were conveniently sited alongside the river Wye for easy distribution of their products; both yards were in production until the late 19th century.
The use of stone for house building in the late 18th and in the 19th centuries shows that there were quarries in the parish at that time; in 1815 there were five quarries allotted for road mending and in the late 19th century there were many small quarries especially in the Chase area. Quarrying at Tidenham quarry, now the National Diving Centre continued until the early 1990s.
Although no heavy industry has ever really been introduced into Tidenham Parish during World War I the National Shipyard No. 2 at Beachley was part of the war effort aimed at replacing the many ships lost due to German submarines. The villagers of Beachley were turned out of their houses with just a few days notice and experienced shipbuilders were brought in from the North East of England. No ship was actually completed at the Beachley shipyard though the building of the War Odyssey was begun there. Beachley Green was the site of the largest shed in Britain which was later dismantled and removed to Port Sunlight.
The opening of Llanwern steelworks also saw a rise in the population of Tidenham and as such in the 1950s and 1960s new houses sprang up in Tutshill, Sedbury and Beachley. Then in 1966 the opening of the Severn Bridge, the M4 motorway and increased car ownership provided more work opportunities outside the parish and so there were further increases in house building to accommodate commuters employed in Newport, Bristol or beyond.
The ferries have been an important feature of Parish life over the centuries; the Old Passage between Beachley and Aust was in use for many centuries and was the chief route between England and Wales although this was later challenged by the New Passage at St. Pierre.
The tides and currents between Beachley and Aust (the passage is over one mile wide) made crossing a very dangerous activity and many boats were lost with all on board.
In 1825 James Jenkins and Oliver Chapman of Chepstow and Richard Jenkins of Beachley opened the Old Passage Ferry Company. They built new piers on both banks of the Severn, introduced a steamboat resulting in stage coaches becoming a regular service with up to six a day passing through Beachley.
The ferry declined however after the opening of the railways and closed by the end of the 19th century but the introduction of motor traffic saw it reinstated in the 1920s by Enoch Williams, who ran the company until its closure on the day that the Severn Bridge opened in September 1966.
There were three ferry boats in the 1960s; the Severn King, the Severn Queen and the Severn Princess, a fairly new boat at that time. The Severn King and Severn Queen were both eventually scrapped but the Severn Princess is once again in Beachley where she is being restored as a museum. Other crossings existed between Pighole or Slimeroad and Sheperdine on the opposite bank of the Severn.
The present iron bridge was built in 1816 by John Raistrick of Bridgnorth; prior to this there had been several (at least six) wooden bridges on the site but these had lasted fifty years at most. In the Civil war the bridge was deliberately destroyed and later rebuilt.
The tides at Chepstow (now classed as the third highest rise and fall in the world) contributed to the bridge problems and the fact that it formed the county boundary meant that there were disputes as to who should pay for repairs, Gloucestershire or Monmouthshire. The road leading down to the bridge, Castleford Hill, was opened in the early nineteenth century replacing the Old Hill at the end of Mopla Road; opposite the Old Hill was a turnpike house which was destroyed in the 1960s to widen the A48. The new bridge that now carries the A48 into Wales was opened in 1988.
In the early 19th century there were only small dame schools or Sunday schools attached to the churches, such as the one at Penmoyle run by the Misses Phillips whilst at Bridge House Miss Penn ran a school for girls.
The Jenkins family established a school at Beachley alongside the chapel in 1840 and this remained open until the population of Beachley were evicted in 1917.
In 1841 the Tidenham National School was opened on a piece of land given by the Duke of Beaufort north of Tidenham Church; this closed in 1953.
The Tidenham Chase C. of E. School opened around 1850 in a schoolroom which was built by subscriptions; this closed in 1949.
At Tutshill a school was established in 1848 in what is now Church Cottage and was then rebuilt on its present site in 1893. By the 1960s the population of Tutshill School had risen to over four hundred, it being the only school in the parish taking children of junior age also as a result of the large increase in the population due to the new estates at Sedbury and Tutshill.
In 1967 a new infant and junior school was opened at Sedbury replacing the infant school in what is now Sedbury Village Hall, a building which was part of the Sedbury Camp.
In the nineteen seventies Wyedean Comprehensive School was opened, initially in Lydney and then relocated to its present site, so ending the bus ride to Lydney for local secondary pupils.
In 1924 the Boys’ Technical School for Apprentice Tradesmen was opened by the War Office and this became the Army Technical School in 1929. As many of the instructors were civilians there was a large impact on the population; Pennsylvania garden city was purchased for the staff and their families and many of today’s population of the parish are here because their families came over the years to what later became the Army Apprentices School.
During the Second World War the school received a direct hit from a German bomber and one apprentice was killed.
In 1994 the Army Apprentices College as it was then called closed and the site remained empty for two or three years until it became a regimental base and as Beachley has since been home to several regiments of the British army.
During the First World War and again in Second World War, there were prisoners of war held at Sedbury and Beachley; at Sedbury the last remaining buildings belonging to the PoW camp can be seen in Grahamstown Road and in Beachley churchyard the graves of German and Italian prisoners can be seen.
In World War I the prisoners built houses at Pennsylvania and the camp buildings in Sedbury, this was the beginning of what is now Sedbury, the original settlement being called Cingestune having been at the junction of the two Sedbury Lanes.
Tidenham remains an essentially rural parish with a few villages, hamlets and farms which are mainly dairy or stock rearing, with only light industries in Sedbury and Beachley.
In the 1990s a successful and popular protest overturned plans to build a Chepstow bypass which would have brought massive developments in both residential and warehousing with a road that would have destroyed our historic landscape.
Communications and transport have always been the key to parish history and we can only guess at the what the future may bring.