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Chepstow
Chepstow Castle and Bridge from Tutshill.jpg
Chepstow Castle and 1816 road bridge across the River Wye, seen from Tutshill
Chepstow is located in Monmouthshire
Chepstow
Chepstow
Location within Monmouthshire
Population12,350 
OS grid referenceST535935
Principal area
Ceremonial county
CountryWales
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Post townCHEPSTOW
Postcode districtNP16
Dialling code01291
Welsh: Cas-gwent) is a town and community in Monmouthshire, Wales, adjoining the border with Gloucestershire, England. It is located on the tidal River Wye, about 2 miles (3.2 km) above its confluence with the River Severn, and adjoining the western end of the Severn Bridge. It is 16 miles (26 km) east of Newport, 28 miles (45 km) east-northeast of Cardiff, 18 miles (29 km) northwest of Bristol and 110 miles (180 km) west of London.

Chepstow Castle, situated on a clifftop above the Wye and its bridge, is often cited as the oldest surviving stone castle in Britain. The castle was established by William FitzOsbern immediately after the Norman conquest, and was extended in later centuries before becoming ruined after the Civil War. A Benedictine priory was also established within the walled town, which was the centre of the Marcher lordship of Striguil. The port of Chepstow became noted in the Middle Ages for its imports of wine, and also became a major centre for the export of timber and bark, from nearby woodland in the Wye valley and Forest of Dean. In the late eighteenth century the town was a focus of early tourism as part of the "Wye Tour", and the tourist industry remains important. Other important industries included shipbuilding – one of the First World War National Shipyards was established in the town – and heavy engineering, including the prefabrication of bridges and wind turbine towers. Chepstow is also well known for its racecourse, which has hosted the Welsh National each year since 1949.

The town had a population of 10,821 according to the 2001 census, increasing to 12,350 at the 2011 census.[1] It is served by the M48 motorway, and its accessibility to the cities of Bristol, Newport and Cardiff means it has a large number of commuters. It is administered as part of Monmouthshire County Council, and is within the Monmouth parliamentary constituency and Wales Assembly constituency. Chepstow is on the western bank of the Wye, while adjoining villages on the eastern bank of the river, Tutshill and Sedbury, are located in England. The built-up area including these villages was 16,169 in 2011.[2]

Etymology

The ancient Welsh name was Ystraigyl, meaning "A Bend In The River". This name was adopted by the Normans as Striguil (or a variation, such as Estrighoiel) for the castle and lordship. The modern Welsh name Cas-gwent refers to the "Castell (castle) of Gwent". The name Gwent itself derives from the Roman settlement Venta Silurum or 'Market of the Silures', now named Caerwent, 5 miles (8.0 km) west of Chepstow, which had been the Romano-British commercial centre of south-east Wales.[3]

The English name Chepstow derives from the Old English ceap/chepe stowe, meaning market place or trading centre. The word "stow" usually denotes a place of special significance, and the root chep is the same as that in other placenames such as Chipping Sodbury and Cheapside. The name is first recorded in 1307, but may have been used by the English in earlier centuries.[4]

History

Early settlement

The oldest site of known habitation at Chepstow is at Thornwell, overlooking the estuaries of the Wye and Severn close to the modern M48 motorway junction, where archaeological investigations in advance of recent housing development revealed continuous human occupation from the Mesolithic period of around 5000 BC until the end of the Roman period, about 400 AD. There are also Iron Age fortified camps in the area, dating from the time of the Silures, at Bulwark, 1 mile (1.6 km) south of the town centre, and at Piercefield and Lancaut, some 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the north.[5][6] During the Roman occupation, there was a bridge or causeway across the Wye, about 0.6 miles (0.97 km) upstream of the later town bridge.[7][8] Chepstow is located at a crossing point directly between the Roman towns at Gloucester (Glevum) and Caerwent (Venta Silurum). Although historians think it likely that there was a small Roman fort in the area, the only evidence found so far has been of Roman material and burials, rather than buildings.[9]

After the Romans left, Chepstow was within the southern part of the Welsh kingdom of Gwent, known as Gwent Is-coed (ie. Gwent this side of the woods). To the north of the modern town centre, a small church was established dedicated to St. Cynfarch (alternatively Cynmarch, Kynemark or Kingsmark), a disciple of St. Dyfrig. This later became an Augustinian priory on what is now Kingsmark Lane, but no traces of it remain.[9] The town is close to the southern point of Offa's Dyke, which begins on the east bank of the Wye at Sedbury and runs all the way to the Irish Sea in north Wales. This was built in the late 8th century as a boundary between Old English ceap/chepe stowe, meaning market place or trading centre. The word "stow" usually denotes a place of special significance, and the root chep is the same as that in other placenames such as Chipping Sodbury and Cheapside. The name is first recorded in 1307, but may have been used by the English in earlier centuries.[4]

The oldest site of known habitation at Chepstow is at Thornwell, overlooking the estuaries of the Wye and Severn close to the modern M48 motorway junction, where archaeological investigations in advance of recent housing development revealed continuous human occupation from the Mesolithic period of around 5000 BC until the end of the Roman period, about 400 AD. There are also Iron Age fortified camps in the area, dating from the time of the Silures, at Bulwark, 1 mile (1.6 km) south of the town centre, and at Piercefield and Lancaut, some 1.5 miles (2.4 km) to the north.[5][6] During the Roman occupation, there was a bridge or causeway across the Wye, about 0.6 miles (0.97 km) upstream of the later town bridge.[7][8] Chepstow is located at a crossing point directly between the Roman towns at Gloucester (Glevum) and Caerwent (Venta Silurum). Although historians think it likely that there was a small Roman fort in the area, the only evidence found so far has been of Roman material and burials, rather than buildings.[9]

After the Romans left, Chepstow was within the southern part of the Welsh kingdom of Gwent, known as Gwent Is-coed (ie. Gwent this side of the woods). To the north of the modern town centre, a small church was established dedicated to St. Cynfarch (alternatively Cynmarch, Kynemark or Kingsmark), a disciple of St. Dyfrig. This later became an Augustinian kingdom of Gwent, known as Gwent Is-coed (ie. Gwent this side of the woods). To the north of the modern town centre, a small church was established dedicated to St. Cynfarch (alternatively Cynmarch, Kynemark or Kingsmark), a disciple of St. Dyfrig. This later became an Augustinian priory on what is now Kingsmark Lane, but no traces of it remain.[9] The town is close to the southern point of Offa's Dyke, which begins on the east bank of the Wye at Sedbury and runs all the way to the Irish Sea in north Wales. This was built in the late 8th century as a boundary between Mercia and the Welsh kingdoms, although some recent research has questioned whether the stretch near Chepstow formed part of the original Dyke. It is possible, though not clearly substantiated, that Chepstow may have superseded Caerwent as a trading centre, and been used by both Saxons and the Welsh. The Lancaut and Beachley peninsulas, opposite Chepstow, were in Welsh rather than Mercian control at that time, although by the time of the Domesday Book Striguil was assessed as part of Gloucestershire.[10]

After the Norman conquest of England, Chepstow was a key location. It was at the lowest bridging point of the River Wye, provided a base from which to advance Norman control into south Wales, and controlled river access to Hereford and the Marches. Chepstow Castle was founded by William fitzOsbern, 1st Earl of Hereford, in 1067, and its Great Tower, often cited as the oldest surviving stone fortification in Britain, dates from that time or shortly afterwards. Its site, with sheer cliffs on one side and a natural valley on the other, afforded an excellent defensive location.[4] A Benedictine priory, now St Mary's Church, was also established nearby. This was the centre of a small religious community, the remains of which are buried under the adjoining car park. Monks, originally from Cormeilles Abbey in Normandy, were there until the Dissolution of the Monasteries.[11]

The castle was expanded by William Marshal in the late twelfth century and, a century later, by Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk. Bigod was also responsible for establishing a weekly market and annual fair, in the town which had grown up on the slopes between the castle and priory, and for building the Port Wall around it shortly after 1274. A toll gate controlled entry to the market area; this Town Gate was rebuilt in the 16th century. The town faced some hostile attacks from the Welsh to the west, but after the 14th century the castle's importance diminished.[4] The port of Chepstow developed during the mediaeval period, one reason being that its control by a Marcher Lord, rather

The castle was expanded by William Marshal in the late twelfth century and, a century later, by Roger Bigod, 5th Earl of Norfolk. Bigod was also responsible for establishing a weekly market and annual fair, in the town which had grown up on the slopes between the castle and priory, and for building the Port Wall around it shortly after 1274. A toll gate controlled entry to the market area; this Town Gate was rebuilt in the 16th century. The town faced some hostile attacks from the Welsh to the west, but after the 14th century the castle's importance diminished.[4] The port of Chepstow developed during the mediaeval period, one reason being that its control by a Marcher Lord, rather than by the King, meant that it was exempt from English taxation. It mainly traded in timber and bark from the Wye Valley, and with Bristol. From mediaeval times, Chepstow was the largest port in Wales; its ships sailed as far as Iceland and Turkey, as well as to France and Portugal, and the town was known for its imports of wine.[7]

Chepstow was given its first charter in 1524, and became part of Monmouthshire when the county was formed. The town appears as "Strigulia", "Chepstowe" and "Castelh Gwent" on the Cambriae Typus map of 1573.[12] The castle and town changed hands several times during the English Civil War, and the regicide Henry Marten was later imprisoned and died in the castle. The port continued to flourish; during the period 1790 to 1795, records show a greater tonnage of goods handled than Swansea, Cardiff and Newport combined. Chepstow reached the peak of its importance during the Napoleonic Wars, when its exports of timber, for ships, and bark, for leather tanning, were especially vital. There were also exports of wire and paper, made in the many mills on the tributaries of the Wye.[7] An important aspect of Chepstow's trade was entrepôt trade: bringing larger cargoes into the manageable deep water of the Wye on high tide and breaking down the load for on-shipment in the many trows up the Wye to Hereford past the coin stamping mill at Redbrook, or up the Severn to Gloucester and beyond. Chepstow also traded across the estuary to Bristol on suitable tides to work vessels up and down the Avon to that city's centre. Many buildings in the town remain from the late 18th and early 19th centuries; the elegant cast iron bridge across the Wye was opened in 1816 to replace an earlier wooden structure.[7]

The town became an important centre for tourism from the late eighteenth century, when the "Wye Tour" became popular. Visitors regularly took boats from Ross-on-Wye and Monmouth down the river, visiting, drawing and painting the "picturesque" views of the area, which included those of Tintern Abbey, Piercefield House, and the ruined Chepstow Castle.[13]

Wye Tour" became popular. Visitors regularly took boats from Ross-on-Wye and Monmouth down the river, visiting, drawing and painting the "picturesque" views of the area, which included those of Tintern Abbey, Piercefield House, and the ruined Chepstow Castle.[13]

In the 19th century a shipbuilding industry developed, and the town was also known for the production of clocks, bells, and grindstones.[10] In 1840 leaders of the Chartist insurrection in Newport were transported from Chepstow to Van Diemen's Land.[7] The port's trade declined after the early 19th century, as Cardiff, Newport and Swansea became more suitable for handling the bulk export of coal and steel from the Glamorganshire and Monmouthshire valleys. However, shipbuilding was briefly revived when the National Shipyard No.1 was established during the First World War and for a short period afterwards, when the first prefabricated ships, including the War Glory, were constructed there. The influx of labour for the shipyards, from 1917, led to the start of "garden suburb" housing development at Hardwick (now known locally as "Garden City") and Bulwark. The shipyard itself became a works for fabricating major engineering structures.[14] From 1938, Chepstow housed the head office of the Red & White bus company, on Bulwark Road.

New housing development in the twentieth century took place to the north and south of the town centre, and more recently beyond the A466 road to the west of the town. The town developed rapidly after the opening of the Severn Bridge in 1966, which replaced the car ferry between Beachley and Aust and allowed easier commuting between Chepstow and larger centres including Bristol and Cardiff. Over £2 million was invested in regenerating the town centre in 2004–05. This scheme, which includes sculptures and other public art, encountered some local criticism over its high cost, but gained several national awards reflecting its high design quality.[15] The area beside the river has also been landscaped in association with a flood defence scheme.

New housing development in the twentieth century took place to the north and south of the town centre, and more recently beyond the A466 road to the west of the town. The town developed rapidly after the opening of the Severn Bridge in 1966, which replaced the car ferry between Beachley and Aust and allowed easier commuting between Chepstow and larger centres including Bristol and Cardiff. Over £2 million was invested in regenerating the town centre in 2004–05. This scheme, which includes sculptures and other public art, encountered some local criticism over its high cost, but gained several national awards reflecting its high design quality.[15] The area beside the river has also been landscaped in association with a flood defence scheme.

Chepstow is located on the west bank of the River Wye, some 3 miles (4.8 km) north of its confluence with the Severn estuary. To the north of the town, the Wye passes through a limestone gorge, and there are limestone cliffs at Chepstow both north and south of the town centre and on the opposite (east) side of the river. The town is overlooked by the inland cliffs at Wyndcliff near St Arvans, about 2 miles (3.2 km) north of the town, and, from parts of the town, the Severn estuary and its bridges can be seen. The historic centre of Chepstow occupies part of a bend in the River Wye, and slopes up from the river to the town centre and beyond. As well as cliffs used for rock climbing, percolation of acidic groundwater has dissolved limestone to produce caves in the area, including Otter Hole, one of the longest cave systems in Britain and noted for its mineral deposits. The climate of the town is affected by its position close to the Severn estuary.[16]

The bedrock of Chepstow is limestone, mudstone and sandstone, overlain in places with some gravels and the clay and silt of the river's tidal flats, which are of marine origin and up to two million years old. Most of the rock was produced in a warm, tropical marine environment, when Europe was closer to the equator. The rock of Sedbury cliffs and those under Chepstow Castle are carboniferous limestone, hundreds of metres deep in the area, made of particles and shells of sea creatures from 330-360 million years ago.[17] Layered outcrops of darker Black Rock limestone, which makes up a broad part of Chepstow's bedrock, are very clear in cliffs along Craig Yr Afon, part of the Wales Coast Path extending from Wyebank Road, and by the link road from Bulwark Road to the M48, where the looser reddish Mercia Mudstone (which extends under Bulwark and Sedbury and forms the cliffs at the Severn) and the lighter Hunts Bay limestone are also seen.[18][19]

The River Wye at Chepstow has one of the highest tidal ranges in the world.[20] The river was established as a boundary between England and Wales by Athelstan in 928. However, after the Norman conquest, areas east of the Wye, within the former Saxon royal manor of Tidenham and including Beachley, Tutshill, Sedbury and Tidenham Chase, were included within the lordship of Striguil or Chepstow. In 1536, the river was confirmed as the boundary between Monmouthshire and Gloucestershire. Since the early 19th century, housing development has continued on the east bank of the river opposite Chepstow, at Tutshill and Sedbury. Those areas, though located in England rather than Wales, are now effectively suburbs of the town.

Governance<

According to the 2011 census, 1147 Chepstow residents (9.2%) described themselves as 'Welsh speakers', with an additional 465 people having 'some Welsh skills'.

Education and health

In the 2001 census, 72.3% of Chepstow's resi

Chepstow Community Hospital was opened in 2000, having been developed under the United Kingdom Government's Private Finance Initiative. It was built and is operated by Kintra Ltd, at an annual charge of £1.2m to Gwent Healthcare NHS Trust.[45] The hospital building incorporates mementoes from the past, including the old Admiralty portico moulding from the front facade of the former Mount Pleasant Hospital, which was located on an adjacent site now developed as a housing estate.[7]

In the 2001 census, 72.3% of Chepstow's resident population gave their religion as Christian, with 19.0% stating "no religion".[44] There are several churches in the town. St Mary's Priory Church was founded by about 1072 as a Benedictine priory, and retains its ornamented Norman west entrance doorway, decorated with zig zag and lozenge patterns. The priory was suppressed during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536, and became the parish church. It was substantially rebuilt during the nineteenth century,[46] and now holds regular services as part of the Church in Wales.[47] The Baptist Church, in Lower Church Street, was originally built, by Walter G. Watkin, in 1816 and was enlarged in 1867. Between 1833 and 1870 the minister was Revd Thomas Jones.[48] The roots of the Methodist Church can be traced back to 1762 when John Wesley came to Chepstow to preach. In 1801, a Methodist Chapel was built in what is now Oxford Street.[49] St Christopher's church (Anglican), and St Mary's Roman Catholic Church, are both located in the Bulwark area.

Culture and regular events