Some of the area's historic buildings
CHURCHES & CHAPELS
St Thomas à Becket Church, Shirenewton
Founded by Humphrey de Bohun in the 13th century and dedicated to St Thomas à Becket in 1262, the church was extensively 'Gothicised' by John Norton in 1852/3 and probably only the tower is of medieval construction. Five bells were placed in the tower in 1746 and Capt CO Liddel added a sixth as a war memorial in 1918. The bells were recast and the bell tower restored in 1999 and the church clock was electrified in 2004. The most famous rector was Adam of Usk in 1399. The Chantry is said to date back to the early-1800s and was formerly called Church Cottage.
The Church of St. Thomas à Becket, Wolvesnewton
An old stone building of probable 13th Century origin, partly in the early English style with a 16th Century saddle-back roofed tower with three bells, there is a romantic tradition of a much earlier church here dating to 188AD in the Roman era. There are no graves on the north side of the Church which is considered to be the ‘devil’s side’. The remains of the medieval churchyard cross are incorporated into the war memorial.
The Church of the Holy Cross, Kilgwrrwg
The small promontory on which the present church sits has been a site for Christian worship for nearly 1,300 years – it is thought to be dated between the 6th and the 8th Century, while the present building is probably 13th Century. The cross on the south side is of uncertain medieval date and is the only churchyard cross in Gwent not mutilated by order of the 1643 protestant parliament. Note the churchyard is circular, which is typical of churches with a Celtic origin, so there is ‘no place for the devil to hide’.
Church of St Deiniol, Itton
The Church of St Deiniol is said to have been founded by the saint in the 6th Century. It is mentioned in one of the Llandaff charters as one of six churches given by local chieftain Brithgon Hael, or Britcon to Grecielis who was bishop in the late 7th or early 8th Century. The oldest parts of the current bulding are the tower arch and the chancel, which date to the 14th Century.
Church of St Peter, Newchurch
This was originally part of the possessions of the Priory of Chepstow and, at the dissolution of the monastries in the 16th Century, passed to the Earl of Worcester, Henry Somerset. The oldest part of the church is the tower, which dates from the 14th Century.
It is claimed that this is the oldest Methodist chapel still in use in Wales. Founded in 1791 by Ann Lewis (Rosser) who was so inspired by the preaching of John Wesley that she set up prayer meetings in her little thatched cottage in Earlswood and founded a branch of the Methodist Missionary Society. The cottage soon became too small and money was raised to build the chapel, which was founded in 1791, though it may not have been built until 1799.
Hope Methodist Chapel, Earlswood
This chapel was built between 1854 and 1860 and it is thought to have developed from an earlier meeting of Bible Christians who met at 'Fisher’s Place'. The Bible Christians merged with the Methodists in 1909.
Gaerllwyd Baptist Chapel
Established in1842, this was originally a Welsh Calvinist Methodist chapel, which was known as Mount Zion. A day school started there on March 31, 1851. It transferred to the Presbyterians and later the Baptists took it over.
Converted Zion Chapel, Kilgwrrwg
Built in the 1840s, this was inspired by Billy Bray, the ‘dancing preacher’ – when he preached he felt the holy spirit was compelling him to dance. The chapel was eventually sold around 1980 and recently converted into a dwelling. The brass oil lamps used in the chapel can be seen to this day in Kilgwrrwg Church.
Converted Methodist Chapel in the Glyn
In existence since at least 1881, as indicated by the Ordnance Survey map of that date.
MILLS & MILL HOUSES
Pandy Mill is situated downstream of White Mill and dates back to the early part of the 18th Century. By 1730 it was also known as Brown Paper Mill and was occupied by Edward Hollis. The Hollis family were millers in various mills on Mounton Brook for at least four more generations – William Hollis became sheriff of Monmouthshire in 1831 and built Shirenewton Hall at around that time. Pandy Mill stopped making paper in 1839 but was still operating in 1889.
Previously known both as Curbehinde Mill and as Goodbehind Mill, it is one of the oldest two mills in the parish (one of which may date back to the 14th Century). In Elizabethan times was used for grinding corn and by 1730 it had been converted to a paper mill, which may explain its new name. It had stopped working by 1849 and is now a flattened ruin in the woods.
Tuck Mill is situated slightly upstream of White Mill. Unlike the other mills on Mounton Brook, which made paper, Tuck Mill, as its name implies, was a fulling mill. It is a very early mill and is referred to in a lease of 1567. In a perambulation of the manor of Chepstow prior to 1830 it is said to belong to William Curre. By the late 1870s it was a ruin, but it is now a private dwelling.
Also known as Lower Cwm Mill, the present building is probably of 19th Century origin. This was one of three mills in the Cwm Valley at that time. However, there seems to have been a grist mill of that name in a 1613 survey of the parish, which suggests that a mill had been on the site as early as 1574 – it is certainly shown as Cwm Grist Mill on the 1771 survey map.
Lady Mill was one of several manufacturers of high-quality paper in Mounton and probably operated from 1750 until 1876 when it closed as a result of the catastrophic bursting of the White Mill pond further upstream which flooded the works. William Hollis was a paper maker there in 1799 and 1818 (see also under Pandy Mill).
Known also as the sawmill, this mill dates back to at least 1716 when it was it was leased by Lawrence Ffords – a dyer. In the early 19th Century it was making paper, one of nine paper mills operating on Mounton Brook at that time.
This was probably contemporary with the other two mills in Mounton, operating from 1773 to 1876. After it ceased operating as a paper mill, along with Lark Mill it was used as a carpet and rug factory until 1893.
Lark Mill seems to have been founded by the Hollis family in 1773. The last miller there, John Birt, was charged by the Commissioners of Sewers in 1871 with polluting Mounton Brook and it closed as a mill in 1876.
PREHISTORIC & GEOGRAPHICAL SITES
Gray Hill Stone Circle and Standing Stones
This has long been regarded as probably the most significant Bronze Age landscape in southeast Wales with its stone circle, standing stones and large cairn at the north-west corner of the escapment, but in 1999 Monmouthshire County Council commissioned archaeologist Graham Makepeace to do a new survey of the prehistoric complex. This uncovered the existence of several more cairns, boulder walls and enclosures and a huge D-shaped enclosure. This led to the establishment of the Gray Hill Landscape Research Project with archaeologists and students from the local University of Newport, which is adding to our knowledge of this important prehistoric site.
Gray Hill Bronze Age ring cairn is situated at the highest point of the hill, overlooking Wentwood Reservoir. On the south-east side of the hill, a ring cairn of similar size was excavated during the 2002, 2003 and 2004 seasons and grave goods were discovered which dated from two separate periods of the early Bronze Age – 2300-1800BC and 1800-1600BC.
Gray Hill's D-shaped enclosure has its straight edge for 850 metres along the northern escarpment from the ring cairn at the north-west summit of the hill. The semicircular southern bank is up to 225 metres from the scarp edge and the whole encloses a massive area of 13 hectares. Recent work has identified possible entrances to the enclosure. The enclosure may be Neolithic or it may be later.
Llanmelin Wood Hillfort
Excavations indicated that the earliest parts date back to the third century BC. Was of great importance to the Silures tribe, who controlled SE Wales at the time of the Roman invasion, than its size would suggest, and was probably the regional capital prior to Caerwent.
A farmhouse of this name is now on the ancient earthworks, which was the residence of the medieval le Wolf family. The romantic tradition traces this family back to Bardwlf (or Roman Rodulphus), who is said to have acquired land based on the nearby Silures hillfort Gaer Fawr following the Roman conquest. The mound occupies about 1.5 acres and is nearly circular.
This is said to mean roundhouse or homestead and it has been suggested that the house is situated on an earlier earthwork, known to date back at to the 15th Century.
Burial Chamber of Y Gaer Llwyd
This Neolithic chambered tomb probably dates from the early to mid 4th millenium, BC23. Archaeologists believe these structures were for ceremonial ancestor veneration and, if so, this is the earliest place of worship in this area. It may be located on an ancient route from the estuary near Black Rock to the Black Mountains.
Castrogi Brook shares its name with a 13th century castle situated near its source on the eastern side of Wentwood. It has been suggested that the Castrogi is the Twrc Trwyth connected with Arthurian legend in the early Welsh book of legends, the Mabinogion. Archaeologists think that it might have been the route used by Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who visited the Shirenewton area more than 6,000 years ago. Up until the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the flow of this brook would have been stronger than today. During the construction of the Severn Tunnel in 1879, the breaching of the 'Great Spring' caused the Castrogi and other local streams to 'run dry'. By 1904, a tunnel had been constructed under Wentwood to abstract water from the Castrogi to help fill the newly-constructed reservoir.
PUBS & COACHING INNS
The Five Bells
The Five Bells was one of the village’s oldest pubs and derives its name from the fact that the church had five bells from 1746 until 1918. John Jones held a 99-year lease on it from 1767, but in 1853 James Jones leased it to Robert Ford. Specific mention is made of the highway from Black Rock and the property included a barn and stables on the other side of the road, so no doubt it was a coaching inn. James Jones was described as a blacksmith and a smithy existed on the side of the main building until it was demolished in the 1970s. In 1873, it was the headquarters of the Shirenewton Benefit Society and the Shirenewton Female Benefit Society. The pub closed in 1953 and it later became a shop until 1993.
It was formerly called the Cross Hands and has been a public house for at least 165 years. Its most famous landlord, Bill Benjamin, was a prizefighter who lost to the champion of England in 1858.
The Carpenters Arms
The Carpenters Arms is situated on the main Usk road close to the site of the former Tuck Mill and was licensed in 1860. It suffered a serious fire in 1880.
The Tredegar Arms
The Tredegar Arms is regarded as the centre of the village and Thomas Jeremy held a licence there from 1861 to 1880. What is now the front of the lounge bar used to be a shop.
BUILDINGS OF NOTE
Shirenewton Hall is on the site of an earlier building often known as Shirenewton Court, which was the birthplace of William Blethin who became Bishop of Llandaff in 1575. He is described as a Welshman, descended paternally from Howel Dda and the Lords of Caerleon through the Bleddyn line said to have lived in the court for some generations before. He purchased Dinham manor and estate where many of his descendants resided, though some were in Shirenewton until the 18th Century.
In 1701, John Curre (later owner of Itton Court) leased Shirenewton Court and in around 1830 it was purchased by William Hollis, the paper-maker. He built the present mansion on the site, but in 1848 he moved to Bristol. In 1880 it was purchased by Edward Joseph Lowe the famous botanist who renamed it 'Hall'. After his death it was purchased, along with a large estate which included Home Farm, the site of the former Golf Club, in 1901 by Charles Oswald Liddell, who also purchased the old title to the lordship of the manor of Newton.
The Liddells made many improvements to the Hall and gardens and in particular created the wonderful Japanese garden – and the annual fete used to be held in the gardens.
The Old Rectory
The Old Rectory was formerly a coaching inn called the King’s Head, which would have been on the New Passage district turnpike road through Crick and Shirenewton to Devauden Green, resulting from the Turnpike Act of 1758. There is a record of a licence from about 1822 to 1826 held by Lewis Richards and the Shirenewton New Friendly Society and the United Friendly Society were founded there in 1823. It later became the rectory until the 1970s.
Cae Pwcella House
Cae Pwcella House is on the site of the original medieval rectory, but it was sold by the Church Commissioners. During World War II it was converted into a maternity hospital.
The original part of this house is of Cruck truss construction and is of 16th Century origin.
Newton Lodge, opposite the Tredegar Arms, dates back at least 200 years and was formerly a farmhouse and then a post office until about 1914 – in later years it incorporated a butcher’s shop. CO Liddell acquired it at the beginning of the 20th Century and created a new front in 1907.
Itton Court is on the site of a much earlier castle or castellated manor house, which was held by the de Bendeville family following the Norman conquest. All that remains of the medieval period is the tower that probably dates to the fifteenth century. The old house was demolished in the 17th Century. Around 1749 it came into the hands of the Curre dynasty, which resided there until the death of Sir Edward Curre in 1930.
Penhein was built by Samuel Brooks soon after 1813 on the site of a cottage or small farm-house. It was acquired by the Micklethwait family in 1876.
Converted Cottage in the Glyn
The last occupant of the cottage, which is adjacent to the church and prior to conversion, was a recluse called Bill Davies, nicknamed Darkey as he appeared never to have washed! He died in the severe winter of 1963. On the day of his burial he was about to be buried when the death certificate could not be found. His body was preserved in the freezing cold until a certificate was obtained and he was buried on the far side of the chapel.
Known to have existed since at least the 17th Century, it was previously called The Cwm and Bradney speculates that it 'was once a house and demesne of some importance'. In the 18th Century it was owned by John Buckston and in 1831 by Alexander Thomas Cox of Croydon who owned other property in the area. In 1911, Capt CO Liddell of Shirenewton Hall purchased it and it's now privately owned as an independent family business.
Mynyddbach School was built for the education of the poor following a grant of land from the Duchy of Lancaster in 1829. Its first trustees were William Curre of Itton Court, William Hollis the papermaker, David Carruthers of The Grondra and James Gabb, the rector. It was provided and supported by private contributions until taken over by an elected school board in 1876. It closed in 1985 when the new Shirenewton School opened.
The Old Meeting House
Down the hill adjacent to the Tredegar Arms, the meeting house for the then large Quaker community of Shirenewton was built around 1730 and was in use as such until 1823. It later became a Methodist chapel.
The Friends’ Burial Ground
The last recorded burial in Shirenewton was in 1784 – the earliest recorded Quaker birth was in 1665.
The Spout also appears on the 1881 Ordnance Survey and later maps as 'Holy Well', but there is otherwise no reason to suppose it has a holy connection. It has been a source of water for villagers until the coming of mains water in 1953. Water for the spout is piped from a spring further up the hill. It has been suggested that it is positioned to refresh men and beasts climbing the steep hill from the mills on Mounton Brook which were a major source of employment up to and including the 19th Century.
Wolvesnewton Model Farm
Built by the Duke of Beaufort in about 1780, this former museum housed a collection of Victorian memorabilia with craft workshops and displays. It was closed in 1996 and the buildings have been converted into dwellings.
Close to the new school, Coxes Well is now bricked up. It was one of many in the area once used by villagers, though in 1912 Capt CO Liddell placed a standpipe in the centre of the village opposite what is now Newton Lodge, operated by a key for which villagers had to pay. The village lies on red sandstone, which acts as an aquifer for water captured by the hills to the north.
The construction of the reservoir was completed in 1904 and it was built to take water from Castrogi Brook and Blackbird Brook from tunnels constructed underneath Wentwood. It was built to supply water to Newport, but is longer used for drinking water.