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The History of Newland

Newland village is set on the western side of the Royal Forest of Dean. The name Nova Terra referred to the clearings made in the Forest for new cultivation, incursions into the large tracts of land owned by the Crown, which apart from a value in minerals, food supply and timer, offered the king his major occupation, the recreation of the hunt.

These clearings were achieved as much by stealth as officially, but King John was in financial distress and had ordered his chief forester, Hugh de Neville, "to make our profit by selling woods and demising assarts". Licensed scattered settlement at Highmeadow, Ashridge, Redbrook and Clearwell emerged, and most significantly for Newland one called 'Welinton", ("the farmstead by the willows") "Spout Farm” where a moated manor house was later built and was to survive until the 18th Century.

Visitors to the "Cathedral of the Forest" often ask why such a large church in such a small village?

From the start Crown and Court shaped the history of Newland and, as the name suggests, NEW land is a late development. Neighbouring villages Staunton and St. Briavels were well established with fine stone Romanesque churches long before Robert of Wakering built a church on the hillside above the Blackbrook and Redbrook valleys in the second decade of the thirteenth century. The essential factor for these hamlets was the swathe of newly available wide fertile fields that stretched from Highmeadow around the hillsides down to the Valley Brook, and these were the Nova Terra, the new lands.

But while the name was adopted for the parish, the village that evolved around the church was known for centuries as "Churchend." The church builder, Robert of Wakering, (King John's "beloved clerk") was the trusted agent of Hugh de Neville. The church probably reflected his master's policy, who substantially improved the castle at St Briavels, the administrative centre for the Constable of the forest, and a manor was created in Newland to be held with the castle as part of a royal estate. 

Early rectors were royal appointees, as though the office was a royal plum bestowed on men of substance. William Gifford, for example, was later Archbishop of York. King Edward 1 's favours caused dismay when he granted the rector, John of London, a sudden bounty of tithe revenue charged on 2000 acres of ascertained illegal assarts from various forest parishes, but dismay turned to outrage when Edward then transferred the church in total, with all its revenues, to the Bishop of L1andaff in 1305. 

The Newland tithe barn was raided and forest clergy were hampered and harassed. The Bishop's men were in turn themselves summoned to court. However, the King's will prevailed. No doubt the chantry altar dedicated to King Edward's service in the church heard fulsome and grateful prayer, and there is no doubt that these enrichments provided the means to rebuild the church to its present large dimensions.

An aura of prosperity was at Churchend from the start. Initially derived from agriculture and iron ore, it was compounded later with coal, tanning and even shipping. Wealthy family estates developed about the Nova Terra and their patronage nurtured the development of the village. Robert and Joan Greyndour founded and endowed a valued chantry school (15th Century) then after the reformation an ex-pupil, Edward Bell, re-endowed the village with a Grammar School. In 1615 William Jones, on his death bed, entrusted the Haberdashers Company with a stupendous £5,000 for the parish of Newland, "for the poor there". The school house building and the William Jones almshouses - with the adjacent “Lecturage” to house the administrator of the almshouses - survive and importantly define this moment in history, although after a four hundred year contribution to village life, the Jones Almshouses are now private residences.

The village prospered throughout the Middle Ages; archives provide us with names of the early inhabitants and it impresses how many topographical names current until the last century go back to those mediaeval residents. From the 15th Century an unofficial market was set up in the churchyard, seizing the opportunity presented by large congregations gathered there on feast days. The clergy protested that the butchers sold their meat during the service. Court records inform of a community where a wife was sold for sixpence in a pub, a couple was burnt as witches, and a successful case was prosecuted against a woman who had slandered a ghost. 

The church itself comprises a west tower, nave with five arches, adjoining very large north and south aisles, south porch and chapels. There are many interesting monuments within the church including an effigy of Jenkin Wyrall, Forester of Fee (d. 1457), which shows details of the hunting costumes of that period.

Also within the church is an old brass engraving known as "the Miners Brass" which depicts a helmet, crest and figure of a mediaeval miner of the Forest of Dean with a hod and pick in his hand and candlestick in his mouth. This has become one of the "symbols" of the Forest of Dean and at just one foot high, has been adopted as the badge of the local Freeminer Brewery.

The village, as seen now, came into focus in the 18th Century, and was often described as "like a cathedral close". It was transformed by the Probyn family whose prestige was established when Edmund Probyn was knighted and then made Chief Baron of the Exchequer. From the late 17th Century onwards the Probyn family rebuilt Spout Farm, the Ostrich, the old village shop, the Dark (Dower) House and probably the Tan House. The village was radically transformed when they cleared the hillside south west of the church, of lanes and cottages to build the 18th Century mansion and garden (Newland House – burnt down in 2012 and subsequently re-built). At that time Newland was published as "one of finest villages in county" and inhabitants and visitors alike standing in the huge churchyard agree that remarkably little has happened since to dispel that view.

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