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Newnham to Arlingham

The Newnham-to-Arlingham Crossing

 

Crossing the largest river in the UK has always been hazardous, even at low tide.  The crossing at Newnham1, however, was established as one of the safest and most important from Roman2 times, partly because it was narrow (less than 500m).  It lies on a huge loop of the Severn called The Noose, which I took an incomplete picture of from Little Dean, on the west bank (#1).

 

THE FORD

From prehistoric times till 1802 it was possible to cross the river on foot or with horse & cart.  In the gap between the north of Newnham and Cliff Cottage (see #2) there was a ford for beasts and carts at Hawkins Pill3.  A rocky ridge, just below water level at low tide, ran at an angle across the centre of the river with two gravel beds at either end of it. But you needed a guide to cross safely: it didn’t run in a straight line & there was deep water on either side.  Samuel Rudder, in his History of Gloucestershire (1779) wrote that many lives had been lost in attempts to cross. 

In 1802 storms altered the course of the river and destroyed the sand-beds, so the ford became unusable.

 

THE FERRY

The most obvious route across was from the middle of Newnham, down Passage Lane (#3) to the tollhouse – isn’t there always one when you don’t need it? they must have said – and across to Passage (now New) Inn on the Arlingham side (#4). 

 

But Collow Pill, on the southern edge of Newnham, was probably the original ferry site4.  It was busy in the 1890’s (#5) and the tannery & timber yard above it were busier still & would have been its biggest customers.  Steps down to the water are recorded there in 1618. 

 

The crossing was certainly used by Welsh drovers, but accounts of their crossings weren’t usually recorded unless there was a drowning or a near escape.  It is a tribute to the safety of the Newnham crossing that the only accidents we found were to a ferry overwhelmed by the bore in 1809 and a vicar who obstinately crossed on horseback in 1848 in the early hours of the morning when tide & weather were against him.   (Miners digging a tunnel under the Severn were nearly killed in 1812 when an underground spring erupted, but I don’t think that counts!)

 

The accident referred to below was at Framilode, which (just) appears on the right of #2.  The “Blu…” the other side is Blue Boys Inn, where the ferry started.

 

From the Gloucester Journal, 11th May 1812

MELANCHOLY  ACCIDENT

On Thursday last, as the ferry-boat was crossing the River Severn, at Framilode-Passage, deeply laden with cattle coming from Ross Fair, she unfortunately shipped some water, filled, and sank about halfway over at the depth of ten feet.  The cattle swam for different parts of the shore.  The drover who had them in charge, and two boatmen, were the only persons on board; one of the latter supported himself upon a plank; the other mounted one of the horses – but, being a stout, powerful man, the horse sank under him, when he sustained himself by swimming till boats picked him & his companion up.  But their unhappy passenger perished.

 

So the cattle deserted their drover & let him drown.  I am surprised he didn’t grab one of their tails, which drovers usually did in these circumstances.

 

The Arlingham side is full of mystery, which I am failing signally to sort out… 

 

1 On the OL14 Explorer, Grid Ref. SO 690117

2 The Romans needed the coal, iron, stone & timber from the Forest of Dean.  There are traces of a Roman Road in Arlingham.  Later, in the Industrial Rev., tramroads were needed because of the hilly terrain.  Newnham must have been busy.

3 Pills-a-plenty around Newnham.  Probably a contraction of pool, pwll in Welsh.

4 There’s yet another candidate: Bullo Pill (or Collow) to Hope Pill, further south still (see #1), which avoided the marshy ground between the Passage Inn and Arlingham village…

Newnham to Arlingham image 1
The Noose from Little Dean
Newnham to Arlingham image 2
Old OS map
Newnham to Arlingham image 3
Newnham, Passage Lane
Newnham to Arlingham image 4
New Inn, Arlingham
Newnham to Arlingham image 5
Newnham Ferry, 1890's