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T has been justly remarked by statistical writers, that, in point of
fertility, picturesque scenery, and classic remains, the county of Monmouth is one of the most interesting districts in the kingdom. Highly favoured by nature, it is literally studded over with the labours and embellishments of art. Watered by noble rivers,
sheltered by magnificent woods and forests, interspersed with industrious towns and hamlets, and enriched by the labour and enterprise of its inhabitants, it presents all those features of soil and scenery which contribute to the beauty and stability of a country. From whatever point the traveller may enter this county, historical landmarks meet him at every step: feudal and
monastic ruins, rich in the history of departed dynasties, divide his attention, and fill his mind with their heroic deeds and pious traditions. In fields where the husbandman now reaps his peaceful harvest, he traces the shock of contending armies; whose deadly weapons still rust in furrows which their valour had won, and which the blood of the Roman, the Saxon, and Briton had fertilized. From these he turns aside to contemplate the fragments of baronial grandeur, which attest the glory of chivalry, but now, like sepulchral mounds, proclaim the deeds of their founders :—such is the Castle of Raglan.
In another district, sculptures, pavements, altars, statues, coins, and inscriptions, bear testimony to Roman sway :-such is the Silurian settlement of Caerleon, with its classic vicinity.
On another hand, where the ivy has clasped its hallowed walls, as if to prop their decay, the traveller halts at some monastic ruin; and, amid the crumbling fragments of its lofty arches, its richly-carved windows, shafts, and capitals, dwells with a deep and melancholy interest on the page of its eventful history. In such places the voice of Tradition is never mute: the vacant niche, the dismantled tower, the desecrated altar, the deserted choir--all discourse eloquent and impressive music; and in places where the sacred harp was once strung, its chords seem still touched by invisible hands :—such are the Abbeys of Tinterne and Llanthony.
It is among these remains and monuments of the past—the early homes of saints and heroes of the olden day—that we propose to conduct the reader. In the tour projected, we avail ourselves of such materials as personal investigation, with that of distinguished predecessors, poets, and historians, has furnished from times of remote antiquity, down to the present day.
The scenery of the Wye is of classic and proverbial beauty: it is the theme alike of poet and historian, the annual resort of pilgrims—whether admirers of the picturesque, or valetudinarians; and nowhere in the kingdom is nature more lavish of those charms which attract all classes of tourists, than in the course and confines of this beautiful and romantic river.* There
Be thine object health or pleasure,
* “ Inde vagos Vaga Cambrenses, hinc respicit hoc est celebre quondam mænibus nunc solum Castro Anglos;
firmum, cujus domini fuerunt è Clarensium familia Qui cum jam ad ostium fere devenerit Chepstow præ- nobiles, à proximo Castro Strighull, quod incoluerunt terfluit, id est, si è Saxonico interpreteris forum vel Striguliæ et Penbrochiæ Comites dicti quorum ultimus negotiationis locus Britannis, Castle W’ent, oppidum Richardus."
And haunts and homes that love to claim
hepstow is of Roman foundation-the Strigulia of ancient authors—and was for centuries one of the favourite strongholds of the kingdom. By the antiquarian researches, which are now conducted with unprecedented success and spirit, numerous vestiges of ancient times have been brought to light, and many
more, it is believed, are reserved for the labours of archæology. The vicinity abounds in military encampments, all more or less remarkable for the strength of their position, and pointing to those days of border warfare when might was right,' and the sword the acknowledged lawgiver. But in the description of Chepstow, our observations must be restricted to the subjects selected for illustration; and these are so correctly depicted in the scene before us, that the reader will obtain a far more correct idea from the delineations of the pencil, than from any description that could be conveyed by the pen. Chepstow is supposed, and with much probability, to have been the chief seaport of the Silurian colony, as both Caerwent and Portscwet have for many centuries been deserted by the sea. Where the Roman galleys once flanked the beach, landing their freight of mailed cohorts, the modern steamer now unloads her crowded deck of peaceful tourists, merchants, mechanics, and students of the picturesque.
In its general appearance—in its street architecture-Chepstow still presents some isolated features of the primitive style. Of these, the principal is the Western Gate, of unquestionable antiquity; and, in point of date, taking precedence of the castle itself. By a charter given in the 16th Henry VIII., the bailiffs were to have their prison for the punishment of offences within the Great Gate, “which they have builded by our commandment.” This is supposed to be a renewal of the ancient liberties of the town, granted by Howel Dhu, A.D. 940.
The Church, part of a Benedictine priory of Norman work, has undergone many alterations and repairs; but repairs, in some cases, are more fatal to the style and symmetry of ecclesiastical monuments, than the wasting hand of time, or even the shocks of violence-for they only disfigure what they meant to adorn; and, by deviating widely from the original plan, lose or debase all its original beauty. The nave and aisles are nearly all that remain of the original edifice. * The church has disappeared; but the pillars which supported the
* Longitudo ecclesiæ prioratus Chepstow, 50 virgæ. latitudo eccl. prædictæ, 33 virgæ. - Will. de Worc. 133.
central tower are still preserved on the eastern extremity, and convey some idea of the massive strength of the original edifice. The western porch is justly admired for its zigzag tracery; and, in this respect, it presents one of the finest specimens that have descended to our day, of the true Saxo-Norman character. The church contains several monuments, not remarkable for their style or antiquity; the chief of which is that to the memory of the second Earl and Countess of Worcester, with their effigies at full length, in the attitude of prayer.
The repairs and restorations lately effected in this church, were suggested and carried out by the joint taste and liberality of the late Bishop of Llandaff and the parishioners. The result is creditable to the parties concerned; and here, it is to be hoped, their pious labours will not be suffered to terminate. The original priory was an alien branch of the Benedictine monastery of Cormeilles.
The acrostic, written upon himself by the regicide Henry Martin—first discarded from the chancel, and latterly from the sacred enclosure, by a former vicar—has somewhat recovered from its disgrace, by gaining admittance into the vestry, but only on sufferance. In the town and immediate neighbourhood are some remains of religious houses, under various denominations; for the situation of Chepstoiv, presenting many advantages for commerce, was not less favourable for monachism,
In iron times, when laws of battle were,
Econ. of Monast. Life.
One of the finest points of view is the centre of the new iron bridge, comprising the castle, the vessels at anchor under the stupendous wall of rock on which it is erected; with the lawns and groves of Piercefield—a favourite and familiar name in the list of picturesque tours-closing the landscape. The former bridge* was of prodigious height, erected on piles. The present struc
* Longitudo pontis de Chepstow, 126 virgæ. - Will. de Worc. 133.
ture was founded in 1815; and in the March of that year, the tide rose from low-water mark to the remarkable height of fifty-one feet two inches. The new bridge consists of five arches, the centre one of which is one hundred and twelve feet in span; the two adjoining arches have a span of seventy feet, and the two outer ones a span of fifty-four feet each. It is of massive cast-metal, resting on stone piers; and its total length is five hundred and thirty-two feet.
The depth of the moorings in the river here is so great, that, at low water, ships of 700 tons burthen may ride safely at anchor. The rise of tide is from thirty to nearly sixty feet, a circumstance scarcely to be paralleled—and caused by the extraordinary swell of water at the rocks of Beechley and Aust, which, by protruding far into the Severn, near the mouth of the Wye, obstruct the flow of tide, and thus impel it with increased rapidity into the latter.* In January, 1768, according to our local guide, it attained the height of seventy feet: its greatest rise of late years has been fifty-six feet.
In 1634, we are informed, Colonel Sandys attempted to make the Wye navigable by means of locks; but after much labour and expense, the experiment failed, and the locks were removed. Every one curious in the phenomena of natural history, has heard of the intermitting well of Chepstow, which ebbs and flows inversely with the tide—that is, when the tide ebbs, the well flows; and when the tide flows, the well ebbs: when the tide is at its height, the well is nearly dry; a little before which it begins to subside, and soon after the ebb it gradually returns. It is neither affected by wet nor dry weather, but is entirely regulated by the tide. It is thirty-two feet in depth, and frequently contains fourteen feet of excellent water.
In melancholy connection with the old bridge of Chepstow, is a family calamity which drew from the late poet Campbell an epitaph † worthy of his pen. The victims by the sudden catastrophe were a lady and her two daughters, personal friends of the poet, and for whom he entertained sentiments of great esteem and regard. The lady and her daughters were on a visit at Chepstow; and, after hearing sermon, went on the river in a boat. The tide was running strong at the time; and in his attempt to clear the centre arch of the bridge, the boatman missed his aim—the frail bark struck against the wooden pier, and upset; and the lady and her two daughters were carried down by the stream
* From the form of the British Channel, says De la face. In the great storm of 1703, the tide flowed over Beche, and the absence of a free passage for the waters, the top of Chepstow bridge, inundating all the low such as exists at the Straits of Dover, in the English land, and washing away whole farm-yards and incalChannel, westerly winds force up and sustain a great culable stock. body of water, thereby raising the sea above the mean + Life and Letters of Thomas Campbell, vol. ii. p. level several feet. During such phenomena, it is said, 278. - Note. the body of water in the river assumes a convex sur