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Portskewett & Sudbrook (or Southbrook)

(A description written in 1891)

These two places form one Parish. Situated on the river Severn, which here is about 4 miles across, 5 miles south-west-by-south fro Chepstow and 146 from London; in the Southern division of the county, lower division of Caldicot Hundred, Petty Sessional division, Union and County Court district of Chepstow; middle division of the rural deanery of Netherwent, archdeaconry of Monmouth and diocese of Llandaff.

The South Wales railway (Great Western) has a station here, and this place was formerly the junction of the Bristol & South Wales Union railway.

The name of this place is said to be a corruption of Porth-ys-Coed - the Port by the Wood - and here, in ancient times, is said to have been the chief port of Gwent.

Here Harold built himself a Palace, at which he entertained King Edward the Confessor, who had been keeping his court at Gloucester in 1065: that same year the Palace was sacked and burned by Caradoc ap Griffith, who surprised Harold's followers whilst hunting in the Forest of Wentwood on St. Bartholomew's Day, and having put them to the sword, came on to Portskewett and destroyed the Palace: its site may yet be discerned in a field near to the west end of the Church.

The church of St. Mary is an ancient building of stone, in the Early English style, consisting of chancel, nave, south porch and a small western tower containing one bell: it presents several interesting features, the most remarkable of which is a small doorway in the north wall, with a rudely carved tympanum, probably dating from the Saxon period; the church was reseated in 1869 at the cost of Herbert Smith Williams Esq. of Southbrook, and has 130 sittings; in the churchyard are the remains of a fine cross. The register dates from the year 1593. The living is a rectory, with that of St. Pierre annexed, tithe rent-charge (Portskewett) £236, with 75 acres of glebe, joint gross yearly income £390, with residence, in the gift of Charles Edward Lewis Esq. D.L., J.P. and held since 1880 by the Rev. William Henry Williams M.A. of Jesus College, Oxford.

In this parish is the western end of the Tunnel under the Severn, constructed by the Great Western Railway Company, to connect their main lines with their branches in South Wales and to shorten the route from London to this place by thirteen miles: this undertaking was first promoted in 1864, but Parliamentary powers were not secured until 1872, when the preliminary borings were commenced, and the geological features of the pierced strata were noted by Dr. Yeats, of Chepstow, and valuable information obtained relative to the Somerset and South Wales coalfields and their connection: in 1879 the actual construction of the tunnel was begun: the Severn is at this part 2.1/2 miles broad, and an additional 2 miles of tunnel were required to bring the lines to the level: the extreme interior width is 26 feet and height 24.1/2 feet, or 20 feet from the rails to the roof: the main portion of the cutting runs through the Pennant sandstone or grit: the walls of the tunnel were bricked over as they were formed: wells and ponds in this and many neighbouring parishes have been drained by the shafts sunk; the work, with one important exception (when it was completely flooded for twelve months) was proceeded with without serious hindrances; engineer-in-chief, Sir John Hawkshaw, with whom was associated Mr. Charles Richardson; the resident engineer is Mr. Richard Hoskin; the contractor was the late Thomas Andrew Walker Esq: the works were completed in 1886 and the tunnel opened for goods traffic on the 1st Sept. and for local passenger traffic on Dec. 1st: the quantity of water now pumped from the tunnel averages from 20 to 25 million gallons a day, of which 13 millions are from the Sudbrook Springs; one single pump, with buckets over 2 ft. in diameter, lifts every 8 seconds, and will lift every 5.1/2 seconds if run to the full power of the engine, 490 gallons of water from a depth of 250 feet: the total cost is estimated to reach a sum of about £2,250,000.


SUDBROOK (or Southbrook)

Now united to the parish of Portskewett, was once a distinct parish.

At Sudbrook, where a small town has sprung up the contractor erected a Mission Hall for religious services and public meetings, which will hold about a thousand persons, and contains a good organ, missionary - William Robertson: a school and reading-room have also been built.

Here is a ship-building yard.

The ruins of a small parish church stand upon the brink of a small cliff overhanging the Bristol Channel, and in the foss of a large camp.

The Sudbrook Orphanage was founded in 1890 by Miss Walker.


National School (mixed), built in 1867, to accommodate 55; average attendance 48; Mrs. Elizabeth Gasken, mistress.

Severn Tunnel School (mixed & infants), built in 1880, for 240 children; average attendance 102; Walter James Bretts, master

Infants' School, built in 1880, for 100 children; average attendance, 65; Miss Annie Cooper, mistress.

Post, M & T.O., S.B. & Annuity & Insurance Office, Portskewett: Miss Mary Kyte, postmistress. Letters through Chepstow arrive at 8.15 a.m; dispatched at 5 & 6.45 p.m.

Post, M.O. & T.O., S.B. & Anuity & Insurance Office, Sudbrook: Miss F.W.A. Arnold, postmistress. Letters through Chepstow arrive at 9.15 a.m; dispatched 2.55 & 5.55 p.m; Sundays, 9.30 a.m.

Railway Stations:

Portskewett - William Tanner, station master

Severn Tunnel Junction - James Henry Wootton, station master.

Charles E. Lewis Esq. is lord of the manor and also chief landowner. The soil is a good loam: subsoil, gravel and clay. The chief crops are wheat and barley. The area is 1,111 acres of land; rateable value, £10,692.

The population in 1881 was 486.

Click here to read more about the construction of the Severn Tunnel

(extracts from Kelly's 1891 Directory of Monmouthshire, transcribed by J. Doe)

Here is an educational video about the Severn Tunnel

For full screen video click on the YouTube logo (bottom right of window next to cogwheel). This takes you to the YouTube website.

(This video is approximately 20 minutes duration).




Here is the Time Team dig at Portskewett

For full screen video click on the YouTube logo (bottom right of window next to cogwheel). This takes you to the YouTube website.

(This video is approximately 45 minutes duration).







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