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Lydney is the Forest of Dean’s maritime town which dates back to Roman times. The original settlement was located at what is now the beautiful Lydney Park Estate with a temple, bath house and guest house dating back to the 4th century. JRR Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings’ books are thought to have been inspired by the earthworks and ruins, which can still be seen today.
Lydney’s harbour area was always strategically important, allowing the ships that opposed the Spanish Armada to be built here from the Forest’s great oaks. This was actioned by Sir William Wintour, Admiral of the Fleet of Queen Elizabeth I in 1588, who was granted the manor of Lydney and is believed to have built Whitecross Manor in the town, the scene of much unrest during the civil war.
The manor, a Royalist stronghold, was stormed by Commonwealth troops led by Edward Massey, and was burnt down by the Wintour family themselves to avoid it being won over by the attackers. Much of the iron works and local industries were also destroyed in the fighting. Whitecross School now occupies this original site.
After a time Sir William’s son, Sir John Wintour returned to the family seat and became wealthy again employing over 500 forest workers to manage the Lydney Park Estate. In 1723 Benjamin Bathurst, son of Sir Benjamin Bathurst of Cirencester purchased the Estate off the Wintour family and it remains in that same family to this day.
With the industrial revolution, the Forest of Dean was well connected with a system of railways that served the areas industries which included coal, stone, tinplate and timber. Lydney is now the only forest town with some of that infrastructure left. The Dean Forest Railway runs along a line which used to connect the town to Coleford (currently terminating at Parkhurst but an extension to the line is being planned) and the Cardiff to Gloucester main line which still exists today.
A major part of the town’s history is the Harbour. Approximately one mile east of the town, the docks provided not just a commercial port and safe haven from the severe tide of the Severn, but also acted as a place of recreation in the days when pleasure steamers plied up and down the coast of England. Sailing ships and steam coasters visited Lydney which went on to take goods and passengers all over the country, and indeed the world. The River Severn has a reputation of being an unforgiving stretch of water with the highest tidal range in the country. At low tide the sand banks are very inviting for those foolhardy enough to venture out on foot. Within minutes the strong surge tide can raise the water level dramatically. Many people have perished on the shores and also in the vessels that have tried to navigate the river.
Lydney and Sharpness are the last harbour’s before the river becomes un-navigable, until it reaches Gloucester. The Severn Bore is fuelled by the tide at Lydney and a large number of boats have come to a severe end while passing the harbour. The most famous is the 4,800 ton Ramses II, the wreck remains; of which can sometimes still be seen at low water over fifty years after it sank.In 1879 a magnificent rail bridge was built across the Severn at Lydney by the Severn Bridge Railway Company. At 4,162 feet long and comprising of 21 spans it crossed over to the canal just above Sharpness on the east bank of the river. It enabled a huge amount of trade to pass between the Forest and the rest of the country and was seen as a great success.
Its downfall came in 1960 when a large tanker barge went adrift on the river and was swept downstream on to the infamous surge, hitting and demolishing a pillar and two spans. The bridge lay derelict for nine years and was finally dismantled to avoid it being any further hazard to shipping.
Lydney has changed over recent years and the Harbour is being restored back to use for leisure purposes. The bypass has allowed the town to retain its old charm and new investment appears to be flowing in. The land between the town and the docks has been redeveloped for industrial use and has scope for further development. With the two road bridges now forming a fast link across the River Severn to major cities such as Bristol and Bath, Lydney is now poised to reap the benefits of the further business links with the country.
Much talk of major housing development will, in time change the focus of Lydney again, this time into a larger town. But there is still a strong pride in the residents who have lived here for generations, that will ensure that the Lydney retains its independent character for many years to come.
If you have more interesting facts regarding the history of Lydney, please feel free to send them in to be included on this page.