NEWENT HISTORY ’Noent’ was first mentioned in the Doomsday Book as a sizeable town, but indications suggest there was a settlement here many centuries earlier, perhaps even in Roman times. Through Roger Earl of Hereford a monastic priory was established in the town which in turn applied to King Henry III to hold a two fairs and a market. Dealing in Welsh cattle the market town soon prospered and the Market Hall was built along with a number of similar grand buildings. Many of these buildings were later ‘clad’ in brickwork, as fashion and the usage of them changed, giving the impression that the town was established at a much later date.By the 13th century, Noent was part of a manor belonging to the Abbey of Cormeilles in Normand. With two more annual fairs granted by James 1st, by the end of 17th century Newent was a well established thriving market town with a weekly market and four annual fairs.
Originally, the September fair dealt mostly in sheep, but by the end of the 18th century this fair was the only one of the annual fairs to have survived and was now trading onions. There were onion fairs all over the country at this time and Newent Onion Fayre rose to such importance that the price of onions at Newent was used to set the onion price over a wide area, including South Wales, Gloucester and even Birmingham (the largest onion fair in the country!).
The Newent Onion Fayre survived to the early part of the twentieth century when, unfortunately, the war years saw its demise. However in 1996 the Fayre a group of local people set to work and Newent Onion Fayre was revived as a festival to celebrate local food and drink. The merriment now attracts almost 15,000 visitors each year and is a fantastic crowd-pulling national event.
With lots of live music, entertainment, food and drink, plus over 150 stands, exhibitions, children’s events and not forgetting THE ONE AND ONLY NEWENT ONION SHOW!It has become the largest one-day free to enter festival in the whole of Gloucestershire and the ONLY National Festival to celebrate the MAGNIFICENT ONION. For more history go to http://www.newentonionfayre.net/index.php/origins-of-the-onion-fayre/about-the-onion-fayre
The beginnings of industrialisation saw a glassworks, a mill and the first signs of coal mining. Soon after followed an iron works; all adding to an already busy farming community which was now also diversifying in to the fruit market. The town’s wealth at this time was apparent with the construction of many large brick houses and the church being rebuilt in stone quarried from Culver Street.
Unfortunately the 18th century saw Newent in recession. The roads approaching the town were worn, industry had declined and the market was a smaller affair. The local coal mines were seen as an answer with an interested party wishing to construct a canal from Ledbury via Newent to the docks at Gloucester. The work was completed and later extended to Hereford, however, the mines were soon discovered to be uneconomical and the effort of canal building was in vain as the country was embracing the latest mode of transport, the railway. Newent canal has been restored at Oxenhall.
In 1885 the Great Western Railway was extended to include Newent on the line to Ledbury, much of it being built over the canal, especially on the approach to Newent Station. The buttresses of the Station Bridge can still be seen, intact on station road on the northern edge of the town. This railway was to become known as the daffodil line, as acres of wild daffodils could be seen on the route through Newent. Look out for the Daffodil Festivals held over the spring. For many years people would volunteer to pick the flowers that were in turn sent by train to be donated to the hospitals of London.
As with many rural areas Lord Beeching’s closure of branch line railways in 1966 left Newent isolated bar the roads. In recent years the main route to Gloucester has been upgraded and provides good access to Ross and Gloucester and part of the Newent bypass follows the same route as the canal and railway before it. As car traffic has increased the M50 motorway has taken the load off this valuable route and has provided Newent with an easily accessible link with Britain’s motorway network.
Until the mid 1970s, the town’s magistrate court was attached to the old police station, which now can be seen in Court Road. (lane from main carpark to Market House). Previous to this the court was held in the building which is now the Nisa supermarket. Rebuilding and land clearance over the years has meant some key buildings have been lost in the town. A large house named Holts used to sit where the health centre and new police station are now and Newent Court, a large house with its own grounds, private driveway and lake used to be located where the Lakeside estate now is. The lake, new car park and gardens were extensively redeveloped in 1998 and are a credit to Newent Town Council and the Gloucester Regiment who worked long and hard with other organisations to make this area the towns most beautiful and restful public space.
Along with the lake a several other Millennium projects have been undertaken including fourteen acres of land being planted with 4000 trees to create the Bradford’s Lane Arboretum and a town centre building being converted to a Youth Cafe for local young people. Despite the redevelopment in the post war years most buildings in the town survive and are maintained well. The Council Offices became private residences after Newent was realigned under the Forest of Dean District Council. The former Parish Rooms, the Market Square, Church Street and High Street are very attractive and feature many diverse shops. Culver Street maintains its historic charm and many delightful countryside walks are featured on local maps available in the town.
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Newent History Society www.newenthistorysociety.org.uk
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NEWENT MARKET HOUSE
For more information and display the Market House is open at Weekends over the Summer from Easter.
NEWENT FAMILY HISTORY DROP-IN -If you are interested in uncovering your own past - free Family History Drop-in sessions run on the 2nd Friday of every month in Newent Library 10;00 – 12 noon.
A number of books have been published outlining the history of Newent. All are available from the town:
Chapters in Newent’s History Various
Newent’s most comprehensive history book. Photographs and chapters submitted by the town’s historical society and others. 250 pages.
A Brush with the Past Mick Thurston
Newent history accompanied by Many paintings by the author. 164 pages.
Old Newent and District David Bick
A brief history of Newent and the surrounding area. 32 pages.
Around Newent Tim Ward
Old photographs of Newent and the surrounding area. 128 pages.