Chepstow, a town, a parish, a sub-district, and a district in Monmouth. The town stands on the verge of the county, on the river Wye, adjacent to the South Wales railway, 3 miles N by W of the Wye’s influx to the Severn, and 15 by road, but 17 ¼ by railway, E by N of Newport. It dates from at least the Saxon times; and has been supposed, though without any good evidence, to have risen from the ruins of a Roman station. Its site is the slope of a hill among lofty cliffs; and must have been esteemed, in early times, a favourable position for military works. A great castle was built here by Fitz-Osborne, Earl of Hereford, immediately after the Conquest; is mentioned in the Domesday book as Castellum de Estrighoiel; passed to the Clares, the Bigods, the Herberts, and the Somersets; underwent great extensions and renovations in the times of the first three Edwards; made a great figure in the civil wars of Charles I.; was the prison, for twenty years, of Henry Marten the regicide;. and still exists in tolerable preservation. It crowns a crag, falling precipitously to the Wye, and separated by a deep dingle from the town; it covers about 3 acres, in parallelogramic plan, long and narrow; it consists of entrance-gate, four courts, and a central building; it retains portions of the original structure of Fitz-Osborne, but is chiefly of later dates;, and it includes an interesting Norman edifice, 90 feet by 30, thought by some to have been a chapel, and containing some Roman bricks in its masonry. Walls were constructed around the town about the same time at which the castle was built; and were afterwards renovated and strengthened; and some portions of them, including small round bastions and an entire gate, yet remain.
The town, as seen from the opposite side of the Wye, is very picturesque; and the views around it, obtained from the high grounds, are brilliant. The streets are broad, and even handsome; and most of the houses are substantial and neat. Traces of an ancient port, and slight remains of religious houses and other old buildings, exist. The tide in the Wye here is higher than anywhere else in Europe, rising commonly to 40 feet, sometimes to upwards of 50; and presents to strangers an interesting appearance. A well, 82 feet deep, ebbs and flows with the tide, from dryness up to 14 feet, and has remarkably good water. An iron bridge of 5 arches, erected in 1816, at a cost of nearly £20,000, spans the Wye, and is 532 feet long. A viaduct, combining the characters of tubular bridge and suspension bridge, takes across the railway, and is 600 feet long and 152 feet high. The parish church was originally conventual, founded in the time of Stephen, and belonging to the Benedictine priory of Cormeil in Normandy; is cruciform, and partly Norman; has undergone restoration in bad taste; and contains a monument to the second Earl of Worcester and a monumental slab to Henry Marten. There are chapels for Independents, Baptists, Methodists, and Roman Catholics, assembly rooms, theatre, public schools, custom-house, an hospital, alms-houses, and a workhouse. Total endowed charities, £365.
The town has a head post-office, a railway station with telegraph, a banking-office, and two chief inns; is a bonding port, a seat of petty sessions, and a polling-place ; and publishes a weekly newspaper. Markets are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays; and fairs on the Monday before 1 March, the Friday in Whit-Week, 22 June, 1 Aug., and the Friday before 29 Oct. Shipbuilding is carried on; regular steam-boat communication with Bristol is maintained; and commerce exists in imports of deal, flax, hemp, pitch, and wines, and in exports of timber, bark, coals, iron, and millstones. The vessels belonging to the port at the beginning of 1863, were 410 small sailing-vessels, of aggregately 1,124 tons; 13 large sailing-vessels, of aggregately 1,023 tons; and 1 steam-vessel of 115 tons. The sailing-vessels which entered, in 1858, from foreign countries, were 3, of aggregately 251 tons; and coastwise, 557, of aggregately 18,639 tons; and those which entered, in 1862, from foreign countries were 3, of aggregately 237 tons. The customs amounted, in 1858, to £4,497; in 1862, to £3,496, The town gives the title of Baron to the Duke of Beaufort. Pop., 3,364. Houses, 638.
The parish includes also the hamlet of Hardwick. Acres, 1,282; of which 120 are water. Real property, £13,758. Pop., 8,455. Houses, 651. The manor belongs to the Duke of Beaufort. The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Llandaff. Value, £167. Patron, D. H. D. Burr, Esq.
Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of England & Wales [Wilson, John M]. A. Fullarton & Co. N. d. c. [1870-72].