Extract from National Gazetteer, 1868
“BEACHLEY, a chapelry in the parish of Tidenham, hundred of Westbury, in the county of Gloucester, 2 miles to the S.E. of Chepstow. It is situated on the confluence of the Wye and Severn, at the south extremity of Offa’s Dyke. From this place was the old ferry to Aust, the passage between Bristol and Wales. It had some military importance, and there are still remains of ancient earthworks. The living is a perpetual curacy in the diocese of Gloucester and Bristol; value £16, in the gift of the Vicar of Tidenham. The church is dedicated to St. John. The principal residence is Beachley Lodge, pleasantly situated, and commanding fine views of the Severn and the surrounding country.”
Beachley sits at the end of the peninsula formed by the confluence of the Severn and Wye Rivers, it is crossed by the Severn Bridge which opened in 1966 so replacing the ferry which had been in operation for several centuries, the most recent incarnation having been opened in the 1930s and adapted for motor vehicles by Enoch Williams and partners.
In 1917 the whole of the Beachley area was commandeered by the War Office to create National Shipyard No. 1, until then the residents had been employed in agriculture, fishing or ferries.
The villagers were given less than three weeks to leave their homes and their livelihoods with no help to find alternative accommodation.
Despite plans to create the largest shipbuilding area in Britain the shipyard scheme failed with no ships launched in time to be used in the First World War and the Beachley shipyard closed before 1920. Many of the villagers were able to move back but the school remained closed, the farm became the Commandant’s House for the Army Technical School (later the Army Apprentices College) and Beachley Lodge became the Officer’s Mess and was demolished in the 1960s.
In 1833 James Jenkins endowed and largely paid for the new chapel of ease of St John the Evangelist which was consecrated by the Bishop on September 10th 1833. His brother Richard was living at Beachley Lodge in sight of the chapel but died the following year, the chapel then became something of a memorial to the Jenkins family with twenty four family members commemorated on the monuments inside the chapel.
The church was closed in the mid 1990s and is now home to a furniture restoration business.
The churchyard is a ‘closed churchyard’ but adjacent is a war grave cemetery with almost one hundred graves of German and Italian POWs.
A board in the Vestry of the chapel reminds us that Robert Castle Jenkins provided the small schoolroom adjacent to St John’s.
“THIS BUILDING WAS ERECTED AT THE COST OF ROBERT JENKINS ESQ OF BEACHLEY LODGE & KINDLY PRESENTED TO THE TRUSTEES OF ST JOHN’S CHAPEL IN THIS HAMLET TO BE USED AS A SCHOOLROOM FOR THE EDUCATION OF THE CHILDREN OF THE POOR, IN THE PRINCIPLES OF THE ESTABLISHED CHURCH FOR EVER. JANUARY 1ST 1840”
The school ceased to be used in World War One when Beachley became National Shipyard No 2. The children of the village then had to walk to Tutshill for their education.
An elderly lady who was one of those children told how they would often be late for school at Tutshill (a three mile walk) but on arrival the teacher would declare “Ah the children from Paradise are here.” In those days Beachley was a popular spot for day trippers and holiday makers, even up until the Second World War families from Chepstow would camp out on the beach, which in those days was sand and shingle.
The schoolroom is now used as a small museum for Beachley Old Boys Association.