Article that appeared in the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Review written by Bob Smyth.
(The article is thought to be from 1995)
The mystery of a Forest mansion
“I wouldn’t like to come on a dark evening,” shuddered estate agent Simon Cawley as he unlocks the nail-studded door of what used to be Bream’s New Inn. A dead rat lies in the ground surrounding the house. A mummified mouse adorns an upper bedroom.
The wing off the porch is piled with rusting machinery. The wing at the back is similarly decrepit. “it gets better after this,” Simon promises. It does, as we enter the spacious main room dominated by not one but two vast stone fireplaces.
The one at the end of the room is surmounted by an inscription which hides the mansion’s mystery. It gives the date 1637 – and the initials “G.G.”, followed by an “I”.
Yet the building’s date, judging by its style, is of an earlier period – various elements appearing Elizabethan. Tracking down the meaning of the inscription and the house’s early history has been a detective story stretching back to the beginning of the century.
The sturdy property is built of stone with handsome mullion windows and a stone slate roof. It stands at the top of Bream’s High Street at its junction with the Lydney- Coleford road -a strategic location which explains its later use as a public house.
When it ceased trading in the 1960s, it was bought by Melville Watts of the well known Lydney family, who wanted to preserve this outstanding example of early Forest domestic architecture. He spent a lot of money restoring the essential fabric – and began researching its origins.
At the turn of the century Bream’s vicar, the Rev E.F. Eales, had suggested the initials “G.G,” referred to a George Gough whom he had traced in old records. But what did the initials “I” stand for, and why was the date 1637 rather than earlier?
Rev Eales constructed a family tree which showed that the Gough family were established in Woolaston in early Elizabethan times, George’s uncle, also named George, was involved at the end of the 16th century in a lawsuit against villagers who were illegally grazing cattle in the forest – an episode described in Dr Cyril Hart’s The Commoners of Dean.
This line of the family produced Warren Gough, who lived at Willsbury near Bream and was a verderer under Charles 1. His son James donated a Communion plate to Bream chapel which still survives.
The older George’s brother Henry moved to Bristol where he became a successful merchant. In his will dated 1593 he left his “lands and tenements in the Forest of Dean” to his son George, including “all manner of implement at Breme in my house there.” Melville Watts suggested that the house referred to was likely to be the New Inn-known to locals as “the Old Place.”
At this point the Dean Heritage Museum Trust becomes involved in the story-as described in a paper written for the Forest of Dean Local History Society’s journal in 1988. “In the early 1980s a major property company sought to acquire the New Inn and adjoining land with a view to putting housing on the site.” writes David Mullin.
“In order that it might remain in sympathetic ownership the Dean Heritage Museum Trust bought the building itself and a small area of surrounding land. The developers purchased the remaining land on which housing has now been built”.
The trust, much involved in restoring its centre at Soudley, recognised it would be unable to do much with the New Inn very speedily. Yet Pauline Harris and Alex Purnell continued the research which provided the basis of Mullin’s report-and unravelled the links in the story.
They looked at the 1608 map of the Forest but, as they described, “regrettably rodents and time have resulted in a neat rectangular hole where we had hoped to find the New Inn.” However, by studying a deed of the time they are able to assert that the house leased by Henry Gough to a Thomas Donning is unquestionably the New Inn.
“Given his Woolaston antecedents we may infer that Henry left Dean to seek his fortune in Bristol, where he gained some measure of prosperity,” they continue. “Thereafter he used some of his wealth to acquire land and property in the area from which he originated.”
“In any event, if a late 16th century date is correct for parts of the New Inn, it may be that these parts were commissioned by Henry Gough. The Bristol connection would account for the sophistication apparent in their design”.
Henry’s son was probably born in 1583, “It seems likely that throughout his first marriage George kept his main residence in Bristol, probably living at the house in Baldwin Street bequeathed to him by his father. It is certain that after the death of his first wife, George returned to the Forest making the New Inn at Bream his principal residence.”
He then remarried, his wife being Mistress Joan Stead of Bream. And herein lies the answer to the initial “I” on the mantelpiece and its date. “The inscribed fireplace now may be interpreted as part of modernisation of the building for George and his wife,” Mullen writes. The letter “I” beneath the initials “G.G.” may be taken to refer to her Christian name Ioanne.”
George and Joan’s tombstones have recently been relocated in Newland church. Their inscriptions read:
“Here lyeth the bodie of George Gough of Bristoll a sole marchant who being weake and infirm spent his later years in Breme where after log weakness of bodie departed this life upon Friday the ninth day of December in the yeare of our Lord God 1653.”
“Here lieth the body of Ioanne Gough of Breme widdow the late wife of George Gough late of Breme aforesaid gent deceased she departed this life the eleventh day of June 1665.”
The Gough story in the Forest continues through George’s daughter Joan from his first marriage. In 1655 she married John Witt, and it is likely that they lived at the New Inn after she inherited it from her father.
John was an important person in the Forest. He was a keeper of the King’s Coleworks, a Regarder, and in 1665 was among the signatories to a petition to the Crown Commissioners.
“This document suggests a settlement of the Forest by which a portion of it should be reserved, free of common right, for the growth of naval timber,” explains David Mullin. “This provision formed the basis of the 1668 Dean Forest (Reafforestation ) Act which greatly influenced the nature of the Dean which we have inherited.”
John died in or before 1687 leaving the property to his son Richard whose own will refers to “the mansion house at Bream.” Thereafter the house’s fate become murky.
In the 19th century it was advertised for sale in 1885 and had become a licensed premises by 1891. The hope of the Heritage Museum in acquiring it a century later was to restore it fully and fit it out as a museum of 17th century life.
Other demands on their resources meant giving up this prospect. The house is now for sale at £100,000, and Simon Cawley of the firm of Steve Gooch says there has been a lot of interest.
“Those who have visited have talked of its commercial possibilities.” He reports. “I don’t know what they have in mind, but it would make a splendid restaurant.”
So it is possible that the New Inn might have a new lease of life – perhaps under its more dignified title of “the Old Place.”
Transcribed by Janet and Gerald Cook