Bishopswood lies on the banks of the river Wye about four miles south-east of Ross-on-Wye. It is a very scattered village and the adjacent scenery has romantic beauty and loveliness not surpassed anywhere on the Wye. Part of Bishopswood is in Gloucestershire, the dividing line being a brook which goes underground just above the site of an old mansion, reappearing at the riverside.
The name Bishopswood is derived from it being part of the Bishop of Hereford’s estate in the Ross area, and in 1442 the Bishop promoted one of his valets, Alexander Jordan, to the office of ‘Keeper of the Woods’. The woods were used for hunting and timber felling.
In 1590 iron smelting was started when the Earl of Essex became owner of the land. However, there is evidence of Roman ironworks in the area! Blast furnaces for casting pig iron were erected in the reign of Charles II by the Foleys. After several changes of hands, they were purchased in 1801 by the brothers John and William Partridge who during a long and prosperous career were regarded as two of the most prominent and successful ironmasters of the period in the Forest of Dean and South Wales areas. Imported bar iron was brought up river in barges and re-melted at Bishopswood. Coal was also brought from the Forest of Dean and dispatched down river from Bishopswood wharf, now more usually known as Pebbly Beach.
Further evidence of Roman occupation came in 1895 when on a wooded hill behind the church the largest hoard of Roman coins found in Herefordshire was unearthed by workmen on the estate. An estimated 18,000 coins from the period AD 290-360 were found in two earthenware pots.
The church of All Saints was built in 1841 by John Partridge, the ironmaster. He also provided the furnishings. It was dedicated in 1845 and services are still held there every Sunday (1). Built of local stone, it is situated in the wood and several hairpin bends are negotiated to reach it. The church itself is not very ornate compared with others in the area, but its sheer simplicity gives it its unique beauty and peacefulness.
The school was built next door to the church in 1850, again founded by John Partridge. It is now a private house, appropriately renamed The Old School House.
Kerne Bridge lies on the westerly edge of Bishopswood. The bridge itself was built in 1834 and is without doubt one of the loveliest bridges on the Wye. Stand on the bridge and look westward over the top of Flanesford Priory – you will get a magnificent view of Goodrich Castle nobly outlined against the skyline. The castle, which stands on a promontory overlooking the river, is about half a mile away as the crow flies. Originally a toll bridge until it’s building this little part of Bishopswood was known simply as ‘Kerne’.
The main Ross-Monmouth-Chepstow railway line which opened in August 1873 ran through Kerne Bridge until it closed to passenger service in January 1959. The station flower gardens were lovingly tended by the last stationmaster for many years until its closure and he was repeatedly awarded the trophy for the best kept station. Now it is used as an adventure centre for The National Association of Boys Clubs and has been renovated and extended (2). Some 50 years ago most people were engaged in agricultural work or would have worked on the Bishopswood estate, which was sold off in 1949. Nowadays one source of employment is factories in Ross and the Forest of Dean while quite a lot of people commute further afield.
At present one public houses serves the community. There is an excellent village stores, post office and filling station, The church and a village hall. There is a limited bus service to Ross. Salmon fishing is world renowned on this stretch of the river Wye, but it is all privately owned.
This summary taken from The Herefordshire Village Book, written by members of the Herefordshire Federation of Women’s Institutes and published by Countryside Books. Click on the link Countryside Books to view Countryside’s range of other local titles.
Updates since “The Herefordshire Village Book” was published:
(1) Services at All Saints Church Bishopswood can be viewed on the Wye Reaches Website.
(2) The Station House is now a private residence.