Aust is a small village in South Gloucestershire, England, the historical site of the eastern terminal of the Aust Ferry crossing route over the River Severn between England and Wales, believed to have been used in Roman times as a continuation of Icknield Street which led from Eastern England via Cirencester to Chepstow, Caerleon & to St David's. It is today near the eastern end of the Severn Bridge, built in 1966 to carry the M4 motorway (now the M48 motorway) over the river estuary to Wales. The village has been divided by both the motorway and dual carriageways which now dominate the local landscape. It has a chapel, a church and a public house. Formerly there was a pond near the chapel, since removed to make way for the motorway. There is a large area of farmland on the river bank, which is often flooded due to the high tides of the River. A tunnel runs under the River Severn from Aust to Beachley carrying electric cables. Aust lies at .
The civil parish of Aust also includes the villages of Elberton and Littleton-upon-Severn. In the 2001 census the parish had a population of 518.
The cliff above the beach at Aust is subject to frequent erosion. Fossil collectors visit the site after storms and rock falls and many fossils have been discovered here.
Theories as to nomenclature
The name of Aust is first recorded in 794 as Austan. There are conflicting theories as to the origin of the name.
Possibly named after Emperor Augustus
Margaret Gelling took the view that the name of Aust is "probably" one of the very few English place-names to be derived from Latin. Gelling believed that the name almost certainly derives from Augusta, a common place-name in Gaul. One theory is that the Severn crossing was known to the Romans as Traiectus Augustus from a connection with the Legio II Augusta, stationed at Glevum (modern Gloucester) and from AD 75 at Isca Augusta (modern Caerleon), but Gelling thought that the connection with the Legio Augusta was doubtful.
Augusta is the feminine form of the Latin adjective augustus, meaning consecrated, holy, venerable, the epithet conferred by the Roman Senate upon Gaius Octavius Caesar, the first Roman emperor. The form (Villa-)"Augusta", became a common place-name in Gaul and throughout the Roman Empire. Ancient places named after the Emperor have in some former imperial countries become very corrupted over the centuries, for example the Roman town in Iberia Caesar Augustus has degraded by today to the modern Spanish Saragossa.
Possibly named after St. Augustine of Canterbury
An alternative theory is that Aust is the place where in 603, as the Venerable Bede records, Archbishop St. Augustine of Canterbury(d.604) (not to be confused with St. Augustine of Hippo,d.430) held a conference with the British bishops. The meeting is generally thought to have occurred on the site of St. Augustine's Abbey in Bristol, yet in view of Aust's proximity to that abbey, which is situated 10 miles to the south, it is conceivable that the Archbishop set foot in Aust, perhaps being the place where the British bishops from today's Wales landed, and possibly the village grew from a single church erected on the site commemorating his presence. The site of the meeting is certainly thought to be somewhere near the Severn. "Austin" is a common ancient shortened form of the name Augustine, for example Austin Friars are Augustinian Friar who follow the Rule of St. Augustine of Hippo. Bede identified the site only as "St. Augustine's Oak". The passage in Bede is as follows:
Meanwhile with the aid of King Ethelbert, Augustine summoned the bishops and teachers to a conference at a place still known to the English as Augustine's Oak, which lies on the border between the Hwiccas and the West Saxons.
He failed by argument to get them to adopt the Roman Christian way of dating Easter and then attempted to persuade them to accept his teaching in this matter by publicly curing a blind local Englishman. They were impressed by his powers and agreed to consult their other bishop colleagues, after which another conference with Augustine would be held, the location of which is not recorded by Bede. Baker (1901) states however that a certain Dr Forrest Browne has disproved the theory that Aust was the site of the meeting of St Augustine and the British Bishops.
Association with Wycliffe
The Lollard theologian John Wycliffe(d.1384) is by tradition said to have been prebend of Aust and to have preached there, yet Baker (1901) was unable to find any record of such an appointment in the diocesan registers at Worcester, which see held Aust for many centuries.
Descent of the manor
Historically Aust was a tything and manor in the large parish of Henbury.
In 1086 Aust was recorded as "Austreclive" and was held from the Bishop of Worcester as part of the extensive feudal barony of Turstin FitzRolf who had acted as standard-bearer to William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. The barony is thought to have had its caput at North Cadbury in Somerset. Aust was one of only 5 or so of Turstin's holdings in excess of 30 manors which was not held in chief, that is to say directly from the crown. Aust is thought to have formed part of the see of Worcester's extensive manor of Westbury-on-Trym. The see of Worcester held spiritual jurisdiction over the whole of Gloucestershire not covered by the see of Bath & Wells until the establishment of the sees of Bristol and Gloucester after the reformation, both converted from abbeys. The addition to the place name of "-clive" (or "-cleeve") may be related to the use of the word in Bishop's Cleeve near Tewkesbury. Turstin also had a holding at Caerleon across the River Severn, and the two holdings may have been logically related in view of Caerleon's proximity to the western terminal of the Aust Crossing.
Wynebald de Ballon
Between 1088 and 1092 Turstin appears to have been banished from England, possibly due to support given by him to the claim of Robert Curthose, the eldest son of William I, to the crown over William Rufus. Turstin's barony, almost intact and including Aust, was granted to Wynebald de Ballon(d.1126), a soldier from Maine, who was close to William Rufus. Wynebald also had a holding at Caerleon, above which, also on the River Usk, his brother Hamelin de Ballon founded the extensive marcher lordship of Abergavenny, and built the castle there. Still further up the Usk at Brecon was the lordship of Bernard de Newmarch(d. circa 1125), and circumstantial evidence suggests that his son from an early marriage became the husband of Mabilia de Ballon, the sole heiress of Wynebald following the early death of his son.
The first name of Mabilia's husband is not known, but the couple's son & heir was Henry de Newmarch, generally termed baron of North Cadbury. Henry was succeeded by his eldest son William, succeeded in turn by his brother James de Newmarch who died in 1216.
James left 2 infant daughters co-heiresses, the wardship of whom was awarded by the king to his steward Sir John Russell(d.c.1224) of Kingston Russell, Dorset. Russell married off the eldest daughter Isabel de Newmarch to his son Ralph, and sold the marriage of Hawise the younger daughter to John Bottrell on whose death Hawise married Nicholas de Moels. Thus the barony of Newmarch was split into 2 moieties. The division was mostly performed by the allocation of complete manors to one side or the other, but some were split into 2, and this may be the source for the splitting of the manor of Aust into 2 moieties. The history of the Russell moiety is clearly traceable until at least 1600, but that of the other moiety is less clear.
Split into moieties
By the 14th.c the manor had been split into 2 half-fees, each held in socage on the annual payment of one penny. One half fee (moiety) was held by the Russell family, based at Yaverland manor on the Isle of Wight from about 1280 to about 1370 when Maurice Russell(d.1416) was given by his father the former Newmarch Gloucestershire manor of Dyrham as his marital home. From him it passed through his eldest daughter Margaret by her marriage to Sir Gilbert Denys of Siston, Glos., almost adjacent to Dyrham. the Denys family retained Aust until after 1600.
The other moiety of Aust is recorded in the feudal aid levied in 1347, as 20 shillings per moiety, as held by Roger de Acton, probably of the Acton family of Iron Acton, and formerly held by Nicholas Cautel. In 1393 a half-fee was held by John Corbet.
From 1416 the former Russell moiety was held by the Denys family of Siston Court. On the death in 1506 of Sir Walter Denys of Olveston Court, grandson of Sir Gilbert Denys, he held: "a moiety of the manor of Awste, worth 10 marks, held of Silvester, Bishop of Worcester, as of his manor of Henburye, as in right of his church aforesaid, by service of paying to him yearly one single penny". It remained with the Denys family until after 1600, Richard Denys(d.1593) having sold it to his younger brother Thomas Denys, son-in-law of Thomas Bell the Younger of Gloucester. The Denys/Dennis armourials were visible in the church at Aust in 1684: "3 leopards' faces jessant-de-lys over all a bend engrailled."
Aust was eventually acquired by Sir Samuel Astry (d.1704), to whom a monument exists in the church. In 1884 Aust became a parish in its own right.
Old Passage Road
A road, now known as the Old Passage, runs near the A403 which follows the bank of the River Severn. Following on from the Old Passage is a path which leads to ruins of the Aust ferry terminal and a long concrete path leading to a small beach near the bridge. At the beach it is possible to walk to the bottom of the bridge at low tide. The path is used as an access road to the pylon of the Aust Severn Powerline Crossing which supports cables running over the river.
Aust Service Station
Aust is also home to Severn View services, a small motorway service station near the bridge, which was reduced in size due to falling business caused by the traffic going over the newer bridge. The old site of the service station is now used as business premises. Motion Media, which became famous during the 2001 Afghanistan War for supplying equipment to transmit TV pictures from the battlefield, was located there until fairly recently. At the service station, there is a footpath that allows people to walk over the bridge.
Bob Dylan was photographed in 1966 standing outside the Aust Ferry ticket office. In the murky background is the Severn Bridge. The photo was used to publicise Martin Scorsese's film about Dylan, "No Direction Home".
- Sanders, I.J. English Baronies, A Study of their Origin and Descent, 1086 1327, Oxford, 1960. p. 68 "North Cadbury"
- Baker, James, "Aust & Wyclif", in: Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeology Society(BGAS), 1901, vol.24, pp. 267 273