New Passage is a small hamlet in South Gloucestershire, England located on the banks of the Severn estuary near the village of Pilning. It derives its name from the ferry service which operated between there and South Wales before the late 19th century, when it lost out in competition with the Aust Ferry slightly upstream.
Because the estuary is narrow at this point, New Passage has long been the location for a ferry crossing to and from South Wales. During the English Civil War, Prince Rupert was chased across the river, and the pursuing Roundheads drowned on the English Stones rocks after being assured by the ferryman of the safety of the crossing.
By the end of the 17th century, ferry crossings from here to Black Rock near Portskewett in Monmouthshire rivalled the Aust ferry two miles (3 km) upstream, known as the “Old Passage”, where crossings had been made for centuries. In 1715 the New Passage ferry service was taken over and developed by the Lewis family of St. Pierre, Monmouthshire, allowing it to be used by mail and passenger coaches between Bristol and south Wales. Records show Charles Wesley had a lucky escape in 1743, when his ship almost foundered in stormy weather.
In 1825 the New Passage Association formed, using the 30-ton steamboat “St Pierre”. However, the sponsorship by the Dukes of Beaufort of the Aust route, with faster boats and a pier, meant that by 1830 mail coaches were diverted there, and the New Passage declined. In 1863 the Bristol and South Wales Union Railway was opened, using the New Passage ferry to cross the Severn to Portskewett. New Passage Pier railway station, the New Passage Hotel, a promenade, tea rooms, and a 594-yard (543 m) railway pier, set the area up for prosperity. One year earlier, an engineer engaged on building the pier had the idea of a tunnel under the river. In 1886, the Severn Tunnel opened and the New Passage ferry became redundant. The railway tunnel passes under the River Severn from a point just south of New Passage.
In December 1872 Mr Richmond Grist died in an accident at the station, when returning on the ferry from Wales he tried to get into a carriage whilst the train was in motion, and was accidentally killed.
In 1996 the Second Severn Crossing road bridge was completed, virtually along the same line as the Severn Tunnel. The bridge, the longest in the UK, carries M4 motorway traffic.
New Passage Hotel
The hotel was opened in 1863 to serve railway passengers. When the ferry closed it continued to prosper as a privately owned public house. In 1921 the hotel was the location of experiments by the inventor H.G. Matthews in the projection of moving films with a sound track.
The hotel was closed in 1973. It was then sold by the Bracey family, and the building was left empty, until ravaged by the elements and neglect, it was finally demolished in the late 1970s. A small luxurious housing development was created on the resulting land. There is a photograph of the New Passage Hotel in 1974 on Flickr here
As of 1990, 28 species of seabird had been recorded in the Severn Beach / New Passage area, including sooty and Balearic shearwaters, all four Northern Hemisphere skuas, seven species of tern and four species of alcid.