Did Newport have a Town Wall?

© Bob Trett August 2010

The Cellars in High Street

As part of a continuing investigation into the possibility that there had been a town wall around Newport a number of cellars surviving under buildings between High Street and Cambrian Road, Newport were inspected in 1997 and 2007. [1]

On 6th August 1997 the cellars of the former Tredegar Arms Inn (ST 33098 18832) were inspected, at that time being converted into Yates Wine Bar.  The building stands on the corner of High Street and Station Approach and incorporates a former bank building.  The cellars covered the whole of the area under the ground floor of the original Tredegar Arms section of the building and part of these were being converted to toilets.  During this work three stone plaques were noticed in the partition wall separating the cellars from the adjacent Murenger House Inn.  The stone plaques were positioned in the wall and appear to have been reset in the wall from somewhere else.

Two stone plaques were at ‘waist height’. One depicted a heraldic shield with two or three chevrons (possibly the arms of the Clare family, once lords of the lordship of Newport). The chevrons had been painted red but were not inverted – as on the arms for the Borough of Newport).  Another stone plaque consisted of an armorial stag’s head, the crest used by the Morgans of Tredegar House, and with an obvious relationship to the Tredegar Arms Inn. Some gold and red paint survived on the stag’s head. The third stone plaque was at ‘head height’ and had on it the date ‘1685’ in gothic script.

The walls consisted mainly of irregular blocks of stone, mortared together.  The cellar floor consisted of stone flags.  There was some indication of more possible heraldic plaques at floor level in the cellar.  Other stone walls were at that time visible in the maze of small rooms, and particularly in recesses adjacent to the present road called Station Approach, and there was a more substantial stone wall, running parallel with High Street and therefore on a line with the suggested town wall.

The plaques may possibly have been removed from a building such as the former Market House in the High Street, in which case it would give a date of 1685 for its building, reconstruction or alteration.  However the Market House is traditionally dated to 1585 and there is some evidence for a market house in 1619/20. [2]

On 8th August 2007 two more properties were visited by the author in the company of Richard Frame and Mike Buckingham. The cellars at 38b High Street (ST 33102 18821) were accessed through a trap door in a small store room.  They consisted of two older cellars, at the front of the building, approximately 5.5 metres wide, with a total length of 12 metres, and of a smaller, more modern looking cellar at the rear.   The floors of the two older cellars were stone slabs, and the walls mainly of stone rubble mortared together.  There was some dressed stone and on the northern end of the front cellar there were quoins (a vertical line of dressed stones forming an edge), possibly the side of a filled-in door. The north side also had a rotten wooden lintel inserted in the wall. There also appeared to have been a filled-in small opening in the wall of the middle cellar. Whilst clearly of great age these walls would have been inside the suggested town wall.

A café at 36 Cambrian Road (ST 33097 18826) gave access to a series of cellars through a trap door. The cellar immediately underneath the cafe had been decorated with modern stone cladding, and therefore it was not possible to see the original walls.  However from this room there were doorways leading to a whole series of cellars of different shapes and sizes (possibly 30 plus rooms), which appeared to stretch under a number of different properties between High Street and Cambrian Road.  None of these cellars had been used in recent times except in places for fitting pipes servicing the rooms above.  The cellars generally had stone flagged floors, with stone rubble mortared walls, but with some dressed stone in places, and also brickwork in other places.  Time and the conditions did not allow more than a preliminary look, but there was evidence of early light fittings (1930s?). There were some brick roofed barrel vaults, wine-cellar type storage shelves, an iron grill across one door, and also a blocked-in stone staircase going up.

Only in one cellar was an original wall observed on the line of the projected town wall. The cellar under 34 Cambrian Road (ST 33097 18825) had three lines of squared dressed stone blocks, near the floor, facing the east side of Cambrian Road. The higher part of the wall was stone rubble or brick. If there was a medieval town wall along the line of Cambrian Road these lower courses of dressed stone would be in the right position to be part of this wall.

Of course this is still not definitive proof that a stone town wall did exist but without proper archaeological investigation we may never know.

We would like to thank the proprietors of Spec Savers and Tracks for giving us access to their cellars.

1. Unpublished report by Bob Trett in Newport Museum and Art Gallery.

2. Jones, B.P. (1957).    6   note 31

Bob Trett
© Bob Trett August 2010