City of Newport -
A Thousand Years in a Thousand Words
have to cleanse our minds of the historic waffle pumped out hitherto
by town guidebooks and newsletters. Forget that "Newport
was founded over 2,000 years ago by Celtic tribesmen who lived
on the Gaer Fort". Ignore the vastly inflated age of the
Murenger House. Seek in vain the "fine 17th Century buildings
in High Street" because there are none older than the 19th!
enormous pinches of salt doubtful assertions by local zealots
that the Chartist Rebellion of 1839 was anything but an ill-judged
move by sadly misguided men which did irreparable damage to their
own cause. At the same time, remember that it was the authorities
of Newport that, in a bloody dénouement, hastened their
decline! And bear in mind that the Chartist bullet holes in the
pillars of the Westgate Hotel have been discredited!
do not waste time looking for "the statues that lie round
you have heeded all this advice, give the same treatment to the
new, manufactured history such as "Newport was the seat of
all the ancient Kings of Gwent" - an achievement to which
only Caerwent can lay a justifiable claim.
the 8th Century Welsh chronicler wrote what are believed to be
the earliest accounts of King Arthur's wars against the Saxons.
In his wanderings he came across Caerleon several times but apparently
never noticed any other habitation worth mentioning only three
miles away! So it is generally conceded that no permanent settlement
began its existence where our city stands today until much before
the 10th Century.
it may be said that the earliest pointer to human occupation at
this location was the foundation of St Woolos Church by Gwynlliw
in the 7th Century and this might suggest that a congregation
of sorts existed even then at the top of the hill. But this is
purely the subject of popular legend so no great store can be
put by it. It would, however, have been more logical for the first
inhabitants to have been highlanders because the ground for a
great distance around the foot of Stow Hill consisted of unhealthy
swamp and marshland, often inundated by the high tidal waters
of the Rivers Usk and Severn - certainly no place for the faint
hearted to try and put down roots!
By the 10th
Century however, it would appear that some hardy individuals had
taken up occupation, probably Welsh but, as the years went by,
mixed with a sprinkling of Saxons from over the nearby border
(River Wye) with the Kingdom of Mercia, all at first sharing a
tiny collection of mud and thatch hovels. The Saxon influence
eventually would bring more substantial buildings in solid timber
including a meeting (moote) house, a mill and possibly some sort
of fortification on the still bridgeless river bank.
was the anonymous village that the Normans found when they entered
Gwent some years after the 1066 invasion. It was they who brought
with them the vogue for building in stone; it was they who gave
the place its first recorded name: Novus Burgus; it was they who
built the first castle which prompted the natives to call its
immediate environment: Castell Newydd, and it was their descendants
who, in the town's Charter of 1427, made the first reference to:
Newporte in Wallia, no doubt to give indication of the town's
earliest beginnings in maritime trading.
time on, little of historic interest was heard of Newport. From
time to time it stood in the path of some warring factions, sometimes
losing its bridges in the process, but in general a long period
of stagnation resulted in little population growth or topographical
beautification. Corruption was always rife among its administrators
and its so-called gentry whose conniving machinations made fortunes
for themselves and paupers out of fellow citizens! Even 700 years
on from its foundation Newport was being written about by travelling
academics as grotesque, gloomy, insalubrious, wretchedly dirty
and many other epithets of similar ilk!
the mid 18th Century, came the great awakening when the Monmouthshire
valleys were discovered to contain vast deposits of coal and iron
ore! It now needed only the burgeoning industrial revolution to
provide the economic wherewithal with which to extract these treasures,
and the marvels of steam power, tram roads and canals to bring
them to the nearest deepwater port. Newport was on the way!
By the 1830s
the small, dingy village by the River Usk had seen an explosion
in progress which had increased the population tenfold, creating
the largest town in Wales (for a time larger than Cardiff) and
providing an inland dock complex that was the envy of the world!
In 1839 came the most vividly remembered incident in Newport's
lacklustre march through time. The Chartist Riot erupted notoriously
and embarrassingly over a period of only 24 hours, soon blowing
over and allowing the worthy citizens to forget it - that is until,
over a hundred years later, it was resurrected as the town's most
of the features that turned Newport into a thriving, prosperous
borough in the 19th Century have gone, replaced by the new industries
and technology that satisfy the demands of the 21st Century, but
it is not really like starting all over again. Through no fault
of its own the town has suffered some very unfair setbacks which
now, as a new city liberated from, (as many have been heard to
say), the half-baked municipal ideas of yesteryear, it has been
presented with a wonderful opportunity to overcome!