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The Golden Decade 1880 - 1890
By the eighties Newport was a thriving town having a population of 35,313 according to the census of 1881. The Council was always on the lookout for new enterprises to attract people to the area, also to improve the facilities for the present inhabitants, many of whom had arrived from diverse parts of the United Kingdom, in particular Bristol and Ireland. These elements had amalgamated well, forming a unique culture, and giving to Newport an atmosphere all its own. For example all Newportonians took pride in the achievements of the Rugby team which at that time and for some years to come was certainly the best in Britain. Cricket on the other hand was in its infancy and had not really caught at the public's imagination.
In June 1881 Newport Cricket Club played an away match with Clifton C.C., which was captained by the famous Dr. W.G. Grace and included seven Gloucestershire County players in the team. The game was of one innings a side and Clifton batted first; Grace scoring 109 runs out of a total of 251. Newport's innings was a disaster, as W.G. Grace clean bowled the first six Newport batsmen for 27 runs, the team being all out for 30 runs. The Merlin reporting on the match said -"Newport had to fight against overwhelming odds and it is no wonder that they made only a small score."
In August of that year a woman named Ann Fletcher, who lived in Canal Parade, was thrown out of a bedroom window by her companions when she refused to go out drinking with them. She was taken to the Infirmary where she was detained suffering from serious injuries. Another sad scene was enacted in High Street, when on a Monday evening, a middle aged man with one leg had with him a little girl. It was presumed by passers-by that he had been begging so successfully that he was rolling drunk and it was obvious the girl was distressed. There was some disposition on the part of the "lookers-on' to roughly handle the man, but he beat a hasty retreat with the little girl. It was the general opinion that it was a pity the child could not have been taken from him and placed in safer hands than his.
A notice in the Merlin of September 16th 1881 concerning Newport High School for Girls is worth quoting in full:
"This excellent school commences its Autumn term on Monday next. The training of the children receives most careful attention and no pains are spared to render their school life happy and useful. Every child is taught to prosecute her studies from a strict sense of duty and honour. The school discipline is firm and wholesome and designed to develop good and amiable qualities. The success already gained by the institution is a fair proof of the efforts made to afford a solid and thorough education and to promote the mental progress and general comfort of the pupils."
In early January 1883 two occupants of a dog-cart returning to Newport along the Malpas Road met with a narrow escape. Mr. Lloyd, of the firm of Lloyds and Davies Law Accountants, in company with a gentleman named Ching of London, had been viewing some property when by Malpas Church the horse stumbled and the occupants were thrown into the road. The driver and Mr. Lloyd escaped uninjured, but Mr. Ching was much hurt and had to be conveyed to the King's Head where he had been staying.
A strike was called by the bricklayers employed at the Severn Tunnel, now under construction, when the employer decided that day work would be abolished and piece work substituted. It was hoped to settle the dispute amicably.
At Glamorgan Assizes a widow sought to recover damages from Charles Walters, a traveller in the wine trade, for the seduction of her daughter which took place when the young woman was in service at the Queen's Hotel, Newport. The defendant had promised her marriage as soon as he had obtained a divorce from his wife. The action was not defended and the jury found for the plaintiff in the sum of £75 damages.
Levi Holly of Newport, while serving on H.M.S. Penelope was dangerously wounded at the Battle of Alexandria. He learnt that he was to be decorated with the Egyptian War Medal while he was living with his parents, having been given a year's furlough from the Navy.
John Waldron, an elderly basket maker was knocked down by a bicycle near Mr. Cordey's grocery establishment in High Street, sustaining head injuries from which he later died at the Infirmary. Apparently a young man from Pontypridd, not realising how steep Stow Hill was, had been riding at speed when his bike went out of control. The deceased lived in West Street, and left a widow and eleven children, seven of them being under eleven years of age.
In July 1883 Mr. S.T. Hallen, the proprietor of the Westgate Hotel for many years, met with a fateful accident. He resided at Eveswell House Maindee and as usual had dined in his hotel. In the afternoon he drove back to Maindee to show the Rev. T.D. Griffiths over Drayton Villa, Kensington Place, of which he was the owner. While standing on a short flight of steps he fell backward and sustained injuries which caused his death in a few minutes. Mr. Hallen was the licensee of the Westgate at the time of the Chartist Insurrection and had been a most popular member of the community. He was of mature age and had been married twice having a number of children. His funeral consisted of-many carriages followed by numerous people on foot led by the head-waiter (Mr. Purkiss) and the boots (Mr. Webb).
Christchurch Cemetery was consecrated by the Lord Bishop of Llandaff on 31st August 1883, the cost having been £3,000. The chapel erected there was for Nonconformists as members of the Church of England were able to make use of the parish church.
An elopement under very disgraceful circumstances occurred in Newport where a master mariner named Evans, who was a widower with three children, made the acquaintance of a young widow and then married her. Before the honeymoon was over Evans commenced to ill-treat his spouse and finally left town with a young woman named Borlase. The deserted wife took out a warrant for assault and Inspector Curtis travelled to Liverpool in search of the runaways. They had however sailed for America by the time he arrived.
On 12th January 1884 the first International Rugby Football match in Monmouthshire was held on the Newport ground between Wales and Scotland. Scotland won by a dropped goal and a try to one touchdown. The Scottish team stayed at the King's Head Hotel.
An advertisement in the Star of Gwent for this year invited farmers, agricultural and other labourers, vine dressers, mechanics and female domestic servants to apply to W. Milton Locke at 33 High Street, Newport for emigration to Australia. The New South Wales Government would provide the passages to Sydney at reduced rates to persons approved of by the Agent General. A married couple could travel for £6, single men £4 and single women £2.
Another advertisement requested that ladies and gents who had by them old disused false teeth should turn them into money, by sending them to a firm in Ipswich, which would remit the utmost value to them by return of post.
The summer of 1884 was particularly hot over the Easter and Whitsun holidays. While the ladies blossomed in long white, cream or pink dresses, wearing delicate and intricate creations on their heads and carried parasols, the young men of the town, known as "cracks", sported flannels and striped blazers of many colours topped by the inevitable straw boaters. The paddle steamers Bonnie Doon, Waverley and Merrimal, with gaily dressed trippers, plied their way to Weston, Ilfracombe and the other Channel ports. There was also, during the summer months an excursion to Bristol on the Welsh Prince, leaving Newport at 6.45 a.m. and returning at 8 p.m. The charge for the return journey on the deck was 1/6 (7½p) and for those able to afford a cabin 2/6 (12½p).
Another great attraction was Belle View Park, known at that time as "The People's Park". On the long evenings of summer couples would stroll under the trees and hear the band of the 4th Battalion South Wales Borderers playing in the distance. Many a hopeful father, with daughters of marriageable age, would take advantage of this time of year to show them in the park, in the hope that some likely lad, of the right sort no doubt, might take a fancy to one of them.
At the Gaiety Theatre Uncle Tom's Cabin by Mrs. Harriet Beechers Stow was playing to packed audiences, while at the Victoria Hall, straight from the Opera Comique London, the Adamless Eden Company, under the personal direction of Miss Lizzie Badger, comprising forty lady artistes, accompanied by an orchestra composed of a further ten ladies, was appearing nightly. At the Royal Albert Hall there was Tayleur's Great American Circus which included the performance of "Dr. Carl the Demon Marksman" apparently pronounced by the President of the United States to be the finest shot in the world. The Newport Choral Society had recently been formed under the presidency of His Worship the Mayor and the conductorship of Mr. Thomas Jones. In the November of 1884 the Society performed Handel's Messiah at the Royal Albert Hall Newport, with two hundred voices and a band of fifty instruments.
Newport urgently needed a fire brigade and this necessity was highlighted by the number of recent fires which had been inadequately dealt with by the police. Thus Newport Volunteer Fire Brigade was formed under Captain R.J. Whitehall and were busy doing drills in preparation for the official inspection by the Mayor. It was anticipated that the volunteers would be a credit to the town.
Mr. William Williams, the Town Crier for the past thirty years, placed an advertisement in the Star of Gwent to the effect that he now had control of all the bill posting stations in Newport, and was soliciting custom, as he employed two bill-posters who would do the work with "quick despatch."
S.T. Hallen the proprietor of the Westgate Hotel for nearly fifty years having recently died, Mr. Thomas Parry stated that he had been honoured with instructions from the executors of the estate to arrange an auction of the contents of "this old and historical hotel."
Under a newspaper article entitled "Matrimonial Bliss" it was stated that Mr. Francis Williams, residing in Marshes Road, was savagely assaulted by his wife when she threw a lighted lamp at him, the contents of which set his hair on fire burning nearly the whole of it off. When the fire was extinguished it was noted that he had a nasty cut on his forehead and he was taken to the Infirmary for his injuries to be attended to.
In the Star of Gwent dated November 7th 1884 under the heading "An Interesting Wedding" the following appeared and is quoted verbatim:
"At the Roman Catholic Church on Tuesday morning the nuptials of Rose, 6th daughter of John Clarke Esq. of Dany-y-Rhiw, Maindee with John Winstanley Esq. silk merchant, London were celebrated. The Church was very prettily decorated throughout and the edifice was crowded. Just after ten o'clock the wedding party arrived in half a dozen carriages; the bride attended by her sisters (Misses Alberta and Lily Clarke) and two young daughters of Mr. D.A. Vaughan, this quartet acting in the capacity of bridesmaids. The bride who looked exceedingly pretty was attired in a dress of cream brocade satin with her veil being of white tulle. She wore a wreath of orange blossoms and carried a magnificent bouquet of flowers. The bridesmaids were dressed in pink satin. Among the wedding party were Mrs. Vaughan, Mrs Ready, and Mrs. Steel (sisters of the bride) and other relatives. Arriving at the altar the service was at once proceeded with, the officiating priests being Rev. Fathers Cavalli, Mr. Bailey and J. Bailey. At the conclusion of the ceremony High Mass was celebrated and as the party left the church the bride had to run the gauntlet of continued showers of rice. The wedding breakfast was of a recherche nature, after which the newly wedded pair proceeded to the North where the honeymoon is to be spent. The bells of the church rang out merry peals."
On 3rd December 1884 Cross House on the corner of Havelock Street and Stow Hill was put up for auction by William Graham Son and Hitchcox. It consisted of an underground cellar and on the ground floor, a hall, dining room 25' x 16', a breakfast room, kitchen, scullery and larder. On the first floor there was a drawing room opening on to a conservatory, two bedrooms, a dressing room and W.C. The second floor consisted of an attic and an observatory. There was also a large flower garden with an entrance from North Street. The bidding only reached £1 150 and the house was bought in for £1 350 by the auctioneer on the instructions of the owner R.W. Jones Esq., J.P.
In January 1885 a large black Polar Bear escaped from the Circus in Friars' Fields. Luckily it was a docile creature and had been taught to perform in the arena. Whilst at large, it entered the house of a family named Potts in Llanarth Street, and having killed a chicken in the backyard, focused its attention on all the crockery within reach, causing much havoc. It was finally captured without much difficulty and taken back to the Circus.
That same year William Buckler, the Newport pedestrian, received a challenge to cover 300 miles in 72 hours, which he accepted. He commenced his walk on a Monday morning and starting from the Prince of Wales on Cardiff Road, he walked to the Cross Keys Inn, Canton, Cardiff, a distance of twelve and a half miles and then returned. He did this twice daily between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. On the Saturday when he was due to finish, thousands of people congregated in Cardiff Road to see him come in, much money changed hands in wagers. He won easily with three minutes to spare. His gains consisting solely of "hat money."
Newport Rowing Club was now in full swing. It had commenced operations the previous year having, a boathouse and slipway on the Marshes. Many members had promised boats, including the Rt. Hon. Lord Tredegar, who was appointed President. The Club catered mainly for the "society" of Newport, membership being much sought after.
Lily Langtry was in town in a mediocre play at the "Vic". Known as "Jersey Lily", each of her performances was a sell-out, not on account of her acting ability, but because of her long friendship with the Prince of Wales.
The Golden Jubilee year of 1887 dawned with preparations already underway in Newport for the celebrations of Queen Victoria's accession to the throne on 20th June, 1837. A quotation from the local press ran as follows:
"There is no town in the Kingdom whose progress has been more marked than that of Newport during the period of fifty years which marks the Jubilee of Her Majesty's Reign. In 1837 docks were unknown at Newport, the slight railway accommodation to the borough would in these days be regarded as positively worthless, from the river to High Street a narrow pill slowly wended its way, whilst the width of the road did not exceed ten or eleven feet. In 1837 nearly the whole of the traffic was conveyed by the Monmouthshire Canal whilst passengers had to content themselves with the old stage coaches. Compared with today Newport was simply a rural village. Its population did not exceed 9,000, the inhabited houses being about 1,500. Today the population of the town is over 35,000 and the number of inhabited houses 7,000. The Alexandra and Newport Docks have been constructed and a perfect network of railways runs into the town and we are exporting over three million tons of coal per annum. These particulars, brief though they are, serve to show the wonderful development of Newport from that day fifty years ago when Victoria was informed that she had succeeded to the throne."
For weeks before the great day flag poles forming Venetian masts, were being erected from Pill Gates to the Bridge, decorated with flags, banners and streamers. A splendid triumphal arch was also in the course of erection at the bottom of Pillgwenlly. It was proposed that the Town Hall, and the Alexandra Dock should be illuminated by electric lights and outside the Town Hall a structure had been completed lit by gas with the words "God Bless the People's Queen - Long May She Live
On the morning of 20th June, 1887 the bells of St. Woolos and St. Mary's rang out merry peals. It was a general holiday. There was High Mass at St. Mary's when the Te Deum was sung, and at the close of the service the National Anthem was played. The Synagogue also held a special service at which the National Anthem, in Hebrew, was sung by the choir and congregation. Excursion boats and trains brought in large numbers for the festivities.
The vast number of spectators eclipsed anything before witnessed in Newport. The whole route of the procession was thronged with people and every vantage point taken. At 11 a.m. a gun sounded, which was the signal for the procession to commence. Led by the mounted police, in full dress uniform, they were followed by the 2nd Battalion of the South Wales Borderers who were accompanied by their mascot, a goat, recently presented to them by Lady Llanover. The men of the Fire Brigade were conspicuous in their brass and plated helmets glistening in the sun. Then came the Mayor and Aldermen of the Town, followed by the tradespeople, the Shipwrights and Mullock and Sons Printers, in two wagons. Deers West End Bakery and Hocking's establishment displayed gigantic loaves. Thomas Williams, well known chimney sweep, followed with emblems of his trade and carrying a strange looking musical instrument, which emitted various airs during the progress of the procession. Then came the band of the 3rd Battalion South Wales Borderers closely followed by Mr. Pugsley, driving a wagon with his workmen using a forge and anvil. The butchers and their assistants made an exceedingly effective display, some sixty of them being on horseback, with others on wagons, all being attired in white and blue coats with white hats. The "Knights of the Cleaver" en block constituted a most impressive feature. On one of the wagons was a live ox with a ribbon around its neck having the words "Bred and fed by the Right Hon. Lord Tredegar." Then came Mr. Morris, the taxidermist, plying with industrious assiduity his interesting trade. Mr. Lawrence, grocer, displayed some excellent home-cured bacon and Mr. Charles Pearce of the Tradesmen's Army walked in front of a body of children of the Friendly Societies, all of them sporting sashes and accompanied by the Lilliputian Band of the Caerleon Industrial School.
The men of the Worcester Artillery mustered in considerable strength in their picturesque uniforms. The Oddfellows followed them in ornamental sashes and carrying banners, with the Celyen Band attired in green and gold. Next came the banners of the Foresters, with Robin Hood and an exceedingly pretty Maid Marion on horseback. The League of the Cross Band played in proximity to the Order of Shepherds. Following these came the Railwaymen bearing on high models of signal boxes, engines and coal trucks gaily decorated with flags. Then came the Coal Trimmers and the Furniture Carriers of Messrs Clark and Wynn. It took half an hour for the procession to pass any given point and the general consensus was that it had all been very well done.
The festivities continued well into the night with feasting and dancing. Many went to the heights to view the bonfires blazing on the hills, which sent a message of the heartfelt wishes to Her Majesty for her successful reign.
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