Newport (Casnewydd) Gwent is a city and administrative area of Wales, situated on the banks of the River Usk between Cardiff and Chepstow. It is the largest urban area in the historic county of Monmouthshire and is governed by the unitary Newport City Council. The population of Newport is 140,200, making it the third most populous city and seventh most populous unitary authority in Wales. According to Census 2001 data the population of the core built-up area was 116,143.
In the Bronze Age fishermen settled around the fertile estuary of the River Usk and later the Celtic Silures built hillforts overlooking it. In AD 75, on the very edge of their empire, the Roman legions built a Roman fort at Caerleon to defend the river crossing. According to legend, in the late 5th century St. Woolos Church was founded by St. Gwynllyw, the patron saint of Newport and King of Gwynllwg. The church was certainly in existence by the 9th century and today has become St. Woolos Cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of Monmouth. The Normans arrived from around 1088–1093 to build Newport Castle and
river crossing downstream and the first Norman Lord of Newport was Robert Fitzhamon.
The settlement of 'Newport' is first mentioned as novo burgus established by Robert, Earl of Gloucester in 1126. The name was derived from the original Latin name Novus Burgus, meaning new borough or new town. The city can sometimes be found labelled as Newport-on-Usk on old maps. The Welsh language name for the city, Casnewydd-ar-Wysg means 'New
castle-on-Usk' (this is a shortened version of Castell Newydd ar Wysg) and this refers to the twelfth-century castle ruins near the city centre. The original Newport Castle was a small Motte-and-bailey castle in the park opposite St. Woolos Cathedral. It was buried in rubble excavated from the railway tunnels that were dug under Stow Hill in the 1840s and no part of it is currently
Around the settlement, the new town grew to become Newport, and was granted a charter by Hugh, Earl of Stafford in 1385. In the 14th century friars came to Newport where they built an isolation hospital for infectious diseases. After its closure the hospital lived on in the place name "Spitty Fields" (a
corruption of ysbytty, the Welsh for hospital). "Austin Friars" also remains a street name in the city.
In 1402 Rhys Gethin, General for Owain Glyndwr, forcibly took Newport Castle together with those at Cardiff, Llandaff, Abergavenny, Caerphilly, Caerleon and Usk. During the raid the town of Newport was badly burned and St. Woolos church destroyed.
A second charter establishing the right of the town to run its own market and commerce came from Humphrey Stafford, 1st Duke of Buckingham in 1426. By 1521 Newport was described as having "....a good haven coming into it, well occupied with small crays [merchant ships] where a very great ship may resort and have good harbour." Trade was thriving with the nearby ports of Bristol and Bridgewater and industries included leather tanning, soap making and starch making. The town's craftsmen included bakers, butchers, brewers, carpenters and blacksmiths. A further charter was granted by James I in 1623.
In 1648 Oliver Cromwell's troops camped overnight on Christchurch Hill overlooking the town before their attack on the castle the next day. A cannon-ball dug up from a garden in nearby Summerhill Avenue, dating from this
time, now rests in Newport Museum.
As the Industrial Revolution took off in Britain in the 19th century, the South Wales Valleys became key suppliers of coal from the South Wales coalfield, and iron. These were transported down local rivers and the new canals to ports such
as Newport, and Newport Docks grew rapidly as a result. Newport became one of the largest towns in Wales and the focus for the new industrial eastern valleys of South Wales. By 1830 Newport was Wales' leading coal port, and until the 1850s it was larger than Cardiff.
Newport Transporter Bridge
Newport was the focal point of a major Chartist uprising in 1839, where John Frost and 3,000 other Chartists marched on the Westgate Hotel at the centre of the town. The march was met with an attack by militia, called to the town by the Mayor: at least 20 marchers were killed and were later buried in St Woolos' Cathedral churchyard. John Frost was sentenced to death for treason, but was this was later commuted to transportion to Australia. He returned to Britain (but not to Newport) later in his life. John Frost Square, in the centre of the
city, is named in his honour.
Newport probably had a Welsh-speaking majority until the 1830s, but with a large influx of migrants from England and Ireland over the following decades, the town became seen as "un-Welsh", a view compounded by ambiguity about the status of
Monmouthshire. In the 19th century, the St George Society of Newport asserted that town was part of England, and it was in Newport that the Cymru Fydd movement received its death blow in 1896, at a fractious meeting where Lloyd George was told that the "Englishmen" of South Wales would never submit to "the
domination of Welsh ideas". In 1922 Lloyd George was to suffer a further blow in Newport, when the Conservative capture of the recently-created Newport constituency in a by-election helped lead to the end of his coalition government.
The late 19th and early 20th century period was a boom time for Newport. The population was expanding rapidly and the town became a county borough in 1891. The dock system was completed in 1892: the newly-built South Dock was the largest masonry dock in the world. Although coal exports from Newport
were by now modest compared to the Port of Cardiff (which included Cardiff, Penarth and Barry), Newport was the place where the Miners' Federation of Great Britain was founded in 1889, and international trade was sufficiently large for 8 consuls and 14 vice-consuls to be based in the town. Urban expansion took in Pillgwenlly and Liswerry to the south; this eventually necessitated a new crossing of the river Usk, which was provided by the Transporter Bridge completed in 1906, described as "Newport's greatest treasure".
On 2 July 1909, during construction of Newport's Alexandra Dock, supporting timbers in an exacavation trench collapsed, instantly burying 46 workers. The rescuers included 12-year-old paper boy Thomas ‘Toya’ Lewis who was small enough
to crawl into the collapsed trench. Lewis worked for two hours with hammer and chisel in an attempt to free one of those trapped. Several hundred pounds was later raised through public subscription in gratitude for the boy's efforts, and
he was sent on an engineering scholarship to Scotland. Lewis was awarded the Albert Medal for Lifesaving by The King in December 1909. A Wetherspoons pub in the city centre is named "The Tom Toya Lewis" after the young hero. The building in which the pub is housed was formerly the Newport YMCA, the
Foundation Stone for which was laid by Viscount Tredegar, also in 1909.
Compared to many Welsh towns, Newport's economy had a broad base, with foundries, engineering works, a cattle market and shops that served much of Monmouthshire. However, the docks were in decline even before the Great Depression, and local unemployment peaked at 34.7% in 1930: high, but not as bad as the levels seen in the mining towns of the South Wales Valleys. Despite the economic conditions, the town corporation re-housed over half the population in the 1920s and 30s.
The post-war years saw renewed prosperity in the town, with
St. Woolo's Cathedral attaining full cathedral status in 1949, the opening of the modern integrated steelworks at Llanwern in 1962, and the construction of the Severn Bridge and local sections of the M4 motorway in the late 1960s, making Newport the best-connected place in Wales. Although employment at
Llanwern declined in the 1980s, the town acquired a range of new public sector employers, and a Richard Rogers-designed Inmos factory helped to establish Newport as a 'hotspot' for technology companies. A flourishing local music scene in the early 1990s led to claims that the town was "a new Seattle".
The county borough of Newport was granted city status in 2002 to mark Queen Elizabeth II's Golden Jubilee. In the same year, an unusually large merchant ship, referred to locally as the Newport ship, was uncovered and rescued from the bank of the Usk during the construction of the Riverfront Arts Centre. The
ship has been dated to some time between 1445 and 1469 and it remains the only vessel of its type from this period yet discovered anywhere in the world.
1140: The first early Norman wooden motte and bailey castle is built on Stow Hill.
1402: Town attacked by the forces of Owain Glyndŵr, rebel Prince of Wales: St.
Woolos Cathedral destroyed.
1672: Tredegar House completed.
1796: Opening of the Monmouthshire canal.
1842: Town Dock at Newport Docks opens – able to accommodate the largest ships in the world.
1850: Newport becomes the seat of the Roman Catholic diocese of Newport and Menevia.
1871: W. H. Davies, renowned poet born at Portland Street, Pillgwenlly.
1877: Athletic grounds at Rodney Parade opens.
1887: The Boys Brigade movement in Wales founded by George Philip Reynolds at Havelock Street Presbyterian Church.
1892: Construction of the docks completed.
1894: Belle Vue Park opens.
1906: Transporter Bridge opens on 12 September.
1916: Diocese of Newport absorbed into the new Archdiocese of Cardiff.
1937: King George VI visits Newport and cuts first sod of new Civic Centre building.
1949: St. Woolos attains full cathedral status.
2002: Newport granted city status; Newport Unlimited regeneration company set up; discovery of the Newport ship.
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