The ancient township of Newport lies between the north facing slope of Carn Ingli and the south bank of the River Nevern estuary, surrounded by diverse and beautiful landscapes. Situated on the edge of the Preseli Hills within Britain’s only coastal National Park, the countryside here is rich in local and natural history.
The well-planned walks enable visitors to enjoy the town, the nearby hills and the coastal scenery. The town offers a whole variety of attractions from prehistoric burial sites to an up-to-date eco centre. Newport’s location makes it a popular centre from which to visit the whole of North Pembrokeshire.
Origins of Newport
The area abounds with evidence of its early inhabitants. Carreg Coetan Arthur is a Neolithic burial chamber or cromlech. Both Carn Ingli and Carn Ffoi are sites of an Iron Age fort and hut circles. The 6th century Saint Brynach is said to have climbed Carn Ingli to ‘converse with angels’. The Welsh name for Newport is Trefdraeth ‘the township on the shore’. This early settlement was at Parrog and the Normans founded the ‘garrison’ town of Newport later.
Newport Castle & Barony
Newport was incorporated as a Norman borough, in the Lordship of Cemaes, in the early 13th century. A crescent shaped earthwork, known as Hen Gastell on the estuary to the north of Newport Castle is probably the site of the first wooden stronghold of William Fitzmartin (used after he had been ousted from Nevern by the Welsh Prince Rhys ap Gruffydd in 1191). He built a castle on the present site but this was destroyed by Llewelyn the Great in 1215. Rebuilt, it was again destroyed, along with the town, by Llywellyn ap Gruffydd in 1257. Rebuilt this time in stone it was later attacked and destroyed by Owain Glyndwr during the Welsh uprising of 1400 to 1409. Famous Elizabethan antiquarian George Owen was Baron of Cemaes during the late 15th and early 16th centuries. A private residence was incorporated into the ruined gatehouse in the 19th century. The Court Leet of the Barony continues to meet today, the present Lady Marcher exercising the privilege of nominating the mayor of Newport every 2 years. In August the beating of the bounds takes place, when a procession of local people ‘perambulates’ the boundary of the parish. (The castle is not open to the public).
Newport was originally made up of burgages with narrow frontages along the streets of the town. Each burgage plot had a dwelling built from a mixture of clay and straw and was long enough to grow crops and keep a few animals. Many plots extended to hand hewn streams running parallel to the north-south streets giving Newport its distinctive medieval layout.
Burgage holders, called burgesses, were required to attend the Court Leet (being fined for any absence), to grind their corn at the Castle Mill and, for a toll, allowed to sell their produce at the town market. In 1434 there were 233 burgages but by 1594 only 50 of those were habitable. Sheep farming had always been important in the area but with the General Enclosure Act of 1801 people had lost their rights to graze animals. Poor harvests led to a shortage of bread and many inhabitants immigrated to America. Later in the 19th century Newport began to prosper again with the rise in importance of the shipping trade.
Parrog and Sea Trade
Records show Newport was a trading port in the 16th century, with wool and cloth making up two thirds of all exports. At this time slate was quarried from the sea cliffs and exported. In the 1740s herring was exported to Bristol, Wexford, Dublin and as far as the Mediterranean. It was herring from Newport and Fishguard that fed the armies of Queen Elizabeth I in Spain. Ships would come in on a high tide and settle on the shore as the tide went out. Old photographs show the cargo being loaded into horse-drawn carts. In the 18th & 19th centuries shipbuilding took place along the estuary. The single-mast sloop and the two-mast brig were the most common types of vessel. Imports in the 19th century were primarily of limestone, coal and culm. Storehouses were built to accommodate this trade. The only one to survive now houses Newport Boat Club. From the 1850s many ports in Pembrokeshire were in decline as a result of the coming of the railways. The trade continued in Newport until 1934 when the Angus, carrying a cargo of coal, was the last ship to use Newport harbour.
The soil in Pembrokeshire is extremely acidic. Farmers spread lime on their fields as early as the 16th century. Limestone was brought by sea from the south of the county, burnt in kilns over a culm fire, cooled and carted to the farmland. Culm, also originating from the south, is a mixture of anthracite coal dust and clay, mixed with water and moulded by hand into balls. This burnt in domestic fireplaces as well as kilns. Originally, there were many lime-kilns in the Newport area but only 2 remain, both double-kilns. One can be found opposite Newport on the north side of the River Nevern and the other on Parrog, next to its limeburner’s cottage.
Chapels of Newport
There are four chapels in Newport. The oldest is the Ebenezer, the Congregationalist Chapel in Lower St. Mary Street, established in 1743 and rebuilt in 1844. The Church Chapel of St. Mary’s Church in Upper St. Mary Street was built in 1799, for the use of Methodists and non-Methodists alike. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, preached at St. Mary’s Church several times. In 1811 the Methodists separated from the Anglican Church and they built their own, Tabernacle Chapel, in Long Street in 1815. The Baptists held services in a private house in Upper Bridge Street in the mid 17th century. In the same street in 1789, the Bethlehem Chapel was built. Sixty years later it was rebuilt with its tall Gothic windows that remain today.
The first school in Newport was established in College Square in 1809, funded by and named after Madam Bevan of Laugharne. It was part of the nationwide ‘Circulating Schools’ movement, which was set up to give children in rural communities the opportunity to receive an education and maintain the Welsh language. It was also used as a base to train teachers. Madam Bevan’s Central School continued until 1870 when the Education Act was passed. It is now a private residence. The Board School was opened in 1875 on Lower St Marys Street and was enlarged in 1914. The present school in Long Street was opened in 1993.
Fairs, Markets and Traders
A right to hold fairs and markets in Newport was granted by the Norman Lords who benefited from the tolls payable on every beast sold and stall erected. The main fair of the year was Ffair Curig, St Curig’s Fair, at the end of June and that time of year is still Newport’s annual fair week. In the middle of the 16th century, Newport was exporting principally wool and locally woven cloth, its harbour providing a haven for the small coastal trading vessels.
The cloth trade declined for a number of reasons, including a smaller population (probably due to disease) and competition from cheaper goods in England, but the export of the wool fleeces increased. By the 19th century, the maritime trade was flourishing and flannel cloth again an important export. Many of the larger houses in the town were built at this time by sea captains and merchants. The 1875 Directory of England and Wales listed 28 farmers in the parish of Newport and over 70 different trades including bakers, blacksmiths, carpenters, drapers, ironmongers, maltsters, a manure agent, millers, milliners, weavers, etc. and even a photographer, and a further 17 inns and public houses. Many of the latter would open only when a ship came to port! Today Newport has more shops than many communities of its size.