Newport is a city and unitary authority in south east Wales. It is located on the River Usk close to its confluence with the Severn estuary, east of Cardiff. It is the third largest city in Wales, with a population of 145,700 (2011 census).
Newport has been a port since medieval times, when a castle was built by the Normans. The town outgrew the earlier Roman town of Caerleon, immediately upstream, and gained its first charter in 1314. It grew significantly in the 19th century, when its port became the focus of coal exports from the eastern valleys of South Wales. Until the rise of Cardiff from the 1850s, Newport was Wales' largest coal-exporting port. It was the site of the last large-scale armed insurrection in Britain, the Newport Rising of 1839 led by the Chartists.
During the 20th century, the docks declined in importance, but Newport remained an important manufacturing and engineering centre. It was granted city status in 2002. It is the home of the University of Wales, Newport, and the Newport Gwent Dragons rugby union regional team, and hosted the Ryder Cup in 2010.
It is the largest urban area within the historic county boundaries of Monmouthshire and the preserved county of Gwent. The City of Newport, which includes some surrounding rural areas as well as the built up area, is governed by Newport City Council.
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 Saint Woolos church was founded by Saint Gwynllyw, the patron saint of Newport and King of Gwynllwg. The church was certainly in existence by the 9th century and today has become Newport 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 original Welsh language name for the city, Casnewydd-ar-Wysg (pronounced ) 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 Newport city centre. The original Newport Castle was a small Motte-and-bailey castle in the park opposite Newport Cathedral. It was buried in rubble excavated from the Hillfield railway tunnels that were dug under Stow Hill in the 1840s and no part of it is currently visible.
Around the settlement, the new town grew to become Newport, obtaining its first charter in 1314 and was granted a second one, by Hugh Stafford, 2nd 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 ysbyty, the Welsh for hospital). "Austin Friars" also remains a street name in the city.
During the Welsh Revolt in 1402 Rhys Gethin, General for Owain Glyndŵr, 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 Saint Woolos church destroyed.
A third 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 Bridgwater 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.
During the English Civil War 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.
The Newport Rising in 1839 was the last large-scale armed rebellion against authority in mainland Britain. 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 Saint Woolos churchyard. John Frost was sentenced to death for treason, but 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 and the rest of Monmouthshire came to be seen as "un-Welsh", a view compounded by ambiguity about the status of Monmouthshire. In the 19th century, the St George Society of Newport (a group largely consisting of English settlers and businessmen) asserted that the town was part of England. It was at a meeting in Newport, attended by future Prime Minister David Lloyd George, that the Cymru Fydd movement received its death blow in 1896 when politician Robert Bird stated “You will find, from Swansea to Newport, a cosmopolitan population who will not submit to the domination of Welsh ideas!”. In 1922 Lloyd George was to suffer a further blow in Newport, when the South Wales Liberal Federation, led by David Alfred Thomas, an industrialist and Liberal politician, and Robert Bird moved that Lloyd George "be not heard" in the 1895 General Election. The Conservative capture of the recently created Newport constituency in a by-election in 1922 was one of the causes of the fall 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 Lliswerry to the south; this eventually necessitated a new crossing of the River Usk, which was provided by the Newport 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 excavation 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 King Edward VII 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.
The modern era
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 council re-housed over half the population in the 1920s and 30s.
The post-war years saw renewed prosperity, with Saint Woolos Cathedral (now Newport Cathedral) attaining full cathedral status in 1949, the opening of the modern integrated Llanwern steelworks 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 steelworks declined in the 1980s, the town acquired a range of new public sector employers, and a Richard Rogers-designed Inmos microprocessor 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.
Key dates in Newport's history