Newport Past

The Newport Medieval Ship
- 12 on the conjectural view of Medieval Newport -

© Bob Trett 2007

The Newport Medieval Ship was discovered within the boundaries of the former Lordship of Newport with its administrative centre in Newport Castle. The Lordship was one of the possessions of the Staffords. The wealth and lands of the Staffords were vast, and they were among the most powerful members of the baronage in the later medieval period. The site of the creek or bay where the Newport ship was abandoned appears to be on the boundary of lands belonging to an Austin Friary founded in 1377 by Hugh Stafford, second Earl of Stafford. This was next to an open area to the south of the Town Pill which was the main landing point in the medieval and early post medieval period. A map of Newport dated 1794 shows a projection into the River Usk described as the Moderator Slip. This may be a slipway discovered above the ship during the archaeological excavation.

It was Humphrey, later to be created Duke of Buckingham, who in 1427 granted a confirmation charter to the borough of Newport. This charter confirmed that "all merchants with their merchandise shall not pass elsewhere through our lordships, either by water or by land, than by the royal streets of our town aforesaid for the reason that we or our heirs may at any time lose our toll or other customs due to us". (ii)

The Minister Accounts for Newport for 1464-1465 indicate that the Lordship received revenues from traffic "under and over the bridge" and to the passage of vessels "beyond the water" before the making of the bridge. (iii) Between 1465 and 1468, during his receivership of Newport, William, Lord Herbert was able to make a net annual profit of about £358 - above the annual farm of £100 a year which he was paying into the Exchequer. (iv)

After the execution of Edward, third Duke of Buckingham in 1522 a survey of his estates records

"The said toune of Newport is a burgh and a p'pur toune and hath a goodly haven commyng unto hit, well occupied with small Crayes whereunto a veray great shippe may resoorte and have good harbour." (v)

On the 10th July 1460 Humphrey Stafford, first Duke of Buckingham, was killed fighting on the Lancastrian side in the Battle of Northampton. His son, Humphrey Lord Stafford, had died in 1458 and the Stafford inheritance passed to his son, Henry second Duke of Buckingham, at that time still a minor.

After the death of his grandfather the lands inherited by Henry, second Duke of Buckingham, went into wardship. The custody of the Lordship of Newport was granted to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick (Warwick the Kingmaker), together with several other Stafford territories on 4th. November 1460. However on 11th.May 1461 King Edward IV placed the custody of Newport in the hands of William Herbert, Baron Herbert of Raglan.

On 2nd February1461 Herbert supported Edward at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross, in Herefordshire. This was a major victory for the Yorkists and Herbert was made Chief Justice and Chamberlain of South Wales. He was created Earl of Pembroke in 1468 as a reward for his capture of Harlech Castle, the last Lancastrian stronghold in England and Wales. He was also a ship owner and in 1465 was granted the wreckage of a great ship of his called the Gabrielle which had been wrecked off the coast of Ireland. (vi)

However Herbert was defeated and executed after the Battle of Edgecote on 6th. July 1469 by the Earl of Warwick. The custody of the Lordship of Newport passed back to the Earl of Warwick but he again lost custody when his possessions were seized after his flight to France in March 1470. His subsequent return and the deposing of Edward IV in October 1470 allowed him to regain control of Newport (vii) until his death at the Battle of Barnet on 14th April 1471. Edward then regained his throne and the custody of Newport may have passed to the Duke of Gloucester, the future Richard III. (viii) Henry, Second Duke of Buckingham, came into his inheritance in 1473.

Despite his wealth Warwick had at times insufficient resources to support his activities. Warwick therefore at times allowed his ships to indulge in piracy to boost his finances as well as capturing "legitimate" enemy vessels during periods of war, and large numbers of ships including Burgundian, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Breton ships were captured. (ix) One of the last acts of piracy by his fleet occurred in March 1471 when his ships seized and plundered twelve large Portuguese ships despite the alliance between England and Portugal. (x) However there is no obvious candidate for the Newport Ship to be one of the vessels known to have been captured by Warwick or his agents.

Warwick's private fleet included large ships of up to 500 tons. One of his ships, also called the Trinity, was captured by pirates from St Malo in 1465 and was possibly returned on the orders of the French King Louis XI. A Trinity that was ceremoniously commissioned on 12th June 1469 at Sandwich may have been this ship refitted for the Earl of Warwick. However it cannot be the Newport ship excavated in 2002 as this was abandoned during refitting. (xi) Nor is it likely to be the same Trinity of Newport recorded in 1461 as this did not appear to one of Warwick's fleet.

A letter of authorisation dated 22 November 1469 by the Earl of Warwick to Thomas Throkmorton, his receiver of Glamorgan and Morgannwg authorised the payment to Trahagren ap Merik (xii) for payments he had made of £10 to John Colt and of 53s.4d. to Richard Port purser for "the making of the ship at Newport". (xiii) He also paid 6s 8d to William Toker, mariner for the carriage of iron (presumably nails) from Cardiff to Newport for the ship and £15 2s 6d to Matthew Jubber in money, iron, salt and other stuff belonging to the ship. However these amounts are too small to cover the cost of even a small ship and the Newport Ship excavated in 2002 was an old ship, partly repaired, but then partly dismantled. It remains to be seen whether John Colt and Richard Port's ship is the excavated Newport Ship although if the payments were made for a repair then the costs seem reasonable. (xiv)

The origins of the Newport Ship are still enigmatic but the ship must have strong Portuguese connections as the coins and pottery found in the bilges are Portuguese.

Text of the Warwick Letter

Richard Earl of Warwick and Salisbury great chamberlain of England and captain of Calais to Thomas Throckmorton our receiver of our lordship of Glamorgan and Morgannwg greeting.

We will and charge you that of the revenues of your office to your hands coming you content and pay …… Trahagren ap Merick £10 the which he paid unto John Colt for the making of the ship at Newport to Richard Port purser of the same 53s 4d, to William Toker mariner for carriage of iron from Cardiff unto Newport for the said ship 6s 8d to Matthew Jubber in money, iron, salt and other stuff belonging to the said ship £15 2s 6d. ……

Given under our signet at our castle of Warwick the 22 day of November the ninth year of the reign of our sovereign lord king Edward the fourth. (1469)

For more information about the 'Newport Ship' see: The Friends' Of Newport Ship Website

Other 'Ship Finds'

Other "ship finds" in the Newport area include part of a vessel discovered in April 1868 during the excavation of a new timber pond at the Newport Alexandra Dock. At the time it was described as Danish built clinker vessel. (xv) This seemed to be confirmed by the radiocarbon dating of a small piece of surviving oak planking, which suggested a date centred on AD 950. However subsequent investigations indicate that the vessel may not be Danish and that since the sample came from the innermost part of a tree the date of felling could be much later. (xvi)

In 1928 fragments of a "barge", including a "rudder" and a "Y shaped" piece were recovered during building work for the National Provincial Bank on the corner of Cambrian Road and Bridge Street, Newport. They were found at a depth of 10 feet below ground level in association with pot sherds of 14th. Century Bristol Redcliffe ware. (xvii) This indicates that in the mediaeval period the Town Pill extended into the town centre as can be also seen on 18th century maps of Newport.

In 1994 the distorted timbers of a boat, dated by dendro-chronolgy to AD 1240, and believed to be a small coastal vessel, were found at Magor Pill near Newport. Magor Pill has been identified as the former site of a mediaeval landing place known as Abergwaitha. The boat timbers were recovered on behalf of the National Museum of Wales for eventual display. (xviii)

(i)  A Plan of the Town and Liberties of the Borough of Newport in the County of Monmouth 1794 Newport Reference Library pqM (912).
(ii)  William Rees 'The Charters of the Borough of Newport in Gwynllwg.' (1951).
(iii)  Gwent Record Office MAN/B/90/0004. Information from Tony Hopkins.
(iv)  Carole Rawcliffe 'The Staffords, Earls of Stafford and Dukes of Buckingham 1394-1521.' (1978)
(v)  State Papers Dom; Henry VIII. Vol. 3, Part 1. A cray was a small trading vessel.
(vi)  C.P.R., 1467-77, page 427.
(vii)  C.F.R. 1461-71, page 295. Refers to the commitment to Richard earl of Warwick - by mainprise - of the keeping of the castle and lordship of Newport. Dated 21 Feb. 1471.
(viii)  It is not clear who had custody of Newport after the death of Warwick. However Edward IV had appointed the Duke of Gloucester as chief justice for South Wales during the minority of Sir William Herbert, heir of William Herbert, late earl of Pembroke. Calendar of Patent Rolls 7 February 1470.
(ix)  Charles Ross 'Edward IV' (1974). page 161
(x)  Jehan de Waurin Recueil des Croniques et Anchiennes Istories de la Grant Bretaigne. HMSO (1891) page 673.
(xi)  'The Chronicle of John Stone' Edited by W.G. Searle 1902 and referred to by Michael Hicks in 'Warwick the Kingmaker' (1998) pages 250-251
(xii)  Trahagren ap Merik was receiver at Newport for William Lord Herbert 11 May 1461 - 27 July 1469 and may have been retained by the Earl of Warwick. See Carole Rawcliffe (1978)
(xiii)  Warwick Record Office CR 1998/J2/177. Note also that John Colt was a Northumberland supporter of the Earl of Warwick. CPR 24 January 1464. Richard Port was described as a "merchant of Bristol" CPR. 22 October 1462
(xiv)  The Newport ship was well over 100 tons. A ship at this time cost between £1 and £2 a ton. See G.V. Scammell Ship Owning in England c.1450-1550. (1961)

(xv)  Octavius Morgan 'Ancient Danish Vessel discovered at the mouth of the Usk' Proceedings at a Meeting of the Royal Archaeological Institute, June 7, 1878.
(xvi)  Gillian Hutchinson 'A plank fragment from a boat-find from the River Usk at Newport'. The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology and Underwater Exploration (1984), 13.1: 27-32. The plank fragment is in the collections of Newport Museum and Art Gallery ref. NPTMG:1930.54.
(xvii)  Unpublished. The desiccated timbers and pottery are in the collections of Newport Museum and Art Gallery ref. NPTMG:1984.34.
(xviii)  Nigel Nayling 'The Magor Pill Medieval Wreck' (1998).

© Bob Trett 2007