Newport Upon Usk by JG Wood

The Principle Rivers Of Wales, by JG Wood, 1811

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The town of Newport stretches from the Usk to the summit of a hill from whence the surrounding country is seen to great perfection, particularly the windings of the river through the plain, to its confluence with the Bristol channel. The streets are narrow and moderately paved, except the Bridge street, which is wide and commodious. A new stone bridge of five arches was built by Mr. Edwards about ten years since.

The trade of Newport is considerable: its coasting trade is chiefly carried on with Bristol in small sloops: its exports are coal and the produce of the numerous iron works in its neighbourhood: and the imports are shop-goods, furniture, &c. sent up the canals to the interior. The home trade of the place was much improved by the Monmouthshire canal, finished in 1798, when Mr. Coxe wrote his history of the county, and has continued increasing to the present period. Newport being only a creek of Cardiff, the custom-house returns of its foreign trade are made there.

The two branches of the Monmouthshire canal unite in the plains of Malpas. The Crumlin branch commences above Crumlin bridge, and is carried parallel to the Ebwy, by Abercarn and Risca, to Newport; it is eight miles long, and its head three hundred and sixty-five feet above the Usk at Newport. The Pont y Pool branch begins at Pont Newydd, above Pont y Pool, where it is four hundred and forty-seven feet above the Usk.

That Newport was once surrounded with walls may be inferred from Leland, who says, “Ther is a great stone gate by the bridge at the este ende of the toun, another yn the midle of the toun as in the high streete to passe thorough, and the 3 at the west ende of the toune, and hard without it is the paroche church." The western gate which was used as a town prison, has been taken down some years. In the High Street is an old building with a coat of arms carved in stone over the door: this was the house of the murrenger whose duty was to superintend the walls, and to collect a toll for keeping them in repair. It is now converted into a free school.

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The church of St. Woolos stands upon an eminence at the western extremity of the town, and consists of a nave, two aisles, and a chancel, a chapel dedicated to St. Mary, now used as a burial-place, and a lofty square tower. The nave is the only original part of the church, and appears to have been built by the Normans before the pointed arch came into use. The western doorway which leads from St. Mary’s chapel into the church was the grand entrance. Its form is a semicircular arch richly ornamented, and resting upon low pillars with rude capitals of foliage. The nave is separated from the aisles on each side by five circular arches. In the inside of the church the doors and windows are all pointed, but of various periods. Here are three ancient monuments much dilapidated.

Henry the Third built the tower of the church of St. Woolos, as a testimony of his gratitude to the inhabitants and their lord Gilbert de Clare, for their vigorous opposition to the earl of Leicester whom they defeated at Newport, and forced to retire to Hereford; by which victory the king was delivered from captivity, and the confederacy of the barons dissolved. In the western face of the tower is the headless statue of Henry placed in a niche; the head was struck off by the soldiers of Cromwell.

There are marks of some ancient encampments near the church.

There were two religious houses at Newport; the remains of one near the Usk below the bridge still exists: but of the other, which stood where a private house is now built called the Friars, near the lower road leading to Tredegar, not a vestige is left.

From Newport the Usk meanders through the plain, and separating the levels of Wentloog and Caldecot, is joined by the Ebwy river from the north-west, near its confluence with the Bristol channel.

To the south-west of Newport are the ruins of Castell Glas, or Green Castle, standing upon the north-east bank of the Ebwy, near its mouth. It was esteemed a place of strength and security in the civil wars, and is thus described by Churchyard in the reign of Elizabeth:

A goodly seate, a tower a princely pyle,
Built as a watch, or saftie for the soyle,
By river stands, from Newport not three myle.
This house was made when many a bloodie broyle,
In Wales, God wot, destroy’d that publicke state;
Here men with sword and shield did braules debate:
Here saftie stood, for many things indeede,
That sought safeguard, and did some sucker neede.
The name thereof, the nature shews a right,
Greenfield it is, full gay and goodly sure,
A fine sweet soyle, most pleasant unto sight,
That for delight and wholesome air so pure
It may be praisde, a plot sought out so well,
As though a king should say here will I dwell;
The pastures greene, the woods and water cleere,
Sayth any prince may build his palace heere.

All that remains of this “princely pyle” is a square tower with a spiral staircase, a building containing several apartments, in one of which is a fine Gothic entrance, and several Gothic doors, and a large fire-place within-side. The site of the ancient keep overhangs the old channel of the Ebwy.

About two miles from Newport, upon the upper road to Cardiff, is an ancient encampment called the Gaer, upon an eminence in the old park of Tredegar, and upon the same bank of the Ebwy with Castell Glas: its dimensions are very considerable, and much resembles, in form, the Gaer near Brecknock.

On the opposite bank of the Ebwy, but more to the westward, is a circular encampment, called Craeg y Saesson, or the Saxon fortress; and about a mile further is a similar encampment on the summit of an eminence, called Pen y Park Newydd.

Tredegar house, the noble mansion of the Morgan family, is situated to the south-west of Newport. That part of the edifice mentioned by Leland as a “very fair place of stone" is converted into offices. The extensive grounds, watered by the torrent Ebwy, possess all the advantages of a beautiful and picturesque country. There are several pictures worthy of notice in the house.

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