Ruins of the Austin Friars Newport Mon

"The Monastery of Austin Friars, at Newport, With Notes on the House of Black Friars, and Other Minor Ecclesiastical Establishments" by Thomas Wakeman, 1859.
Printed for the Monmouthshire and Caerleon Antiquarian Association by Henry Mullock, Newport.
Illustration by John Lee


The Monastery of Austin Friars

In the fourth volume of Leland's Itinerary, page 53, we read, "Newport is a bigge Towne, whereof that parte where the Paroche Chirch is stondith on a Hille," etc. and a marginal note informs us that "there was a house of Reliqion by the Key beneth the Bridge," and this short and unsatisfactory notice is all that the learned antiquary, writing about the year 1540, thought proper to record of the little monastery in question. Dugdale, our great authority on monastic history, knew nothing about it. In Tanner's Notitia (I quote Nasmith's edition) the author contents himself with quoting Leland's note, adding a conjecture of his own, that "it was probably (a house) of Friars Preachers, because such a one was granted in 35th Henry 8th to Sir Edward Carne." In a note to this he observes, "though I met with one John Cregory, frater Augustin de Newport," (MS., in Bibl: Coll: Univ: Oxon:) This shows that he had some misgivings that his conjecture was not based upon a very sure foundation; Cox, however, adopted it, and we learn from him, writing in 1800, that the remains of the monastery then consisted of "several detached buildings containing comfortable apartments, and a spacious hall, with gothic windows neatly finished in freestone;" the body of the church was dilapidated; but the northern transept was a "small but elegant specimen of gothic architecture." It is to be regretted that he gives no view or plan of these remains, which have now entirely disappeared, so that the etching, by our friend and associate Mr. Lee, from a sketch taken by him previous to its destruction, which illustrates this paper, is the only memorial we possess of this ancient edifice. Of the order to which it belonged, the era of its foundation, and name of the founder, of which hitherto no account has appeared, I am fortunately enabled to supply the particulars. It belonged to the Austin Friars, or as they styled themselves, "Hermits of Saint Augustine." They claimed as their founder the saint himself, not the apostle of the Anglo Saxons, but the eminent African Bishop, and Father of the church, who is said to have instituted the order about the year 388, in the neighbourhood of his native town of Tegasté in Numidia. The order became extinct on the invasion of Africa by the Vandals, but was revived in Europe in the 18th century, and introduced into England about 1250. Their dress in the house was white, but in the choir, or when they went abroad, they wore over all a long black gown with wide sleeves and a hood, and a girdle of black leather fastened with a pin of bone or ivory. The Staffords were great patrons of this order; Ralph, Earl of Stafford, the first Lord of Newport and Wentllwch of the family, founded a house for them at Stafford in 1344, and some of the family, another at Shrewsbury. From a document in the possession of Sir Thomas Phillipps, Bart: of Middle Hill, a transcript of which is in the collection of our President, it appears that this house at Newport was founded in the year 1377 by Hugh, son of Ralph, who succeeded his father as second Earl of Stafford, and Lord of Newport and Wentllwch, in 1372. It may be that it was considered as a cell to the house at Stafford; at all events the probability is, that the first of the order who were established at Newport, came from that place.