Newport First Stop - 100 Years of News Stories

Originally published privately in 1990 by Derrick Cyril Vaughan, Newport.



By Derrick Cyril Vaughan

When I was a boy in the 1930's my grandfather, whose father and his father before him had all been born in Newport, would tell me stories of the town from way back. Much of what he had to say was very interesting to a small boy but sadly, and inevitably with the passing of the years, I forgot many of the tales which were so compelling at the time. However, some residue of what he said remained with me and I determined that one day I would check on the accuracy of those intriguing anecdotes.

The day finally dawned when I was sentenced to a life of leisure. How best to use it? - That was the question. I had always been told that I was a seventh generation Newportonian and I decided to look into this and if possible write a family history. The obvious place to visit was the Newport Reference Library where I found a well-run establishment with an extremely helpful staff. Intending to research the births, marriages and deaths columns of the newspapers my eyes were often drawn to more interesting items. This was my undoing, for though successful with my investigations and the completion of my book, I got hooked on various stories of Newport which caught my imagination.

I say this was my undoing for, little realising the amount of work involved, the thought struck me that it would be a useful way to pass my time if I compiled a book on Newport by collecting a few stories a year over the hundred years dating from 1800, which would give an insight into Newport's factual history with articles and news items actually written at the time. Inevitably the story or so a year, which I had innocently contemplated, multiplied considerably, in some cases, to over thirty items. I dipped into eighty years of the Monmouthshire Merlin, sixty years of the Star of Gwent, many years of The Cambrian, The County Observer and even eight years of the South Wales Argus which had started in 1892. I searched elsewhere for items in respect of the early years of the century and I became thoroughly involved almost to the point of obsession.

Flesh suddenly appeared on the bones of my grandfather's half-remembered tales. His description of the men from the hills who descended the valleys to Newport at frequent intervals and set the town alight; of the policeman thrown on blazing tar barrels by a mob; of the woman killed by a bayonet charge in Queen's Square; of local murderers hanged in public outside Monmouth gaol; of fourteen men killed in Westgate Square during the time of the Chartists; all was confirmed and if anything the stories had been understated. Soon I had collected enough news items of the 19th Century to form a cohesive whole. The "bricks" of the journalists and others I bonded with the "mortar" of my own inadequate prose and thus this factual story and the atmosphere of early Newport came into being.

I began to feel a great respect for those Victorian journalists, who recorded the news, and the verbosity of their writings. They never used one word when half a dozen would do equally well. Their punctuation marks were scattered like seeds in the wind and as a result my own punctuation suffered accordingly. But I found myself completely immersed in their provincial stream of verbiage but I enjoyed it. Their use of language was superb and reflected somehow the ponderous respectability of some of their subjects and the utter decadence of others.

I find that when I now walk the streets of Newport memories come flooding back to me from my readings. I remember that on that corner this happened, or that building was the scene of something or other. Newport is now alive to me as never before. The 19th Century lives to me, I hope it will do the same for you.

Derrick Vaughan


Monmouthshire, 1990