Newport First Stop - 100 Years of News Stories

The Mature Years 1890 - 1900

By Derrick Cyril Vaughan

During the early years in Newport it had been convenient to hold inquests in public houses due to the scarcity of any other suitable accommodation. In fact even the first council meeting had been held in a public house, the Carpenters Arms in High Street, for the lack of a town hall. This state of affairs in respect of inquests had continued to exist until 1890, when a public outcry against the practice was brought to the attention of the authorities, probably encouraged by the Temperance Movement, and also that there were now in existence many other places more dignified for the holding of Coroners' Courts. It was put to the Standing Joint Committee of the Council that, "Witnesses are not generally of the highest class and that their attendance at an enquiry is usually the excuse for drinking." It was therefore decided that in future, places of a more suitable nature would be used.

January 1890 a negligent apprentice Griffith Davies was summoned for deserting his master's service, he being apprenticed to Mr. Brown a printer of Commercial Street. The lad promised to return to work and was ordered to pay costs.

In the same month, at a meeting of the Newport Watch Committee, the question of police pay came up for consideration. A large number of officers of the force had sent in applications for advances. After due consideration the Committee agreed to recommend the same rates of pay as those recently adopted in Cardiff. Inspectors on promotion to the rank would receive seven shillings (35p) higher than at present, and the maximum after ten years service would be increased to two pounds nine shillings (£2.45) a week instead of two pounds two shillings (£2.10). Sergeants would get a maximum of one pound sixteen shillings and nine pence (£1.84) and constables one pound nine shillings and nine pence (£1.49) after ten years service.

The arrival in June of the lady cricketers of England provoked some amusement in Newport. They played an exhibition match at the Athletic Club. The contingent consisted of thirty young ladies from whose number two teams were chosen for the match. The "Reds" were captained by Miss Westbrook described as the W.G.Grace of the team (a very pretty bat) and the "Blues" were led by Miss Daisy Stanley.

The dress of the group caused quite a stir amongst the Newport ladies who attended the match. It consisted of white flannel skirts reaching half way between knee and ankle and almost touching the high white cricketing boots. Loose sailor bodices also of white flannel opening at the throat with a broad collar falling behind. Around the skirts were three lines of trimming, either red or blue, according to the team, with large sashes to match and a rosette in the white cricketing cap. The skirts were full and weighted around the bottom with shot. The stockings matched the trimmings in colour as did the long sleeves of the Jerseys, worn under their sailor shirts, the sleeves of which were very full and came down to the elbow. To prevent injury from a blow on the breast, a sort of armour of steel plates, leather and wadding was worn. At 2 p.m. the match started and the "Blues" took the field and were warmly applauded. Their manners and bearing left nothing to be desired and whilst the match was in progress they regarded the business in hand as serious. During the afternoon the 4th Battalion of the South Wales Borderers rendered a selection of music. The all-round play of both teams was remarkably good, eliciting repeated applause, the "Reds" scored 36 and the "Blues" 125.

Rugby of course was the great mass appeal in Newport. The team were riding high with five invincible seasons behind them.

The Golden Age of Welsh rugby football which started in 1891/2 with an invincible season and concluded in 1896/97, without doubt the greatest period in the history of Newport Rugby Football. During those six seasons Newport played 170 matches, won 143, lost 13 and drew 14. During that period there were many famous names in that galaxy of great Newport players but the one which shone brightest was that of A.J. Gould.

Arthur Joseph Gould was born on October 10th 1864 in Newport and educated in his native town. His height was 5ft.10in, and his weight 11st. 6lb. As a lad he played for the Newport 3rds (1878/9), but he was so talented that he was promoted to the premier team at the age of 16 for the season 1880/1, never having played for Newport 2nd team. His position was that of centre three-quarter, though he did play at full back one season for Newport, and one season for Wales. His first international game was played at Swansea in 1884 against England, and his first captaincy of the Welsh team dated from 1889. In 1890 he spent eighteen months in the West Indies on business but returned to the Newport team for the invincible season 1891/2. In 1892/3 he scored 39 tries for Newport and dropped 4 goals and two tries for Wales. His popularity in the town and in Wales generally was immense. On the occasion of his 25th appearance for Wales a song was written in his honour. In all he played 27 times for Wales including 18 as Captain. Sadly his playing career ended in controversy when his supporters offered him the deeds of his house at 6 Llanthewy Road with the blessing of the Welsh Football Union. However the other unions objected and in order to settle the matter he retired from rugby but continued as a referee and as an international selector. He died at the early age of 55 in 1919 during the influenza epidemic.

In June 1896 J. Emberey of 88 Henry Street decided to travel to Weston in his coracle, the size of which was 5ft 11in x 3ft 3in, being l2ins deep and weighed a total of 29lbs. He set off from the Alexandra Dock at 9.15 a.m., and entering the Channel he faced a head wind and rough sea. On three occasions his craft was nearly swamped. About four miles beyond Bell Buoy he was passed by the Waverley, and on reaching Weston the Captain reported having seen him. He finally arrived at 1.30 p.m. the hazardous voyage having taken four and a quarter hours.

In September of that year the Sextuplet, on a world tour, arrived in Newport with its captain Dan Hughes, a typical American, and the full team. It was l6ft. long and weighed 132 lbs and held the speed record for any kind of machine. It had been tested against an express train over a distance of half a mile and had won by twenty yards, the speed over that distance being 27 2/5th seconds. Captain Hughes and his team were the cause of much admiration when they rode the cycle through the town and many of the local lads were encouraged to "have a go."

The death of Canon Hawkins, Vicar of St. Woolos, occurred in October at the age of 92. He had been the Vicar of the Parish for nearly 40 years but had been forced to retire in 1882 due to failing eyesight. He was not an extempore preacher hut was an excellent reader, and few could render the liturgy of the Church of England more effectively. He desired everything to be done "decently and in order." It was said he was able to mount Stow Hill within a month of his death with the briskness of a man of 40.

His death recalled a fact that was not generally known. Before his transference to St. Woolos he had been Vicar of Coleford in Gloucestershire, which strangely came under the Diocese of Llandaff, while St. Woolos belonged to the Diocese of Gloucester and Bristol. The respective bishops decided to adjust this anomaly when a vacancy occurred. This happened in 1843 and Canon Hawkins transferred to St. Woolos at the same time as the parish was transferred to the see of Llandaff, Coleford being placed under the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol.

On Thursday 17th December 1896 at 5.30 a.m. most Newport inhabitants were awakened by a sharp shock and a rumbling noise. This was the most powerful earthquake which had been felt in the area for many years. One man likened the noise to a steam-roller being trundled along the road. The ground shook violently for a few seconds, shaking houses and furniture quite severely. It was most severe in Maindee and the Pill area.

In December Edward Whymper (1840-1911) arrived to deliver a lecture to Newport Literary Society entitled "20,000ft Above The Sea". Whymper was an explorer and mountaineer. He had led the ill-fated first ascent of the Matterhorn (1865) when four members of the team died on the descent.

Referring back for a moment to the item on Arthur Gould a note appeared on 24th April 1897 in the County Observer under the heading "Arthur Gould's Testimonial" as follows:

'The testamonial to Arthur Gould the famous Welsh footballer, which took the form of the title deeds of a house, together with an illuminated address, was presented to him on Easter Monday evening at the Drill Hall, Newport".

On visiting St. Woolos Cemetery through the Bassaleg Road gates one may see near the entrance a most magnificent white marble memorial to the Studt family. This family was of mid-European origin and for many years ran the fair-grounds throughout the West Country and South Wales. In 1897 Mr. Jacob Studt gave the income for a week derived from his steam horses, switchbacks etc. to the new Hospital Fund in return for Lord Tredegar allowing him to use an open space in Alexandra Road for the running of his fair.

In November 1897 four Customs' Officers were thrown into the River Usk, near the Alexandra Dock pier-head due to the capsizing of their boat. While taking the boat down the slip in order to reach a steamer, the boat turned over, and they were unceremoniously pitched into the water, having to be rescued by a pier-head man named Rice who saved them from drowning.

The same month saw the departure of 80 men of the 2nd Battalion South Wales Borderers, who had been stationed at Newport Barracks. They left on the Southampton express from Newport station, where a large crowd had gathered to see them off. The music was provided by the band of the Mountain Battery and it was expected that they would be drafted to the North West Frontier.

Compared with the celebrations in Newport to mark Queen Victoria' s Golden Jubilee in 1887 the Diamond Jubilee on 20th June 1897 was a muted affair. It so happened that the day fell on a Sunday and the Victorian Sunday, particularly on the borders of Nonconformist Wales, was a doleful day devoid of any form of amusement. In spite of this however an attempt was made at celebrating the momentous occasion.

The Queen on leaving Buckingham Palace in the morning, pressed a button which conveyed electronically the following message to the General Post Office which in minutes was flashed to all corners of the Empire.

"From my heart I thank my beloved people. May God bless them. VR I."

In Newport the military forces paraded through the town to the Marshes where a feu de joie was fired. At one o'clock the children of the various elementary schools assembled at the Drill Hall where they gave a concert in aid of the New Hospital Fund. Afterwards the schools were taken to the fields they had occupied on Whit Monday for a Jubilee Tea, with sports and games in the evening. One of the highlights of the day was the annual inspection of the Fire Brigade and their appliances, followed by a display by the firemen under the command of Captain Lyne which attracted about 1,500 people. Another entertainment was held in the evening when a carnival took place in aid of the new Hospital which ended up in Belle View Park where 2,500 congregated on the slopes and terraces to watch the procession; the Post Office Band played selections from 7 p.m. onwards. The town decorations were extensive and effective and in the evening the illuminations were brilliant.

On Sunday evening 12th December 1897 the house of Mrs. Huggett in Cedar Road was entered by burglars, while the family was at Church, and ransacked. Nothing of value was taken but the intruders had opened several drawers and entered the bathroom and had a bath. The gas in most of the rooms had been lit and they appear to have been disturbed by the return of Mrs. Huggett. The house was almost directly opposite the private residence of the Head Constable of the Borough - Superintendent Sinclair.

On a morning in 1899 Mrs. Slade of Tunnel terrace found, on going to her fowl house at the bottom of her garden, that 16 of her prize fowls had been slaughtered by dogs. Mrs. Slade was a widow and much sympathy in the neighbourhood was extended to her. Another widow Mrs. Martha Atkins living at 2 Reece's Buildings was found with her throat cut. A neighbour informed P.S. Tooze and P.C. Friend who in turn called Dr. James Hurley, but the woman expired as he arrived.

During the last year of the century the rebuilding of the King's Head was taking place at the expected cost of £25,000 and the Parliamentary Committee were about to recommend the Council to construct a new bridge over the Usk between the Old and New Docks on the principal of the one at Rouen on the Seine built by Monsieur Armodin. The costs being roughly estimated at £60,000.

The question of Sunday funerals was before the Council. Nothing had yet been decided but there was a general feeling in the town that Sunday being a day of rest and the churches busy with their services, funerals should not be allowed on this day. However, a meeting of dockers was held in Pill to protest against the resolution of the Town Council to prohibit Sunday funerals; the opinion being that Sunday was a convenient day for working men to bury their dead. They decided to request the Mayor to call a meeting to discuss the matter before any permanent steps were taken. The voting to settle this issue took place in September 1859. The poll was a very small one as out of 8,694 entitled to vote 919 voted against Sunday funerals, 867 being in favour.

On 24th September Dr. W.W. Morgan celebrated his 90th birthday. He came to Newport in 1838 and was in the town when the Chartist Insurrection resulted in 14 men being shot dead; in fact he narrowly escaped being shot himself in going to the assistance of a rioter who lay wounded before the Westgate Hotel. The man died after gasping for "water". He went to help another man who said he had been shot while going to post a letter. When he tried to move him he found a long sword down the inside leg of his trousers. Dr. Morgan was Mayor of Newport in 1864.

A.E. Kennard of the Newport Hundred Miles Road Cycling Club crushed an unsurpassed record by covering the distance from Newport to Cardiff and back, a distance of eighteen miles, in fifty seven minutes.

A meeting of ratepayers was held at the Pantheon to discuss the proposal to close public houses in the County on Sundays. Mr. H.T. Winterbotham moved and Mr. Bradshaw seconded the following resolution:

"That this meeting is of the opinion that closing public houses on Sundays in Monmouthshire would be an intolerable piece of class legislation and a gross interference with the liberties of the working classes and would lead to the establishment of clubs, encourage home drinking, promote illicit trading and generally prove detrimental to the welfare of the inhabitants of the County."

The resolution was carried unanimously.

In 1899 the Second Boer War broke out in South Africa. The government realised that the conflict was going to be long and serious and very different to the "normal" skirmishes in the Empire. The whole country was involved in this war effort as never before. In Newport men were being recruited in the streets and the garrison at the Barracks had already been packed off to the Cape. Many men were being killed and the casualty lists were long. There was gloom pervading the whole country particularly as the British forces had already suffered a number of reverses at the hands of the Boers. The siege of Ladysmith alone lasted four months and resulted in the death of 3,200 British soldiers. At the same time there was Mafeking, where a small garrison, under the command of Colonel Baden Powell, was courageously holding out against the onslaughts of the Boers. Both these events had a depressing effect on the people back home and were still unresolved at the turn of the century.

From the local papers it was evident that the inhabitants of Newport shared in the national depression. A lecture was given to the members of the Tredegar Constitutional Club by Mr. Longstaff on the South African War entitled, "Why we are there and why we should remain." Collections were being made everywhere for the "Boys in South Africa." Many trains were to be seen passing through Newport filled with young Welshmen off to the war, which was considered to be at that time, the greatest and most destructive war ever fought by this country.

It was thus that the 19th century ended with foreboding, and not with riotous celebrations. To-add to the gloom New Year's Eve was a Sunday and in Newport on the borders of Wales it was not the liveliest place at the best of time, particularly on a Victorian Welsh Sabbath.

It was sad that the great events of the first hundred years of Newport's industrial history could not be properly celebrated at the time. Perhaps we, who live in the 20th century, may have better luck and be able to celebrate the turning of our own century, only a few short years away, in a more appropriate manner, remembering at that time, not only our own achievements, but the foundations laid by the Newportonians of the 19th century.

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