ST. WOOLLOS, Monmouthshire - Extract from National Gazetteer, 1868

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]
"ST. WOOLLOS, a parish in the upper division of Wentllooge hundred, county Monmouth, containing the western portion of the town and borough of Newport."

"NEWPORT, a seaport, market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, partly in the parish of St. Woollos, and partly in that of Christchurch, Upper division of Wentllooge hundred, county Monmouth, 3 miles from Caerleon, 12 from Cardiff and 28 from Bristol, to which last steamers ply daily, taking from two to three hours, according to tide, which here sometimes rises to a height of 40 feet; and to Cork twice or thrice a month.

It is the junction station of several railways, which here meet or pass through the town - viz: the South Wales, the Western Valleys, Eastern Valleys, and the Newport and Hereford lines; besides a fifth, connecting it with Bristol, now in course of formation. A canal runs to Pontypool, joining the Abergavenny and Brecon canal, while a second runs parallel with the Western Valleys railway as far as Crumlin.

It is first described by Giraldus Cambrensis, who calls it Novus Burgus, or New Town, in contradistinction to the ancient city of Caerleon, out of whose declining greatness it arose. It was subsequently denominated by the Welsh, Castell Newydd, or Newcastle, from the fortress erected here by Robert Earl of Gloucester, natural son of Henry I., who, on obtaining the lordship of Monmouth in right of his wife Maud, daughter of Robert Fitzhamon, erected the three castles of Bristol, Cardiff, and Newport. In the year 1173, Henry II. having deprived Prince Jorwerth ap Owain of a great part of his possessions, the Welsh rose in arms, and taking advantage of his absence in France, attacked the castle, which was strongly garrisoned, but failing to take it, they carried fire and sword along the banks of the Severn and the Wye to the gates of Hereford and Gloucester.

The castle and town subsequently came into the possession of Richard de Clare, Earl of Hereford, and descended to the Despencers. It continued in this family till the attainder of Edward third Duke of Buckingham, when the castle and lordship were seized by Henry VIII. It was restored to Hugh de Audley, and came by marriage to Ralph Earl of Strafford.

It would appear from Leland that the town was at this time surrounded by walls, and that three of the gates were standing in his time. A large one of stone stood near the bridge and castle, another near the church, and a third in the centre of the High Street. The sites of those adjoining the bridge and church may still be traced, and the central one was only taken down about the year 1808, but of the walls no vestiges remain. Its charter of incorporation, which had been originally granted by Edward II., was confirmed by Queen Elizabeth; and another was obtained in the 21st of James I.

The town is famous in modern times for the attack made on it by the Chartists, under the leadership of John Frost, a magistrate, during the night of the 4th November, 1839. On this occasion the mayor, Mr., now Sir Thomas, Phillips acted with remarkable courage and decision, but failing to persuade the misguided mob to relinquish their desperate designs, he read the Riot Act from the windows of the Westgate Hotel, and having received a wound in the arm while so employed, ordered the soldiers to fire, which effectually dispersed the rioters, who amounted to some 10,000, while the defenders were 28 soldiers, and a few special constables.

Newport is now a flourishing and rapidly increasing port on the right bank of the Usk, which is navigable for vessels of large size, and is crossed by a stone bridge, about 4 miles from its junction with the Severn. It enjoys a largely increasing traffic, owing to the enormous exportation of coal and iron from South Wales, its position being at the point where the busy and densely-populated valleys of the Usk, Afon, Ebbw, and Sirhowy rivers converge. A Harbour Act was passed some years since for the improvement of the port, and a spacious dock, covering 41, acres, was opened in 1842, at an expense of £200,000. A still larger one, possessing an area of 7¾ acres, was opened in 1858, the original dock not being of sufficient extent for the rising commerce of the port. An Act was also obtained in 1865 for forming the Alexandra docks, which will be of much larger dimensions.

The town, in 1851, contained a population of 19,323, which in 1861 had increased to 23,249. It consists of several streets, well paved, and lighted with gas. It is somewhat irregularly built, but the numerous new buildings evince the rapid improvement of the town. The principal public buildings are the townhall, custom-house, barracks, mechanics' institute, commercial rooms, three branch banks, a savings bank, and the King's Head and Westgate hotels. Commercial-street commences near the bridge, and advances up a declivity called Stow-hill, the summit of which is crowned by the parish church of St. Woollos.

There are several other streets containing good shops, but the chief bustle of trade is, however, to be found along the wharves. Within the last few years the well-built suburb of Maindee has grown up on the opposite side of the river. In the main street is a sitting statue of the late Sir C. Morgan, by J. Thomas. The inhabitants are supplied with water under an Act of Parliament, obtained in the 7th of George IV. The union workhouse has been rebuilt on a very extensive scale.

There are six or seven shipbuilding yards in full work, several very large timber-yards in different parts of the town; also breweries, iron foundries, large anchor and chain cable manufactories; a shot manufactory, iron-factories and sail-lofts, which last are principally erected on the side of the canal. The quantity of pig-iron, castings, bar and bolt-iron, rolled iron for armour-plates, tin plates, wire, and coals, shipped from this port exceeds that of any other in the principality. The imports consist chiefly of provisions, and other articles of general consumption, and of very large quantities of timber from Canada and Nova Scotia.

The Act of 5 and 6 William IV., cap. 76, divided the borough into two wards, and made the municipal boundaries co-extensive with those for parliamentary purposes. It returns one member to parliament, conjointly with Monmouth and Usk. The mayor of Monmouth is the returning officer at elections, but the mayor of Newport sits as his deputy in this town. The borough is governed under the Municipal Corporations' Act, by a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors, with the style of "mayor, aldermen, and burgesses of the borough of Newport", and has a revenue of £1,070. The mayor and ex-mayor are justices of the peace, with several others. Petty sessions are held before the borough magistrates thrice a week, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and prisoners are committed for trial at the county sessions, or assizes.

A view of the town and St. Woollos church, backed up by the Blorenge and Turn Barlwm mountains, is commanded from the neighbourhood of the docks, which are situated in the district of Pillgwenlly, or Pill. The town gives name to a deanery in the archdeaconry of Monmouth, and diocese of Llandaff. The living is a vicarage* with the vicarage* of Bettws and the curacy of St. Mark's annexed, in the diocese of Llandaff, value £278, in the patronage of the bishop.

The parochial church of St. Woollos, which occupies a situation on Stow Hill, is a venerable structure with a tower, said to have been built by Henry III. as a reward to the inhabitants for their successful resistance to Simon Montfort, Earl of Leicester. It was formerly ornamented with a statue, part of which is still preserved. The church was restored in 1855, and exhibits specimens of various styles of architecture. The principal feature in the building is the Norman chapel of St. Mary, which is connected with the nave by a Romanesque archway, adorned with curious Saxon carving, and with the Norman ornaments of billet and chevron; and having this peculiarity, that the inner order rests upon two capitals of rude foliage, supported by a pair of large detached columns.

It contains several ancient monuments, one of an armed knight beneath a canopy, supported by three pillars, probably of the time of James I.; another of a mutilated knight in armour, and a female figure, apparently of the 14th century, besides others in a more mutilated condition. The churchyard commands a prospect of the surrounding country, including the town of Caerleon, and the tower of Christchurch, with the wide expanse of the Bristol Channel, the estuary of the Usk and the Severn lying below, and the lofty hills of Somerset and Gloucestershire in the distance.

Besides the parish church, there is a commodious district church, dedicated to St. Paul, erected in 1837, in Commercial-street; and Holy Trinity church, in the neighbourhood of the docks, to which a district has been annexed, and an endowment provided by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. There are places of worship for Independents, Wesleyans, Baptists, and Society of Friends, and a Roman Catholic chapel, of considerable pretensions. The almshouses have an endowment of £25 per annum. Newport is the head of a Poor-law Union, embracing 38 parishes. It is the seat of new County Court and superintendent registry districts.

The principal antiquities are the remains of the castle mentioned above, comprising the keep, gateway, hall, and murenger's house, part of which is now converted into a brewery; also the remains of a friary, consisting of a chapel and refectory. At Twyn Gwnlliw, not far from the town, is a Roman camp and barrow. The Duke of Beaufort is lord of the manor, and receives the tolls. Market days are Wednesday and Saturday. Fairs are held on Ascension Day, 30th April, 19th September, and 6th November."

"PILGWENLLY, a district in the borough of Newport, county Monmouth, near Newport."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]