The Heritage Hiker’s Guide to Newport

Newport Overview

Newport – Casnewydd is a city located along the coast on the southeast edge of Wales also gives its name to the wider county. At its heart are the remains of Newport Castle and a Brunel railway bridge over the River Usk. The city has a core of shops and a market all within easy reach of the train station and central bus station. Newport Museum, Riverside Theatre, St Woolos Cathedral and Barnabus Art House are just some of the places you can visit as a short walk from the city centre. A little further out are Tredegar House and Tredegar Park, Caerleon with the Roman Legionary Museum and RSPB Newport Wetlands.

Newport Emblem. Painted gold cherub above a gold shield with a large red chevron across its middle.
Newport Emblem
Do you recognise it?©heritagehiker

It’s fair to say Newport is often overlooked in favour of its more glamorous neighbours. It has a wealth of history, some great green spaces and open access to heritage sites which should be celebrated. The is plenty to see and do in and around the city center.

Prehistoric Newport

There is evidence of Neolithic activity in and around the city center in the form of flints and stone finds. On the western outskirts of the city is the site of Gwern y Cleppa Neolithic Chambered Tomb. All that remains of the chamber are seven stones, one of which is the capstone and several upright stones.

Heston Brake Chambered Tomb. Remaining stones.
Heston Brake ©heritagehiker

To the east of the county is Heston Brake a Neolithic Chambered Tomb. A few upright stones are the only reminder to the human skeletons, cattle bones and some pottery found during excavations in 1888.

Evidence for Bronze Age occupation is strong with multiple finds of flint and Bronze Age metalwork scattered over the county.

There a number of Bronze Age Barrows scattered across the countryside near Newport,  these include:

As well as these Bronze Age burial monuments there are standing stones called The Lang Stone and The Druidstone

The Iron Age is represented across the surrounding hills with hillforts. They are found at Lodge Hill in Caerleon, Tredegar Hillfort, Y Gaer Hillfort and Wilcrick . To the west of Newport, just over border into Caerphilly is also Coed Cae Ruperra (Lower Machen article link)

Roman Newport

Archaeological evidence shows a strong Roman presence in Newport County. Internationally well-known are the remains of the Roman fort at ‘Isca’ in Caerleon (Caerleon article link).

Foundations of Caerloen Roman Barracks. Newport.
Excavated Caerleon Roman Barracks ©heritagehiker

Newport lies on low and fertile land with easy access to the sea which makes it a prime location for Roman settlement. There is evidence of Roman settlement in Portskewwett to the east of the county. There is the nationally important Roman Town of Venta Silurium in modern day Caerwent. (Caerwent article link)

The Beginnings of the City of Newport

It is said that Newport begins life in the late 5th or early 6th century, though there is no ‘real’ evidence to support this. St Woolos Cathedral lies near the city centre and dates from the 13th to 15th century although it is believed to date much earlier as a religious site. The church is said to have replaced a previous 5th or 6th century chapel on the site.

There is documented settlement in the area in the 10th century with further settlement expansion in the 11th century. Newport Castle was built in the 14th century, it is said to have replaced an earlier motte and bailey castle sited near St Woolos Cathedral.

The town charter of 1427 secured Newport’s status as a market town. Newport remained relatively unchanged until the 18th century. The town began to grow after the opening of the Monmouthshire Canal in 1799. With the growth of the coal industry and the docks the town rapidly grew to be the largest town in Wales.

The opening of the Monmouthshire Canal in 1799, made Newport docks the outlet for all iron and coal production of the Monmouthshire Valleys of Ebbw, Sirhowy and Afon Llwyd. In 1931 the last section to Newport Docks was cut back to make way for the A48 Kingsway.

Front of the Westgate Hotel Newport.
Front of the Westgate Hotel, Newport ©heritagehiker

In 1839 the town centre was the site of the Newport Uprising, part of the Chartist Riots. The uprising took the lives of 20 people and many more were injured.

The 19th century saw the completion of the Town Hall, Market Hall and Assembly Rooms. The town was made a city in 2002.

The History of Newport Castle

The remains of Newport Castle stand on the banks of the River Usk. Nestled between the main roads into the city and the railway line. The site is currently inaccessible due to fixed fencing around the remains although it is viewable from both a nearby footpath and the nearby road bridge.

Newport Castle on the River Usk.
Newport Castle on the River Usk ©heritagehiker

The castle was built between 1327 and 1386 to reportedly replace an earlier motte and bailey castle on Stow Hill, near St Woolos Cathedral. Newport was the headquarters of the Norman lordship of Wentloog or Gwynlliog, which had been within the lordship of Glamorgan until 1314. At the height of the Owain Glyndwr revolt in 1405 work was carried out to strengthen the castle. The castle was extensively remodelled between 1430 and 1445 for Humphrey Stafford, who became the first duke of Buckingham. After 1521, when the 3rd duke of Buckingham died the castle fell into disrepair. Newport castle was occupied for about 200 years and for only a small part of that was it actually occupied by its lord.

By the 18th century the castle was mostly ruinous. In the 19th century surviving buildings were used as a brewery while many other parts were demolished. In the twentieth century the castle was conserved and consolidated, although a road was built across the western part in 1970.

What remains of the castle has been restored in places, but much of the original stonework of mottled pink old red sandstone and white dundry stone survives. You can still see the towers and arch of a water gate on the rivers edge.

History of St Woolos Cathedral

The Church of St Woolos mainly dates from the 13th to 15th centuries although elements of earlier Norman stonework can still be seen in its walls. It is likely the church stands on the site of an earlier wooden 5th– 6th century chapel, any trace of which would have long disappeared. It was restored in the 19th century with further additions and alterations being carried out in the 20th century.

St Woolos Cathedral, Newport.
St Woolos Cathedral, Newport ©heritagehiker

Sometime before the Norman period the first church was replaced by a stone structure, slight traces of which remain in St Mary’s Chapel. The interior of the church has an impressive Norman arch dated to around 1080 and a part Norman Font.

In the 1200s, St Mary’s Chapel was heightened and narrow lancet windows inserted. In the 15th century the church suffered at the hands of Owain Glyndŵr. Following this attack the church was restored and extended including the original tower.

  • In 1818/19 St Mary’s Chapel was restored and alterations made to the lancet window.
  • 1853 saw a full restoration of the church with alterations.
  • 1870 saw damage following a hurricane which led to another small phase of restoration.
  • The church was heavily restored again in 1913 when a new vestry was built.

There are many interesting tombs and effigies inside the Cathedral including those relating to John Morgan (Morgan’s of Tredegar). Outside in the graveyard is a dedication plaque to 10 Chartists (graves unknown) killed at the Westgate Hotel in the centre of Newport town.

When Did St Woolos Become a Cathedral?

The church achieved cathedral status in 1949. The 1960s saw the chancel demolished and rebuilt to befit a cathedral with the east window, designed by John Piper, being added.

The Legend of Gwynilyw & St Woolos

Legend has it that Gwynilyw, Lord of Gwynilwg founded the first church here around 500 AD. It was most likely made of wood and mud. Gwynllyw was married to Gwladys the daughter of Brychan (from whom Brecon gets its name) and they had a son named Cadog (Cattwg). Cadog’s religious influence is most strongly seen at Llancarfan in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Newport Ship

Replica Model of Newport Ship
Replica Model of Newport Ship ©heritagehiker

During the early summer of 2002 excavations for a new Arts Centre in Newport uncovered the remains of a well-preserved 15th century ship. Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust (GGAT) recorded the ship remains before its potential destruction by building works. The Newport Save our Ship Campaign stepped in to gain public support to save the ship from destruction. The ship was dismantled and moved temporarily to an industrial unit on the old Llanwern Steel Works. The timbers and finds are currently housed on Queensway Meadows Industrial Estate. You can find directions and visiting times by clicking here.

Original boards from Newport Medieval Ship
Original boards from Newport Medieval Ship ©heritagehiker

Newport Docks

Newport has been considered a major trading port since at least the 15th century. The town’s industrial significance was established in 1799 with the opening of the Monmouthshire Canal and continued as Newport docks became the outlet for all iron and coal production of the Monmouthshire Valleys of Rhymney, Ebbw, Sirhowy and Afon Llwyd.

  • The Town Dock was constructed in 1842 and extended in 1858. It provided an outlet for products brought down the canal.
  • Alexandra Dock (later known as North Dock) was opened in 1875 as a coal exporting facility.
  • The Union Dry Docks were constructed in the late 19th century and the Tredegar Dry Dock was added in the early 20th century.

The coal trade was still expanding and in response the Alexandra South Dock was built, in three stages, eventually reaching its present extent by 1914. Newport was closed as a coal port in 1964.

The presence of the docks made Newport a target for enemy bombings during WWII. The most serious air raids came during May and July 1941 which caused heavy damage and loss of lives.

Newport Transporter Bridge

Designed by the French engineer, Ferdinand Arnodin, the Newport Transporter Bridge was opened in 1906. The bridge provides a road and pedestrian crossing of the river Usk allowing tall ships unrestricted passage. A moving platform, or gondola, which carries the traffic, is suspended from the trolley. The electrically-powered haulage winch can be controlled from a pilot house on the gondola or from the winding house at the eastern end of the bridge. The design gives a clearance of 54m above river level and it is one of two such bridges remaining in the UK, the other being at Middlesborough in the north of England.

Newport Market

Newport’s Market Hall is on a site that has been used for the town’s market since around 1817. In 1865 this was extended to New Upper Dock Street, but it was then demolished and rebuilt to the design of C. Kirby and T. Watkins. In 1934 further rebuilding and alterations took place, giving the building an eclectic mix of styles. The Upper Dock Street facade of the Hall is in the French Renaissance style, built from red-brown stone. The High Street facade, however, is in a classic interwar style, with Portland stone on a granite base.

The market has recently undergone a revamp and is known these days for its food stalls offering a range of choice for the visitor.

Newport Wetlands

Newport Wetlands National Nature Reserve lies between the Severn Estuary and the River Usk near Newport. It is home to a wide variety of wildlife including many interesting species of birds. It a lovely place to visit at during all of the seasons. There are plenty of walks across the reserve including a special one for dog owners. The café has limited outdoor seating for dog owners bringing their pooch out for the day).

Newport Wetlands has a visitor centre with a café, shop and toilets. There is car parking (charges apply) Click here for visiting  and walk information.

Suggested Walks

Walk the Newport Coast Path along to East Usk Lighthouse

East Usk lighthouse is located on the opposite side of the river mouth. The lighthouse is a white high steel tower, which was erected in 1893 and is still operational.

The Wales Coast Path can be accessed via a number of points including Newport Wetlands. The path takes you past many of the places featured in the article and with plenty of choice for either short or long walks.

For articles related to Newport see Lower Machen, Caerleon and Caerwent

Article on Tredegar House and the Morgan Family forthcoming.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Upcoming Events

Book your space on these upcoming events

Get Involved with Heritage Hiker

Learn how you can get involved with Heritage Hiker today!