Newport’s location at the mouth of the river Usk has attracted visitors for centuries. The city’s history dates back to a Celtic settlement 2000 years ago.
On the very edge of the Roman empire, Caerleon was the chosen site for a strategic legionary fortress of the 2nd (Augustan) legion from the latter part of the 1st century AD. The remains of the barracks, bath house and amphitheatre are among the best preserved Roman military sites in Britain.
The Normans also settled in the town and built a castle beside the river Usk in the 12th century, the remains of which can still be seen today.
The town received its first Charter in 1385.
Although documents survived from this period, little evidence had come to light to confirm the importance of Newport during the later middle ages, until the discovery of a near complete sea-going vessel in 2002.
Although not all the facts are clear at the moment, it would seem to be the first hard evidence for Newport being a centre of industry and trade in the mediaeval period.
Growth & expansion
Newport expanded rapidly and changed from a small seaport town to one of the most important places in the country for coal export and steel production during the 19th century Industrial Revolution.
The town became known for its accessible modern docks. Trade flourished and further extension of the docks added to Newport’s reputation – in 1914 Newport shipped over 6 million tons of coal per year.
The Chartist Uprising of 1839 in Newport concerned demands made by the Chartists including a vote for all men over 21 years, secret ballots, wages for Members of Parliament and the abolition of the property qualifications for MPs.
All of these demands were incorporated within the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Twenty-two Chartists were shot dead by soldiers and their leaders transported but later pardoned.
These men suffered for principles which we now take for granted and which form the basis of modern parliamentary democracy.
Newport Past (external website) has some useful information about Newport, particularly its history during the 19th century.
Both Newport’s Reference Library and Museum & Art Gallery have resources about Newport’s development and history.