The history of Beechwood house and park

Beechwood House

This grade II listed building was designed in a classical style, using Bath-stone ashlar, by architects Habershon, Pite & Fawckner who were also responsible for a number of notable buildings in the south Wales area.

The south front of the house is two-story and symmetrical with a central porch of paired Corinthian columns set between bay windows. The house layout takes the traditional form of an impressive central hallway, leading from the portico-ed entrance, with a grand staircase at the rear and large reception rooms to either side.

In 1900 the house was purchased by the County Borough of Newport. Alderman T. Jones recommended the house be demolished and replaced with a structure more suitable to provide refreshments for park visitors. Fortunately, these recommendations were not heeded and parts of the house were opened in July 1900 with refreshment rooms for the public.

The Parks Committee and other council members made a visit to inspect the new public park and recorded the following comments in a committee meeting:

"Those who had not paid a prior visit to the newest possession of the ratepayers were agreeably surprised at the beauty, completeness, and variety of the new park. The approach from Chepstow Road discloses a fine avenue of well-grown beeches, down the centre of which is a dingle, with plenty of possibilities of development in the shape of rustic bridges, miniature waterfalls, fish ponds etc.

The main drive is planted with a fine selection of ornamental trees, which have made good growth, and are just now putting on the delicate tints of spring foliage.  The house itself is a well-built freestone faced residence, built by the late Mr. Fothergill, one of the chief magistrates of the Borough, and the views from the balcony and French windows of the lower floor over the alluvial lands to the brown Severn Sea and the distant hills of Somerset as a background, are very fine."

Historical reports suggested that the visitor numbers in the first summer and autumn were very large.

During the First World War the house was used by the Welsh National Memorial Association for use as a sanatorium for men of H.M Forces and Munition Workers.  It was finally vacated by the association in May 1924.

The Parks Committee then decided that the house should be retained solely for use in connection with Beechwood Park as a venue for the public to enjoy. 

It was immediately renovated and turned over to Mr G. N. Downdall who would provide a catering service to provide refreshments for members of the public.

During the Second World War the house was occupied by American forces and had a number of uses - including a hospital for the treatment of tuberculosis, an open-air school and a model railway club.

In the early 1980s it was left vacant and was in danger of falling into ruin beyond repair.

Newport City Council applied for funding to bring the house back to life in 2008. Benefitting from funding of £4.2million from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Welsh Assembly Government’s Local Regeneration Fund (LRF) the house has been restored to a fine facility for the community to use.

Design and layout of the park

The park is similar in style to the contemporary Belle Vue Park which is located on the west side of the city, which was designed by Thomas Mawson.

Although there is no proof of his involvement, Mawson may have been involved in the design of Beechwood Park - particularly as he was doing work for a series of tobacco manufacturers at the time.

There are elements which are typical of his designs - in particular the ‘dingle’ with its clever use of a natural water feature. There is also a reference in his correspondence to designing a park in Newport that was not Belle Vue Park.

Most of the park is laid out informally, with open rolling grass and isolated ornamental trees. The park is planted with both coniferous and deciduous trees.

The east side of the park is the most wooded, with open beech woodland on either side of the stream. The drive from the north-east entrance is flanked by limes.

The main entrance gates are at the south end, there are two further entrances at the north end and one on the east side.  All entrances have wrought iron gates, with those at the south entrance being the most elaborate. Driveways wind from the entrances to the house, sweeping round the two terraces immediately below the house. Below these is further terracing for tennis courts.

Springs in the middle and eastern side of the park enabled ornamental water features to be made - with pools, cascades and rockwork in the small, narrow ravine down the east side of the park and in a wider small dell in the centre. The paths winding through the area cross the pools over modern bridges giving miniature cascades a Japanese feel.