Wednesday, 3 June 2009
Nobody wanted to live in Newport
I once stood in a garden of a modern house in St Brides. It was part of a small housing estate built upon what were once 'wetlands'. A heavy lorry passed and the ground quivered. It was like standing on blancmange, grass covered jelly. It set me thinking about how Newport 'began'.
As early as 6000 BC Mesolithic tribes hunted throughout the marsh, but permanent settlements were made on higher ground. The hill fort on the Gaer for example once overlooked dense forest and a salmon rich River Ebbw. Now it sniffs over a housing estate, a motorway, and a small polluted trickle. But in the marsh itself there was no settlement. The future Newport was a grim, diseased-ridden swamp in a dangerous and whimsical flood plain.
The Silurians ruled an area that stretched from West Glamorgan to Gwent. Other than the hill fort of Gaer overlooking the swamp, they avoided ‘Newport’, their major settlement in the area being Lodge Hill in Caerleon. According to Geoffrey of Monmouth it was founded in 406BC by a Silurian king called Belinus.(see Catherine Fisher)
Then the Romans came. They’d drained the Pontine Marshes but clearly didn’t think ‘Newport’ worth the effort, settling in Caerleon instead. After 25 years of hard fighting the Silurians were subjugated, their hill fort replaced by a huge military base, one of the largest in Britain. The only apparent value of what is now Newport was the river that ran through it - the Usk - which carried trade inland.
For a short but vivid history of Newport go here
Many thanks go to Andy South Wales for his photos of the Wetlands. He has a superb collection and his contact is email@example.com