The Watery Connection
The historic market town of Newport has enjoyed a watery connection to the Weald Moors for many centuries. The teeming rivers and strines of the east Shropshire moorlands once helped to provide the bounty upon which the town’s reputation as a medieval fishery was founded, while the transport revolution of the early 1800s provided an impermanent link that survives to this day…
Newport: A Potted History
Much like Wellington, the advent of Newport’s life as a town was marked by Royal decree. Although there is some evidence of an earlier settlement in the area, the medieval footprint of the modern day municipality (known until around 1220 as Novus Burgus) was laid out in the Twelfth Century following the grant of a market charter by Henry I. Essentially a commercial venture, the development was based in no small part on the plentiful stocks of fish to be found in the surrounding wetlands, of which the Weald Moors were a significant constituent. Such was the reputation of Newport’s fisheries that their existence continues to be marked today, both in the town’s crest (which contains three fishes) and in the name of the local parish church of St Nicholas — the patron saint of fishermen! Standing in the centre of town, this ancient place of worship is notable for its Fourteenth Century tower and stained glass by William Morris and Edward Burne-Jones, which hails from a major late Nineteenth Century overhaul of the building.
Although Wellington and Newport both share a planned medieval street grid, neither town shows much evidence of its ancient origins above ground level. In Wellington, this owes much to overzealous Victorian council officials (who swept many of its half-timbered buildings away) but in Newport the explanation lies in the great fire of 1665, which rendered 166 families homeless and caused untold damage. What Newport eventually inherited from the ravages of the inferno was the picture of Georgian elegance familiar to generations of Novoportans ever since. The next great event to shape the locality arrived in the 1830s, when the Shropshire Union Canal cut a course through the north of the town, providing another link to the Weald Moors — where it connected the Shrewsbury Canal to the national network at Wappenshall. Although it later fell out of use, several ‘in-water’ sections of the former waterway remain, including the remnants of a wharf that was created from a portion of one of Newport’s medieval fishing pools.
A commercial centre for a wide part of northeast Shropshire, Newport is a great place to make a detour from your Weald Moors tour. With a wide range of independent shops, cafes and restaurants, there are certainly plenty of opportunities for retail therapy, relaxation and refreshment. If you arrive on Friday or Saturday, you’ll also have the chance to sample the town’s elegant (and unmistakeably blue) indoor market, which has entrances from Stafford Street and Market Mews off St. Mary’s Street. For summer visitors, the showground on the outskirts of the town plays host to the Newport Show every July, which is one of the largest one day events of its kind in the Midlands. Details about this (and any number of other local happenings) can be found at the Guildhall tea room, visitor information and heritage centre at the east end of the High Street, which is just as jam-packed with interest as it sounds!
Newport lost its rail services in the savage Beeching cuts of the mid 1960s, when the main line between Wellington and Stafford was senselessly closed. Much of the 17-mile corridor now forms Route 55 of the National Cycle Network, which skirts the southern edge of the Weald Moors on its way towards Staffordshire. Newport has a long association with road cycling but is most closely linked with the ‘Nocturne’, a biennial sprint through the town centre streets that was the first floodlit road race in Britain when it began in 1989. If you should need help with spares and repairs, look no further than Nova Cycles, which can be found under the Market Hall at 2, The Square (TF10 7AG).
Walking from Newport onto the Weald Moors (and vice versa) is surprisingly easy and following the remains of the old canal towards Edgmond will lead you, in a roundabout way, to the centre of the moorlands (check the map in the centre of our ‘Explore the Weald Moors’ booklet for more details). If you’re coming from further afield, free car parking is available at a number of sites around the town, while details of local bus services can be found by visiting the website of the local service provider, Arriva.
To view the pictures as a slideshow, just click on any of the images.
All photographs ©Wellington LA21 Group/Gordon Dickins