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Newport Castle

In the center of town, Newport, southeast Wales

Map link for Newport Castle

All photographs copyright © by Irma Hale

Elizabeth Whittle

he demands of modern transport have almost squeezed this castle out of existence: most lies under roads, and only the east side survives, sandwiched between a road and a railway bridge. However, what little remains is not without interest, and the best place from which to get an impression of its original grandeur is half-way across the adjacent bridge, from where its position right on the bank of the river Usk can best be appreciated. The projecting central tower with its water-gate or dock beneath is the dominant feature. Flanking it are two octagonal towers with prominent spur buttresses. These mark the north and south end of the castle, from which a curtain wall ran westwards enclosing a roughly rectangular area. Outside the curtain wall was a deep moat which filled with sea water at high tide.

The castle was built between 1327 and 1386 by Hugh d'Audele or his son-in-law Ralph, earl of Stafford. It replaced an earlier motte and bailey castle on Stow Hill, near the cathedral. Newport was the headquarters of the Norman lordship of Wentloog or Gwynlliog, which had been within the lordship of Glamorgan until 1314. The new stone castle reflected Wentloog's enhanced status as a separate lordship. The castle was of the usual medieval type with a curtain was enclosing a courtyard or ward. Towers punctuated its sides and there would have been at least one entrance gatehouse.

The next building phase was in the second quarter of the 15th century when the castle was strengthened and embellished for Humphrey Stafford, who became the first duke of Buckingham. The most important of these alterations were the raising of the north curtain wall and the heightening and modernizing of the south tower. After 1521, when the 3rd duke of Buckingham was beheaded, the castle was neglected, and by the 18th century was mostly ruinous. 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.

In the middle of the remaining castle is the great central tower (shown at right) which originally extended further westwards. From the west it is possible to make out all its principle features - the water-gate beneath, which was closed by a portcullis, the room above with its fine ribbed vaulting, a spiral staircase housed in a much restored octagonal turret in the north-west corner, and the stub of an upper storey. The main room probably would have been the lord's audience chamber.

To the south of the central tower was a long narrow room dating from the 15th century rebuilding. The lord's apartments were in this tower, which was originally two storeys high but was heightened to three by Humphrey Stafford. The quality of the decorated windows, the fireplaces and the carved corbels on the upper floor indicate sophistication and comfort.

Newport castle had an active life of only about 200 years, and during very little of this time was it actually occupied by its lord. For a brief time at the beginning of the 16th century Jasper Tudor, Henry VIII's uncle, lived here. It played no significant part in national politics, and its main function was the day-to-day administration of the lordship of Wentloog.



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