AROUND THE PARROG IN NEWPORT, PEMBROKESHIRE
by Ray Jones
Newport in Pembrokeshire is a good example of a Norman planted town. The Norman Lord, Robert Fitzmartin, captured Nevern castle from the Welsh and from there ruled the Barony of Cemais. His son, William Fitzmartin inherited. After a family feud, William Fitzmartin moved to Newport in about 1197 and established Newport Castle. The town developed around the Castle – Novo burg – Newport.
Long before this, probably originally founded when the ice receded, there was a small settlement on the estuary of the river Nevern which became known as Trefdraeth – the town or place on the sand/shore. Alongside the river there was a flat piece of land known in 1592 as ‘the parke,’ shown on a 1748 chart as Rhyd Barrog, and latterly called Parrog
There is a long maritime history centred on the Parrog. Anecdotal evidence suggests a quay was built in 1566 and there was an eight ton Smack Le Saviour de New Berg in Kemes trading with Bristol, North Wales, Ireland and ‘upp Severne afishing. Newport creek became part of the ‘legal port of Milford’ which extended from Worms head (Gower) in the south to Barmouth in the north. There is little about Newport in the Port Books of the sixteenth century but Newport has been said to rival Fishguard’s maritime trade and a government survey of 1566 mentions trade with Bristol.
In a commentary on a 1748 chart, it was stated ‘…[Newport] corn and butter are here aplenty as also herrings and other fish. In this bay there are ‘quarry’ slate which supplies all this coast, and not far from here is a vein of Allum Earth (sic) never worked…between Fiscard (sic) and Newport there are about a thousand barrel of herring.’
Although the dangerous bar across the mouth of the river handicapped development, Parrog itself was sheltered from the prevailing west winds by Dinas Head and a little later became an important centre for merchant shipping, shipbuilding and associated trades.
A total of 50 vessels were built between 1760 and 1840, total tonnage around 4200, originally using wood from the Llwyngwair estate and later importing timber from Nova Scotia and the Baltic. The first vessel built is believed to have been the sloop Ann and Mary 22 tons built in 1762, although a gravestone in St. Mary’s church describes David Gilbert (1745-1821) as ‘master of the brig Ceturah … the first brig built at this port’. It is believed this vessel was named after his wife whom he married in 1774. Later, from about 1820, schooners were built. The busiest period was the 1810s 15 vessels, total tonnage1,793 were launched. The last vessel to be built is thought to be the schooner Martha. Because of the demand for larger ships and problems with the bar, no vessels were built after 1845. Some shipbuilders moved to other county ports.
No buildings are shown at Parrog in a 1748 chart and there is little information about the buildings except the warehouses, then known as storehouses. A large limekiln with associated lime burner’s cottage was built, together with a mortuary and a store for the Rocket-launched Life-Saving Apparatus, thought to be necessary because of the hazards and number of drownings in Cardigan Bay. These buildings are still present, now being used for other purposes. The lime kiln was last fired in the 1920s. There was also a weighbridge, on the eastern side, at the entrance to Parrog, but there is no sign of it now.
More is known about the warehouses, each of which had a yard and a small lime kiln. In 1758 John Lloyd had permission to build a storehouse and in 1759 John James built another. Essex Bowen enclosed a yard alongside his storehouse in 1759. John Lloyd, son of John Lloyd above built a ‘small storehouse’ in 1788. A storehouse was extended in 1792 and on May 13, 1795 permission was granted to David Harries to build a storehouse ‘40 feet long and 25 feet in breadth… near the sea shore’. This is the sole surviving storehouse and eventually became Newport Boat Club. In 1922 one of the storehouses was demolished as the result of a wager and the stone used to build Newport Memorial Hall. It is not clear what happened to the other storehouses, none of which survive.
In 1883 the Norwegian ship Oline foundered in the bay, close to the shore, with loss of the five crew. There was no lifeboat in Newport at this time and help could not reach her. This prompted a summer visitor from Somerset to denote a sailing/rowing lifeboat The Clevedon. She was based in a specially built lifeboat house at Cwm Dewi on land leased from the Llwyngwair estate. Because of the bar the boat could only be launched at high water and in 1894 the Lifeboat Station was closed. During its service it had been called out three times and saved 11 lives.
Forty ships are known to have traded from Newport before 1875, a number making several visits and from 1876 to 1900, 104 vessels made 1,466 visits. The first steamship was the Sea Flower 62 tons, with a cargo of 5 tons of guano in October, 1888. At high water, ships tied up at the quay walls and at low water they unloaded on the beach, either into horse-drawn carts or, for some cargoes such as limestone, by dumping on the beach for collection later. Imports were coal, bricks, timber, wine, salt and guano as well as limestone. Exports included anthracite, slates, herrings, agricultural products and wool.. An indication of the importance of Parrog’s marine activity may be gauged from the number of nearby hostelries, none now remaining. For example, Ship Afloat (now Seagull Cottage), Parrog Arms (Morawelon), Queens Head Hotel (Morfan) and Mariners Arms (near Bettws).
As road communications improved together with the introduction of the railways, sea traffic declined. There was no railhead in Newport so it was able to continue to trade a little longer than some. The railway reached Crymych in 1875 and Goodwick in 1899. The last commercial shipment in Newport was the Agnes of Bideford with a cargo of coal, on September 19, 1933.
During their life, the storehouses were bought and sold, leased and passed on as an inheritance. Rather surprisingly, in 1892, one was owned jointly by Llewellyn Davies of Orange Free State, South Africa, Hugh Richards of Sheerness, Henry Sach of Carleon, John Lloyd of Somerset, Llewellyn Owen of Ontario and Mary Owen of Maindee (sic)!
In 1922 a ‘Mr Selby’ was using the then remaining (1796) storehouse to store fishing gear and in 1946 this storehouse was sold to William Collings, farmer and auctioneer of Newport. Selby claimed a possessory title and in 1947 the Court Leet said the storehouse was owned by the Barony. Following legal opinions, Collings was confirmed as the owner in 1948.
In 1963, planning permission was given for the storehouse to be converted into two flats with garages. Its lime kiln was demolished, the building re-roofed and the ground floor converted to living accommodation. Collings moved in and named it Abernyfer. Planning permission for a ‘balustrade and garage’ was given but permission to place an old railway coach on site was refused.
William Collings died in 1974 and Abernyfer passed to his wife who died intestate a year later. Abernyfer was put up for auction. A committee was formed, which included Dillwyn Miles, a name well known to Historical Society members, to bid for the storehouse. The auction was held in Fishguard on April 28, 1975 and the building bought for £14,300. The first meeting of Newport Boat Club was held on July 27. There were 214 members and Dillwyn was made Member Number One.
The Club has undergone considerable expansion since its foundation and several alterations have been made. When the eastern extension was completed in the 1990s, there were complaints that the roof line did not match the existing roof. There was much wrangling and it was eventually decided the new roof could stay but ‘Crow Steps’ must be added – a rather unusual architectural feature in this part of the world.
An extra slipway has been added and the surrounding area paved, making an excellent platform for sipping a drink and seeing the fantastic sunsets. The Club now has 2,488 members and an extensive programme, including sailing races, tuition and rowing in the Club’s Celtic Rowing Boats. A popular event is the ‘fun games’ on Bank Holiday Monday. These include a tug-of-war across the river and dependent on the state of the tide the losing team is hauled into the water or into the mud!
In 1982 the County Council delegated control of local moorings to a new body, the Afan Nevern and Newport Harbour Moorings Association. This formalised the previous random moorings. The Association built a new, very popular wooden landing stage and reinstated an original cart track alongside the southern quay, giving access to Parrog Bach and the tidal flats.
Newport Parrog, like most parts of Pembrokeshire, has an important and interesting history. It continues to thrive and delight residents and visitors alike.
A sloop or smack is a single-masted vessel with a fore-and-aft rig and a brig is a two-masted square-rigged vessel. Schooners have two masts with fore-and-aft rigs and tend to be larger than the other types.
Limestone is Calcium Carbonate which when heated at 900℃ converts to Calcium Oxide (Quick Lime). When mixed with water this produces Calcium Hydroxide (Slaked Lime). Apart from their long traditional use in the building industry, lime products are used to neutralist the highly acidic acid soils of north Pembrokeshire, thus improving their fertility