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Newport, Pembrokeshire. The Nevern river rises from its source in the Mynydd Preseli (Prescelly Hills) and flows almost due West into Newport Bay, which curves under Dinas Head to reach the small sea-harbour of Cwmyreglwys, with its crumbled church on the sea-walls and tiny craft lolling on the wave. It runs through a close-sided valley and, as it meets the sea, leaves standing on the slopes of hills the town of Trefdraeth, a “city on the sands”, as the name implies, though in English it is known as Newport. A great deal of history has concentrated around Newport, and it had its time of fame and even power: but from all this it has chosen to resign and have nothing but the wind upon the hills and sea.

Parts of its history are obscure, though they have left permanent memorials. From the Preseli tops the thirty-three dolerite stones were taken by those who built Stonehenge, for it seems this curve of Pembrokeshire had some special importance for the shipping that went back and forth between the coasts of Wessex and Ireland. Whether they used Newport Bay at any time for their landings is a matter of guesswork: but, in the valley on the other side of the Mynydd Preseli near Mynachlog-ddu, is a stone circle. Gors Fawr, of the kind meant to serve the same purpose of time-count as Stonehenge.

Of Roman times there is little direct evidence in other parts of Pembrokeshire, but the old track now called the Ffordd Ffleming is a trackway, perhaps older than Rome. but leading to the one military station with its short, straight relic of roadway that has been discovered, the fort at Castell Fflemish. The possibility that Newport and its bay were not overlooked by them rests on the fact that Newport seems to have had a special strategic importance. At one time, its seagoing business was great enough to make it a serious rival to Fishguard; then under Elizabeth Tudor the place suffered a plague, from which it never recovered.

Before that, it had played a fatal part in the development of Welsh history. After the defeat of Harald of Saxon England, the rulers of Wales had some breathing-space in which to recover from the series of successful attacks he had made across the border. The Normans were for twenty years too much occupied with completing their conquest of Harald's kingdom to be able to consider a serious assault on Wales. The opportunity was not taken. A strong personality of the House of Cunedda, Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of Dinefwr in Carmarthenshire, emerged with sufficient ability to establish himself as master of the South and make common cause with Ap Cynan. Prince in the North. By 1079 there was a possibility that Wales might recover a unity it had not had since Hywel the Good in the previous century and Rhodri the Great in the century before that. But in 1081 the Norman had taken both Chester and Shrewsbury, and with that considerable advantage the Conqueror himself advanced into Wales and struck as far as St David's. Beyond founding the castle at Cardiff, his campaign had no success. He died in 1087.

But the feuds among the Welsh between the rival provinces of Powys and Gwynedd and Deheubarth were always irreconcilable. Rhys was disturbed by the revolt of one of his sub-rulers. Einion, Prince of Dyfed, as the Welsh call Pembroke. In 1088 Rhys marched to St Dogmael's, and there he overcame the troops of Einion with heavy slaughter. Einion fled into Glamorgan and persuaded Iestyn. its overlord, to carry on the feud against Rhys by calling in the Norman. This was the opportunity that FitzHamon and his twelve knights took to conquer the South. William Rufus, the second Norman King, played his part personally in extending the grasp of the Conquest to South Pembrokeshire. But the castle at Newport was not built until the 13th century, and was built by William de Turribus. Its gate, with one flank-tower remaining, its outer wall and another isolated round tower, were incorporated into a mansion built in 1859.

The original castle has a unique history in relation to the Norman adventure. In 1087 Martin of Tours (or de Turribus) landed at Fish-guard with a detachment of men that seems to have made its conquest by parley and not force. Although it was reckoned a fief of the South, Dyfed had always a certain separateness, and this part of it not only allowed a peaceful settlement by its new master but welcomed his marriage into the local princely family. The lordship of Kemes kept its distinct character; southern Pembroke was directly owned by the King of England, but the northern part remained Welsh in language and thought and in the independence it persuaded its only half-Norman lords to keep. Martin's descendant, William, founded Newport with his castle, and the succession of his line was unbroken. From 1100, the Lord Marchership of the Barony of Kemes continued into the 20th century, and its holders exercised the unique privilege of appointing the Mayor to their borough of Newport. For a brief period, early in the 13th century, Llywelyn the Great seized the castle; but its later history seems to have been disturbed only by rumours of the landing made by the French invading force at the end of the 18th century near its old rival Fishguard.

One of the most interesting successors to Martin of Tours was the George Owen of Henllys who, in the days of Queen Elizabeth Tudor, wrote an account of Pembrokeshire filled with detail of the countryside and the customs of his native place. Like his remote connection, the 12th century Gerald de Barn, he has praise and blame for both: horse-breeding neglected, but the trout and salmon superb; too little fencing of fields done, and too many trees wantonly cut, but the soil fruitful and pleasant; the men unsoldierly and neglectful of archery, and idling with bowls instead but engaging in the game of knappan at risk of life and limb. This knappan was one of a kind anthropologists delight in studying: a leather ball was sewn and stuffed, perhaps in some forgotten pagan ritual of head-hunting, and pursued with sticks by horsemen in a mixture of polo and lacrosse. It is probably from similar games, played on foot, that football in both its forms, association and rugby, has been derived. No pleasanter note is sounded in Welsh history than in the journals of George Owen and in the tale of the lordship of Kemes.

Nearby towns: Cardigan, Fishguard, Haverfordwest, St Davids

Nearby villages: Bridell, Brynberian, Cilgwm, Dinas, Eglwyswrw, Felindre Farchog, Goodwick, Gwbert, Henrys Moat, Letterston, Little Newcastle, Llantood, Llanwnda, Llanychaer, Maenclochog, Monachlogddu, Monington, Morfa, Morvil, Moylgrove, Mynachlogddu, Nevern, Pontfaen, Puncheston, Rosebush, St Dogmaels, Trecwn

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