Sunday, 22 August 2010

From warehouse to Newport Boat Club: the relics of the Parrog's past

This postcard was posted in 1939 and shows the Parrog at the tail end of its sea-trading days. The building to the middle left of the photograph is what is now the Boat Club. During the Parrog's heyday as a working port, this was one of five warehouses on the quay.

The remains of one of the other storehouses is still visible between Camelot and Gorwel. A third is little more than a heap of rubble covered in brambles. A fourth was demolished as trade dwindled after the First World War and the stones were used to build the Memorial Hall. As for the fifth, that became the holiday cottage of Camelot which still has two foot thick walls. Follow this link to find out more of its history.

Camelot is in the foreground here with the converted warehouse which is now the Boat Club shown behind. Vessels came in at high tide to unload here and the area of Parrog Bach behind the seawall gained the nickname Rat Island because of the rats which escaped from these boats.

A closer look at the 1930's post card included at the beginning of this post, shows the final warehouse in a sorry state of decline at this time. The main roof has slates missing, the lean to at the side is falling down. The seawall is also in a poor state of repair and would have left the whole of this area prone to flooding at spring tides.

To the right of the warehouse, in this photo, are the remains of a second limekiln which has since been demolished. In "The Ancient Borough of Newport Pembrokeshire", Dillwyn Miles mentions that it was "wantonly destroyed in the second half of the twentieth century". One double limekiln still remains on the harbour wall and has been restored by the National Park along with the lime burner's cottage alongside it which is lime-washed a cheerful shade of pink which changes colour when it gets wet.

The fate of the one remaining warehouse is interesting. When I was a child I remember someone making a half-hearted attempt to convert it into a dwelling. I think this was Mr Collings who owned the Newsagents in Cambria Terrace. The roof arrived first then, gradually, a window here and there but I don't think work ever got further than the ground floor. It can be seen here in that semi-renovated state, which at least kept the building from any further decay.

In 1976 the building was purchased by a group of founder members of Newport Boat Club and has been extended and adapted over the years.

It's a wonderful place to watch the sunset whatever the time of year.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

The Parrog's seafaring past

For centuries Newport's wealth, and particularly that of The Parrog revolved around the sea and seafaring. Coastal trading was important from early times. Alexanders and fennel grow in profusion around the harbour walls and along the estuary. These plants were introduced to Britain by the Romans as culinary herbs and are often thought to indicate the presence of an early trading harbour.

By the sixteenth century, George Owen was writing about the herring trade in Newport. Barrels of herring were exported as far as the Mediterranean. This trade died out by the mid nineteenth century, when herrings became scare but the harbour still saw exports of woollen goods and slate from the sea-quarries beyond Pencatman and imports of limestone, coal and culm (a mixture of anthracite dust and clay) from the south of the county. Limestone and culm were burned in the limekilns on The Parrog to provided slaked lime which was used to neutralised the local acid soils. Lime was also widely used in the building trade for lime mortar, rendering and whitewash, all of which were widely used on the nearby cottages. Most of Newport's buildings were whitewashed in the nineteenth century

Another important industry for The Parrog was shipbuilding, some of which was carried out close to Parrog Bach. This trade reached its peak in the nineteenth century when large vessels of around 150 tons were built.

Generations of Newport men were seafarers and by the nineteenth century, many were master mariners taking vessels all around the world from larger ports such as Swansea and Liverpool, often via Cape Horn. Their cargoes were often hazardous. Many commanded the "copper barques" carrying Welsh coal from Swansea to South America, returning with copper ore for the copper smelting industry in Swansea. The coal was prone to spontaneous ignition in damp holds and many vessels burned, others capsized in stormy weather when cargoes shifted. The stormy seas around Cape Horn were notorious and claimed many ships. Other seamen died falling from the rigging. The gravestones in St Mary's churchyard in Newport tell many of their stories and it's a shame that there is no other monument to these men who brought the wealth to the town to build the big houses of the Parrog which are so sought after today. Fred Nicholls' novels "Master Under God" and "The Dark Ocean and the Light" give a good insight into the lives of these Newport seafarers.

By the time the photograph above was taken in around 1910, the sea trade was already dwindling, although ships continued to unload cargoes until the 1930's. There was a new trade along The Parrog now and that was tourism. Early holiday makers came from the mining towns of the valleys. This was the era when some of the large guest houses such as Swn y Don were established and when the miners on a Sunday would gather at the Cwm to sing hymns. In the post cards, the holiday makers are always in their Sunday best, the boys in this photo with their Eton collars, the women often in wide brimmed hats.

The photograph was taken by Chas. Edwards who produced many of the local post cards of that era. He had several studios around Fishguard from 1891 to 1926 and, I believe set up a studio in Cambria Terrace in Newport.

For further information about specific mariners, try Reg Davies' excellent database. I am indebted to Reg for much of my knowledge of the history of the Parrog and also to Rex Harries and Tyrone Williams but I take full responsibility for any errors. There is also a good summary of the history of the Nevern estuary here.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

The story begins....

How often have I had this conversation?

"I'm off to Wales soon." I say to distant acquaintance in London.
"Where in Wales?"
"I doubt you'll know it," I reply. "It's a very small place in Pembrokeshire called Newport..."
"Newport!" the answer comes. "But I spent all my summers there when I was little!"

Soon we're swapping stories of The Parrog, the seawall, the sands, crab fishing and the striped Beach Cafe. Newport is that kind of place, the memories are strong.

The town is situated on the North Pembrokeshire coast at the mouth of the Nevern estuary. It's Welsh name is Trefdraeth, locals call it Tydrath and it huddles in the shadow of a small mountain called Carn Ingli.

The place is in my blood. My grandmother's ancestors, the Laugharne family, farmed at Pant on the borders of Newport and Dinas in the early 1800's. Later my own branch of the family moved over the boundary into Dinas and the extended family is now scattered widely far beyond Pembrokeshire but the connection with the area still runs deep.

In the mid fifties, my mother decided it was time to catch up with this particular slice of our family history. She found us a room in a guest house, Craig y Mor, on the seawall on The Parrog.

We drove all the way from Colchester in our Standard Vanguard. I was squashed in beside my mother on the long bench seat in the front of the car, fighting off car sickness all the way. By the time we reached Newport, rain was teeming down. We took a wrong turning, ending up at the iron bridge further up the estuary. We peered out through the crescents our windscreen wipers had cleared. The tide was out. There was nothing but grey mud, grey sky and a trickle of grey river and that was my first view of Newport. My father was close to driving straight back to Colchester. I'm glad he didn't. I've been coming back ever since.

As a child I started to collect postcards of the area. Now I've added to this collection, fascinated by these frozen moments of Newport's more recent history. Although the place has changed, there is still a timeless quality and the traces of the past are not that hard to find.

I found that there's quite an interest in old photos of Newport and decided that it was time to share some of my collection with a wider audience and to add what I remember, or can discover, of the stories behind them. I hear so many stories of the place told to me by people who unlike me, have lived in the town all their lives and there's a danger that if these are not written down, they'll soon be forgotten. Already, since this blog has started, a few people have emailed me interesting images of their own and I hope this will grow and that we can create a small, online archive here, a celebration of this place which is Newport Pembrokeshire.