Newport 1985

This is an article from the April 1985 edition of the now defunct magazine 'The Islander'.


Newport has featured prominently in the history of the Island, it would be impossible to cover such a history in this small feature and there are so many books which go into considerable depth. The history of the town has always been closely linked with the market place. No doubt the Danes and other early wanderers settled somewhere on the shores of the Medina for the site of Newport is a natural inland port. Certainly it attracted the Romans and although it would have been little more than a settlement and a supply port for the military encampment at Carisbrooke it still carries the mark of the small Roman settlement by the grid of roads. On the site of the encampment came the castle. The history of the castle and town are interwoven. Richard De Redvers granted the town a charter and developed it as a port for the castle and capital of Carisbrooke.

The town prospered until 1377 and the French. There had been previous raids by the French but nothing so severe. Franchville, (Old Newtown, was burned) together with Yarmouth. Newport was attacked and the inhabitants fled to the castle as the town was set to the flame by the invaders. After a siege they eventually defeated the French south of the town, they were slaughtered, hence the name Dead Mans Lane.

The destroyed town recovered very slowly, then the plague taking its toll, there were two outbreaks. The second in 1583 killed 200 people in the town and a new cemetery was formed on what had been used as archery butts, and today stands as a park in Church Litten.

During the course of time its importance as a trading centre grew. There was then the most written about periods in the Island’s history with Charles 1st. being imprisoned in the castle in 1647. On the whole, the people of Newport were on the side of the parliamentarians, although there are accounts of lively street brawls between the rival faction of Royalists.

During Tudor times the town must have been a noisy bustling market place. With its well planned squares it was ideal. The beast market in St. James Square, the corn market in St. Thomas Square and the butter market in front of the present town hall. One can only imagine the bustling crowds, the cattle, the street tinkers, and the laden wagons and carts coming up from the tall masted vessels at the quay. St. James Square was also used for bear baiting and public punishment. One woman in the reign of Elizabeth 1st. was burned at the stake as a witch. In the sixteenth century the town had two men as official whippers, charging 6d for men and 4d for women and children. In 1759 there were six butchers shops in a row north of St. Thomas Church and farmers’ daughters sold cheeses at the cheese cross nearby. There was serious congestion of wagons on market days and there was much spirited entertainment in the local taverns. Gradually the nature of the trade changed and farmers began to send samples and the markets gradually faded. As the 19th. century advanced the town acquired an air of respectability. John Nash built the town hall and designed the Isle of Wight club. Like so many other Island towns the Victorians were influencing both the moral and physical nature of Newport and with the arrival of the Queen at Osborne, Victorian ways were firmly established.

Newport still has the last vestages of an old market town. At Lunch time you can still see the farmer in muddy boots supping a pint surrounded by more modern-influenced drinkers, like brightly hued punk rockers. It is a strange mixture, yet you get the feeling that Newport has seen it all before . . . . if it could survive the goings on between the Royalists and Parliamentarians it will survive anything modern times can throw up. The pubs burst into life at lunch-times with a busy business trade, which reflects the new spirit of trade and commerce in the town. There appears to be a boom and there is a good atmosphere and this is reflected by the new bright shops which have popped up all over the place.

We had a wander round the shops and pubs to get the feel of today’s Newport . . . the Last time that we did this the town was alive with talk of the new international Store which was due to open in a few weeks. Here is a good example of what a large store can do for a town. A lot of people, particularly from the west of the town, are drawn in by the supermarket and once parked they obviously stay and shop around.

Watchbell Lane, alongside Calvert ‘s, is a good example of what is happening in the town, for here is a handful of small, individually owned shops reminiscent of the “lanes” in places like Brighton. One of these shops is Watchbell Antiques where you can pick up some really lovely pieces of china, etc. Pam and Ian Matheson told us they have acquired new partners in the business, Brigid and Richard Julian. Nearby in the High Street is Streamers, run by Sarah Finch, which is a children’s shop with unusual merchandise, such as nursery furniture and dolls’ houses with collector’s furniture to fit them. There are night lights and lots of rag dolls, and an unusual climbing frame which can be used indoors or out and can be changed around to form almost any shape your imagination can conjure. Everything is children-orientated, from buttons and badges to greetings cards, all embellished with favourite characters from children’s books or T.V. programmes.

Many of these new shops opened just before last Christmas when there appears to have been a rash of new places. One was The China Basket in St. Thomas Square, who have some exquisite china and pottery and also some top quality crystal and tableware. There are some good trade names around such as Spode, Crown, Staffordshire, Coalport, Bridge Crystal and Oneida. Watch out for two items of particular interest . . . the wall plates which start at as little as £2.90 and some beautiful and exclusively individually moulded cats by Ken and Jilly Allan of Suffolk. Near to them is another new shop, The Leather Shop, which carries a wide range of quality suede and sheepskin coats for both ladies and gentlemen. There are many different designs to suit all tastes, from the traditional sheepskins to the latest short jackets in soft leather in all the latest fashion colours. We also saw smaller items, such as moccasins and bags in classic hide, and a new soft leather fashion range. Also on show is a range of beautiful “Glen Husky” suede fronted knitwear in different fibres.

We had a long chat with Andy Weeks of the Microwave Oven Shop in Lower St. James Street. Microwaves have come a long way since the early days and are now incorporated in standard ovens as part of the accepted cooking set-up of the latest kitchens. Andy thinks that within ten years or so microwave will be the cooking method. Certainly it is a very efficient method, hence the number in commercial use. The safety factor is now very high. These high standards are set by the British Standards Institute . . . non-ionising radiation from the ovens cannot possibly do any harm. Prices have tumbled in recent months and now a quite reasonable oven starts at about the £150 mark and top of the range is the £400 mark. There are microwave cookery demonstrations available and there is also a booklet available on request.

Mr. Rowlandson and his staff at Gray’s of Newport have settled down well in their new showrooms in St. James Street. The showrooms are much lighter than the old premises and there is a good atmosphere no doubt helped by the excellent coffee from the small and comfortable coffee room upstairs.

When up that end of town we always look in on Cranbourne Curios where we are always warned not to mention the word ‘Antique’ but use the words “Elegant Junk”. Well, as usual, the place was bulging at the seams with elegant junk.

Alderslade’s are just one of many old companies who have moved away from the centre of town and are now up on the trading estate next to Sharp’s. It must have been a good move for there is at least a place to park now, where as before there was no chance and it could take hours, even though you only wanted a small piece of replacement glass.

Even as we write this, proposals have been announced for vast development in the very heart of Newport. The scheme would cover the market site, the football ground and all the building fronting Church Litten, which itself would be closed to traffic with the new road carrying all traffic down to the main roundabout.

It is an enormous scheme which will be the subject of controversy for many years to come. Already different voices are being raised with all kinds of objections . . . many say it would swamp all other shopping centres on the Island. It will be interesting to see exactly what happens as a lot of time could elapse between projections, planning and reality.

The Pubs in and around Newport have always been lively and these days they are busy selling food as well as drink. All along the High Street from the St. Crispin Inn and Castle down to the Bugle and Vine there is a richness of choice on offer on the menus. The George in St. James Street and the Wheatsheaf in St. Thomas Square are also very competitive with their good food, and you have to be sharp to get parked at the Barley Mow at Shide for their food prices are really reasonable. One of our favourites is the Blacksmiths Arms, perched high on the Calbourne Road above Carisbrooke, not too far out of town, but far enough away to feel you  are away from the bustle. The opening of restaurants in the town’s centre seems to have stopped. There is certainly a lot of competition from the pubs. Our ‘place’ is the Little Wight Mouse in Lugley Street where our old chum, Ian Arnott, tinkles the ivories on most nights of the week, and the food is good without straining the wallet’s resources.

We talked with Mr. Baker at Teague’s in the High Street and he was telling us about the way the company is keeping abreast of the ‘High Tech’ advances that are now affecting the music business. Certainly the advances with the micro chip are quite incredible in recent years. Organs and multi-keyboards are good examples, with companies such as Yamaha, Casio, Roland and Korg in the forefront. Compact disks are another big advance and are gaining a wider and wider market. The company runs a very well attended school for piano and organ, but more about this in another issue.

Scotties, the fishing tackle people in Lugley Street, will be having a visit from Ian Heaps, the famous fisherman, in July as part of their expansion and marketing programme. Before then, Golden Scissors, across the road, are having a special offer during April for cutting with highlights. Another hairdressers, Eclipse, which is over Women’s Realm in St. James Square, are giving special individual lessons in make-up, giving you a chance to learn all the latest techniques at their beauty salon in St. James Street.

Also during April, on the 20th and 21st, which is over a weekend, the Outdoor Leisure Equipment Centre in Trafalgar Road are having their “Springtime Leisure Exhibition” which will show the very latest in outdoor equipment.

Pyle Street has blossomed with so many interesting shops. What a contrast to say five years ago when the top end was almost derelict. While-U- Wail Services are typical of the type of small shop offering a wide range of goods and services from key cutting and engraving to handbag repairs. At the very top in Carisbrooke Road Rosemarie Tolley runs a typical country town pet shop full of small animals and also she stocks pet food, both fresh and frozen meat, at very competitive prices.

The secret of shopping in Newport is to look around and explore the fringes of the main shopping area . . . we can assure you there are many surprises in store for you.


Has the boom in Newport reached its zenith? Has the acceleration of development and the large increase in retail shops slowed down? These and many other questions fly round your mind when considering what is happening in Newport. Without any doubt the last two years has seen an amazing increase in the number of small shops opening in the town. Areas such as the top of the High Street and the ends of Pyle Street have been transformed by the development of small shop units and the town now buzzes with movement. Things seem to have been moving at a great pace with Curry’s opening a large store, then the opening of Dixon’s, and the rumours of Marks & Spencer’s looking for centre town sites sent the speculators into a dither and there was an almighty scramble and changing of hands for many promising sites.

Mingling with our new young shops are many eye sores waiting the developer’s hand for the hordes of multiples about to descend from the mainland. Have they caught a cold? What with Marks & Spencer’s announcement of an ominous delay in their plans at Newport and at the same time the hearsay of this Company’s major move in policy concerning combining with Tesco Stores Limited for selected out-of-town developments. . . this must all be a very nasty shock to many of our Island speculators. What happens now? Will we see the Ryde Airport site being still further developed with a Marks & Spencer store on the site?

There are a lot of questions to be answered before anyone can sit down and categorically say that Newport will continue to expand to become beyond any doubt the shopping centre of the Island. At the moment it appears to have snatched this crown from Ryde, a town which has suffered agonies since the arrival of the Tesco Store outside the town, but more of that next month. when we have a special report on Ryde. Newport today is doing very nicely and no matter what happens in the future, the town has really improved in recent years and although there is still a way to go, the future looks good.

Newport Page

29 June 2010