A Brief History of Newtown
by David Pugh
Newtown has been a new town for a long time. On 16th January 1279 King Edward I granted Roger de Montgomery a charter to create a new market town. New streets were laid out, and those streets remain those of the town centre to this day.
The new town was protected by a motte and bailey fortification, the remains of which can be seen near the County Council Offices in the Park. From this stronghold it is thought that defensive banks extended to the north and east to meet the river, a bend of which completed the protective enclosure.
For a while, in the middle of the fifteenth century, Newtown became a cultural centre for Wales. Dafydd Llwyd, who lived at Newtown Hall, held bardic contests lasting up to two months attracting thousands of people Newtown
At the time of the Civil War the occupant of Newtown Hall was Sir John Pryce, who first supported the Royalists and then changed sides to the Parliamentarians. Later, King Charles I arrived on his doorstep supported by an armed force. Fortunately Sir John was by then once again a Royalist and the King stayed overnight at Newtown Hall.
Perhaps the most famous, or infamous, of the Pryces was the fifth baronet, who lived in the early eighteenth century, again a Sir John Pryce. He married three times. The first two wives had died young. He had them both embalmed and then placed either side of his bed. When Sir John married yet again, the third Lady Pryce decreed that her predecessors be returned to the privacy of the tomb.
The next two generations of Pryces managed to squander the once great family fortunes and before the end of the eighteenth century Newtown Hall and its park had been sold to pay off its mortgage.
But it was in the nineteenth century that the affairs of Newtown Hall were overshadowed by much greater changes in the obscure market town.
For centuries there had been a woollen industry in Mid Wales, but it had been essentially a cottage industry. Technological advances changed it to an urban industry. Factories were established, using the river as motive power. In this first phase of development weaving was still done by hand and Newtown quickly became a major centre of handloom weaving. The small town that had for centuries stayed within its Norman boundaries began to expand, first to the south along Park Street, and then, following the opening of the canal in 1819 over the river in Penygloddfa.. Between 1801 and 1841 the population of the town rose from under a thousand to over four and a half thousand.