A Brief History of Newtown

by David Pugh

Newtown’s most famous son, Robert Owen was born in a shop in Broad Street in 1771.When he returned to the town shortly before his death in 1858 he can hardly have recognised the little market town he had left as a boy in 1781.

By the 1830s Newtown was meeting stiff competition from elsewhere, particularly Rochdale, and workers’ wages were being driven down. The town became a centre of discontent. The first Chartist meeting in Wales was held in Newtown in October 1838. Unrest reached the stage that for some years it was felt necessary to have a military presence in the town.

The introduction of steam power in large new woollen mills gave new impetus to trade. Also local draper, Pryce Jones, exploited this new form of communication by creating the mail-order system of selling, dealing with his customers for woollen goods, not over the counter, but by post. Thus did Pryce Jones establish the first mail order firm in the world. He met with huge success, as the large Royal Welsh Warehouse opposite the railway station was opened in 1879. Even Queen Victoria wore Welsh flannel from Newtown.

However it was not to last. Competition from the great centres of Lanchasire and Yorkshire caused Newtown’s industry, eventually to collapse.  In 1912 a catastrophic fire at the huge Cambrian Mills effectively marked the end of woollen cloth manufacture as a major industry in Newtown.

Although both World Wars caused a temporary reversal of the decline, it continued  into the 1960s. A government report in 1964 made it clear that unless something was done the decline in the economy of Mid Wales would continue. 

Matters were made worse by two disastrous floods that raged through the town in 1960 and 1964. So it was that The Mid Wales New Town Development Corporation was set up in 1968. Their task was to double the size of the town by building new houses and factories. By 1988 the job was done and the town had become to look much as it does now.

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