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Newport (St. Thomas Becket)

NEWPORT (St. Thomas à Becket), a borough and market-town, in the liberty of West Medina, Isle of Wight division of the county of Southampton, 18 miles (S. S. E.) from Southampton, and 84 (S. W.) from London; containing 4052 inhabitants. The situation of Newport, on the principal branch of the Medina river, being more advantageous for commercial purposes than that of Carisbrooke, which was once a market-town, the former place superseded the latter as the capital of the island. The town stands on a gentle ascent, and is bounded on the east by the chief branch of the river, and on the west by a small stream which unites with the main stream at the quay, whence the Medina is navigable to the Solent Sea channel at Cowes. Newport has five parallel streets crossed by three others at right angles, and several additional streets have been formed within the last thirty years; it is well paved, lighted with gas under an act of parliament, and kept in excellent order. The inhabitants are abundantly supplied with water, by means of pumps, as well as from the Carisbrooke stream. There is a small theatre; and assemblies are held occasionally. A library and newsroom called the Isle of Wight Institution, was established in 1810; monthly meetings are held during the winter, by a philosophical society, in a room adjoining the library, which also contains a museum of natural and artificial curiosities. A mechanics' institute was founded in 1825. The manufacture of thread-lace occupies a considerable number of persons, and furnishes an article for exportation; some commerce is carried on in timber, iron, and malt, and large quantities of wheat and flour are shipped. The market for corn and provisions is on Saturday, and from the central situation of the town is numerously attended; there is a cattle-market every Wednesday. Fairs are held on Whit-Monday and the two following days, and a statute-fair at Michaelmas.

The first charter was conferred about the year 1193, by Richard de Redvers, second earl of Devon; a more important grant was made by the Countess Isabella de Fortibus, in which the town is styled "The New Borough of Medina," and its burgesses are invested with all the market tolls and other privileges. Henry VII. bestowed the petty customs within all ports and creeks of the island, and the charter containing this gift was confirmed and extended by Edward VI. and Elizabeth. The borough was incorporated by James I.; and Charles I., in the 13th year of his reign, also granted a charter. The government is now vested in a mayor, 5 other aldermen, and 18 councillors, under the act 5th and 6th of William IV., cap. 76; the borough is divided into two wards, and the municipal and parliamentary boundaries are co-extensive. The place first returned members to parliament in the 23rd of Edward I.; its privileges then ceased until the 27th of Elizabeth: the mayor is returning officer. The mayor and late mayor are justices of the peace, and the total number of magistrates is 6. A court of pie-poudre takes place annually; sessions for the island occur quarterly, and a petty-session of magistrates twice every week. The powers of the county debt-court of Newport, established in 1847, extend over the whole island. The guildhall, a very handsome edifice of the Ionic order, with corresponding pillars on the west front, was erected in 1816, from a design by Mr. Nash, at an expense to the corporation of more than £10,000: the upper part comprises the hall, council-chamber, and other offices, and the base forms an excellent marketplace; in the interior is a fine portrait of the late Sir L. T. W. Holmes, Bart., by Owen, presented to the corporation by the inhabitants. There is a common gaol and house of correction for the borough, which is also a bridewell for the whole island.

Newport is ecclesiastically annexed, with Northwood, to Carisbrooke. The church is a spacious building in different styles, with an embattled tower: in the interior were interred the remains of the Princess Elizabeth, second daughter of Charles I., who died a prisoner in Carisbrooke Castle at the early age of fifteen. The burialground was first appropriated to this church in the reign of Elizabeth, in consequence of a plague, the ravages of which were so great, that the churchyard at Carisbrooke was too small to receive the dead. Churches have been erected in the suburbs, at Noda-Hill and Barton's-Village: see Carisbrooke and Barton's-Village. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, Wesleyans, and Unitarians; and a Roman Catholic chapel. The free grammar school was founded in 1619, and endowed with 29 acres of land by the Earl of Southampton, then governor of the island; the endowment was augmented by subsequent benefactors, particularly by Sir Thomas Fleming, Knt., and now produces £100 per annum. In the schoolroom, the negotiations between Charles and the parliamentary commissioners were conducted, in 1648. The Blue-school was founded in 1761, for girls, and in 1764 Benjamin Cooke, Esq., devised land to it; it is otherwise supported by voluntary contributions, and the annual income is £84. An almshouse was founded pursuant to the will of Giles Kent, by Sir Richard Worsley, Bart., in 1618, for five or more aged persons; and another, established by the corporation, is inhabited by four families, each of which receives a small sum annually.

About a mile northward of the town is the house of industry, erected under an act of parliament obtained about the year 1770, and the management of which is vested in a corporation, styled "The Guardians of the Poor within the Isle of Wight." The house consists of several ranges of buildings, of sufficient magnitude for the reception and employment of about 750 persons: attached are extensive workshops, a chapel, and an infirmary. The sum borrowed for the erection was £20,000. A little towards the north-west are the Albany barracks and military hospital erected in 1798, and capable of receiving upwards of 3000 soldiers; they consist of parallel ranges of building, the principal of which is 163 feet in length. The hospital has been converted into a house of correction for juvenile offenders.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, seventh edition, published 1858.