Newtown: A Brief History

The Newtown community, consisting of six streets of terraced houses, was sited near the centre of Cardiff between Tyndall Street and the main railway line to London, and was bounded, somewhat unusually, by railway lines on the remaining three sides. The famine of the 1840s caused many thousands to leave Ireland. Most of the destitute survivors who came to South Wales came from the south-west counties of Ireland, mainly Cork, and flocked to urban areas seeking a new life. At that time Cardiff was undergoing a period of rapid development that by 1900 was to transform the small town into the most famous port in the world for coal exports. Newtown was built and soon occupied by the newcomers who took part in the construction of the docks and subsequently worked as dockers in the bustling, ever-expanding port. The docks continued to provide much employment for many Newtown men until the community was dispersed and the houses demolished in the 1960s. Women, too, were involved in the hard physical work of the docks by discharging cargoes from potato boats.
Times were hard but communal hardship and privations were alleviated by a marked sense of community, underpinned by the people’s strong loyalty to the Catholic faith. St. Paul’s School and Chapel was built in Tyndall Street in the mid 1870s, providing a focus for the Newtown community which had swollen to approximately 2,000 by the year 1886. A new church was built on an adjoining site and was officially opened on 29 August, 1893. Cardinal Vaughan, Archbishop of Westminster and Primate of England, attended the opening and preached at the Pontifical High Mass. The old chapel was incorporated into the school to provide better accommodation for the infants.
St. Paul’s School functioned until 1908 when the pupils were transferred to the new St. David’s School. Sadly, following a compulsory purchase order on the Newtown site in 1966 when the community was split up and rehoused in various parts of the city, the Church and the old school buildings were demolished in 1970. Ironically, 30 years on, the spirit of the community still exists and from time to time get together – particularly when a member of the old community dies and there is a Requiem Mass to attend. Most of the old parishioners of St. Paul’s have carried on the faith of the forefathers – many of them playing key roles in the parish life of various Catholic churches in the Archdiocese of Cardiff.

: Mary O’Sullivan, Chair of The Newtown Association.

Published in The Green Dragon No 2, March 1997.