My travel piece about Newtown, Powys, is in the latest issue of The People’s Friend, and if you read it, you’ll soon discover, as I did, that this quiet market town in the Welsh Borders has a few claims to fame to its name.
Did you know that the man who invented Mail Order Shopping lived and worked in Newtown? Such was the success of his business that his warehouse had its own Post Office, and the local train company laid on an extra three wagons to their trains every day, just to cope with the number of parcels he was despatching. It’s clear that had Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones been alive today, he’d have given Jeff Bezos a run for his money!
Newtown is also a good place to step back in time … to the 1920s because if you wander into the branch of WHSmiths you’ll spot that things don’t look the same as in their other stores. That’s because in the 1970s when WHSmiths was being rebranded and their stores modernized, they kept one store with its original fixtures and fittings, and that was Newtown.
if you wander upstairs, you can explore their museum to the company, with artifacts and models from the late 19th century, when WHSmiths began selling newspapers.
Newtown sits on the Welsh Borders, with Welshpool to the north and Llanidloes to the south. It’s a quiet area (as is much of the Welsh Borders) and on sunny days, as it was when I visited, it’s a wonderful place to explore. Even the River Severn looks calm and tranquil.
That’s not to say that the river behaves itself all the time. St Mary’s church often flooded, so much so, the town’s residents abandoned it and built another further away from the river. But it’s still worth a visit today, because that’s where you’ll find the grave of another of Newtown’s pioneering sons: Robert Owen.
Robert Owen became known as the Father of the Co-operative movement, for it was he who realized that if you looked after mill workers, paid them good wages, gave them good housing, and taught their children, and gave them time off, they thrived, and, therefore, worked harder.
It was Owen who tested these theories out at mills he managed in Manchester, and, more famously, New Lanark.
And even though Owen was only born in the town, he came back to Newtown to die. So proud of their son, the residents of Newtown erected a statue in his memory, and there’s also a fascinating museum exploring his life and its impact.
There’s so much more to Newtown than meets the eye, and now its new bypass has opened, more people will whizz by. Such a shame they won’t know what they’re missing!