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As the largest town in Powys and a former centre of the textile trade, Newtown really stands out against its smaller Mid Wales neighbours. The factories that produced flannel in the 19th century have now given way to more modern forms of commerce – though the town’s striking architecture still provides plenty of reminders of its prosperous role in the Industrial Revolution.

Strung along the snaking banks of the River Severn, Newtown was born in the medieval period but truly came of age in the Industrial Revolution. This was when demand for Welsh wool made it a centre of the textile business, giving it the nickname the ‘Leeds of Wales’. Today it’s a lively, modern town and hub for the small villages dotted throughout the green hills and valleys that surround it.


The focal point is aptly named Broad Street, a wide and handsome shopping thoroughfare that sweeps through the centre of town towards the bridge over the river. It’s lined with an eclectic mix of shops, pubs, cafés and restaurants that run from familiar high-street names to one-of-kind Newtown originals.


Broad Street is also a good place to get a feel for the town’s heritage – a long timeline told in its architecture that includes smart, red-brick townhouses, glazed Victorian shopfronts and half-timbered buildings painted in traditional colours of black and white.


Social worker

Get to know Robert Owen, Newtown’s most famous son. Born here in 1771, he rose from modest beginnings as a saddler to become both a wealthy industrialist and philanthropic father of the global cooperative movement. He’s often referred to as ‘Britain’s first socialist’, thanks to a lifetime of efforts to improve the working and living conditions of the Industrial Revolution’s rapidly growing working-class population.


You can find out all about the great man’s life and achievements at the Robert Owen Museum, located in a handsome timber-framed building close to the town clock (just a few feet from the place where he was born). If you’d like to explore his story a little further, look out for the bronze statue of him which stands in the little park on Shortbridge Street and the ruins of St Mary’s Church on the banks of the River Severn, home to the striking tomb, Owen’s final resting place.


Fabric of life

Housed in a former hand-loom weaving factory built in the 19th century, Newtown Textile Museum tells the tale of the town’s past as one of the UK’s cloth-making centres. The top two floors unravel the journey of wool from fleece to flannel, with an impressive collection of antique looms and spinning wheels. You’ll see live displays of woolcraft and weaving, using both 19th-century and modern methods – plus a treasure trove of artefacts that shed light on the lives of the people who once worked here.


In the former cottages that make up the building’s first two floors, a collection of exhibits tells the story Newtown’s transformation from a rural Mid Wales town to a centre of industry. It all weaves together to provide an immersive insight into Newtown’s once-mighty textile trade.


The wheel thing

Saddle up for a ride at Trehafren Hill, a glorious green space on the southern side of the Severn. Thanks to community efforts, it’s home to one of Newtown’s newest and most exciting attractions – a fast-paced BMX pump track and off-road mountain bike trail.


The tarmac-surfaced pump track is packed with bumps and bends that can be tackled by bike, scooter, rollerblade or skateboard, while the mountain bike trail loops for a rugged mile around the hill, featuring jumps, berms and drops that will test novice and experienced riders alike.


National Cycle Route 81 between Birmingham and Aberystwyth runs along the northern edge of the hill, making Trehafren an excellent stopping-off point for long-distance cyclists. Don’t worry if you haven’t brought your bike – the hill is also criss-crossed with a network of footpaths to explore.


State of the art

Get a taste of local culture at Oriel Davies Gallery, a fresh and funky space that shows off the work of contemporary artists from Mid Wales and beyond. Located on the corner of lush Newtown Park, it’s a lively community hub where residents and visitors can find inspiration.


Alongside a shifting programme of exhibitions showcasing painting, photography, sculpture and more, there’s a busy calendar of events and workshops. You can try your hand at disciplines like drawing and weaving, and enjoy talks from visiting artists who shed light on their influences and methods.


That’s entertainment

It’s showtime at Theatr Hafren, Newtown’s flagship entertainment venue. It’s the place in Mid Wales to catch performances of theatre, comedy, dance and spoken word, with a packed calendar of events taking place throughout the year. As well as the shows, it hosts a selection of workshops and classes for creative people of all ages, plus matinee movie screenings of the latest cinema releases.


If you don’t have time for a performance, you can always check out the Hafren Gallery, a contemporary arts space that showcases works inspired by the nature and landscapes of the countryside surrounding Newtown.



  • Order, order. Pryce Jones was a draper, born in Newtown in 1834, who inadvertently changed the world. In 1861, he had the bright idea of using the national postal service to sell his wares, turning his company into the world’s first mail order business. You can trace a line from the catalogues that advertised his products to today’s online retailers like Amazon – though the online giant can’t boast of having both Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale as customers.


  • Have I got news for you. You’ll find branches of newsagents/stationers/booksellers WH Smith on high streets up and down the country, but the one in Newtown is a little bit different. While all the other stores were being modernised in the 1970s, Newtown’s was returned to how it looked when it first opened in 1927. Its traditional stylings are still an eye-catching feature amid the town’s storefronts – and there’s a small museum upstairs detailing the company history of WH Smith.


  • Crossover appeal. Though the narrow bridge that carries National Cycle Route 81 across the River Severn was only built in 1972, its roots go back quite some time further. A private wooden footbridge was first erected in the early 19th century, which travellers were charged a halfpenny to cross by a man named Tommy King. As a result, it came to be known as Halfpenny Bridge or King’s Bridge. It was swept away several times by floods before eventually being replaced with the current incarnation.


  • Water damage. Another victim of Newtown’s floods was St Mary’s Church. Founded in the 13th century, it served as the parish church for 500 years before repeated inundations led to the building of replacement St David’s in 1847, a safer distance from the surging waters of the Severn. The ruins of the church are now best known as the final resting place of Newtown-born Robert Owen, the socialist, industrialist and philanthropist who pioneered the global cooperative movement.



There’s a lot to see and do here in Newtown, so we’ve highlighted some things you won’t want to miss. We want you to get the most out of your time in town, so we’ve arranged things in a way that makes sense geographically when you’re going from place to place. But don’t worry if you’re on a tight schedule and can’t spend a whole day here. These are just suggestions and you’re free to focus on whatever sparks your curiosity.


Newtown Textile Museum

Get started by exploring our industrial past at Newtown Textile Museum. Housed in a 19th-century hand loom weaving factory on Commercial Street, it offers a fascinating glimpse back into a time when Newtown was at the heart of the British wool and flannel business.


The bottom half of the building is made up of cottages where the factory workers lived, while the top features the workshops themselves. You’ll see antique weaving machinery, demonstrations of traditional woolcraft and an impressive collection of exhibits that detail Newtown’s rapid rise from rural market town to centre of industry.


Robert Owen Museum

Learn about the life of another of Newtown’s most significant exports. The museum tells the story the of saddler’s son turned industrialist who gave birth to the global cooperative movement and was hailed as ‘Britain’s first socialist’.


Born in 1771 just a few steps from where the museum now stands, Owen spent his life improving the working and living conditions of employees during the Industrial Revolution, building schools and setting up labour exchanges and unions. If you have time, you can also take a look at Owen’s tomb and memorial, found in the churchyard of the ruined St Mary’s Church on the banks of the Severn.


Oriel Davies Gallery

Wander over to the corner of Newtown Park, where you’ll find Oriel Davies Gallery. At this contemporary art space and community hub, you can browse a rotating programme of exhibitions showing off art from Wales and beyond. If you feel inspired, you can even join in with workshops and classes to brush up on your creative skills.


Trehafren Hill

Follow National Cycle Route 81 as it traces the River Severn to Trehafren Hill. Strung with a network of footpaths, this rugged green space has long been popular with walkers, but it recently added a new string to its bow. A community-led project has built a thrilling BMX pump track and bone-shaking off-road mountain bike trail, making the hill a magnet for two-wheeled enthusiasts looking to test themselves against the challenging terrain.


Theatr Hafren

Finish the day with a show at Theatr Hafren, one of Mid Wales’s top entertainment venues. You can take your pick from a busy calendar of events that covers dance, theatre, opera, comedy and talks from popular authors and celebrities. There’s also a programme of workshops and classes in a variety of performance and artistic forms – perfect if you’ve ever fancied treading the boards yourself.

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