So the biggest town in Mid Wales with a population of 12,000 is still managing to punch well above its weight.
Newtown has been “new” for well over 700 years. It all started in 1279 when King Edward I granted a charter to create a market town near a ford on the River Severn.
By the 18th century the textile industry was taking off – and the blue touchpaper was really lit when the Montgomery Canal arrived in 1819. Soon there were mills everywhere and Newtown became known as the “Leeds of Wales”.
The town was already booming when Robert Owen was born over a saddler’s shop in Broad Street in 1771. At the age of 10 he was sent to London to earn his fortune and by his early 20s was a successful boss in the mills of Manchester.
But he was no fat cat capitalist. Owen had a vision of a better future – and turned it into reality when he took over the cotton mill of New Lanark on the River Clyde. There he created a wholecommunity based on profit-sharing rather than exploitation.
Robert Owen sowed the seeds of socialism long before Karl Marx. That’s why the Co-operativeBank erected a grand statue of him outside its headquarters in Manchester.
But Newtown has the original. You’ll find it in the park off Shortbridge Street and Gas Street.And in the Robert Owen Memorial Museum, just a few feet from where he was born, you can see his books, furniture and pictures – and get a feel for the Newtown boy who became one of Britain’s greatest social reformers.
It’s safe to assume the wonderfully named Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones was no socialist. But he hada restless mind, boundless optimism and a rare capacity for innovation.
Other drapers were still selling over the counter but Sir Pryce took advantage of the Victori- an world wide web – otherwise known as the postal system. It was the world’s first mail orderbusiness.
Pretty soon even Queen Victoria was wearing Welsh flannel from Newtown. And Sir Pryce built the huge red-brick Royal Welsh Warehouse, still the tallest building in the town, to keepup with demand.
You can find out more about Sir Pryce and the other great men of the woollen industry in the Newtown Textile Museum. Appropriately enough you’ll find it in an early 19th century weav-ing shop on Commercial Street.
But Newtown doesn’t just have famous sons. There are a couple of daughters it’s pretty proud of too.
Gwendoline and Margaret Davies bought the mansion of Gregynog just after the First WorldWar and decided to set up an arts centre. This being Newtown, where people think big, there were no half measures.
The sisters assembled one of the greatest private art collections of the 20th century –paint-ings by Monet and Turner, prints by Rembrandt, sculpture by Rodin. And they attractednames such as Gustav Holst, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Edward Elgar and Sir Adrian Boult totheir new music festival.
All 260 of their artworks can still be seen in the Davies Galleries of the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff. The Gregynog Festival, the longest-running classical music festival in Wales, still attracts world-class musicians to Newtown every June.
And the Oriel Davies Gallery in the town, founded by their legacy, is now a ground-breakingpublic art space housing 10 exhibitions a year across three different galleries.
All very inspiring. So it’s no surprise that Newtown also has an outstanding theatre. Thepeople at Theatr Hafren aim to deliver “arts and entertainment experiences that will entice,inspire and intrigue”.
It’s not, you may be relieved to learn, all high-brow stuff from the likes of Mid Wales Opera or Mid Wales Chamber Orchestra. Their 555-seat theatre is just as likely to host comedian Lee Evans or singer Cerys Matthews. Not to mention James and the Giant Peach for the kids.
So Newtown is a bit of a cultural powerhouse. But let’s not forget life’s simpler pleasures.Fresh air and glorious views, for example. The Newtown Walk is a great way to see all the town’s historic buildings. For a longer walk, strike out along the banks of the Severn to Llanid- loes or pick up Glyndwr’s Way to Knighton.
For cyclists there’s a traffic-free route from the town to the start of the Montgomery Canal where you can follow the towpath all the way to Welshpool. Or you could try the 35-mile “Bikes,Boats ‘n’ Boots” canal triathlon in May.
Tempted? If not Machinations on the road between Newtown and Machynlleth will deliver enough excitement to be going on with. It’s the only permanent automata museum in the country.
You get to turn the handles and watch the models spin, whirl and bob up and down. You can even let your children have a go if you want. And it’s all free (although some models do take tokens). That old socialist Robert Owen would surely have approved.
Events in Newtown
5th - 7th June 2020
Newtown Walking Festival
An expansion of the successful 2019 Walking Festival, the festival will now have more events - guided and self-guided walks, mountain biking, social cycling, breeze ride, roller racing, obstacle bicycle course, canoeing, kayaking, outdoor cooking on campfires with the scouts, running, art and a ceilidh. It kicks off with an inter-high school mountain biking competition on Friday, and all other events Saturday and Sunday.