At least as early as 1979 a group of local people, who were interested in history, were looking at the topography of the town and gathering together artifacts which they had found on their Sunday walkabouts. A History group was set up by Berwick Roberts, Ray Edwards, a carpenter, Neil Edwards, his brother, Roy Sumnall, an artist, Heather Williams, an art historian with Paul Custance and Terry Gilder, who was Editor of the Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser. Ray was the first Chairman and Heather offered to be Secretary with Berwick as Archivist. In 1983 they were joined by May Bye and in 1984 by Tavia Maclean. Then they were joined by Arthur Hawkins who took on the post of Treasurer of the Society.
That embryonic archaeology group of people, grew into the History Society that we have today. In the early years, Newport and District History Society, as it was then called, was composed of groups of members who followed their own interests in local history.
The work of the archaeology group declined until a metal detecting enthusiast called Julian Meeson resurrected field work with amazing vigour and determination. Since his involvement thousands of finds have been made in the area. Those finds have been recorded and that process has led to the name of Newport History Society, as it is now called, being put well and truly on the National History Map.
The groups met together about once a month to compare notes and announce to the whole Society what they had been up to. There was a Newspaper Group, which usually met on a Monday evening, firstly in a room above the Information Office and later in the Advertiser offices in St. Mary Street. Chairperson of the Group, Heather Williams, together with Margaret de Boer, May Edwards, Beryl Osborne, Mary Lawton, and Merlys Jardine, would spend those evenings searching through old copies of the Newport and Market Drayton Advertiser for snippets of information that might be of interest to themselves and the rest of the members. Many items of interest extracted by them have been recorded and some have been printed in the Newsletter over the years. Sadly Merlys passed away a few years ago and Mary died, recently, on 10th October 2011.
Heather has moved on to do other things and Margaret has moved away from Newport to be near her daughter.
The Vernacular Architecture Group (VAG) was headed by Heather Williams as Chairperson together with Tavia Maclean, May Bye, who looked after the separate finances of the group, Sue Goodwin, who compiled the drawings, Ada Routledge who was a retired Headmistress of Sambrook School, Beryl Osborne, Helen Crump, Helen Gibson and Doris Goodall. They were later joined by Mike Abbott and Bryan Lloyd. At some stage in those early years Mary Lawton also joined the team even though she was still continuing with her newspaper searches. The VAG spent much of their time studying, measuring, sketching, and making drawings of many buildings in and around Newport. Between them they managed to produce records for posterity. Copies of the recorded assessments are held in the Society archives.
More often than not the properties were entered by invitation of the owners who would be curious about some of the features they had noticed within their buildings. Eventually the process of physical examination of properties came to an end but curiosity led the VAG to try to find out who had been in them and what the properties had been used for. Documentary and oral research then began about trades and people thus sparking a greater in-depth search of the town and then the whole area.
An Oral History Group was also started to make recordings of local people. Arthur Hawkins and Paul Custance were the recording experts gathering the voices of some of the local inhabitants. Liz Raymont is continuing that very important work.
Three or four years ago the SNAP Project was set up by Linda Fletcher and Phil Dainty to archive the many photographic images held in the archives. Sue George, Sue Cleaves, Mike Abbott, Phil Walker and Bryan Lloyd all joined in a course to learn about the digital copying of the pictures and computerise the relevant data. In the digitised files there are over 5,000 images along with related information, which has been recorded wherever possible.
This project led to the setting up of a Newport History web site which can be, and is actually, viewed worldwide with about 300 “hits” per month. The site is superbly managed by Phil Walker.
Bryan Lloyd with help from Tavia Maclean.