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Brecon, Breconshire

(Aberhonddu, Brycheiniog)

Historical Description

Brecknock or Brecon, a county and market-town, three parishes, a municipal borough and the head of a poor law union and county court district in Brecknockshire. The town stands at the confluence of the Honddu and the Usk, 16 miles S of Builth, 15 SW of Hay, 20 WNW of Abergavenny, 22¼ N of Merthyr Tydfil, and 171 from London. A canal connects it with Abergavenny, Newport, and Bristol. Several distinct lines of railway run from the town: the Cambrian, northwards to Builth and Llanidloes; the Brecon and Merthyr, to Merthyr and Newport; the Neath and Brecon, to Neath and Swansea; and the Swansea, Brecon, and Hereford branch of the Midland, to Hay and Hereford. It was anciently called Brycheiniog, and is now sometimes called Aberhonddu. The Romans, under Ostorius Scapula, built an entrenched camp in A.D. 54 at Bannuim, now called Y Gaer or Caer Bannau, about 2¼ miles W of the present town, and the native princes long continued to make it a centre of strength, and were hence called Princes of Brycheiniog. Bernard de Newmarch, a Norman baron, obtained from the English Crown in 1092 a grant of a large tract around it, took possession of this by force of arms, and built at the town in 1094 a strong castle to maintain his power. The castle passed to the Braoses, the Bohuns, and the Staffords, and was eventually resumed by the Crown; and, together with strong walls and other fortifications which were erected around the town, it was used for ages to repress the turbulence of the native tribes, and both it and the town walls were dismantled by the townspeople in the Civil War of the 17th century to avert the horrors of siege. The keep of the castle was made the prison of Morton, Bishop of Ely, under charge of the crafty Duke of Buckingham, and became the scene of the intrigue of these two dignitaries for dethroning Richard III. and enthroning Henry VII., and hence is called the Ely Tower.

The town lies in the heart of the grandest part of South-Wales. The tract around it is an assemblage of vales and mountains, picturesque by nature and embellished by art, with the twin peaks called the Brecon Beacons, culminating 6 miles to the SSW. The town consists chiefly of three streets on the left bank of the Usk, and the flat suburb of Llanfaes on the right bank, and is altogether about a mile long. The remains of the ancient castle, consisting of two square towers in the garden of the Castle Hotel, not older than the time of Edward III., and of a lofty mound on which the keep stood, are on an eminence in an angle between the Honddu and the Usk. The original structure is believed to have been built of materials from the Roman station of Caer-Bannau, and the completed castle formed an. oblong of about 300 feet by 240. Remains of an ancient Benedictine priory, comprising an embattled gateway and part of the walls, are on a height a little N of the castle. The priory was founded in 1096 by Bernard de Newmarch in compunction for his deeds of violence, and was made subject to Battle Abbey. A mansion, now called Brecknock Priory, a seat of the Marquis of Camden, stands adjacent to the ruins, and was built out of the demolished parts of the monastery by Sir Charles C. Price. Charles I. was sheltered here by Sir H. Price after the battle of Naseby, and George IV. spent a night here in 1821 after his return from Ireland. The priory walks connected with the mansion are extensive, wooded, and picturesque, and are open to the public, and another fine walk called the Captain's Walk lies along the banks of the Usk under the old town walls. Three bridges span the Honddu, and one the Usk. The upper Honddu bridge leads to the priory; the middle one formerly led to the castle and supported a drawbridge, and has two arches with a vastly thick pier in the centre; the lower one is an iron-girder erection. The Usk bridge connects the main body of the town with the Llanfaes suburb, has seven arches, and commands a fine view. The County or Shire Hall was built in 1843 at a cost of £12,000. It is in the Classic style, and contains courts for the sittings of quarter sessions, petty sessions, and the county court. The county jail was built in 1780, enlarged in 1858, and again in 1871. The town-hall is a fine stone-building, in which the meetings of the town council are held. There are a market-house, extensive barracks, a theatre, an infirmary, and a workhouse. A statue of the Duke of Wellington, 8 feet high, on a pedestal of 10 feet, was placed in 1854 on the Bulwark. St John's Church was originally the church of the Benedictine priory, extensively rebuilt in the 13th and 14th centuries. It was carefully restored between. 1861 and 1875 by Sir G. Gilbert Scott. It is a large cruciform building, with a massive central tower; on the north of the chancel is a large chapel containing some interesting monuments; there is a curious Norman font. The east window is filled with stained glass to the memory of the officers and men of the 24th Foot (South Wales Borderers) who fell at Isandhlwana. St Mary's Church, originally Norman, has a tower in good Perpendicular English, and was enlarged in 1858. St David's Church in Llanfaes fell down in 1852, was rebuilt in 1859, is in the Early English style, and consists of nave and chancel, with tower and spire. Christ's College was originally the chapel of a Dominican friary, was changed in 1531 under a chapter of Henry VIII. into a seat of learning under a dean and 19 prebendaries. It is now entirely an educational establishment administered under a scheme of the Charity Commissioners, the greater part of the existing buildings having been built in 1864. The chapel is in Early English, and contains an antique stone cross, and monuments of several bishops. There are Roman Catholic, Congregational, Baptist, Calvinistic Methodist, and Wesleyan chapels, and a theological college for Congregationalists.

The town has a head post office and three banks, is the seat of assizes and of quarter sessions for the county, and of the county court, borough court, and county petty sessions, and publishes three weekly newspapers. Markets are held on Friday and on the first Tuesday of every month for cattle, sheep, &c.; and fairs on the first Tuesday of May, July, September, and Nov. The town is well built, paved, and well supplied with water. The chief trade has connection with agriculture. The town sent a member to Parliament since the time of Henry VIII., was chartered in 1556 by Mary, but is now merged in the county by the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885. It is governed by a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors. The depot of the South Wales Borderers (late 24th Foot) Territorial Regiment and the headquarters of the 24th Regimental district are situated here. The borough has a separate commission of the peace Under the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1888, the borough ceased to maintain a separate police force, and the county police act therein. Area of municipal borough, 2835 acres; population, 5646; area of the urban sanitary district, 2868 acres; population, 5794; area of the civil parishes, 5106 acres; population, Brecknock St John's, 1603; Brecknock St David's, 1548; Brecknock St Mary's, 2686. Population of the ecclesiastical parish of Brecknock St John, 4399; of Brecknock St David, 1671. Mrs Siddons and Charles Kemble were natives. The town gives the title of baron to the Marquis of Camden. St John's parish consists of the lower division or chapelry of St Mary, and the upper division, which includes the hamlet of Venny-Vach. St David's also consists of a lower division (or Llanfaes) and an upper division. Both are vicarages in the diocese of St David's, and the former has united to it the perpetual curacy of St Mary; net value of St John, £276 with residence; of St David, £312. Patron of St David, the Archdeacon of Brecon.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5

Land and Property

A full transcript of the Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Breconshire is online.


Online maps of Brecon are available from a number of sites:

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers online:

Postal districtLD3
Post TownBrecon