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Carnarvon, Carnarvonshire

Historical Description

Carnarvon or Caernarvon, a borough, the head of a poor law union, and the county and assize town of Carnarvonshire. The town stands at the mouth of the river Seiont, on the SE side of the Menai Strait, in the parish of Llanbeblig, 9 miles SW by S of Bangor, and 247½ from London. The Roman station Segontium was at Llanbeblig, within½ a mile, on the road to Beddgelert. It occupied a quadrangular area of about 7 acres, on the summit of an eminence gradually sloping on every side, and was defended with strong walls of masonry. Extensive portions of these walls, on the south side, still exist, and traces of a Roman villa and baths were discovered in 1835. Roman coins and other relics also have been found, and one of the coins is that of Vespasian, struck at the capture of Jndea. A strong fort, some remains of which are still standing, was near the Seiont, to secure a landing-place at high water; other outposts, which can still be traced, were on the opposite side of the Seiont; a well in the vicinity still bears the name of Helena, supposed to have been the wife of a cousin of Constantine the Great; and a very strong, conspicuous, circular, artificial mound on the sea-shore, where Roman coins have been found and which is now called Dinas-Dinlle, was the chief outpost. The Welsh appear to have called it Caer-Seiont and Caer-Custeint- "the fort of the Seiont" and " the fort of Constantine;" and on building a strength of their own in its vicinity, within a district then named Arfon (that is, opposite Mona or Anglesey), called this Caer-yn-Arfon, now changed into Carnarvon. The Welsh princes had their seat here till 873, when they went back to Aberffraw. Edward I. took possession of it in 1282, and came in person and founded a castle here in 1284; and his son, the Prince of Wales, afterwards Edward II., was born here in the same year. Walls were built round the town in 1286; the castle continued to be in progress in 1291; both the walls and the castle were much demolished at Madoc's insurrection in 1295, and were afterwards re-founded; and the grandest part of the castle, called the Eagle Tower, was built by Edward II., and finished in 1322. Owen Glendower besieged the place in 1402, but failed to take it. In Henry VIII.'s reign, having become much dilapidated, it was restored. Both parties in the civil wars of Charles I. repeatedly took and retook it, till the Parliamentarians eventually got the mastery. The castle still stands on strong ground at the west end of the town, has been carefully repaired, is the property of the Crown, and is governed by a constable and deputy-constable. It covers about 2½ acres, and forms an irregular oblong. The external walls are very high, contain a lofty series of galleries, and are pierced by numerous loop-holes or arrow slips. There are thirteen great towers, of pentagonal, hexagonal, and octagonal designs. The very massive pectagonal Eagle Tower, guarding the mouth of the Seiont, is so called from the mutilated figure of an eagle, which was one of Edward's crests. This majestic tower, which is 124 feet high, has three turrets, and its battlements display a mutilated series of armed heads. A small room in this tower was assigned by tradition as the birthplace of the first Prince of Wales, but it has been shown from the public records that this portion of the castle was not built till Edward II.'s own reign. A staircase of 158 steps leads to the top of the Eagle Tower, from which a magnificent view of the Menai Straits and the mountains of Snowdon is obtained. In front of the noble Gothic main entrance, which is flanked by a tower on each side, is a mutilated statue of Edward I. sheathing a sword, with a defaced shield under his feet. The grooves of four portcullises remain. The interior, which was divided into two wards, is a mere shell; the state rooms were fitted with spacious windows and elegant tracery, of which little is left.

The environs are strikingly picturesque, comprise good views of the Menai Straits and the Snowdon and Yr Eifl Mountains, and contain charming drives and walks. The Twt (Toot) Hill, a rocky mound immediately adjacent, resembles the Calton Hill of Edinburgh, and commands a brilliant panoramic prospect. The town walls, defended by many round towers, remain nearly complete round all the circuit, but have mainly become private property, and are much blocked up by houses, and only a small part of their summit, adjoining the church, is available for the public, but a broad pleasant terrace runs on the outside of them from the north end to the quay, and forms a fashionable promenade. The town consists of ten streets inside the walls, and more than double that number outside, with many handsome villas. The guild-hall, over the east town-gate, was erected in 1874. The county hall is nearly opposite the main entrance to the castle. The West or Golden Gate of the town is close to the sea, and is occupied by the Royal Welsh Yacht Club-house. Another tower of the town walls forms portion of the county gaol, another formerly a portion of the North Wales Training College, and another the vestry of St Mary's Church. In the market-place is a handsome statue to Sir Hugh Owen, who did so much for intermediate education in Wales. There is a large pavilion near Twt Hill capable of holding 7000 persons, and used for Eisteddfod meetings, &c. The market house is a modern erection. The custom house stands at the south end of the terrace; a pier and landing-slip are at the north end, and the harbour extends under the walls of the castle and along the north side of the town. There are four churches, and Roman Catholic, Baptist, Congregational, Wesleyan, and Calvinistic Methodist chapels. The Church of St Mary, at the NW corner of the town walls, was formerly the garrison chapel. The living is a vicarage, annexed to that of Llanbeblig, in the diocese of Bangor; joint net value, £326. Patron, the Bishop of Chester. The church at Llanbeblig is a very ancient and interesting building.

The town has a head post office, a railway station, two banks, police station and workhouse, is the capital of the county, with assizes, sessions, and militia headquarters, and publishes six weekly newspapers. Area of the municipal borough, 2214 acres; population, 9804. A weekly market is held on Saturday, and fairs on 4 March, 15 May, 26 June, 11 Aug., 23 Sept., 9 Nov., and the first Friday of Dec. A steam ferryboat runs to the opposite shore of Anglesey; steamers ply to Menai Bridge, and there is also communication by steamer with Beaumaris, LIandudno, and Liverpool. The harbour has a pier and landing-slip, and admits vessels of 400 tons. The number of vessels registered as belonging to the port in 1893 was 225 (30,474 tons). The entries and clearances each average 1700 (140,000 tons) per annum. The railway from Carnarvon forms a junction at Bangor with the Chester and Holyhead section of the L. & N.W. system, and the Carnarvonshire section of that line forms a junction with the Cambrian railway at Afonwen, and with the North Wales narrow gauge railway to Rhyd-ddn at Dinas. The chief exports are slates and copper ore, and the chief imports timber, coal, and foreign produce. The town was chartered by Edward L, is governed by a mayor, 6 aldermen, and 18 councillors. It unites with Bangor, Conway, Criccieth, Nevin, and Pwllheli in sending a member to Parliament. The borough has a separate commission of the peace,'and is divided into two wards. Its limits include about three-fourths of the parish, and extend in some directions 2 miles from the town. It is the headquarters of the 4th battalion Eoyal Welsh Fusiliers (Royal Carnarvonshire Militia). The town gives the title of Earl to the family of Herbert.

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

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for Carnarvonshire is available to browse.

Newspapers and Periodicals

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