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Monmouth, Monmouthshire

Historical Description

Monmouth, a market-town, a municipal and parliamentary borough, the head of a petty sessional division, poor-law union, and county court district, a parish, and the county town of Monmouthshire. The town stands at the confluence of the rivers Monnow and Wye, half a mile N of the month of the Trothy, 1½ W of the boundary with Gloucestershire, 2½ miles S of the boundary with Herefordshire, 13½ E of Abergavenny, and 145 by rail from London. It takes its name from its position at the mouth of the Monnow, but it was anciently called Abermynwy, Trefynwe, and Mongwy, with reference also to the Wye. It is supposed to occupy the site of the Roman station Blestium, mentioned by Antonine, and a Roman way went from it to Usk, yet scarcely any Roman antiquities have been found on or near its site. It was a place of considerable importance in the time of the Saxons, and appears to have been fortified by them to maintain their acquired territory between the Severn and the Wye. It certainly had a castle at the Norman Conquest, and it figured in connection with that stronghold in great subsequent events. The manor in the Saxon times belonged to the Crown, was given at the Conquest to the Fitz-Baderons, remained in their possession for about two centuries, passed afterwards through various hands, including the Herberts, Earls of Pembroke, and came to the Dukes of Beaufort. The castle surmounted an eminence overhanging the Monnow, in the northern outskirts of the town; was burnt in the time of Henry III. by Simon de Montfort; was soon afterwards rebuilt; went to Edward I., to his brother Edmund, to John of Gaunt, and to Henry IV.; appears to have been restored or rebuilt by John of Gaunt; was constructed of red gritstone, with walls from 6 to 10 feet thick, filled up in the interstices with pebbles and cement, as directed by Vitruvius; was the birthplace of Henry V., " Harry of Monmouth," the hero of Agincourt; acquired, from that event, a celebrity competing with even imperial Windsor; has been allowed to pass into a state of fragmentary ruin; retains an interesting portion, with the birth-chamber of Henry V., which also is crumbling away; retains also a conspicuous portcullis, figuring in views over many miles distant; and incloses a seat of the Beauforts, built out of its materials in 1673. Henry V.'s birth-chamber was part of an upper storey, 58 feet long and 24 wide, and was decorated with ornamental pointed windows, only one of which now remains. The alleged cradle of Henry V. and the alleged armour which he wore at Agincourt are preserved in the neighbouring mansion of Mitchel Troy, but they bear evident marks of being of a considerably later period than Henry V.'s. The town was anciently fortified with walls and a moat, and it was taken and garrisoned by the Parliamentarian forces after the Battle of Marston Moor. The walls were entire but dilapidated in the time of Leiand; the moat also was entire, and there were four gates called Monks Gate, Eastern Gate, Wye Gate, and Monnow Gate or Western Gate. Three of the gates and much of the moat have now completely disappeared.

A Benedictine priory was built adjacent to the site of the parish church in the time of Henry I. by Wyhenoc, grandson of Fitz-Baderon and third lord of Monmouth, and was a cell to the monastery of St Florence, near Salmur in Anjou, and is supposed to have been the place where Geoffrey of Mon-mouth, author of a romantic history of England, was educated. Geoffrey was a native of the town, was sometimes called Galfridus Arthurius by Latinizing of his proper name Geoffrey-ap-Arthur, became bishop of St Asaph in 1152, and, in order to pursue his studies unmolested, resigned" his bishopric and retired to the monastery of Abingdon, of which he was made abbot. His history of England is thought to have been a disguised and altered transcript of a history written in the 7th century by Tyssilio or Teilau, bishop of St Asaph; was long regarded as of much value on account of its antiquity; has been generally pronounced, since the time of Camden, little else than a collection of fables, or at best traditional tales; and is notable chiefly as the source of the history of King Lear in Spenser's "Fairy Queen," the materials of Shakespeare's tragedy of "King Lear,'' and the beautiful fiction of " Sabrina " in Milton's " Comus." A tower of the priory still stands, and contains an apartment with decorated oriel window, reputed to have been Geoffrey's study, but evidently of a later date. The town numbers also among its natives the bishop John of Monmouth, the monk Thomas of Monmouth, the theologian Hopkins, and the first Duke of Lancaster (Henry Plantagenet); and it gave the title of Duke to James, illegitimate son of Charles II., notable for his disastrous rebellion against James II., and known among his followers as King Monmouth.

The body of the town stands at a little distance from the site of the original seat of population, occupies a tongue of land at the confluence of the Monnow and the Wye; looks, as seen from the Monnow, to be perched on an eminence flanked by a high cliff; appears, as seen from the neighbouring high grounds, to be situated in the centre of a luxuriant vale surrounded by hills of various altitudes, of undulating contour, and much beautified with wood; and, as seen from most adjacent places, is distinguished by the finely tapering spire of St Mary's Church, soaring high above the other buildings. It consists chiefly of one main street, extending from the market-place, called Agincourt Square, north-eastward to the Monnow, and of several smaller streets diverging from the main one. The main street is long, spacious, and well-paved, and exhibits an irregularity in its house architecture which both pleases the eye and betokens antiquity. The streets leading toward the Wye contain some good blocks of houses, and suburban extensions have been made beyond the Monnow. The lofty hill Kymin, contiguous to the E side of the Wye, commands a magnificent view over parts of nine counties, and is crowned by a pavilion built in 1794 and by a naval temple built in 1801, designed to accommodate the numerous parties who visit the hill to enjoy the view. The pavilion is a clumsy structure, little worthy of its splendid site, and the naval temple measures about 13 feet by 12, is ornamented on the cornice with busts of distinguished naval officers, contains an old carved chair used by Nelson during a visit in 1802, and is falling into decay. A remarkable rocking-stone, called the Buckstone, stands on the edge of a lofty precipice about a mile from Kymin Hill, has an irregular form. somewhat resembling an inverted pyramid; measures about 2 feet square at the bottom, 17 on the N side, 12 on the S side, and 11½ in height; was thrown off its pedestal by a party of excursionists in 1885, but replaced.

Monnow Bridge, over the Monnow on the road to Raglan, is a venerable three-arched structure of 1272, and is surmounted by a gatehouse, called the Welsh Gate, a formidable defence of the town in old times, pierced with two side passages, and now presenting a very picturesque appearance. Another bridge, called Tibb's, crosses the Monnow; a stone-one, on the road to Gloucester, crosses the Wye; and a third spans the Trothy. The town-hall stands in Agincourt Square, is a modern edifice with a statue of Henry V. over the portico, and is used for the meetings of the assizes, county courts, and the petty sessions. The market-house stands on the brow of the cliff overlooking the Monnow, and is a modern structure, erected at a cost of £8000. St Mary's Church occupies the site of the ancient priory church. The Early English church which succeeded the latter was pulled down in the 18th century, and an unsightly edifice erected in its place. The present church was rebuilt in the Early English style in 1882 by Street, and retains a handsome Decorated tower with a lofty and graceful spire, rising to a height of 200 feet St Thomas' Church stands at the footofMonnow Bridge, is Early Norman, of simple form, with a low tower, and was restored in 1880. There are Roman Catholic, Baptist, Congregational, Primitive Methodist, and Wesleyan chapels, and a cemetery with a mortuary chapel. A grammar school, and almshouses for ten men and ten women were founded and endowed in the time of James I. by William Jones. A free institute for workmen was founded and endowed in 1868 by Mrs M. Jones, and is in the Italian Gothic style. The Eolls Hall, in Whitecross Street, was erected by Mr J. A. Eolls, and presented to the town in 1888, and is a handsome edifice, with a spacious hall containing a stage, gallery, and organ. There are a club-house, athenaeum, and reading-rooms, barracks for the county engineer militia, an hospital and dispensary, and a workhouse.

The town has a head post office, a station (Troy, about a mile S of the town) on the G.W.R., and another (May Hill, near Wye Bridge) on the Severn and Wye, Severn Bridge and Monmouth railway, three banks, and is a seat of assizes and county courts. A weekly market is held on Saturday, a market for cattle on the second and fourth Mondays in each month, and fairs on the second Monday in Feb., second Monday in May, Whit-Tuesday, 18 June, second Monday in Sept., and 22 Nov., and races are held annually in Sept. A complete system of drainage was carried out in 1894. A manufacture of " Monmouth caps," alluded to by Fluellen in " Henry V.," was long carried on, to the extent of employing many thousands of hands, but it was driven from Monmouth to Bewdley by the prevalence of a great plague, and it never again revived. Some business is done in tanning, and in corn mills, saw mills, chemical works, and a foundry, and a large traffic exists in the conveyance of country produce by the navigation of the Wye between Hereford, Bristol, and intermediate places. A weekly newspaper is published. The town is a borough by prescription, was first chartered by Edward VI., is governed by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors, and unites with Newport and Usk in sending a member to Parliament. Its borough limits, both municipally and parliamentarily, include all Monmouth parish and part of Dixton Newton parish. Population, 5470.

The parish comprises 8634 acres; population, 4969. Population of St Mary's ecclesiastical parish, 3712. The ecclesiastical parish of St Thomas-over-Monnow was constituted in 1832. Population, 1257. The living of St Mary is a vicarage in the diocese of Llandaff; gross value, £150 with residence. The living of St Thomas is a perpetual curacy; net value, £5O with residence. Patron, the Vicar of Monmouth.

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

Administration

The following is a list of the administrative units in which this place was either wholly or partly included.

Ancient CountyMonmouthshire 
Ecclesiastical parishMonmouth St. Mary 
Poor Law unionMonmouth 
Registration districtMonmouth1837 - 1939
Registration districtAbergavenny1939 - 1959
Registration districtPontypool1959 - 1974

Any dates in this table should be used as a guide only.


Directories & Gazetteers

We have transcribed the entry for Monmouth from the following:


Newspapers and Periodicals

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