Abergavenny (St. Mary)

ABERGAVENNY (St. Mary), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the division and hundred of Abergavenny, county of Monmouth, 16 miles (W. by N.) from Monmouth, and 145 (W. by N.) from London, on the road to Brecon; comprising the hamlets of Hardwick and Llwyndû, and containing 4953 inhabitants, of whom 2720 are in the town. This was the Gobannium of Antoninus, a Roman station so called from the river Gobannius, now Gavenny, from which, also, the present name of the town is formed, by prefixing the Welsh word Aber, denoting its situation near the mouth of the river. Soon after the Conquest, a castle was erected here, on an eminence overlooking the Usk, by Hameline de Balun or Baladun, one of William's followers; it was besieged and taken in 1215, by Llewelyn, Prince of Wales: the only remains are the exterior walls, which appear to have been erected in the time of Henry II., and within which a neat modern house has been built. De Balun also founded a priory for Benedictine monks, in honour of the Blessed Virgin, the revenue of which, at the Dissolution, was £59. 4.; it stood in Monk-street.

The town, which is lighted with gas and well supplied with water, is beautifully situated at the extremity of a pass, where the mountains abruptly terminate; and is watered by the rivers Usk, Gavenny, and Kibby, over the first of which is an ancient bridge of fifteen arches, including several dry arches on each side. The streets are narrow, and the houses irregularly built; but considerable improvements have been made by the enlargement of the market-place, and the removal of numerous projections in front of the buildings; and the salubrity of the air, and the picturesque beauty of the scenery, attract many visiters during the summer months. Assemblies are occasionally held. The trade is principally in wool, a considerable quantity of which is sold on the marketdays during the months of June and July: the mountains in the neighbourhood abound with coal and ironstone, and in the surrounding districts numerous ironworks have been established. The Monmouthshire and Brecon canal, which passes within a mile of the town, affords great facility in distributing to every part of the kingdom the produce of the mines: there is also a tramroad to Hereford; and an act was passed in 1846, for a railway from Pontypool, by Abergavenny, to Hereford. The market-days are Tuesday and Saturday, the former chiefly for corn: the fairs are held on the third Tuesday in March, May 14th (which is the principal), June 24th, the Tuesday before July 20th (at which two a great quantity of wool is sold), Sept. 25th, and Nov. 19th. The charter of incorporation, by which the government of the town was vested in a bailiff, recorder, and twenty-seven burgesses, was forfeited in the reign of William III., and the town is now within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold a petty-session every Wednesday. The powers of the county debt-court of Abergavenny, established in 1847, extend over the greater part of the registration-district of Abergavenny.

The living is a discharged vicarage, valued in the king's books at £10. 0. 7½.; net income, £451; patron, C. Bailey, Esq.; impropriator, Mrs. Bagot. The church is a spacious structure, the body and aisles of which were taken down in 1828, and rebuilt, and galleries erected; there are several very ancient monuments, principally of the Herberts, some of whom were killed at the battle of Agincourt. A neat building in the Tudor style, forming an oblong square, with a handsome church dedicated to the Holy Trinity in the centre, was erected in 1840, at the sole expense of Miss Rachel Herbert, of The Hill, near the town; the south side of the square consists of a residence for the minister and four cottages, the north side having the same number of cottages, and a schoolroom for fifty girls, with apartments for the mistress. Miss Herbert, who has endowed the cottages, for aged women, is patroness for life, and the bishop of the diocese will afterwards appoint to the living, which is endowed with £3000. There are two places of worship for Baptists, and one each for Independents, English and Welsh Wesleyans, and Roman Catholics. The free grammar school, founded by Henry VIII. in 1543, and formerly under the management of the corporation, was, on the forfeiture of their charter, placed under the control of the Master and Fellows of Jesus College, Oxford, who appoint the master, with preference to a fellow of that college; a writing-master, also, is appointed. The school-house was the parochial church of St. John, which was converted to this purpose at the Dissolution: about the middle of the last century it was rebuilt; but still, having an embattled tower, it presents the appearance of an ecclesiastical structure. William Prichard, in 1623, founded a scholarship in Jesus College, to which boys educated here are eligible. The poor law union of Abergavenny comprises 26 parishes or places in the county of Monmouth, and 2 in the county of Hereford, and contains a population of 50,834. A variety of Roman coins, some bricks inscribed "Leg. II. Aug.," and a sudatory, have been discovered in the town; and within half a mile of it are the remains of a Roman camp, near which was a chapel of ease, now converted into a farmhouse. Abergavenny confers the title of Earl on the family of Neville; the earldom, like the earldoms of Arundel and Berkeley, is a local dignity, attached to the possession of the castle, and is the only one now subsisting of those baronies with which the Norman warriors, who assisted in the subjugation of Wales, were rewarded.

Transcribed from A Topographical Dictionary of England, by Samuel Lewis, 7th edition, published in 1848.

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