UK Genealogy Archives logo

Monmouthshire

MONMOUTHSHIRE is an English county, bordering on South Wales, and is bounded to the north and north-east by Herefordshire, the river Monnow forming a portion of the boundary, on the east by the Wye, dividing it from Herefordshire and Gloucestershire, on the south by the estuary of the Severn, and on the west by the Rumney, dividing it from Brecknockshire and Glamorganshire; in shape it approaches a rectangle, having an average breadth from east to west of about 30 miles, and length from north to south of about 26 miles; it comprises 347,011 statute acres, and had a population in 1861 of 174,633; in 1871, 195,448; in 1881, 211,276; and in 1891 of 258,054, of whom 133,633 were males and 124,421 females; the inhabited houses being 47,247. It was part of the island occupied by the Romans, and formed part of the division called Britannia Secunda; several remains prove that the Second Legion occupied this part, and the Roman remains are so frequent as to lead to the belief that the beauty of the scenery and richness of the soil had induced many of the Romans to erect villas here. After the departure of the Romans it was the scene of frequent encounters between the Saxons and Ancient Britons; the Saxons never appear to have entirely conquered the country, then known by the name of Gwent; the numerous earthworks still existing show the contests which took place. After the Norman conquest, numerous Norman barons, to whom grants of land had been made, governed the country under the name of Lords of the Marches, and they here erected many castles to command the passes into the Welsh country; the ruins of many of these castles still exist; among the principal are Abergavenny, Caerleon, Caldicot, Chepstow, Dinham, Grosmont, Monmouth and Usk.

Monmouthshire was joined to England as an English county in 1535 by Henry VIII. but it was considered a Welsh county for the administration of justice until the reign of Charles II. when it was first included in the Oxford circuit. The legal authority of the Lords Marchers was only put an end to by act of 1st William and Mary, 1689: it is still, to a great extent, a Welsh county: the Welsh names of places are retained, and the lower orders still cling to Welsh customs and speak the language to an extent that renders it necessary in many churches to perform services alternately in Welsh and English: and in the Dissenting chapels Welsh is still more frequently used, to which may be attributed the great hold dissent has obtained here and in South Wales. The surface of the country is greatly varied; in the north and west, hills rise to a considerable height: the Sugar Loaf is 1,954 feet; Blorenge, 1,720, and Skyridd Vawr, 1,601. These hills are intersected by valleys of great beauty, through which flow mountain streams, tributaries of the Usk or Wye. Towards the south, on either side of the mouth of the river Usk, are two large tracts of marsh land, called Caldicot Level and Wentlog Level, which are artificially drained and protected from the irruption of the Bristol Channel by sea-walls.

The principal river is the Severn, which forms the southern boundary, and into the estuary of which the other rivers-the Wye and the Usk-with their tributaries, empty themselves. The Monnow flows in from Herefordshire and forms the north-eastern boundary, until it reaches Monmouth, where it joins the Wye, which then becomes the eastern boundary, and flows by Tintern and Chepstow to the Severn. The Usk rises in Brecknockshire and enters the county near Abergavenny, and flows, after a long and winding course, past Caerleon and Newport to the sea. The Ebbw rises in the north-west, and falls into the Usk below Newport. The Rumney is the western boundary and falls into the Bristol Channel. The Trothy, Honddû, Soar, Mounton brook, Rumy, Sirhowy, Avon, Llwyd and Sychan, are other streams.

In the Western portion of the county is the Monmouthshire canal, which starts from Newport, where there are commodious docks, and continues northward to Pontypool; north of Newport, near Malpas, the Crumlin Canal joins the Monmouthshire canal. The Brecknockshire Canal from Brecon enters the county near Abergavenny, and continues south till it joins the Monmouthshire Canal below Pontypool, thus giving it connection with Newport.

The county is well supplied with railways, the western half more so than the eastern: these railways are worked in connection with the Great Western and London and North Western railways, thus giving access to all parts of the British Isles. The principal line, Great Western, passes through the county from north to south, connecting Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford: on this road is the Pontypool Road Junction, from which, starts the single line of railway to Usk and Monmouth, thence are branches to Chepstow, Ross in Herefordshire, and to Coleford, in Gloucestershire; and also the West Midland Railway (Newport section), worked by the Great Western through Pontypool, and across the celebrated Crumlin Viaduct to Merthyr Tydfil and Swansea. In the west of the county the Great Western Railway have one line, called the Eastern Valleys Railway, from Newport through Pontypool to Blaenavon, and another called the Western Valleys from Newport, through the valley of the Ebbw, crossing the West Midland at Crumlin, thence to Aberbeg, where it branches into two lines, one to Ebbw Vale and the other to Abertillery and Blaina, and Nantyglo, joining the Abergavenny line (London and North Western Railway) at Brynmawr.

In the extreme south of the county is the South Wales line of the Great Western from Gloucester through Chepstow, Portskewett Junction and Newport to Cardiff, and along the southern coast of Wales. The Great Western Railway Company have constructed a tunnel in the bed of the Severn, from Portskewett in Monmouthshire to New Passage in Gloucestershire, at a cost of £1,500,000 to connect their lines and give more direct communication with the metropolis.

The London and North Western Railway have a line from Abergavenny, westward to Merthyr Tydfil through Tredegar, having a branch from Beaufort to Ebbw Vale. The Abersychan branch of the London and North Western Railway leaves the Eastern Valleys at Talywain or Abersychan and runs through Blaenavon to Brynmawr.

The Sirhowy Railway runs northward from Risca, on the Western Valleys Railway, crossing the West Midland to Tredegar, thence joining the London and North Western (Abergavenny) line at Nant-y-bwlch. The Rhymney Railway runs from Rhymney through the valley of the Rhymney river, on the extreme western border of the county to Newport: another line of this railway runs parallel on the opposite bank of the river Rhymney, in Glamorganshire.

The Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport railway Places Newport in direct connection with Swansea and the coal district, of the Rhondda Valley.

The principal industry of the county is connected with its mineral riches; 2,712 tons of building stone, and 2,254 tons of gannister were raised in 1893, and bricks and tiles are largely made. The mines of coal and ironstone are of immense magnitude: according to the "Mineral Statistics" of 1893, 7,309,207 tons of coal, valued at £2,497,312, were raised, the approximate pries at pit's mouth being 6s. 10d. per ton; of ironstone from coal measures 18,791 tons were raised, valued at £9,395; the amount of pig iron manufactured was 236,089 tons, the product of 17 furnaces, averaging 9 1/12 in blast for the year out of 33 furnaces in existence in the county; every branch of the iron and steel manufacture is carried on - such as the manufacture of iron and steel rails, and there are railway plant and wagon works, nail works, anchor and chain cable works and steam engine and boiler works. Other branches of industry are in tin plate works, for which there are 67 mills, and chemical works. Fire clay was produced to the amount of 67,807 tons in 1893, valued at £16,952, and some flannel is made.

The county contains 142 civil parishes and parts of 7 others, and is in the province of Canterbury and diocese of Llandaff, forming the archdeaconry of Monmouth, which is subdivided into the rural deaneries of Abergavenny (North-Western, South-Western and Blaenau Gwent divisions), Netherwent (Eastern, Middle and Western divisions), Monmouth, Newport and, Usk (Western division).

The county forms part of the Oxford circuit, has one Court of Quarter Session, and is divided into eleven petty sessional divisions.

The municipal boroughs are Monmouth, population in 1891, 5,470; and Newport, population in 1891, 54,707. Other towns are - Abergavenny, population in 1891, 9,036; Blaenavon, 1891, 11,452; Caerleon, 1,411; Chepstow, 3,378; Ebbw Vale, 17,034; Pontypool, 5,842; Rhymney, 7,733; Risca, 7,783; Tredegar, 17,341; and Usk, 1,417.

Transcribed from Kelly's Directory of Monmouthshire and South Wales, 1895