Historical description of Carnarvonshire, Wales

Map of Carnarvonshire

Carnarvonshire or Caernarvonshire, a maritime county of North Wales, bounded on the north by Beaumaris Bay and the Irish Sea, on the north-east by Denbighshire, on the south-east and the south by Merionethshire and by Cardigan Bay, on the south-west by Carnarvon Bay, and on the northwest by the Menai Strait, dividing it from Anglesey. Its length south-westward is 55 miles, its greatest breadth 23 miles, its circuit about 150 miles, its area 361,097 acres. The part between Cardigan Bay and Carnarvon Bay, 28 miles long, and diminishing in breadth from 13 miles to a point, is the peninsula of Lleyn, and the other parts are mainly filled with the vales and mountains of Snowdonia. Much of the Lleyn peninsula is low country, parts of the other seaboards also are low, yet these tracts abound in bold picturesque diversities, while the mountains of Snowdonia, regarded either in the group or in detail, are the richest for grandeur, force, and beauty in the British Isles. The Conway river goes along the north-eastern boundary to the sea; the Machno, the Lledr, and the Llugwy fall into the Conway; the Glas-Llyn, a romantic stream, goes to Cardigan Bay; and the Seiont and the Gwrfai descend from Snowdon to the Menai Strait. Numerous lakes lie among the mountains, and innumerable rivulets run around their bases. Cambrian and Silurian rocks, with vast and manifold protrusions of erupted rocks, fill nearly all the area. The Cambrian form considerable belts in the north-west and the south-west; the lower Silurian spread from the middle west, through all the centre, to the south and the east; and the upper Silurian form a small tract in the north-east. The erupted rocks range from granite through all the traps to the simply volcanic, and include great uplifted masses of clay-slate and other schists. Old red sandstone appears on the coast from Conway to Bangor, also in Braich-y-Pwll, and carboniferous limestone appears in Orme's Head and in a strip along part of the Menai Strait. Copper, lead, and zinc are worked, roofing slates in vast quantities are quarried, and millstone and ochre are found.

Wheat is grown in a few fertile spots on the seaboards, but oats, barley, and potatoes are the chief crops. Husbandry in general has been much improved. The black cattle are smaller than those of Anglesey; the native sheep are a very diminutive breed, but have been improved by judicious crossing. Butter, wool, and Iambs are sent to the market, and stockings, flannel, and coarse woollen cloth are manufactured. The Chester and Holyhead section of the L. & N.W.R. goes along the northern seaboard; a branch runs down the valley of the Conway from LIandudno Junction to Bettws-y-Coed and Festiniog, and another branch from Bangor to Carnarvon and thence to Afon-wen, where it forms a junction with the section of the Cambrian railway between Pwllheli, Criccieth, and Portmadoc. From Bangor and Carnarvon are short offshoots of the L. & N.W. system to Bethesda and to Llanberis respectively. From Dinas Junction on the line from Carnarvon to Afon-wen, the North Wales narrow gauge railway runs into the heart of the Snowdon district to Snowdon station, which is connected by coach with Beddgelert. From Portmadoc, also connected by coach with Beddgelert, runs another narrow gauge or "toy " railway, the Festiniog, to Blaenan Festiniog.

The county is divided for parliamentary purposes into two divisions, each returning one member. It also includes the Carnarvon district of boroughs, consisting of the contributory boroughs of Bangor (city), Carnarvon, Conway, Criccieth, Nevin, and Pwllheli. The county includes four municipal boroughs, namely, Bangor (city), Carnarvon, Conway, and Pwllheli. It has one court of quarter sessions, and is divided into six petty sessional divisions. The borough of Carnarvon has a separate commission of the peace, but no separate court of quarter sessions. The county contains 71 entire civil parishes and parts of two others. It is included partly in the diocese of Bangor and partly in that of St Asaph. The county is governed by a lord lieutenant, a high sheriff, and a county council consisting of 48 councillors and 16 aldermen. It is in the Western Military district, and in the North Wales judicial circuit. The assizes and the quarter sessions are held at Carnarvon. Population (1801) 41,521, (1821) 58,099, (1841) 81,093, (1861) 95,694, (1881) 119,349, (1891) 118,204, of whom 56,496 were males and 61,708 females; of administrative county (1891) 117,233.

According to the census returns issued in 1893, the chief occupations of the people of the county were:—Professional, 2525 males and 1299 females; domestic, 371 males and 9920 females; commercial, 3919 males and 55 females; agricultural, 9561 males and 799 females; fishing, 119 males and 1 female; industrial, 21,701 males and 4978 females; and "unoccupied," including retired business men, pensioners, those living on their own means, and others not specified, 7912 males and 35,391 females; or a total in the county of 46,108 males and 52,443 females. The largest number of men employed in any one industry was, slate quarriers, 7661; agricultural labourers, 4696; farmers, 2914; general labourers, 2455; seamen, &c., 1236; and stone quarriers, 1196. The chief occupations of women are, domestic service, with a total of 8890; and those of milliner and dressmaker, 2251. There were also in the county 98 blind persons, 41 deaf, 83 deaf and dumb, and 164 mentally deranged. There were 78,780 persons able to speak only the Welsh language, and 28,330 who could speak both Welsh and English.

The Southern or Eifion, and Northern or Arfon parliamentary divisions of Carnarvonshire were formed under the Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885, and return one member each to the House of Commons. Carnarvon boroughs also send one member. The population of the Southern Division is 42,816, and of the Northern, 45,816. The Southern Division includes the following:—Carnarvon (part of)—Bettws-Garmon, Clynnog, Llanbeblig, Llandwrog, Llanfaglan, Llanfairisgaer, Llanllyfni, LIanrug, Llanwnda; Eifionydd or Portmadoc—Beddgelert (part), Criccieth, Dolbenmaen, Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, Penmorfa, Treflys, Ynyscynhaiarn; Pwllheli—Aberdaron, Abereirch, Bodferin, Bodvean, Bottwnog, Bryncroes, Carngiwch, Ceidio, Denio, Edeyrn, Llanaelbaiarn, Llanarmon, Llanbedrog, Llandegwning, Llandudwen, Llanengan, Llanfaelrhys, Llanfihangel-Bachellaeth, Llangian, Llangwnadi, Llangybi, Llaniestyn, Llannor, Llanystumdwy, Meillteyrn, Nevin, Penllech, Penrhos, Pistill, Rhiw, Tydweiliog; Carnarvon, municipal borough. The Northern Division includes the following:—Carnarvon (part of)— Llanberis, Llanddeiniolen; Bangor—Aber, Bangor, Llandegai, Llanfairfechan, Llanllechid; Conway—Caerhun, Conway, Dolgarrog (township), Dwygyfylchi, Eirias (township), Eglwysrhos, Gyifin, Llanbedr Cenin, Llandudno, Llangelynin, Llangwstenin, Llysfaen, Maenan (township); Nant Conway —Bettws-y-Coed, Dolwyddelen, Eidda (township), LIanrhochwyn, Penmachno, Trefriw, Trewydir (township).

The territory now forming Carnarvonshire belonged anciently to the Cangi and the Ordovices, was included by the Romans in their Britannia Secunda, and formed part of Venedotia or Gwynedd. It was the chief theatre of the successive and protracted struggles of Romans, Saxons, Normans, and English for the subjugation of Wales, and it possessed the stoutest means for offering resistance. Its natural defences, themselves of the highest order, were so strengthened by artificial strongholds as to make the parts of it around Snowdon one vast mountain fortress. The passage of the Conway was guarded by Cestell-Deganwy; the pass of Bwlch-y-ddeufaen, by a fort at Caerhun; the northern seaboard by the great hill camp of Penmaen-Mawr, and by forts at Aber and in Nant-Francon; the pass of Llanberis, by Dolbadarn Castle; the pass under Mynydd-Mawr, by a fort overlooking it; and the passage over the Traeth-Mawr, or great sands, by the castle of Harlech in Merioneth on the one side, and by that of Criccieth on the other, with a watch-tower at Castill-Gwyvarch, and a fort at Dolbenmaen. Snowdonia thus could not be entered without a siege, or penetrated without encountering the double resistance of artificial defences and stupendous natural fastnesses, and it in consequence was the scene of continued and desperate warfare, because the last retreat of unconquered freedom.

Cromlechs occur at Bachwen, Cefn-Amlwch, Capel Garmon, and Dolbenmaen, and other Celtic antiquities exist, while many more have been destroyed since the latter part of the 18th century. Several large ancient British camps or forts, especially at Deganwy, Dolbenmaen, Dinas-Dinorwig, Dinas-Ddinlle, Braich-y-Dinas, and Trer-Caeri, still exist, Roman stations stood at Conovium (Caerhun) and Segontium (near Carnarvon); a branch of the northern Watling Street joined the main Roman road at Caerhun; the Sarn-Helen Way went from Carnarvon to Herira-Mons in Merioneth; and many camps and Roman antiquities have been found. The castles of Carnarvon and Conway are two of the finest extant specimens of their class in the kingdom, and those of Dolbadarn and Criccieth still present features of interest. Vestiges of monastic houses are at Bangor, Beddgelert, Clynnog-Vawr, Maenan, and Bardsey, and a large ancient church is at Clynnog. Conway and Carnarvon present the finest examples, after Chester, of town walls to be found in the kingdom.

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