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BRECON - Extract from National Gazetteer, 1868

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]
"BRECON, (or Brecknock) comprising the two parishes of St. John the Evangelist and St. David, a market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, in the hundreds of Merthyr-Cynog, Penkelly, and Devynnock, in the county of Brecknock, South Wales, 171 miles to the W. of London. It is situated on the banks of the Usk, at the confluence of the Honddhu and Tarell with that river, and is the county town of Brecknockshire. It is a place of great antiquity, and is called by the Welsh, from its situation at the mouth of the Honddhu, Aberhonddhu. Its foundation is attributed to the Norman baron, Bernard Newmarch, who soon after the Conquest invaded and gained possession of the territory. Bleddyn-ap-Maenarch was at that time Prince of Brecheiniog, and he was defeated and slain in a fierce battle with the Normans, fought, it is said, near Caer Bannau.

This spot, 3 miles to the W. of the present town of Brecknock, was the site of the important Roman station Bannium, on the Via Julia Montana, and a cross way meeting it here, now called Sarn Helen. It is thought probable that a British town existed on the same site before the Roman invasion took place. The present town dates from the year 1094, when Bernard selected the site for the erection of a castle, the materials for which he obtained from Caer Bannau. From the same place were procured materials for building of the town, which was defended by walls, with towers, and a moat. Before his death Bernard also founded and largely endowed a priory of the Benedictine order, as a cell to the abbey of Battle, in Sussex.

The endowments and privileges of this house were extended by several charters, granted to the monks by Roger Fitzwalter, grandson of the founder. The history of the lordship, already sketched in the article on Brecknockshire, need not be repeated here. Under the De Bohuns, the castle was enlarged and beautified, privileges were conferred on the inhabitants of the town, an annual fair was established, and Brecknock became a more important and prosperous place than ever. After the abolition of the lordship marcher the castle fell into decay, and was at length dismantled during the civil war in the reign of Charles I. After the battle of Naseby, Charles was entertained at the Priory House by Sir Hubert Price.

The situation and general aspect of Brecknock is singularly picturesque. It stands in a fair open valley in the midst of fine mountain scenery, on the banks of the river Usk, which is here joined by the Honddhu, a rapid stream running southward from the Eppynt Hills, and by the Tarell, a rivulet running northward from the Brecknock Beacons. The Usk is crossed by a stone bridge of seven arches, from which there is a fine view over the surrounding country. The Tarell is crossed by one bridge, and the Honddhu by three, one of which is an ancient stone structure of three arches, erected near the juncture of that river with the Usk. The ivy-covered ruins of the castle, the embattled turret and gateway of the priory, wooded grounds along the Honddhu, picturesque mills, and, shutting all in the magnificent mountains beyond, form the elements of a scene of rare and richly-varied beauty.

The town, which with the suburb of Llanvaes extends about a mile in length, is irregularly built. There are, however, several good streets, well paved, and lighted with gas, and containing some handsome residences. The old county hall in High-street was rebuilt in 1770, and is now converted into an assembly-room; new assize courts having been erected about 1840. They form a handsome edifice of the Doric order of architecture, and cost £12,000. There is a new market-hall, erected from designs by Wyatt. The town contains spacious barracks, originally used as an armoury, county and borough gaols, and a theatre.

Brecknock has no manufactures, and its trade is chiefly in the supply of general goods to the district surrounding the town. Its prosperity has been promoted by the construction of the canal. [See Brecknockshire.] There are two beautiful public walks, one along the banks of Usk, under the old town wall, and the other, delightfully sequestered, through the wooded grounds of the priory, on the side of a hill rising from the banks of the Honddhu.

Brecknock received its first charter of incorporation from De Bohun, sixth Earl of Hereford; but the charter under which the corporation now exists was granted in the second and third years of the reign of William and Mary. The borough is governed, under the Reform Act, by a mayor, recorder, four aldermen, and 12 councillors, with the style of the "bailiff, aldermen, and burgesses of the borough of Brecknock". It has returned one member to the imperial parliament since the 27th of Henry VIII., when the elective franchise was first conferred. The borough is of greater extent than formerly; comprising, besides the ancient borough, the extra-parochial districts of Castle Hill and Christ's College.

According to the census of 1861, the parliamentary borough includes within its limits 1,206 inhabited houses, with a population of 5,517, against 6,070 in 1851, showing a decrease in the decennial period of 553, while the municipal borough has declined from 5,673 to 5,234 in the same period. Brecknock is the seat of a Poor-law Union, the head of a County Court district, and the headquarters of the county militia. The assizes are held, and the county election takes place in the town. It is the head of an archdeaconry in the diocese of St. David's.

The town comprises the greater part, of the two parishes of St. John and St. David, the former including the chapelry of St. Mary. The living of St. John's is a vicarage in the diocese of St. David's, of the value with the curacy of St. Mary's annexed, of £160, in the patronage of the Archdeacon of Brecknock. The church, which formerly belonged to the priory, and is still called the Priory Church, is a cruciform edifice in the early English style, with an embattled central tower. It is partly covered with ivy, and, from the frequent repairs and alterations it has undergone, retains little of its primitive appearance.

It contains a screen, rood-loft, chapels for the various guilds or trades, one of large size, called the vicar's chapel - an ancient round font, and some interesting monuments. The transepts are said to have been appropriated as chapels; one for the use of the inhabitants of Battle, a neighbouring village, and the other for the Normans, or red-haired men. The entire structure is about 200 feet long, and about 30 feet broad.

The living of St. David's or Llanvaes is a vicarage in the same diocese, of the value of £110, in the patronage of the Bishop and Dean and Chapter of St. David's. The church is of small dimensions, and in a decaying state.

The living of St. Mary's is a perpetual curacy annexed to the vicarage of St. John's. The church, which was rebuilt in the 16th century, is a handsome structure, chiefly in the perpendicular style, but with some vestiges of Norman architecture. It stands in the middle of the town, and has a square tower about 90 feet high.

There are five chapels in the town, three of which belong to the Baptists, and two to the Independents. Christ Church College, situated at Llanvaes, was founded here by Henry VIII. in 1531, on the site of an ancient Dominican priory, and has an income, from endowment, of £82 per annum. Part of the ancient church remains, with the stalls, some elegant windows, a stone cross, and several monuments, among which are those to Bishop Lucy, to his son, chancellor of the church, and to the father of Sir David Gam. There are some remains of the gateway and the refectory.

The Boughrood charity school was founded and endowed about 1690 by Rees Powell, who bequeathed property of considerable value for various other benevolent purposes. There are British, infant, and other schools in the town. The Independents have an academy here for the training of young men for the ministry. A mechanics' institute, a young men's improvement society, the Agricultural Society, an infirmary, a hospital and almshouses, and a savings-bank are among the social and charitable institutions of the town. The charitable endowments for the benefit of the poor are very numerous and valuable, producing (inclusive of the Boughrood Charity) about £520 per annum.

The castle ruins are on the N. bank of the Usk, on the verge of a hill, and have still a picturesque aspect. They consist chiefly of the Ely Tower (so called from being the place of imprisonment of Morton, Bishop of Ely, in the reign of Richard III.), and portions of two other towers. Part of the site of the old fortress is now occupied by the Castle Hotel. Near the castle is Brecknock Priory, the seat of Marquis Camden, who takes the title of baron from this town. The mansion was built of the materials of the old priory, by Sir J. Price, to whom the site was given at the Dissolution. There are several ancient seats in the neighbourhood, among which are Aelvanog, Pont Wilym, Cwrt Sim Young, and Newton; the latter the birthplace of Sir David Gam, who accompanied Henry V. to Agincourt, and sacrificed his own life to save the king's. Close to Priory House is Frwdgrêch, a handsome modern residence, pleasantly situated in beautiful grounds. In the vicinity are Pennoyre and Dinas.

Dr. Hugh Price, founder of Jesus College, Oxford, was a native of Brecknock. He died in 1574, and is interred in St. John's church here. Dr. John David Rhys, poet, and author of a work on the Welsh language, spent the last years of his life at Clynhîr. Theophilus Jones, the county historian, was born at Brecknock, and was educated in the College School. He died in 1812. Mrs. Siddons, the actress, who died in 1831, is also said to have been born in this town, at the "Shoulder of Mutton" inn, while her parents were on a professional tour. Wednesday and Saturday are the market-days. Fairs are held on the first Wednesday in March, the 4th May, the 5th July, the 9th September, and the 16th November. There is a racecourse next the town, on which races are held annually in September."

"CHRIST COLLEGE, an extra-parochial place, in the borough of Brecon, in the county of Brecon."

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868) Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]

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