CRICCIETH (CRUGCAITH), a borough and parish (formerly a market town) in the hundred of EIVIONYDD, Eivionydd division of the county of CARNARVON, NORTH WALES, 18 miles (S.) from Carnarvon, and 240 (W.N.W.) from London, containing 648 inhabitants. This place, which is of considerable antiquity, at an early period belonged to Ednyved Vychan, who was seventy-sixth in descent from Henwyn, Duke of Cornwall, and was baron of Brynfenigl, lord of Criccieth, and chief counsellor to Llewelyn the Great. He acquired an honourable name and possessed much influence among his countrymen, and is stated to have built a strong fortress here, which, having fallen into decay, was restored and enlarged by Edward I. This castle formed one of the defences of the passage over the sands called Traeth-Mawr, from the territory included in the present county of Merioneth into the country of Snowdon, during the wars between the Britons and the invading Saxons and Normans. About the year 1140, Grufydd ab Llewelyn, having been unjustly made prisoner by his brother Davydd, who afterwards succeeded to the sovereignty of North Wales, was imprisoned in it for a considerable time, and then delivered into the power of the English monarch, Henry III.
Edward I., having completed the subjugation of Wales, restored and strongly fortified the castle, appointing William de Leybourn governor, with a salary of £ 100 per annum, out of which he was to maintain thirty stout men (ten of them cross-bowmen), a chaplain, a surgeon, a carpenter, and a mason. Among its later governors was Sir Howel y Fwyall, so called from his bearing the figure of a poleaxe upon his shield, who, having attended Edward the Black Prince on his continental expeditions, and meritoriously distinguished himself at the battle of Poictiers, was knighted by that prince, and appointed to the governorship of the castle, which he afterwards made his principal residence. The same prince also constituted the town of Criccieth a free borough, and made the constable of the castle mayor, granting the burgesses the same privileges as were enjoyed by those of Rhos Vair, in the county of Anglesey. It is not known at what time the castle first fell into decay ; but, in the 24th of. Henry VIII., orders were issued to the constable to put it into thorough repair, at the king's cost ; and that monarch, in the 35th year of his reign, conferred upon the burgesses the right of participating in the election of a representative for the borough of Carnarvon, to which it consequently became a contributory borough.
Criccieth is now only an inconsiderable village of mean appearance : from its contiguity to the shore of Cardigan bay, the situation is favourable for commerce but only a few vessels touch here, bringing limestone in ballast, and taking away slates from Port Madoc, and there is neither harbour nor any facility for unloading vessels : only a few fishing-boats belong to the town. The market, which was on Wednesday, has been disused for several centuries ; but three fairs, chiefly for horses and cattle, are held annually on May 23rd, June 29th, and October 22nd.
The corporation consists of a mayor, who is always constable of the castle, and is appointed by letters patent for life ; two bailiffs, who are annually elected by the burgesses, on the 29th of September; and a recorder, who is appointed by the mayor during pleasure. This is one of the boroughs contributory to Carnarvon, in the return of one member to parliament : the right of election was formerly in the burgesses generally, here about fifty-four in number, but is now, by the late act for amending the representation of the people, vested in the resident burgesses only, if duly qualified according to the provisions of the act, and in every male person of full age occupying, either as owner or as tenant under the same landlord, a house or other premises of the annual value of ten pounds and upwards, provided he be capable of registering as the act directs : the number of houses of this value, situated within the limits of the borough, which comprise an area of four hundred and seventy acres, and were not altered by the late boundary act, is only nine : the bailiffs of Carnarvon are the returning officers. The freedom is obtained only by gift of the corporation. The charter empowers the corporation to hold courts of session for petty offences arising within the borough, but it does not appear that they have ever exercised that privilege : they hold a borough court annually, at which the bailiffs are chosen and the borough officers sworn in ; and they have power to hold a court of requests for the recovery of debts, but no court has been held for many years : the county magistrates hold petty sessions here once a month.
The living is a discharged rectory, with the perpetual curacies of Trevlys and Ynyscynhaiarn annexed, in the archdeaconry of Merioneth, and diocese of Bangor, rated in the king's books at £ 13. 8. 11 1/2., and in the patronage of the Bishop of Bangor. The church, dedicated to St. Catherine, is a spacious structure, partly in the later style of English architecture, consisting of a nave, chancel, and south aisle : in the east window are some portions of stained glass, and both internally and externally the building exhibits some good details, but is in a very neglected state. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists. The Rev. David Ellis, rector of this parish, gave £200, directing the interest to be appropriated to the payment of a schoolmaster, to teach all the poor children of the parishes of Criccieth, Trevlys, and Ynyscynhaiarn : at present twenty-four children derive benefit from this endowment.
The castle occupied the summit of a conical hill, projecting into the sea, and overlooking the northern expanse of the bay of Cardigan : the rock upon which it was situated is precipitous on all sides, and connected with the main land only by a narrow isthmus, which, for its greater security, was intersected by a double fosse and vallum. The remains consist of two round towers, which are square within, and are supposed to have assumed their external form during the repairs by Edward I., when they were probably cased with stone ; also a gateway ; the fragments of walls, enclosing an area of irregular form ; and the foundations of two square towers. Though a fortress of great importance, from its commanding situation, it does not appear to have been of very great extent, or to have been more strongly defended by art than by the advantages of its site. The average annual expenditure for the maintenance of the poor amounts to £ 139. 9.
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[Gareth Hicks: 15 June 2005]
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