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National Gazetteer (1868) - Merionethshire

"MERIONETHSHIRE, a maritime county of North Wales, bounded on the N. by Carnarvon and Denbigh, on the S. by Cardiganshire, on the E. by Montgomeryshire, and on the W. by the Irish Sea. It is the most mountainous county of North Wales, and an immense ravine separates Merionethshire from Carnarvon on the N., and the river Dovy separates it from Cardigan on the S. It is in the form of an irregular triangle, and covers an area of about 600 square miles, or 385,291 statute acres, of which about one half is common or waste, the remainder arable and pasture. It has an extreme length of about 43 miles, and a breadth of 35 miles. The coast line extends about 38 miles, and is chiefly sandy, having along it Traeth Mawr, where 700 acres have been reclaimed from the sea; Traeth Bach; Harlech Castle; Mochras Creek; the bathing village of Barmouth, at the mouth of the Mawddach, opposite Sarn Badrig reef; Towyn, at the mouth of the Disynwy, where is Sarn-y-Buch reef, and the favourite bathing place of Aberdovey, at the Dyfi's mouth.

It is divided into five hundreds, viz: Ardudwy, Edernion, Estimaner, Penllyn, and Talybont with Mowddu, which are again divided into 37 parishes. Merionethshire, or, as it was originally called, Meirionyddshire, is the only Welsh district which retains its ancient name with the "shire" added; this name was derived from Meirion, the son of Tibiawn, a British chieftain who rescued this part of the country from the Irish in the 5th century. The Romans called it Mervinia, and it was a seat of the Ordovices in Britannia Prima. It was made shire ground by Henry VIII., but was previously divided by Roderick Mawr between the kingdoms of Powys and Aberffraw. Until the reign of Henry II.

Merionethshire is not connected with any historical events of importance, and the invasion of Corwen by that king was effectually stopped by Owain Gwynedd in 1165. Harlech Castle was the scene of Owain Glyndwr's rebellion; it was afterwards taken by the Lancastrians, and was for a long time subsequently the home of outlaws, until Queen Mary issued a commission which ultimately led to the restoration of order and the extirpation of the banditti. In the troubles of Charles I. the possession of Harlech Castle was fiercely contested. The general appearance of the country, when contrasted with other counties in Wales, may almost be said to be bleak and dreary, but is nevertheless grand in the extreme from the lofty mountains, inaccessible crags, sea views, cataracts, and rivers which abound.

The mountains of Arran-y-Gessil, Arran Penllyn, Cader-Ferwyn or Berwyn, Moel Ferna, Diffwys, Tynyrallt, Rohallt, Carnedd-y-Filiast, Rhinog Fawr, Craig Dwrg, Moel Gwyn, and Cnich, exceed 2,000 feet in height; while the Cadr Idris reaches 2,914 feet, and Arran Mowddy, the highest in the county, is 2,955 feet above the level of the sea. The most picturesque of these mountains is the Cadr Idris; it is rather difficult of ascent. On its summit are two rocky points of equal height, and from it may be seen the Wrekin, in Shropshire. The sides are barren, but produce several rare species of plants, and are adorned with several small lakes.

The principal rivers are the Dee, anciently called Deva, the Maw or Mawddach, and the Dovy or Dyfi. The Dee has its source in Merionethshire, whence, passing north-eastward through the Vale of Edernion, it passes by Corwen into Denbighshire, not far from Llangollen. The Maw, rising about the middle of the county, flows southward till it joins with the Avon, where it becomes tidal as well as navigable. The Dovy rises near Bala, then runs south-westerly, and falls into the Irish Sea at Aberdovey; this river is also navigable from Machynlleth. Besides these rivers are the Disynwy, which rises near Cadr Idris, and runs between the Maw and Dovy into the Irish Sea, the Dwyryd, Glaslyn, Glyn, Eden, and Cynfael.

There are numerous lakes throughout the county, the largest being Bala or Llyn-Tegid. Talyllyn, Elider, Treweryn, Y-cwm-bychan, Bodlyn, Cwm Howel, Glyn, Arrenig, Y-cae, are the names of some of the smaller ones, which in all number more than fifty. There is excellent fishing, salmon being caught in all the principal rivers, and trout with other kinds of fish in the lakes. Grouse and partridges are the prevailing game. The climate is cold, and the soil various, with some fertile spots in the valleys. The substratum is chiefly composed of the slate rocks of the Silurian series, which predominate in North Wales, with trap and greenstone in the higher peaks. Limestone is quarried in abundance, and the lime made' from it is the principal manure of the county. Copper and lead mines are worked near Barmouth and Towyn at the mouth of the Disynwy. Peat, which is found in the valleys, is the chief fuel of the inhabitants.

The people are quite primitive; they make their own clothes, and live in the simplest manner, porridge, butter-milk, and flummery being their chief diet. The population in 1851 was 38,843, which in 1861 had increased to 38,963. The inhabitants, who mostly speak only Welsh, are chiefly employed in agricultural pursuits. Wheat is not grown in sufficient quantities to supply the demands of the district, but oats are grown in large quantities, and flocks of sheep and herds of small black cattle are raised in abundance and sold to the English drovers. The genuine Welsh pony is still found here, though the breed is nearly extinct in other parts of Wales, and they with the goats find excellent pasturage on the hills. The cabins and farm buildings are generally very poor. The shipping interest of the county is considerable, the ports being Traethbach-Barmouth and Aberdovey. There is rather an extensive trade in timber, woollens, and flannels. Knit-stockings, coarse cloths, and kerseys are manufactured in various parts, particularly at Bala, Dolgelly, and Mallwydd.

The county returns one member to parliament; there are no parliamentary boroughs. It is governed by a lord-lieutenant, sheriff, and 24 magistrates, and is in the North Wales circuit, and the London military district. The assizes and sessions are held at Bala and Dolgelly. The county gaol is at Dolgelly, and there are also prisons at Bala and Corwen. Merionethshire is partly in the diocese of Bangor, and partly in that of St. Asaph, in the province of Canterbury. The county is divided into four poor-law unions, Bala, Corwen, Dolgelly, and Festiniog, and contains 48 parishes and townships. The chief roads are from London by Shrewsbury to Corwen and Bangor, to Bala and Carnarvon, and to Dolgelly and Barmouth. There are five ancient market towns-Bala, Dolgelly, Corwen, Harlech, and Dinas-y-Mowddy; two others have not very long been established-Barmouth and Towyn. At Bala, Dolgelly, and Corwen, County Courts are held. The charities amount to nearly 900, and there are numerous Sunday and National schools, including 16 free schools. There is also a savings-bank, with some 30,000 from depositors., At Bala there are colleges for Independents and Calvinistic Methodists. The county abounds with magnificent views, and there are many remains of the highest interest and of great antiquity.

The principal ruins are Harlech Castle, Cymmer Abbey, near Dolgelly, and two or three smaller castellated buildings. The ruin of an ancient Welsh chieftain's house may be seen at Llys-Bradwen, and near Llanfihangel-y-Pennant are the remains of a castle said to have belonged to the last Llewellyn, Prince of North Wales, and which was taken from him just before the final conquest of Wales. There is a Roman road through the county, near which are several tumuli or barrows. Near Sarn-Helen are other monuments of antiquity, and not far from Trawsfynnydd is a grave, said to be that of Porus, marked by a stone with a Roman inscription. Sepulchral urns and Roman coins have been found in various parts of the county. Between Barmouth and Harlech is a stone fort and many other remains of British antiquity. There are several seats in the county, including those of Davies of Bronhaulog, Wynne of Peniarth, Thurston of Talgarth, Vaughan of Nannau and Hengwrt, Mostyn of Cors-y-Gedol, and numerous others."

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

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