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MONTGOMERYSHIRE, Wales - History and Description, 1868

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]
"MONTGOMERYSHIRE, an inland county of North Wales, bounded on the N. by Denbighshire, on the S. by Radnorshire, on the E. by Shropshire, and on the W. by Merionethshire. It is in the form of an irregular parallelogram, being 37 miles in its greatest length, and 29 miles in its greatest breadth. It has a circuit of 135 miles, and an area of about 840 square miles, or 483,323 statute acres, of which nearly one-half is waste or common, and the remainder pasture and arable. It is divided into nine hundreds, viz: Llanfyllin, Mathrafell, Deythur, Welshpool, Cawrse, Machynlleth, Montgomery, Llanidloes, and Newtown, which are again divided into 48 parishes, besides parts of some others.

Montgomeryshire, or, as it was originally called by the Welsh, Sir-Tre-Faldwyn, was included in the territory of the Ordovices, and on the conquest of the island by the Romans, formed part of the province Britannia Secunda. Many battles were fought for the possession of it between the Welsh and the Mercian Saxons under Offa, who constructed the celebrated Dyke which traverses the whole county from N. to S. Towards the end of the 9th century, Powys, or Mathraval, names by which this part of Wales was called, became a separate principality under Roderick Mawr. The Danes invaded Montgomeryshire in the reign of King Alfred, and after the Norman conquest it was frequently attacked by the Norman barons.

But the most serious engagement was fought in the 11th century between the armies of the princes of North and South Wales and the usurper Trahaiarn, which resulted in the total rout of the forces of the usurper, who was left dead on the field of battle. This is recorded as the most bloody engagement in Welsh history. It subsequently became an English lordship, and passed into the possession of the Greys of Northumberland, to whom it gave the title of baron, which, however, became extinct in the reign of Henry VIII., when this king made it shire ground.

The general appearance of the county is mountainous and somewhat dreary, a large portion consisting of moorlands, and the houses are comparatively few and widely separated. There are many fertile spots in the valleys, more especially on the English border, which make up for the barrenness of other parts. The climate is certainly healthy, though considered bleak.

The Breidden hills, distinguished by three peaks, on one of which is an obelisk to Lord Rodney's memory, are about 1,200 feet high. They lie to the E., and extend partly into Shropshire. The Berwyn chain of hills is situated to the N., at the head of the Tanat, and rises to the height of more than 2,500 feet at Cader Berwyn, the highest point above the level of the sea. The Kerry and Llandinam chain, on the borders of the counties of Radnor and Salop, attains the altitude of nearly 1,900 feet. The summit of Plinlimmon, on the border of Cardiganshire, is close upon 2,500 feet, and the Long Mountain range, which lies parallel to Offa's Dyke, is more than 1,300 feet high. Thus it will be seen that the surface of Montgomeryshire, like its western boundary, Merionethshire, is thickly studded with chains of mountains of considerable altitudes, which render the country comparatively barren, and prevent cultivation to any great extent.

The chief rivers are the Severn, the Vyrnwy, and the Tanat. Of these only the Severn and the Dovey, which may be said to belong to Merionethshire, are navigable in Montgomeryshire. There are also the Tarannon, the Carno, the Tarw, the Mule, and the Camlet, which vary in length from 11 to 20 miles, besides several other streams of less importance. The Severn is the principal river of the county. It rises to the E. of Pinlimmon, runs N.E. some 40 miles, till it joins the Vyrnwy, a little below which point it passes into Shropshire. The Vyrnwy rises near Bwlch-y-Pawl, runs some 20 miles S.E. till it meets with the Einion, and then about 10 miles lower down receives the Tanat, which latter river rises on the borders of Merionethshire, and runs into the Vyrnwy, partly in Denbighshire, partly in Montgomeryshire, and for a short distance into Shropshire. In these rivers salmon, trout, and other fish are caught in large quantities, and the sport here is looked upon as the best that can be had in Wales.

The population in 1851 was 67,335, which in 1861 had decreased to 66,919. Of these about 15 per cent. are engaged in agriculture, and about 12 per cent. in trade, commerce, and manufacture. The principal manufactures are woollen cloth and flannel. Some of the inhabitants are employed as weavers' and spinners. Nearly half the population speak only Welsh. Slate rocks form the substratum over nearly the whole of the county, the exceptions being the Breidden hills, which are granite and greenstone, and a small tract near the junction of the Severn and the Vyrnwy, which is a kind of red sandstone. The county does not abound in minerals, though there are lead, zinc, and copper mines, and some coal on the border of Shropshire. Peat is found in sufficient quantities in the Plinlimmon mountains, and in some other parts of Montgomeryshire.

The soil generally is unfitted for agriculture, except in the valleys, especially on the English border, where some wheat, barley, and flax is grown. There is ample mountain pasture for the large number of sheep and cattle which are bred, as well as for that hardy and useful race of small ponies known as the Merlyn pony. A good breed of horses is reared in the vales. There are remains of extensive forests near Carno. Montgomeryshire is for the most part in the diocese of St. Asaph, except those parishes in the hundred of Cawrse and Pool, and the hundred of Montgomery, excepting Moughtrey and Kerry, which are in the diocese of Hereford.

The county is included in the North Wales circuit, and is in the home military district. It returns one member to parliament for the county, and another for Montgomery with its contributory boroughs. It is governed by a lord-lieutenant, sheriff, and about 40 magistrates. The assizes are held at Welshpool, and the quarter sessions at Montgomery, where are the county gaol and house of correction. The charities amount to about 1,600 per annum, of which about 700 are for schools and education. There are three savings-banks in the county, and numerous free, Sunday, and National schools.

There are remains of Roman camps at Castell Caereinion, Cefn Caer, Moelddelwyn, and other places, and of British camps and cairns at Garthbibio, Llandinam, Llanerfyl, &c. Ruins of old castles are to be seen at Montgomery (where Lord Herbert of Chirbury was born), at Powys, and Dolforwyn. The Montgomeryshire canal, 24 miles long, was constructed between 1795 and 1821. It has 15 locks, and is in contemplation to be converted into a railway, for which an Act of Parliament has been obtained.

There are many seats in the county, belonging to Earl Powis, Lords Hereford, Mostyn, Sudeley, and others. Two lines of railway intersect the county, one from Oswestry and the other from Shrewsbury, which unite at Welshpool, forming the Oswestry and Newtown line, with branches to Llanfyllin and Machynlleth; another line is in contemplation from Montgomery to Bishop's Castle, joining the Shrewsbury and Hereford.

The principal roads which pass through the county are the London road via Shrewsbury, which crosses the north-eastern side of the county through Llanfyllin and Llangynnog to Bala in Merionethshire; the Barmouth road, which, running through the centre of the county by Welshpool and Llanfair, goes to Dinas-y-Mowddy in Merionethshire, with a branch to Machynlleth; the Towyn road branches from the Barmouth road between Welshpool and Llanfair; the Aberystwith road passes through the town of Montgomery, and following the valleys of the Severn and Wye passes into Cardiganshire. The old road from Machynlleth to Llanidloes over the Plinlimmon range, and the road across the Berwyn mountains, command views of Plinlimmon and Cader Idris. There are other roads from Bishop's Castle, through Montgomery to Welshpool, and from Newtown to Llanbrinmaer and Towyn.

The chief towns are, Montgomery, the county town, Llanfyllin, Llanidloes, Machynlleth, and Welshpool, heads of Poor-law Unions and new County Court districts, also Newton, Llanfair, Caereinion, Llanbrynmair, and Caer Sws."

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

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