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"MONMOUTH, a parish, market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, having separate jurisdiction, but locally in the lower division of the hundred of Skenfreth, county Monmouth, of which it is the county town, 130 miles W. by N. of London, and 79 miles from Worcester by the West Midland section of the Great Western railway, which has a branch of 18 miles from Pontypool Road to Monmouth.
This place, which was anciently called Abermynwy and Trefynwe by the Welsh, and subsequently Mongwy or Monmouth from its situation at the mouth of the river Monnow, is supposed by some antiquaries to occupy the site of the Roman station Blestium, mentioned in the Itinerary of Antonine, but no antiquities have been discovered tending to confirm that opinion.
In the Saxon times it was a place of considerable importance, and was defended by a castle and walls of immense strength, which the Saxon kings built to secure their conquests between the Severn and the Wye. It appears from the Domesday book to have been a royal manor in the Saxon times, and after the Conquest was bestowed by William I. on one of his followers, William Fitz-Baderon, who assumed the name of William de Monmouth. In the baronial ware of Henry III. it was burnt by Simon de Montfort, but was subsequently rebuilt, and reverted to the crown in the reign of Edward I., and through his brother Edmond descended to John of Gaunt, and afterwards to Henry IV., whose son Henry V., nicknamed "Harry of Monmouth", the hero of Agincourt, was born here in 1387.
It afterwards descended by inheritance, as part of the Duchy of Lancaster, to Henry VI., who being attainted, it was granted by Edward IV. to William Lord Herbert, afterwards Earl of Pembroke, and again reverted to the crown in the reign of Henry VII. Previous to the close of the 17th century it came into the possession of Henry, the first Duke of Beaufort, whose illustrious representative is the present proprietor. The remains of this fortress stand upon the ridge of an eminence close to the bank of the Monnow, and a little to the N. of the town.
In Leland's time both the castle and walls of the town were entire, but dilapidated. He makes particular mention of the four gates of the town, which he distinguishes by the names Monk's Gate, Eastern Gate, Wye Gate, and Monnow or Western Gate; the last only now remains entire, with parts of the two round towers which flanked the Eastern Gate. Of the castle the principal remains are the baronial hall, 63 feet in length by 46 feet in breadth, the circular tower, 6 feet in diameter, which contained the winding staircase leading to the grand apartments, and the chamber where Henry V. was born. This last is 58 feet long by 24 broad, and the joists which supported the floor still project from the sides. The walls of this fortress were built of red gritstone, from 6 to 10 feet thick, filled up in the interstices with pebbles and cement, as directed by Vitruvius, and some of the vaults may be attributed to Saxon if not to Roman workmanship.
The present town stands at a little distance from the site of the ancient British town, at the point of confluence of the rivers Wye and Monnow, the latter almost encircling it. From the river it appears to be built on an eminence, but from the high grounds on the opposite bank of the Wye it is seen to be situated in the centre of a luxurious vale, surrounded on all sides by hills of various elevation, some of which are richly clothed with wood. It consists chiefly of one spacious street, with several cross streets on either side, those leading towards the Wye containing several good blocks of buildings.
The main street extends from the market place, ambitiously called Agincourt-square, to the river Monnow, over which is an ancient stone bridge, with an arched gateway called Welsh Gate, erected in 1272, and having two side passages under which Henry V. has doubtless often passed. There are also three other bridges - the first a stone bridge over the Wye, forming the entrance to the town from the Gloucester road; the second called Tibb's, over the Monnow, is of wood; and the third over the little river Trothy. The streets are well paved and lighted with gas. The houses are in general well built, many of those in the principal streets have gardens and orchards attached to them.
The suburbs of Monmouth, which has of recent years considerably increased, stretch beyond the Monnow, and occupy the site of what was probably the ancient British town. The principal public buildings are the townhall, a modern structure built upon pillars, forming a handsome colonnade; the front presents a niche containing a statue of Henry V. in an awkward attitude, with an inscription recording his birth in the town, August 9, 1387. The market and slaughter house, which has recently been completed at a cost of £8,000, stands almost upon the edge of the cliff overlooking the Monnow; and near the farther end of the town is the county gaol and house of correction, built on Mr. Howard's plan, and presenting the appearance of an ancient castle.
There are besides the union poorhouse, three commercial banks, several hotels, a savings-bank, public library, gas and waterworks, and several paper and corn mills. In 1834 an Act was obtained for removing the markets held in the town and providing more convenient sites. There are some iron and tin works in the vicinity, and a few persons are engaged in tanning and wood turning, but the principal business is connected with the navigation of the Wye, in the trade between Bristol and Hereford and the intermediate places. In the season a considerable quantity of bark is brought from the upper districts of the Wye, and stowed in piles to be pared and cleaned previous to exportation to Chepstow for the south of England and Ireland.
Caps once formed a considerable article of manufacture, employing many thousands of people, as recorded by Fuller, and the cappers' chapel is still remaining, but the trade has entirely died out, having previously been removed to Bewdley, in Worcestershire, on the occasion of a great plague which then raged in Monmouth.
The town received its first charter of incorporation from Edward VI., and is a borough by perscription. Under the new Municipal Reform Act it is governed by a mayor, who with the bailiffs is returning officer, four aldermen, and twelve common councillors, with the style of "mayor, bailiffs, and commonalty of the town and borough of Monmouth". The area of the new borough comprises 500 acres, and the revenue is about £500.
The population within the municipal boundaries was in 1861, 5,783, while the parliamentary comprised 30,577, the latter including, besides the whole of the parish of Monmouth, part of the adjoining parish of Dixton. From the time of Henry VIII. it returned two members to parliament till the passing of the Reform Bill, since which it has returned only one with its contributory boroughs, Newport and Usk.
It is also the place of election, and a polling town for the county elections. The assizes for the county and the petty sessions for the upper division of the hundred of Usk are held here, and the corporation hold quarterly courts of session for the trial of misdemeanours within the borough jurisdiction. The court of record was established by charter of Edward VI., empowering the mayor and bailiffs to hold pleas in actions to any amount. It is also the headquarters of the county militia.
As forming a part of the Duchy of Lancaster, Monmouth is subject to the jurisdiction of the Duchy courts. It is the head of a Poor-law Union comprising 24 parishes and townships in the county of Monmouth, 5 in that of Hereford, and 3 in that of Gloucester. It is also the seat of new County Court and superintendent registry districts. In ecclesiastical divisions it gives name to an archdeaconry in the diocese of Llandaff and province of Canterbury, containing the deaneries of Abergavenny, Chepstow, Newport, and Usk.
The living is a vicarage* in the diocese of Llandaff, value £200, in the patronage of the Duke of Beaufort, of Troy. House in this parish. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, was anciently the conventual church of a Benedictine priory founded here in the reign of Henry II. by Wyhenoc de Monmouth as a cell to the abbey of St. Florence in France. The body of the church has been rebuilt in the modern style, but the original tower, surmounted by a spire 210 feet high, has been retained, forming an interesting feature in the appearance of the town.
There is also the district church of St. Thomas, the living of which is a perpetual curacy, value £80. The church is an ancient edifice with a low tower, built before the Norman conquest, and for many years was in a ruinous condition, but was restored and fitted up for Divine service in 1830 at the joint expense of the Duke of Beaufort and the parishioners. The circular shape of the doorways indicates a very high antiquity, and some antiquaries are of opinion that the more ancient parts are of British construction. The mouldings of the arch between the nave and the chancel, and the N. doorway of the nave, are deserving of particular attention.
There are places of worship for Wesleyans, Independents, Baptists, and Roman Catholics. The free grammar school was founded in the reign of James I. by William Jones, a native of Newland, near Monmouth, who was forced to quit his county for not being able to pay 10 groats; he came to London, where he amassed a fortune as a haberdasher, and bequeathed £9,000 for the endowment of a school and almshouse, and for the establishment of a lectureship in the church at Monmouth. The almshouses consist of tenements for twenty poor people, under the direction of the Company of Haberdashers in London, and the school premises form a block of building near Wyebridge.
The National school is held in a spacious room with an oriel window, formerly part of the Benedictine priory mentioned above, and said to have been the study of the celebrated historian Galfredus-ap-Arthur, Bishop of St. Asaph, better known as Geoffrey of Monmouth, who was educated at this place. An infant school was built in 1838. The charities produce about £900 per annum.
In the immediate neighbourhood of the town are several antique mansions, including two old seats of the dukes of Beaufort, one within the castle site, built in 1673 out of the ruins, and the other, Troy House, near Penallt, about half a mile to the S.W. of the town, near the road to Chepstow, and still occupied by that family. This latter mansion was rebuilt after a design by Inigo Jones, but part of the original structure is preserved in the Gothic gateway, with its ancient portcullis.
The edifice has little that can recommend it to notice as an architectural performance, but contains many highly interesting relics of antiquity, as the armour that Henry V. is said to have worn at the battle of Agincourt, and the cradle wherein he is supposed to have reposed, but the modern-ness of the latter bespeaks it to have been the crib of some of the Beaufort family in the time of Charles II.; there are also several valuable family portraits, particularly that of Edward Earl of Glamorgan, sixth earl and second marquis of Worcester. In the housekeeper's room is a curious oak chimneypiece brought from Ragland Castle, carved with scriptural subjects, and in a room on the third floor is another inlaid with mother-of-pearl and ornamented with devices. The gardens, once so celebrated for their beauty, are now converted into orchards.
Also on the right bank of the Wye, and at a little distance from Troy House, is the church of Penallt, remarkable for a Welsh custom narrated by Roscoe, and supposed by him to be a remnant of Druidic superstition. On the road to Ragland Castle, and about 1 mile from the town, is Wynastow House, conjectured to have been built about the reign of Henry VI. by one of the Herbert family, affording an interesting example of the domestic architecture of the 15th century. The old chapel attached is now applied to domestic uses. About 1 mile farther W. is Treowen, built from designs by Inigo Jones, but now converted into a farmhouse. It stands on the banks of the Trothy, and still exhibits many traces of its ancient grandeur in the spacious apartments and noble staircase of oak.
In the adjoining parish of Stanton, at the distance of about a mile from Monmouth, but on the Gloucestershire side of the Wye, rises a remarkably high hill of Old Red sandstone rock, which commands a wonderful range of prospect, extending to a circumference of near 300 miles. A walk is traced up to the summit, where stands a circular pavilion consisting of two stories; the upper a refreshment-room with five windows - each commanding a different prospect; and the lower a kitchen. Its summit is also adorned with a plantation called Beaulieu Grove, in which is the Nelson temple, built in 1800 to record the naval victories obtained by the English during the American war. It is situated on the edge of a rock, and forms a square of 13 feet. The frieze, which is continued round it, is ornamented with medallions of the most eminent British admirals, surrounded with emblematic and appropriate devices.
In the same parish, through which evidently passed the Roman highway, as indicated by its name, Stanton, is one of the most celebrated rocking-stones in England; this is formed of a rude fragment of a silicious grit technically known as old red conglomerate, standing near the edge of a precipitous declivity of limestone rock, and nearly resembling in form an inverted pyramid 24 feet high, its circumference at top being 63 feet, and the point on which it rests about 3 feet. It is popularly known as the Buckstone, from having been, as is alleged, the usual spot for hearkening to the hounds when in pursuit of deer through the forest.
Near it are nine steps in the rock, and above is a large stone having the appearance of a baptismal font; these were until very recently supposed to be of Druidical origin, but it is now considered more probable that this mass of silicious grit has been detached from the underlying rock by natural causes, and drifted to its present position by water or icebergs at some distant geologic period. Fossils are not numerous in the underlying rocks in the vicinity of Monmouth, which consist chiefly of Old Red sandstone, conglomerate, concretionary limestone called carnstone, and tilestone, but in this last series the singular fish Cephalaspis is occasionally found.
Monmouth gave the title of Duke to James, the unfortunate natural son of Charles II. Races take place on the common in October. Saturday is market day. A market, which is well attended, is also held on the first Wednesday in each month for the sale of cattle, sheep, and pigs. Fairs are held on Whit-Tuesday for toys and pedlery, on the Wednesday before the 20th June for wool and cheese, and on 4th September and 22nd November for cattle, cheese, and hops."
"GREAT and LITTLE MANTON, hamlets in the parish and county of Monmouth, hundred of Lower Skenfreth, 2 miles N. by E. of Monmouth."
The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]
(Last updated - Gareth Hicks - 17 Feb 2009)
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