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RADNORSHIRE, Wales - History and Description, 1868

[Description(s) from The National Gazetteer (1868)]
"RADNORSHIRE, (or Radnor), an inland county of South Wales, lying between 52 2' and 52 33' N. lat., and between 2 57 and 3 45' W. long. It is bounded on the N. by county Montgomery, on the E. by counties Salop and Hereford, and on the S. and W. by counties Brecon and Cardigan. Its greatest length from E. to W. is 32 miles, and its greatest breadth from N. to S. about 28 miles. The area is 429 square miles, or 272,128 statute acres, of which about one-third is enclosed, and the remainder mountain, common land, bogs, and moorland. Of the enclosed portion only one-fourth is under the plough. The general aspect of this county is mountainous, bleak, and dreary, with the exception of the south-eastern districts, which are comparatively level, and producing good crops of corn.

The hills in the northern and southern portions of the county are of considerable height, but the highest and most connected range is that of Radnor Forest, running nearly E. and W. from the Herefordshire border to the river Ithon, and reaching an elevation of 2,163 feet above sea-level. This wild tract is supposed to have been anciently covered with wood, as its name implies, although it now produces nothing but moss and heath. It is the property of the crown, and is chiefly useful for the production of game, and according to Leland wild deer were once in great abundance. The waste lands are also of considerable value as sheep-walks, and recently large tracts have been planted in larch and fir.

The geological formation of the county is chiefly composed of the strata forming the Silurian system, but on the W. and N.W. sides of the county the upper beds of the older rocks, comprising the Cambrian system, crop out, and limestone underlies the surface generally in the vale of Radnor; but the want of coal prevents the preparation of lime for manure. Syenite and porphyry occur in many parts, and a coarse amygdaloidal trap is met with. The mineral produce is of little importance, comprising only lead, which is found at Caen-Elan, and traces of copper in the vicinity of Ialandrindod.

This county is almost environed by rivers, but none of them are navigable. The principal is the Wye, which rises in Plinlimmon Hill, and crossing the north-eastern corner of the county, forms the boundary between this county and those of Brecknockshire and Herefordshire, till it enters the latter county below Clifford Castle. In the S. are the Arrow, Machawy, and Eddow, or Edw. The central districts are watered by the Lug, which rises in the hills to the W. of Knighton, and passing the town of Presteign joins the Wye about 4 miles below the city of Hereford. One branch of this stream, called the Somergill, forms the waterfall called "Water-break-its-Neck", about 2 miles W. of New Radnor, and then flows for a short distance underground below Aber Edw church.

The Ithon, or Ython, rises in the Kerry hills on the northern border, and flowing S. joins the Wye about 6 miles above the town of Builth; the Clywedog is a branch of the Ithon, and the small river Aran also joins the Ithon. In the N. are the Glan, a considerable stream, rising on the Cardigan border, and after a circuitous, but rapid, course, joins the Wye a little below the town of Rhayader; the Teme, also a considerable stream, rises in the Kerry Hills, and skirting the Shropshire border for several miles, at length, enters Herefordshire a little to the N. of Brompton Park, and joins the Severn a little below Worcester; another stream rising on the northern border also joins the Severn near Llanidloes in Montgomeryshire.

With these two exceptions, all the rivers of Radnorshire, including several mountain streams, as the Bach-wy, Claer-wen, Aran, Dernol, &c., besides those above mentioned, all flow directly or indirectly into the Wye. The Wye, with its main tributary, the Ython, abounds in salmon; the other streams are principally famed for trout and grayling. The lakes are Llyn-Gwynne near Rhayader, Llanbychllyn in Llandilograban, nearly a mile and a half in circumference, Glanhilyn or Llynellyn in Radnor Forest, and Llyn-Hindwell near old Radnor.

The ancient forests of Radnorshire, which were of great extent, have long since disappeared. In the earliest times of which we have any authentic history Radnorshire formed part of the territory of the Silures, a British tribe who were subjugated by the Romans; the latter had a camp at Cwm, on the right bank of the river Ithon, of which the remains cover about 4 acres. After the departure of the Romans this county was again merged in the Welsh principalities, and was frequently overrun by the Mercian kings, whose territories included a small portion of the county around Presteign, and were separated from Wales by an artificial dyke made by King Offa, the remains of which are still visible in many places.

In later times Radnorshire was overrun by several of the Norman adventurers, chiefly of the families of Mortimer and De Breos, who acquired large possessions, and built castles here, but the remains are very dilapidated, the only castle of interest being that of Aber Edw, at the junction of the Edw with the Wye, which was the last retreat of Llewellyn ap Griffyth. In the reign of Henry VIII. Radnorshire was made shire ground, and is divided into the hundreds of Radnor, Rhayader, Knighton, Keven-Lleece, or Cefn-llys, Colwyn, and Painscastle, comprising 63 parishes and townships. It returns two members to parliament, one for the county, and one for the borough of New Radnor, with its five contributory boroughs, Presteign, Knighton, Cefn-llys, Rhaydrgwy, and Knucklas, the three first being also market towns.

By the Poor-law Commissioners the county is divided into three unions: Knighton, Presteign, and Rhayader. It is included in the South Wales circuit. The assizes are held at Presteign, and quarter sessions alternately at Presteign and New Radnor. The county courts are held monthly in New Radnor and Presteign alternately. The eastern part of the county is included in the diocese of Hereford, and the western in that of St. David's.

The county has no canal or other water communication, and only a short branch line of railway to Knighton, but two new lines are in progress, one to connect the Shrewsbury and Herefordshire line with the South Wales line by way of Knighton, Builth, and Llandovery, and the other an extension of the Oswestry and Newton by way of Llanidloes through Rhayader to Builth.

The principal road enters the county by Presteign, where it branches off in three directions, one road running by Knighton into Shropshire, another by Llanbadarn-Nynidd into Montgomeryshire, and the third, which traverses the centre of the county, passes through New Radnor, where it again diverges by Llanelweth and Builth into Brecknockshire, and by Rhayader into Cardigan and Montgomeryshire. Besides these there is the old road along the valley of the Wye from Builth in Brecknockshire through Rhayader to Llanidloes in Montgomeryshire, and the road which runs from Knighton along the right bank of the Teme to the Newton road on the Montgomeryshire border.

Radnorshire is pre-eminently a pastoral county, there being scarcely any manufactures except that of flannel, which is carried on only to a small extent; and the quantity of wheat grown in the county is considerably less than the consumption, notwithstanding the sparsity of the population, which in 1851 was 24,716, and in 186125,382. Although wheat, barley, potatoes, and flax are grown in the neighbourhood of market towns, and in the fertile district of the S. and E., the principal dependence of the farmer is on his dairy produce and live stock reared on the pasture lands and common lands, which not only support numerous flocks of sheep, but in the more sheltered districts cattle of all sorts. The cows are principally of the Herefordshire breed, and large quantities of salt butter are made. The draught horses are rather below the ordinary size, and in the mountains the native Welsh ponies are still bred."

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

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