RHAIADR, a borough, market town, and parish, in the hundred of RHAIADR, county of RADNOR, SOUTH WALES, 16 miles (W. N. W.) from New Radnor, 23 (W.) from Presteign, and 177 (W. N. W) from London, containing 669 inhabitants. This place, the name of which signifies a cataract, is by the Welsh more commonly called " Rhaiadr Gwy," from its situation on the river Wye, the water of which, rushing with great violence over a ledge of rocks that obstructed its course, formed a cataract, of which the roaring might be heard at a considerable distance, till, on the erection of a stone bridge at this place, in the year 1780, a wider channel was opened for the stream, by clearing away the opposing rocks, since which time it has passed on in comparative tranquillity. The town is evidently of great antiquity ; but at what time it was first inhabited is not precisely known. According to Caradoc of Llancarvan, a castle was erected here, in 1178, by Rhys ab Grufydd, Prince of South Wales, for the protection of his territories against the incursions of the Norman invaders, who at that time were making frequent irruptions into this part of the principality. In 1194, Rhys was surprised and made prisoner by his own sons, and, during his confinement, the castle of Rhaiadr was besieged by the sons of Cadwallon ab Madoc, lord of Maelienydd, who, having succeeded in obtaining possession of it, fortified it strongly for their own use. In 1231, Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, after taking the castle of Montgomery, putting its garrison to the sword, and burning that town to the ground, advanced to this place, where he made similar devastations. Little further is recorded of the history of the castle, which existed till the civil war in the reign of Charles I., during which it was first dismantled and afterwards totally demolished. By an act of the 27th of Henry VIII., the assizes for the county were appointed to be held alternately here and at New Radnor ; but, by a subsequent act of the same reign, they were ordered to be held alternately at New Radnor and at Presteign, in consequence of the inhabitants of this place having put to death the sheriff.
The town is situated on the eastern bank of the river Wye, and on the turnpike roads leading respectively from Worcester through New Radnor to Aberystwith, and from Builth in Brecknockshire to Llanidloes, in the county of Montgomery. It appears to have been originally of much greater extent than at present; for on Cevn Ceido there is a tract of land, about half a mile from the town, called Pant yr Eglwys,where, according to tradition, the church formerly stood, and to which the borough is said to have extended. The present town consists of four streets, diverging at right angles from the market-house in the centre, and extending nearly in the direction of the cardinal points, from which they take their names : the houses are irregularly built, and mostly of rather mean appearance, though several respectable dwellings have been erected within the last three years : the inhabitants are supplied with water by rivulets, which, descending from a spring a little above, flow through the town, which stands on ground rising gently from the banks of the Wye, and surrounded on all sides by lofty, wild, and barren hills, occasionally relieved with patches of plantations on their declivities, and by spots of cultivated ground at their bases. The woollen manufacture is carried on upon a small scale, there being one establishment in the town, and two in the suburb of Llansantfraid, on the opposite bank of the Wye, for the manufacture of flannel and coarse grey cloth, affording employment to about forty persons. A new road has been lately made to Aberystwith, and the enclosure of the waste land within the borough will, it is expected, add to the prosperity of the town, which is already considered in a flourishing state, and is one of the best in the county. The principal market is on Wednesday, and a smaller market, chiefly for butchers' meat and other provisions, is held on Saturday : here are also held great cattle markets, on the four Wednesdays next after Old May day (May 12th.) The fairs are on August 6th and 27th, September 26th, October 14th, and December 3rd.
This place is a borough by prescription, and a bailiff is annually elected from among the resident burgesses at Michaelmas, at the court leet of the manor, which belongs to the crown ; but he has no magisterial authority, and his power is confined to the receipt of tolls, under the authority of the bailiff of the borough of New Radnor. The burgesses are appointed by a town jury, and presented at the annual court leet : they have scarcely any other privilege than exemption from toll. Rhaiadr is one of the contributory boroughs which, with New Radnor, jointly return one member to parliament : the franchise was conferred by the 27th of Henry VIII., and was confirmed by a determination of the House of Commons in 1690. The right of election has heretofore been vested in the burgesses generally, whether resident or not ; the number of whom cannot, be ascertained, many having omitted to enrol themselves after presentation, in order to avoid paying the customary fees. It is now, by the late act for amending the representation, in the resident burgesses only, if duly qualified according to its provisions, 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 not less than ten pounds, provided he be capable of registering as the act directs : the number of tenements of this value within the limits of the borough, which have been extended, in order to include the village of Llansantfraid Cwmtoyddwr, forming a suburb on the opposite bank of the Wye, and are minutely described in the Appendix, is forty-five. The steward of the manor holds a court baron, once in every three weeks, for the recovery of debts under forty shillings. The town-hall is a commodious building, erected by public subscription in 1762, and situated in the centre of the town the upper part contains rooms well adapted for the holding of the courts, and underneath it is an area in which the market is held. The site of the ancient prison is now partly occupied by a dissenting meeting-house; and the place for the execution of criminals, when the assizes were held here, was at the north end of the town, near a house called Pen y Maes. By the late Boundary Act, this has been made one of the polling-places in the election of a knight for the shire.
Rhaiadr anciently formed part of the parish of Nantmel, from which it was severed, and was erected into a parish of itself, co-extensive with the borough, about the year 1735, when the first churchwarden was appointed. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry of Brecknock, and diocese of St. David's, endowed with half the tithes, and with £ 1000 royal bounty, and in the patronage of the Vicar of Nantmel. The church, dedicated to St. Bridget, or, according to some writers, to St. Clement, was rebuilt in 1733, and a low square embattled tower was added in 1783: the present structure is neat and substantially built, and consists of a nave and chancel : it was thoroughly repaired in 1829, when a gallery, containing eighty free sittings, was erected at the west end by public subscription, aided by a grant of £30 from the Incorporated Society for building and enlarging churches and chapels. There are places of worship for Independents and Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists. A grammar school, originally founded by an unknown benefactor, and which had been suffered to fall into disuse, was revived about the close of the last century, and a school-house adjoining the churchyard was erected by public subscription, in 1793, in which six boys of this parish, and six of the adjoining parish of Cwm-toyddwr, receive gratuitous education. The present endowment arises from the rents of two estates bequeathed by Mr. Charles Price, subject to an annual charge of fifty shillings for five divinity lectures, and now producing about £ 50 per annum ; from a rent-charge of £ 3 on lands in this parish ; and from the rent of a tenement in the parish of Disserth, left by Mr. Daniel Davis, and now producing £ 8 per annum. Previously to the establishment of the college of St. David's at Lampeter, in the county of Cardigan, candidates for holy orders were ordained from this school. Sunday schools are also supported by subscription, in connexion with the established church and the several dissenting congregations. The Rev. Henry Williams, in 1810, bequeathed £2000 in the three per cent. consolidated annuities, for the endowment of lectures in divinity, to be delivered in the parish church : the lecturer is appointed by the Chancellor and Scholars of the University of Oxford, preference being given to the nearest of kin to the founder, and is to forfeit, for every omission, ten shillings to the poor. The same gentleman left also the interest of £ 200 in the same stock for the clerk. A lending library, consisting of one hundred and twenty volumes, chiefly on divinity, was given to the clergy of this district, in 1810, by the associates of the late Dr. Bray. There are now no vestiges of the castle of Rhaiadr, except the fosse, which is partly filled up with fragments of rock : the site of the tower or citadel is indicated by a mount overlooking the river Wye, which is still called Tower Mount. The river, which on the west flowed immediately under its walls, was, by means of a deep trench cut in the solid rock, made upon cases of emergency to surround the fortress. Here was also a religious house belonging to the Dominicans, or Black friars, situated near the bridge, and which may probably have been a cell to the abbey of Strata Florida, at no great distance, in the adjacent county of Cardigan. In the vicinity of the town are several cairns and barrows, the most remarkable of which is a small mound called Tommen Sant Fraid, surrounded by cottages, and. said to have communicated, by means of a subterraneous passage, with the castle, and also with an encampment on the opposite side of the river, in the parish of Cwmtoyddwr. The Rev. Henry Williams, founder of the divinity lectures, was buried in the churchyard of this parish. The poor are maintained by an average annual expenditure amounting to £ 165. 12.