National Gazetteer (1868) - Anglesey


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

"ANGLESEY, (or Anglesea), an island county of North Wales, opposite to the coast of Carnarvonshire, from which it is separated by the narrow Menai Strait. Its greatest length from N.W. to S.W., is about 20 miles, and its breadth from S.W. to E. about 17 miles, comprising an area of 193,453 statute acres, with 12,361 inhabited houses, and a population of 54,546, according to the census of 1861 against 57,327 in 1851, showing a decrease in the decennial period of no less than 2,781 inhabitants. It is bounded on all sides, except the south-east, by the Irish Sea. The form of the island is irregular. Lines drawn to connect its extreme north, east, south, and west points, would form a figure scarcely deviating from a parallelogram.

The coast-line, which is generally rocky, and interrupted by many bays and inlets, is about 80 miles in circuit. From Abermenai Ferry, the southern extremity of the island, the general direction of the coast is north-east as far as the eastern extremity opposite Priestholme Island. From that point it runs westward to Talgwyn, on Red Wharf Bay, and thence northward to St. Elian's Point. From St. Elian its course is westerly to Carnel's Point, whence it runs in an irregular and broken curve southward, and eastward to Abermenai Ferry. Several islands lie along the coast of Anglesey, the principal of which is Holyhead, at the westernmost point. At the north-west, opposite to Carnel's Point, is the rocky Isle of Seals, or the Skerries. Priestholme or Puffin Island lies at the easternmost point. There are several others, but very small and unimportant. The principal bays are those of Holyhead and Beaumaris, Aberfraw, Maltraeth, and Red Wharf. There is some probability that Anglesey was at some remote period a peninsula. A line of rocks is observed extending across the Menai Strait at Pwll Ceris, which is thought to indicate the position of an isthmus.

Anglesey was in early times a part of the territory of the Ordovices, and was known by various names signifying the "shady island," "isle of heroes," and "remotest island." The Roman name is Mona, which is a slight modification of one of the native names. Its importance arose from its being one of the chief seats of the Druids, and their chosen refuge from the Roman invaders. Suetonius Paulinus was the first Roman commander who succeeded in reaching the island. It was in the year 61 that he led his forces over the strait, made himself master of the sacred territory, massacred many of the Druids and destroyed their groves and schools. The great rising of the people under Boadicea compelled him to retire without completing his conquest, and it was fifteen years before the attempt was renewed. In the year 76 Agricola was sent by the Emperor Vespasian, and after putting down a revolt in North Wales, he advanced to Mona. He was met by a desperate resistance, in which the women and the priests took part; but the invaders achieved a complete success. After the Roman dominion ceased, Mona became the seat of the princes of North Wales.

The Saxons, under Egbert, having at one time got possession of it, gave it its present name, which signifies "isle of the Angles or English." Towards the close of the 9th century, Aberfraw was selected to be the royal residence, and continued to be so till Wales was incorporated with England. The island was several times invaded and laid waste by the Danes in the 9th and 10th centuries. In 913, the Irish landed here, and did much damage. In the reign of William Rufus, the Earls of Chester and Shrewsbury led an English army into Wales, and landed on the island, where they took savage revenge on the people for cruelties lately practised by them on the English border. A sudden descent of the King of Norway occasioned the withdrawal of the English.

During the 12th century, the island suffered in common with the rest of the principality from intestine warfare. An unsuccessful invasion was made by the Irish, in the time of Henry III.; and the complete subjugation of the country was left to be accomplished by Edward I. After finishing his task, he erected a great fortress on the eastern coast, on a spot named by the Normans Beaumarais or "fairmarsh." This castle was completed in 1296. During the civil war in the 17th century, the castle was garrisoned for the king. An expedition was sent under General Mytton to reduce the island, and after an engagement near Beaumaris, in which the royalists were defeated, the garrison capitulated.

The general aspect and scenery of the island are uninteresting. It is the only county in Wales which is not mountainous. The surface, which was once covered with forests, is now bare, and it is only along the coast of the Menai Strait, that the scenery becomes pleasing and beautiful. There is a large tract of waste land called "Talwra Mawr," comprising several thousand acres, which runs through a large part of the county. A still larger waste, the "Marsh of Maltraeth," was enclosed by means of a strong embankment, between the years 1790 and 1820, and is now under cultivation.

The principal rock is mica schist, granite also is found, and on the eastern side of the island limestone and gritstone are obtained in abundance. Coal is found, but only in thin beds, which scarcely repay the labour of working them. Here is a great variety of coloured marbles of excellent quality for the sculptor and the architect. The several varieties obtained are white, blue-veined grey, blue-veined white, black, mottled brown, and green marbles. A curious asbestine variety occurs near Cemlyn Bay, which has veins of a white, silky looking substance, which is incombustible. This marble is too brittle for polishing. Serpentine, steatite, potter's clay, fuller's earth, and several kinds of marl, are also found.

But the chief mineral treasures of Anglesey lie in the famous Parys Mountain, in the northwest of the island. This mountain is part of the tableland of Trysclwyn, which has a striking aspect of rude grandeur, rising in rugged masses of shale and quartz, with its vast mines open to the light of day. The discovery of the copper ore was made in 1768. The principal stratum is in some parts 300 feet in thickness. [See Amlwch.] The climate of this island is rendered milder than that of the neighbouring part of North Wales, by the sea breezes and the comparative evenness of its surface. But it is also more subject to musts, especially in the autumn.

The soil is of various kinds, generally fertile; light soils are the most common, reddish loams are found on the south-eastern side, and there are many marly soils. The greater part of the land is pasture, as much, it is said, as 150,000 acres. The rearing of cattle is the chief object of the farmer. The Anglesey oxen are of small size, with short legs and deep chests, and of a black colour. They are called mats, and resemble the Roman oxen described by the agricultural writer Columella. About 5,000 of them are exported yearly. Sheep are also exported. They are the largest breed in North Wales.

The present improved systems of farming have not been commonly introduced in the island. Many of the farms are held by tenancy at will. Most of the farm-houses and buildings are of an inferior kind, and the fields are separated by banks formed of sods, four feet high, with ditches at the sides. Quickset-hedges are seen near the strait, and they have been raised in several districts in the interior. Lime and seaweed are employed as manure. The shell-sand, the best of which is obtained in Red Wharf Bay, is largely used and also exported. There are twelve small rivers, pretty evenly distributed over the island the principal being the Cevin, Alan, Braint, Dulas, and Fraw. There are several good natural harbours but no means of inland navigation. Fish of many kinds are found in abundance. In the channel between Priestholme Island and the main-land, oysters of large size are obtained. They are called Penmon oysters, and are exported in large quantities. Some peculiar species of fish and beautiful shells are found in this channel. There are no manufactures of importance. The coarse wool from the Carnarvonshire mountains, mixed with the native wool of Anglesey, is made by the people into blue cloths, flannels, and blankets, for their own use.

The county is divided into three districts or cantrefs, and these into six hundreds, or cwmwds; the hundreds are Llyfon, Maltraeth, Menai, Talybolion, Twrcelyn, and Tyndarthwy. It contains seventy-six parishes, of which three, Amlwch, Beaumaris, which is the county town, and Holyhead are boroughs, market towns, and seaports; one, viz., Llangefin, is a borough and market town; and another, Llanerchymedd, is a market town. The county returns one member to parliament. The four boroughs united return one member. Beaumaris Holyhead, and Llangefin, are the polling-places, and the elections take place at Beaumaris. The county is governed by a lord-lieutenant, a sheriff, several deputy lieutenants, and twenty-five magistrates. Assizes and sessions are held at Beaumaris, where the county gaol stands.

Anglesey is in the archdeaconry and diocese of Bangor, in the province of Canterbury. It is divided into six deaneries, and contains forty-five benefices. The roads of the island were early improved, in consequence of its being the great thoroughfare to Ireland. The principal road is that leading from the Menai Bridge, right across the island to Holyhead; it is 22 miles in length. The railway from Chester is now continued over the strait by means of the great Britannia Bridge, from which it runs, south of the old coach-road, to Holyhead. Both road and railway cross the strait between Anglesey and Holyhead on embankments, which have central arched passages for the water. Before the erection of the great suspension and tubular bridges, there were five or six ferries across the Menai Strait; and the cattle sometimes used to swim over. [See Menai: Britannia Bridge.]

The relics of antiquity in Anglesey are numerous. There are about thirty cromlechs, the largest of which is in the park of Plas Newydd. Its upper stone measures 13 feet in length, 11 in breadth and 4 in thickness, and rests upon four other stones. A smaller cromlech stands close by it. At Trer Dyrw, is a huge stone rampart encircling a hollow, 180 feet in diameter, which is supposed to mark the seat of the Arch-Druid. Another large cromlech is at Llugwy, and two at Presaddord. At Holyhead are extensive remains of Roman fortifications. There is an entrenchment consisting of a rampart and triple ditch on the top of Gwydryn Hill; it is thought to be a British work, and is called Caer Idris. Roman coins and other relics have been found in different parts of the island.

At Pennon, near Beaumaris, are ruins of the Benedictine priory, and a curious old sculptured cross. The chapel of the priory at Llanvaes, is still standing. There is a tower with some remains in Priestholme Island, supposed to have been part of a monastic building. The castle at Beaumaris is a grand ruin. Few of the churches have a tower or spire, and most of them stand near the shore; some of them are surrounded by the tide at high water. The principal seats in the island are the following:- Plas Newydd the residence of the Marquis of Anglesey; Llanidan, that of Lord Boston; Baron Hill, of Sir R. B. Williams Bulkeley, Bart.; Bodorgan, Cadnant, Henllys, Llwydiarth, Plas Gwyn, and Tre-Jorwith.

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

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