Conway - Gazetteers


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

National Gazetteer (1868)

"CONWAY, (or Conwy), a parish, market town, municipal and parliamentary borough, in the hundred of Isaf, and county of Carnarvon, North Wales, 22 miles N.E. of Carnarvon, and 323 N.W. of London by road, or 233¼ miles by the North-Western and Chester and Holyhead railways. It is situated on the left bank near the mouth of the river Conway, hence called by the Welsh, Aber-Conway. The town is supposed by some antiquarians to occupy the site of the Roman station Conovium, and many antiquities have been found in the vicinity; but it is more probable that Caer-Rhun, a small village 5 miles higher up the river, was the ancient Conovium.

The present town has gradually grown up round the castle, which was built by Edward I. in 1284, to overawe the Welsh. It was besieged by the Welsh in 1290, under the command of Madoc, but was relieved by the arrival of the English fleet which Edward had sent round with provisions. It was occupied by Richard II. on his landing in Wales from Ireland to attack Bolingbroke, afterwards Henry IV. At the commencement of the civil war of the 17th century it was garrisoned by Williams, Archbishop of York, for the king, but was taken by Mytton in 1646. The parliament spared this noble pile when they dismantled most of the other castles in Wales, but the lead and timber were removed by Lord Conway, to whom it was granted on the Restoration, and the edifice fell into decay. The strength of its walls and towers was such, that time has not been able to efface the proportions of this once formidable fortress. It stands on the verge of a precipitous rock on the S.E. of the tows and forms part of the walls of the town, which still main entire, strengthened at intervals by twenty-one towers, besides two towers at each of the three entrances.

The Mayor of Conway is constable of the castle, which is in keeping with the general aspect of the town, picturesque in its antique beauty, but everywhere showing the ravages of time. The streets of the older portion of the town are narrow and irregular, and many of the more conspicuous buildings crumbling to decay. The building which attracts most attention from visitors is the Plas Mawr, or Great Hall, belonging to the Mostyn family; it is supposed to have been built in 1576, and displays the capability of the Elizabethan style of architecture for profuse decoration. In the interior are some good specimens of carved oak, and the walls are ornamented with emblazoned armorial bearings of ancient families; nitched figures, and scrolls. Many new houses have recently been built both within and without the walls, for the accommodation of such as wish to enjoy the invigorating effect of the sea and mountain breezes, which are nowhere more delightfully combined than on this part of the coast.

The town was formerly governed by an alderman, two bailiffs, a water-bailiff, recorder, coroner, and two sergeants-at-arms. It is now governed by a mayor and corporation, and is contributory to Carnarvon in returning one member to parliament. The parliamentary borough contains 496 inhabited houses, with a population of 2,523, against 2,105 in 1851, showing an increase in the decennial period of 418. This increase of population is attributed in the census of 1861 to the sale of land for building purposes consequent on the parish being resorted to by visitors. The spring assizes were formerly held here, but were removed to Carnarvon. Petty sessions for this and the adjacent hundred are still held in the town.

The living is a vicarage in the diocese of Bangor, value £121, in the patronage of Sir D. Erskine The church, which stands near the centre of the town, is a venerable Gothic pile, built at the beginning of the 14th century on the site of the ancient conventual church of the Cistercian abbey, founded by Llewellyn ap-Jorweth, Prince of North Wales, in 1185. Portions of the building have subsequently been added in various styles, but a considerable part of the original structure remains. The church contains an oak screen, elaborately carved, and a curious font of the 15th century. The Independents and Wesleyan and Calvinistic Methodists have chapels, and there are spacious National schools, with a parochial lending library.

The trade of the town has recently considerably increased, owing to the erection of the suspension bridge in 1826, by Telford, at the cost of £40,000, which was defrayed by the Government, and to the influx of summer visitors. The principal business of the place consists in ship-building and the Irish traffic, which latter, however, has not answered the Government's expectation when the suspension bridge was originally designed. Timber, bark for tanning, and slate are exported, and coals, wine, and general merchandise imported.

The harbour is commodious, and the tideway deep and rapid between the rocks on which the suspension bridge is fixed. The length of the bridge, measured between the centres of the supporting towers, is 327 feet, and its height above the stream at low tide 36 feet. In continuation of the bridge is an embankment, stretching across the sands, above 2,000 feet in length, and 30 feet in breadth at the top, while the base is 300 feet broad, faced with stone throughout. The Conway is also crossed by an immense wrought-iron tubular bridge, constructed at the cost of £110,000, by the great engineer, Robert Stephenson, for the Chester and Holyhead railway. The length of the tube is 400 feet, and its height above high water mark 18 feet, resembling, in its chief characteristics, the similar structure over the Menai Straits, likewise belonging to the Chester and Holyhead railway. A great change has occurred in the river near the town since the construction of these bridges, by the contraction of the channel, from above 900 feet broad where the ferry-boat crossed, to 200 feet. The water is consequently much deeper, and small vessels, called flats, can ascend the river for ten miles to Trefriw, where a good quay is formed, and slates exported in large quantities.

Besides the picturesque ruins of the castle, with its outer and inner courts, great hall, 130 feet in length, hanging terrace, and oriel chamber, there are many antiquities in this vicinity. The castle of Diganwy, now quite ruined, stood opposite to the town; and the circular fortification on the Tremynydd is a singular curiosity. The market day is Friday, and fairs are held on the 26th March, 30th April, 20th June, 10th August, 16th September, 20th October, and 15th November."

"PENIARTH, a hamlet in the parish of Conway, hundred of Isaf, county Carnarvon, half a mile S.E. of Conway. It is situated on the shore of the estuary of the Conway."

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

A Topographical Dictionary of Wales Samuel Lewis, 1833

ABERCONWAY (ABER- CONWAY), a sea-port, borough, market town, and parish, in the hundred of LLECHWEDD ISAV, county of CARNARVON, NORTH WALES, 24 miles (E. N. E.) from Carnarvon, and 236 (N.W. by W.) from London, on the road to Holyhead, containing 1245 inhabitants. This place, which was anciently called Caer Gyfin, is supposed to have arisen from the ruins of the Roman station Conovium, in the neighbouring parish of Caerhen, and derives its name from its situation near the mouth of the river Conway, which falls into the Irish sea about four miles from the town.

 Of its earlier history few particulars are recorded, and very little authentic information can be traced prior to the year 1185, when Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, Prince of Wales, founded a monastery here, for brethren of the Cistercian order, which he endowed with ample possessions and with numerous valuable and important privileges. The abbey continued to flourish unmolested till the reign of Henry III., during whose efforts to repair the fortifications of Deganwy, on the opposite side of the river, to facilitate the subjugation of the principality, it was plundered and some of the conventual buildings were burnt, about the year 1245, by a party of three hundred of his Welsh vassals in the marches, whom that monarch had despatched to the rescue of a vessel from Ireland, laden with provisions, which was stranded on the coast, and had been attacked by the people of this neighbourhood, who had previously reduced the English soldiers to great distress, by cutting off their supplies. Exasperated at the outrage done to their stately monastery, now become one of the primary objects of their religious veneration, the Welsh rushed down from the mountains, whither they had been driven by the detachment from Henry's army, and suddenly fell upon their assailants, whom they found heavily laden with spoil, slew many of them, forced others into the Conway, where they perished, and took several prisoners, whom they afterwards barbarously put to death, cutting off their heads, tearing their limbs, and throwing the mangled corses and members into the Conway. They then again furiously attacked the vessel, which was defended with great bravery and spirit by Sir Walter Bisset, until midnight, When, on the influx of the tide, the Welsh were obliged to with-draw, and Sir Walter and his force, abandoning their dangerous situation, retired to the English camp. In the morning the Welsh returned, and, finding the vessel deserted, took possession of the cargo, almost wholly consisting of wine, and set fire to the ship ; so that the English only obtained seven tuns of wine, which they took out of that portion of the vessel not consumed by fire.

In 1277, Edward I. advanced with his army through the level parts of North Wales to Aberconway; and Llewelyn ab Grufydd, the reigning prince, was compelled to retire among the mountains of Snowdon, and soon after agreed to a humiliating treaty of peace, which was concluded at this place. On the next invasion of Wales by Edward, in 1282, he again led his army hither, and stationed it with great advantage in the vicinity, the cavalry being en-camped on the plains at the foot of the Snowdon mountains, and the infantry posted on the sides of the hills, under cover of the woods. Having finally reduced Wales under his dominion, the same monarch, in 1283, erected here, as at Carnarvon, a strong and stately castle, on the site of the ancient monastery, the inmates of which he removed to an abbey which he had founded for them at Maenan, on the Denbighshire side of the Conway, but still in Carnarvonshire, and ultimately transferred them, according to some writers, to the celebrated abbey of Vale Royal, in Cheshire, also of his foundation ; though it is the opinion of others that they continued at Maenan till the dissolution. He then fortified the town with walls, twelve feet in thickness, defended by twenty-four towers, and having six principal gates, enclosing an irregular triangular area, and communicating at the south-east angle with the castle, which occupies the summit of an immense isolated rock of compact schistus, on the western shore of the river Conway. After the completion of these splendid fortifications, Edward, in 1284, incorporated the town, together with others in the principality, granting the inhabitants a charter of privileges, equal to those which he had previously bestowed on the inhabitants of Hereford, and appointed a constable of the castle, whom he also made mayor of the borough. In 1290, this sovereign again came in person into North Wales, at the head of an army, to repress the insurrection under Madoc, an illegitimate son of the late Llewelyn, and, having, crossed the Conway with a part of his forces, awaited at the castle the arrival of the remainder. In executing this movement, Edward lost several waggons and other carriages, laden with provisions, which were intercepted by the Welsh, who suddenly came down in great multitudes from the mountains, and invested the castle on the land side. The rear of the English army being unable to join the king, in consequence of a sudden rise of the Conway, the latter, hemmed in by a vindictive enemy and an impassable river, was placed in a situation of considerable embarrassment, and the garrison was reduced to great distress for want of provisions, which the king voluntarily shared with his soldiers. The Conway at last suddenly subsiding, the remainder of Edward's army crossed to his relief ; and the Welsh, abandoning the siege, retired to the mountains of Snowdon. On the departure of the enemy, the English monarch kept his Christmas here with great splendour and without molestation ; and the insurgents were shortly after defeated with great slaughter by the Earl of Warwick.

Richard II, whilst in Ireland, appointed this place the rendezvous of his forces destined to oppose the usurpation of Bolingbroke, afterwards Henry IV. ; and forty thousand loyal vassals out of Cheshire and Wales are said to have assembled here, under the command of the Earl of Salisbury, awaiting his arrival. But, wearied by broken promises and protracted delays, many of them retired to their homes : still a sufficient number remained to assert, with promise of success, the rights of Richard, had not that prince, on his arrival, been persuaded to retire from this place, under a specious proposal of accommodation with Bolingbroke, by the Earl of Northumberland, who conducted him to Flint castle, and there treacherously abandoned him to the power of his rival. From this time Aberconway continued uninterruptedly in the possession of the reigning monarch, and, during the contentions of the houses of York and Lancaster, sustained but little injury. It was repaired by Henry VII., who restored that part of the fortifications which had fallen into decay ; and it remained in an entire state until the civil war of the seventeenth century. In 1643, the castle was garrisoned for the king by Dr. John Williams, Archbishop of York, who was appointed governor; and, having made his nephew, William Hookes, deputy-governor of the town and castle, was afterwards invested by the king with the office of commander-in-chief of the royalists in North Wales. At this critical period, the castle, from its impregnable strength, was made the depository of the writings, plate, and valuables of the neighbouring gentry, to whom the archbishop gave receipts for their deposits, thus making himself responsible for their security. But, in 1645, Prince Rupert, taking upon himself the command of the royalists in North Wales, superseded the archbishop in his office of commander-in-chief, and displaced his nephew from the governorship of the castle, which he entrusted to Sir John Owen. Deeply offended at this, and apprehending ruin to himself, from his receiving no security for the treasure which had been committed to his  custody, the archbishop listened to overtures made to him by some of the opposite party, and, joining with General Mytton, assisted him in the reduction of the town, which was taken by storm on the 15th of August, in that year. The castle held out till the 10th of. November following, when, after a valiant and resolute defence, it finally surrendered to the parliamentary forces. The archbishop, who, during the action, was wounded in the neck, was, in consideration of his services, absolved by the parliament from all his sequestrations ; and Mytton, with a degree of generosity unusual in those times, restored to every individual the property which he had placed for security in the castle. That general, however, seized on all the Irish whom he found among the garrison, and, causing them to be tied back to back, ordered them to be thrown into the Conway. The grandeur and beauty of the castle obtained for it a due consideration from the captors, no order, as was usual upon those occasions, being issued for its demolition; and at the Restoration it was given up to Charles II., as the only perfect fortified place which had escaped the violence of the parliamentarians. That monarch granted it to Edward Earl of Conway, by whose order the iron, timber, and lead were taken down and transported to Ireland, in 1665, notwithstanding the zealous remonstrances of the deputy-lieutenants and gentry of North Wales, who were anxious to preserve from premature dilapidation an edifice which for four hundred years had attracted the admiration of the country : the order, however, was carried into effect, and this magnificent structure was reduced nearly to the state in which it at present appears.

The town is pleasantly and advantageously situated on the western shore of the river Conway, and consists of one principal street leading to the castle, intersected at right angles by a spacious street extending from the east gate to the market-place, and by a narrower street of greater length, leading from the continuation of Castle-street, on the north, to the west gate. The ancient walls, with their towers, are still in good preservation, and the principal gates are remaining: a very considerable proportion of the area within the walls is occupied as garden ground; and the houses are comparatively few and in detached situations. Among the recent improvements which have taken place in the immediate vicinity of the town, on the line of the great Holyhead road, and in which a vast sum has been expended by government, the principal is the construction of a suspension bridge over the river Conway, in lieu of the ancient ferry, which was commenced on the 3rd of April, 1822, and completed on the 1st of July, 1826. The chains are fastened, on the east side of the river, in a solid rock, which, before the construction of the bridge, was insulated, and on the west side, after passing under the walls of the castle to a distance of fifty-four feet, are securely bolted into the rock on which that fortress is built. From the eastern extremity an embankment, six hundred and seventy-one yards in length, and thirty feet in breadth at the top, has been raised on the sands between the island and the shore ; and from the western extremity a road has been cut through the solid rock, under the north-east side of the castle, to the distance of one hundred and seventy-five yards, to unite with Castle-street ; thus making the whole extent of the bridge and its approaches more than nine hundred yards. On this road a very handsome lodge of two towers, corresponding in design with the venerable remains of the castle, has been erected, forming an elegant arched entrance from the town to the bridge, through a pair of massive iron gates of noble appearance ; and on the rock on the eastern side a very pretty lodge has been built for the bridge-surveyor, the stone for the whole having been procured from the neighbouring quarries. The length of the bridge, between the centres of the supporting towers, is three hundred and twenty-seven feet; its height, above high water mark, eighteen feet ; and the height of the pillars, over which the chains pass, forty-two feet from the platform. Owing to the construction of the embankment, the velocity of the current between the castle rock and that which was formerly insulated was so much increased, that it was found extremely difficult to manage and moor the raft upon which the main chains of the Menai suspension bridge had been erected and floated to their positions, and which had been towed round the coast to Aberconway, for a similar purpose. A platform was therefore constructed on ropes extending from the tops of the supporting towers, on which the chains were put together in the places they were intended permanently to occupy, and, the ropes having been afterwards slackened, were brought to their bearings and adjusted. The principal chains, from which the roadway is suspended, are eight in number, and are formed of links, each consisting of five bars of iron, three inches and a half wide, and one inch thick. Connected with the suspension bridge, a very important improvement has been effected in the road leading from the town through the north-west wall, Where a noble gateway has been erected, and proceeding round the immense mountain of Penmaen Bach, along the northern precipitous declivity of which it is carried by an excavation in the solid rock, in some places eighty feet high, and extending more than a mile in length. The new line of road is more than four miles and a half in length, from Aberconway to Bryn y Mon, where it joins the old road : this undertaking, which is one of the most extensive and important in this part of the kingdom, was completed under the direction of Mr. Telford. A new line of road has also been projected, to the north-west of the castle, from this town to Llanrwst, and a bridge has here been built over the river Gyfin.

Aberconway is a creek to the port of Beaumaris ; but, notwithstanding the natural advantages of its situation, and the important improvements in its immediate vicinity, there is neither any trade of importance, nor any manufacture whatever carried on in the town. The river Conway, which, considering the shortness of its course, not exceeding twenty-four miles, is perhaps one of the noblest to be found in any country, is here navigable for vessels of two hundred tons' burden, and forms under the town wall an excellent harbour, accessible at all times, in which ships may ride in safety. There is also an extensive and commodious quay, lately much improved by the corporation, affording great facility for loading and unloading goods ; but, notwithstanding the existence of every local advantage, the commerce of the port is chiefly confined to the importation of coal and groceries, and to the exportation of timber, corn, slates, copper-ore, &c., principally to Liverpool. The Conway is celebrated for the pearl muscle, which it produces in great abundance ; and formerly the pearl fishery was carried on here to a very great extent : at present about forty persons are employed in the fishery, which produces, on an average, about one hundred and sixty ounces per week : the pearls are equal to those found on any part of the British coast, and are generally sold at the rate of two shillings and sixpence per ounce.

The market, which, prior to the construction of the suspension bridge, was very small and badly attended, is on Friday, and is now, owing to the facility of attending it afforded by that structure, greatly improved ; and the fairs, which are on March 26th, April 30th, June 20th, August 10th, September 16th, October 20th, and November 15th, are almost entirely neglected : that in September is commonly called Honey Fair, being supplied with a considerable quantity of that article, of a superior quality, from the glens of the adjoining mountains. The borough received its first charter of incorporation from Edward I., in 1281; or, as some think, in 1284, in which latter year the castle was built : by this charter, confirmed by Edward III., Richard II., Edward IV., Richard III., Henry VII., Henry VIII., and Elizabeth, the government is vested in a mayor, appointed by letters patent, as governor of the castle, two bailiffs, a recorder, a water-bailiff, a coroner, two serjeants at mace, and other officers, who, with the exception of the mayor, are elected annually on the 29th of September, from among the burgesses at large. This is one of the six contributory boroughs within the county, which unite in returning one member to parliament : the right of election, which was formerly vested in the burgesses at large, in number fifty-eight, of whom only fifteen were resident, is now vested in the resident burgesses only, and in such other male persons of full age as occupy any house, or other premises, either as owner, or as tenant under the same landlord, of the clear annual value of not less than ten pounds, provided he be capable of registering his name as the act requires : the bailiffs of Carnarvon are the returning officers. The freedom of the borough is obtained only by gift of the burgesses at large, who generally present it to persons living out of the borough, and mostly at a considerable distance. The corporation have power by their charter to hold courts of session for the trial of all offenders not accused of capital crimes, but they have not for many years exercised it. A court of requests, the jurisdiction of which is co-extensive with the borough, and at which the recorder presides, is held every third week, for the recovery of debts under forty shillings ; and courts leet and baron are also held. The general quarter sessions for the county were formerly held here by adjournment, but for many years past they have been held at Carnarvon: the county magistrates hold a petty session for the division in the town-hall, on the first Friday in every month.

The living is a discharged vicarage, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Bangor, rated in the king's books at £7.7. 6., endowed with £600 royal bounty, and in the patronage of Sir David Erskine, Bart. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a spacious structure, and contains some good monuments, among which are, one to the memory of Nicholas Hookes, of Aberconway, Gent., whose epitaph represents him to have been the forty-first child of his father, William Hookes, Esq., by Alice his wife, and the father of twenty-seven children; and a rude effigy of Mary, the mother of Archbishop Williams. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Calvinistic and Wesleyan. Methodists. About one hundred and forty children of the parish are gratuitously instructed in a temporary building, but there is no appropriate school-house, or permanent endowment. Lewis Owen, in 1623, bequeathed in trust half the rectorial tithes of Aberconway, producing at present £148 per annum, to be expended annually in clothing the poor of the parishes of Aberconway, Eglwys-Rhos, Llangwstenyn, and Llandudno ; the other half is given to the vicar of Aberconway, and £16 per annum to each of the parishes above named. Of the monastery founded by Prince Llewelyn there are no remains : the founder was interred within it, in 1240, but on its dissolution, after Edward I. had removed the monks to Maenan, a few miles higher up the rlver, Llewelyn's remains were conveyed first to Maenan, and thence, after the dissolution of that abbey, to Llanrwst, and the stone coffin in which they were deposited is now preserved in the Gwydir chapel there. In the conventual church was also interred Cynan ab Owain Gwynedd, in the year 1200, in a monk's cowl, from a superstitious belief that by such means the soul would be preserved from punishment. It was also the burial-place of Davydd ab Llewelyn., Prince of North Wales, son of the founder, who died in 1246 ; and of his brother Grufydd, who died a prisoner in the hands of Henry III., and whose body was given up, about the year 1248, at the urgent solicitations of the abbots of Aberconway and Strata Florida, for interment in this abbey, which was then considered the mausoleum for the princes of North Wales.

The extensive ruins of the magnificent castle of Aberconway comprise an irregular parallelogram, divided into two wards, of which the smaller is square : the walls, which are sixteen feet in thickness, are defended by eight circular embattled towers, nearly equidistant, and of prodigious strength : from the summits of four of them, which overlook the river, rise circular embattled turrets, of slender proportions and of great beauty. The principal entrances were from the river and the town : the former consisted of a narrow winding ascent up the steep rock, terminating in an advanced work fronting the gate of the castle, and protected by small round towers ; and the latter, which was similarly defended, Was approached by a drawbridge over a large fosse. The keep and other fortifications are massive and of considerable dimensions, and the state apartments exhibit good specimens in the decorated style of English architecture, of which the details are peculiarly fine : among these, an oriel window in one of the great towers appears to have been a beautiful composition. The great hall is one hundred and thirty feet long, and thirty-two feet wide : the roof, which is proportionably lofty, was supported by a series of noble arches, of which part still remains ; and the whole apartment was lighted by a fine range of six large windows on the one side, commanding a view of the country, and of three on the other, looking into the court. Both as a royal castle and a fortress, this interesting and extensive pile was equally conspicuous for its beauty and its strength ; and the ruins, which convey an impressive idea of its former importance, are among the most magnificent and picturesque in the kingdom. The inhabitants, some years ago, by imprudently getting stones from the rock beneath one of the great towers, undermined it, and brought down the lower portion, the fragments of which form a vast heap of ruins on the shore; the upper part of the tower is left entire, suspended from a great height, and exhibits in the breach such a degree of strength and solidity as might almost have defied the ravages of time.

In the vicinity of the town are numerous and extensive encampments, but none within the limits of the parish, which comprises comparatively a small area. Archbishop Williams was a native of this place, and the apartment in which he was born is still shewn : when governor of the castle, he built a house here, in 1642, in one of the apartments of which his arms, impaling those of York, are yet preserved. The average annual expenditure for the support of the poor amounts to £ 351.

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