Caernarvonshire - National Gazetteer (1868)


The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland - 1868

"CARNARVONSHIRE, (or Caerntarvonshire), a maritime county of North Wales, occupying the N.W. quarter of the principality, and bounded on the N. by the sea, on the E. by the county of Denbigh, on the S. by the county of Merioneth and the bay of Cardigan, and on the W. by the sea and the Menai Strait, by the latter of which it is separated from the Isle of Anglesey. This county is irregular in form, extending in length from Little Orme's Head on the N.E. to Braich-y-Pwll on the S.W., about 55 miles; and in breadth from Bangor or Carnarvon in a south-easterly direction, 22 miles; but the greater part of the county is much narrower. It is nearly 150 miles in circuit, and has a coast-line of above 90 miles. It comprises an area of 579 square miles, or about 370,273 acres. The county is situated between 52° 47' and 53° 22' N. lat., and between 3° 40' and 4° 45' W. long.

Carnarvonshire derives its name from Caer yn Arvon, the ancient British designation for the Roman city of Segontium, and signifying "the fort in the country next Mona" (Anglesea). Its early history is most intimately connected with its physical character, its impenetrable mountain recesses forming an indispensable support to the stout resistance made for centuries by the early occupants of the country to the invading forces of Romans, Saxons, and Normans. It appears probable that this district was part of the territory of the British tribe called the Ordovices, although some inquirers assign it to the Cangi. It was about the year A.D. 58 that the Romans first made their appearance in this quarter, on occasion of the great attack on the Isle of Mona by Suetonius Paulinus, but the district was not conquered till about twenty years later. It was included in that division of the island named Britannia Secunda, and in that district of it called Venedotia.

Two military stations were established in the county: Segontium, close to the present town of Carnarvon, and Conovium, near Conway. The Welsh name of the former is Caer-Seiont, that of the latter Caer-Rhun. These stations were connected by a road branching off from Watling Street, and passing through the county of Denbigh. Segontium was also the terminus of the great road called the Via Occidentalis. After the retirement of the Romans, Segontium was long one of the residences of the princes of North Wales, who had another seat at Deganwy on the river Conway, On the death of Rhodri Mawr (Roderick the Great) about A.D. 880, and the partition of Wales among his three sons, this county, as part of Gwynedd (North Wales), fell to Anarawd, the eldest. It was invaded and wasted in the following century by the princes-of South Wales, who were, however, defeated near the Conway by the two reigning princes, Ievav and Iago.

About the middle of the 11th century the Saxon chief, Harold, was charged by Edward the Confessor with the conduct of an expedition against North Wales, in which, with the co-operation of his brother Tostig, he acquitted himself with great skill and complete success. Later in the same century invasions were made by the earls of Chester and Shrewsbury. Early in the 13th century King John, intending to take revenge on Llewellyn ap Iorwerth, then Prince of North Wales, led an army into the country; but after suffering greatly from want of supplies, and from the harassing attacks of the Welsh, he had to retire. John was more successful, when shortly afterwards he renewed the attempt, and compelled Llewellyn to accept peace on disadvantageous terms. Henry III. invaded North Wales about 1245, and encamped on the Conway; but after being reduced to great extremities, and losing many of his men, who were killed or captured by the Welsh, he had to withdraw, the only success to compensate for his toils and losses being the fortress of Deganwy, which he succeeded in completely rebuilding. This fortress was subsequently taken and demolished by Prince Llewellyn ap Gruffyd. Edward I. having invaded Wales about 1277, Llewellyn was compelled to make peace with him on very hard terms; and the second invasion by the same monarch about 1283 resulted in the death of Llewellyn, and the entire conquest of the principality.

This achievement was celebrated by a grand tournament held at Nevin, and the great castles of Carnarvon and Conway were immediately founded. A formidable insurrection, provoked by a levy of new taxes, broke out in Carnarvonshire about 1294, when the Welsh, led by Madoc, an illegitimate son of Llewellyn, got possession of the town and the castle of Carnarvon, burnt the former, and killed all the English then gathered in great numbers there. The insurrection was suppressed by Edward himself, who recalled the army on the point of embarking for the French war, and marched into Wales. The next important event in the history of the county is the siege of the castle of Carnarvon by Owain Glyndwr at the commencement of the 15th century, and its successful defence for Henry IV. by the Welsh captains to whom, under an English officer, it had been entrusted. This county became the scene of several contests during the civil war in the reign of Charles I., Carnarvon and Conway castles being taken by the parliament.

From the mouth of the Conway, at the north-eastern extremity of the county, the coast-line has a south-westerly direction, with no great irregularity, to Braich-y-Pwll, opposite Bardsey Island, from which point it bends eastward, with several curves, to St. Tudwal's Island, and thence sweeps north-eastward in a bold curve, forming the northern boundary of Cardigan Bay. The principal promontories along the coast are Great Orme's Head, running out several miles to the N.W. at the mouth of the Conway; Penmaen-Mawr, about 3 miles W. of Conway; Yr Eivl, or Rivell, a few miles to the N. of Nevin; Braich-y-Pwll at the south-western extremity of the county, and Penrhyn Du, near St. Tudwal's Island. Except at these points and near them, the coast is generally low, a narrow tract of comparatively level ground intervening between the mountains and the sea. Along the northern coast are the Lavan Sands, an extensive tract left dry at low water, and supposed to have been formerly an inhabited district. With the exception of Anglesey, the only islands off the coast are Bardsey Island and St. Tudwal's.

Carnarvonshire is almost wholly covered with the vast range of mountains connected with Snowdon, and named from it Snowdonia. It commences on the coast not far from Conway, with the huge headland of Penmaen-Mawr, rising precipitously from the bay of Beaumaris to the height of 1,540 feet, and extends southward with increasing elevation and breadth till it covers the whole county between Denbighshire and the bay of Carnarvon. This range terminates near Nevin, in the lofty irregular mountain mass of Rivell, 1,867 feet above the level of the sea. Snowdonia consists almost entirely of slate-rocks belonging to the Silurian system, and is the principal mountain chain in Wales and in South Britain. The central mountain, from which four main ridges diverge, was named by the Welsh Creigiau 'r Eryri, which has been variously translated "eagle-rocks" and "snowrocks" (Snowdon, or Snawdun). Its highest point is called Yr Wyddva, i.e. the "conspicuous summit," and rises to the height of 3,571 feet above the level of the sea. Two other peaks approach this in elevation-Carnedd Llewellyn, 3,470 feet in height, and Carnedd Davydd, 3,429 feet. Other remarkable summits are Moel Shabod, 2,878 feet high; Moel Hebog, 2,585 feet; Clawd Goch, Craig Goch, Glider Vawr, and Glider Vechan; Bwlch Mawr, 1,673 feet high; and Gyrn Goch. The heights of Penmaen-Mawr and Rivell have been previously given.

Valleys of great depth, and some with very precipitous sides, lie round Snowdon, separating the various ridges. In these valleys or cwms are numerous tarns or mountain lakes, most of them of small size, and formed by the expansion of mountain streams. The principal lakes, or llyns, are those of Cwn, Conway, Llanberris, Ogwen, Cawellyn, and Nanlle. Many of them abound in fish of various species, and are remarkable for the fine scenery surrounding them--Carnarvonshire has many rivers, but the only one of any importance is the Conway. It takes its rise at Llyn Conway, at the S.E. corner of the county, on the edge of Denbighshire and Merionethshire, and after a short curve; first to the N.E. and then to the N.W., runs in a northerly direction past Llanrwst to Conway, where it falls into the bay of Beaumaris. Its entire length is about 30 miles, throughout the greater part of which it is the boundary of Carnarvonshire and Denbighshire. The Conway is navigable to within a short distance of Llanrwst. It is joined by many tributary streams on both sides, amongst which are the Machno, Llygwy, and the Ledan.

The Llygwy rises near the Carnedd Davydd, and passing Capel Curig runs over several ledges of rock, and joins the Conway a little above Llanrwst. Other rivers are the Seiont, which falls into the Menai at Carnarvon; the Ogwen, which falls into the same strait near Bangor; the Gwrfai, the Llyfui, and the Glas-Llyn. The latter rises near the centre of Snowdonia, and runs through some of the most wonderful scenery in Wales. It has a fine fall not far from its source, forms two beautiful lakes, and after a course southward of about 15 miles, passing Beddgelert, falls into the bay of Cardigan, near Tremadoc.

The general characteristic of the scenery of this county is sublimity. But the wild grandeur of the mountains is inter-mingled with and softened by many a passage of quiet beauty, still lake and shining stream. The shores of the Menai present a succession of diversified and picturesque scenes.: Some of the most beautiful landscapes occur in the valley of the Conway. But above all is the view from Yr Wyddfa, the loftiest peak of Snowdon. Besides the vast ridges radiating from it as a centre, with their intervening cwms and llyns, and the greater part of North Wales with Anglesey immediately surrounding them, the view embraces the mountains of Cumberland, Westmoreland, and Yorkshire, portions of the Highlands of Scotland, the Irish Sea, with the Isle of Man, and even the mountains of Wicklow. It is seldom, however, that the atmosphere is sufficiently clear for the observing of this magnificent panorama. A large part of Snowdonia belongs to the crown, having been made a royal forest by Edward I. It was dis-afforested in 1649.

The mineral productions of Carnarvonshire are various and of considerable importance. Slate is the prevailing rock throughout the county, and is quarried to a great extent at Llanberis, Llanlyfni, Nantfrancon, and other places. It is mostly of a blue colour, and is of very fine quality. Immense quantities are annually consumed in the manufacture of writing slates, both for British and foreign markets. Large slabs are also prepared for roofing, paving, hearth-stones, and chimney-pieces, and a great variety of small articles are made of the best kinds. Basalt, porphyry, quartz, and serpentine are found in the higher regions. Great Orme's Head consists of lime-stone, which occurs also along the shore of the Means. Braich-y-Pwll is composed of Old Red sandstone, and this species of rock also appears along the northern coast.

The principal metal found in this county is copper, which is worked at Derwendeg, Llanberis, Capel Curig, and Llinian Dinlle, near Beddgelert. Lead ore is abundant in the great mines of Bwlch-haiairn, near Gwydir, where zinc is also found, and there are other lead mines at Gest, near Penmorva, and Penrhyn Du. Near Conway is a quarry of millstone. Ochre is obtained near Dolawen. The climate of Carnarvonshire has the natural characteristics of a mountainous region with a long coastline: cold and rainy, with mists and sudden storms of wind, and snow lying late in the year on the higher grounds, but a milder and drier air in the districts lying along the sea-coast. Of these the driest and most pleasant is the promontory of Lleyn, forming the south-western extremity of the county. The general healthiness of the county is proved, like that of the rest of North Wales, by the common instances of longevity of the inhabitants.

It is only a very small part of the surface of Carnarvonshire that is under or capable of cultivation. Tracts of good land occur in the valley of the Conway, on the shore of the Menai, and in Bardsey Island. The most common soils are the wide heathy pastures and peaty flats. Little wheat is grown, the chief crops being oats, barley, and potatoes. Most of the farmers keep great numbers of cattle and sheep, which they pasture on the mountains during the summer. The cattle and sheep are of small and hardy breeds, the latter yielding a short, coarse wool. The golden eagle is occasionally to be seen in the mountains, and seals are found on the coast. Many rare and interesting plants are indigenous. The mountains were formerly to a great extent covered with forests, but there is little woodland in the county now.

Carnarvonshire is divided for purposes of civil jurisdiction into 10 hundreds, viz-: those of Commitment, Creuddyn, Dinlaenn, Evionydd. Gafflogian, Is-Gorfai, Uchaf, Isaf, NantConway, Uwch-Gorfai. These are divided into about 70 parishes The county contains one city, Bangor, the seat of a bishopric; one parliamentary borough, Carnarvon, to which five others are contributory-Bangor, Conway, Criccieth, Nevin, and Pwllheli; and 7 market towns, being the above six with the modern town of Tremadoc. Carnarvon is the county town. Bangor, Carnarvon, Conway, and Pwllheli, are seats of Poor-law Unions and heads of County Court districts. Portmadoc is also the head of a County Court district. One member is returned to the imperial parliament by the county, and one by Carnarvon and its contributory boroughs. The election for the county takes place at Carnarvon, and the polling places are Carnarvon, Capel Curig Conway, and Pwllheli. Carnarvonshire is in the North Wales circuit, and the assizes and quarter sessions are held at Carnarvon. It is in the home military district. The local government is entrusted to a lord-lieutenant, high sheriff, and a body of about 30 magistrates.

The county is almost entirely in the diocese of Bangor, in the province of Canterbury. Carnarvon has no important manufactures, and but a small proportion of the inhabitants are engaged in trade. Agriculture forms the principal employment of the people; and next to that, mining and quarrying, in which above 5,000 persons are engaged. The herring fishery is carried on along the S.E. coast, between Bardsey Island and Pwllheli. The antiquities of the county are numerous, but chiefly military. There are several primitive stone circles and cromlechs; the former near Penmorva, at Dwygyfylchi, and on Bwlch Craigwen; the latter near Clynnog, Ystym Cegid, and Cefu Amlwch. Remains of British fortresses exist in several places. The principal are those of Tre'r Ceiri, on the summit of Yr Eifl, Braich-y-Dinas, on Penmaen-Mawr, Dinas Dinorweg, Diganwy, and Castell Caer Lleion.

The Roman stations of Segontium and Conovium have already been referred to, as have also the magnificent castles of Carnarvon and Conway, two of the finest in the kingdom. Ruins of other castles are seen at Criccieth, on the S. coast; at Dolbadarn, near Llanberis; at Diganwy, near Great Orme's Head; and at Dolwyddelan. There were five monastic establishments in this county, but few remains of the buildings are left: these are of the abbey in Bardsey Island; of that at Maenan, near Llanrwst; and of the priory at Beddgelert. The most interesting churches are the cathedral of Bangor, and the churches of Clynnog, formerly collegiate, and Llandegai.

The principal seats of the nobility and gentry in Carnarvonshire are the following: Glynllifon Park, the seat of Lord Newborough; Gloddaeth, that of Lord Mostyn; Gwydir Hall, of Lord Gwydir; Nant Hall, of Sir Williams, Bart.; Penrhyn Castle, of the Hon. Colonel Pennant; Vaenol, Cefn Amlwch, Nanthoran, Maenan, &c.

The Chester and Holyhead railway enters Carnarvonshire near Conway, and running along the coast to Bangor, crosses the Menai by the Britannia tubular bridge. A branch line from that point is now constructed to Carnarvon, whence it is continued as far as Nantlle. Another branch is projected from Conway, up the valley of the Conway, to. Llanrwst. There are several railroads connecting the great slate quarries with the coast. The principal roads are the following: from Conway along the coast to Bangor and Carnarvon; from Carnarvon, by Dolbadarn Castle and Capel Curig, to Llanrwst; or from Carnarvon, by the coast, to Nevin, and thence south-eastward to Pwllheli; from the same place, by Bettws, under Snowdon, to Beddgelert and Tremadoe. The northern part of the county is crossed by the road from Shrewsbury to Holyhead, winch enters near Bettws-y-Coed, and runs past Capel Curig north-westward to Bangor, whence it is carried across the Menai suspension bridge into Anglesey." [Description(s) from The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland (1868)
Transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003]