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Help and advice for Aberystwyth - Extract from 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' by Samuel Lewis 1833

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Aberystwyth - Extract from 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' by Samuel Lewis 1833

"ABERYSTWITH (ABER-YSTWYTH), a sea-port, borough, market town, and chapelry, in the parish of LLANBADARN-VAWR, locally in the lower division of the hundred of GENEU'R GLYN, county of CARDIGAN, SOUTH WALES, 38 miles (N.E.) from Cardigan, and 208 (W. N. W.) from London, containing 4128 inhabitants. This place, from its having been fortified at a very early period, and also forming part of the ancient parish of Llanbadarn Vawr, was originally called Llan-Badarn Gaerog; whilst the small ancient village of Aberystwith was situated to the west of it, on ground now covered by the sea, and on the bank of the Ystwyth, into which river the Rheidol probably emptied itself, at some distance from the ocean. These rivers now unite at the town, and form at their mouth the modern harbour of Aberystwith : the courses of both have been changed, the Ystwyth having flowed by the base of Pendinas hill, directly into the sea, prior to the diversion of its channel, which was done in order to strengthen the current of the Rheidol in clearing away the bar at the entrance to the harbour. On the death of Richard de Clare, the Norman lord of the province of Ceredigion, or Cardigan, who was slain in a wood called Coed Grono, in the county of Monmouth, by a party of Welsh lying in ambuscade, his son, Gilbert de Strongbow, erected a castle here, in 1109, in defence of the possessions which, by permission of Henry I., he had recently wrested from Cadwgan ab Bleddyn. In 1114, Grufydd ab Rhys, a Welsh prince, who had for some time carried on with considerable success, in the county of Carmarthen, a desultory warfare with the Norman invaders of South Wales, being invited by the inhabitants of the province of Cardigan to assist them in throwing off the Norman yoke, attacked the castle of Ystradpeithill, near Aberystwith, according to Caradoc of Llancarvan's History of the Princes of Wales, which he reduced, and then encamped at Glâscrûg, about a mile to the east of the church of Llanbadarn-Vawr, intending to attack the castle of Aberystwith on the following morning. The governor, apprised of his design, had sent to the neighbouring castle of Ystrad-Meirig for a reinforcement, which arrived during the night; and in the morning Grufydd, ignorant of the circumstance, and confident of success, advanced to a place called Ystrad Antaron, opposite Aberystwith castle, where he encamped, and held a council of war. But preserving no discipline among his troops, the Normans took advantage of their disorder, and sent out some archers, to tempt them into a skirmish, and to draw them by a feigned retreat towards the bridge over the Rheidol; at the same time placing a party of their best cavalry in ambuscade behind the castle hill. The Welsh eagerly pursued these archers to the bridge. over which they were allured by a fresh device of the enemy, and continued their pursuit almost to the gates of the castle, when the horse which had been posted behind the hill attacked them in the flank, while those whom they had pursued made a stand, and assaulted them in front, by which means all the Welsh that had crossed the bridge were cut to pieces, and Grufydd was compelled to retreat with the remainder of his forces, and to abandon his enterprise. In 1135, Owain Gwynedd and Cadwalader, sons of Grufydd ab Cynan, with a large body of Welsh, made a more successful attempt on the castle, which they took and utterly demolished, putting to the sword all the Normans and Saxons who had settled in this part of the principality, with the exception only of a small number, who escaped by sea into England. Cadwalader, however, soon afterwards marrying Alice, daughter of Richard, Earl of Clare and Lord of Cardigan, rebuilt the castle, and made it his chief place of residence : but Owain Gwynedd, after his accession to the sovereignty of North Wales, in revenge for his brother's contumacy, besieged it and burned it to the ground, in 1142. This place continued for many years to experience all the disasters arising from predatory and intestine warfare, and was frequently destroyed and rebuilt in the continued struggles for dominion which occurred, not only between the English and the Welsh, but also among the rival princes of the country. During this period, mention occurs of the castle of Aber Rheidol having been destroyed, in 1164, by Rhys ab Grufydd, on his invasion of the territories of the Earl of Gloucester; which circumstance has led to a supposition that there was another castle on the sea-shore, near this place, but it is not at all improbable that the castle of Aberystwith was occasionally designated by that name. After rising from some of its frequent demolitions it was again destroyed, in 1207, by Maelgwyn, an usurping chieftain of South Wales, who had previously restored and fortified it, in order to maintain his power in this part of the principality, but who felt himself unable to hold it against Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, who was advancing to attack him. Llewelyn, on his arrival at Aberystwith, rebuilt and garrisoned the castle, and seized the whole of the extensive territory lying between the rivers, Aëron and Dyvi, which he afterwards surrendered to Rhys and Owain, the sons of Grufydd ab Rhys, and nephews of Maelgwyn. King John, wishing to add the province of Cardigan to his other conquests in Wales, sent Foulke, Viscount Cardiff, warden of the marches, to compel the sons of Grufydd to acknowledged him as their sovereign, in which he was joined by Maelgwyn and his brother Rhys Vychan. The two nephews, unable to withstand such a powerful force, made the required submission, and agreed to relinquish all right to the territories which had been ceded to them by Llewelyn ; and Foulke, having repaired and strengthened the fortifications of the castle, placed in it a strong garrison, to defend it for the king. Maelgwyn and Rhys Vychan, disappointed in their hope of obtaining for themselves the territories of which Rhys and Owain had been dispossessed, laid siege to the castle of Aberystwith, which they succeeded in taking, after an obstinate defence, and razed it to the ground. It appears, notwithstanding, to have been almost immediately rebuilt ; for in 1214, Rhys Vychan, being defeated by Foulke, in Carmarthenshire, took refuge in it with Maelgwyn, and brought with him also his wife and children. In the reign of Henry III., the castle was in the possession of Rhys ab Grufydd, who, about the year 1223, joined the party of the Earl of Pembroke, in consequence of which, Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, Prince of North Wales, seized it, with all its dependencies ; but Rhys complaining to the king, and requesting his protection from this violence, Henry commanded Llewelyn to appear before him at Shrewsbury, and the prince obeying the summons, the quarrel was amicably adjusted. In the reign of Edward I, Grufydd ab Meredydd and Rhys ab Maelgwyn besieged and took the castle of Aberystwith, then held by Llewelyn ab Grufydd, Prince of North Wales, and which soon after fell into the hands of the English; and Edward, in order to secure the fulfilment of the conditions of the peace which he had concluded with Llewelyn, rebuilt it in 1277, and, placing in it a strong garrison, returned to England. The oppressive conduct of Edward's lieutenants, in this part of the country, soon led to an infraction of the peace lately concluded, and among the principal exploits of the insurgent Welsh was the capture of this castle by Rhys ab Maelgwyn and Grufydd ab Meredydd ; but it was soon afterwards delivered up to the English forces, and from this period nothing of importance peculiarly relating to it appears to have occurred till the reign of Henry IV., when it was assaulted and taken, in 1404, by Owain Glyndwr, in whose possession it remained for three years, till it was surrendered on terms to Prince Henry. Owain soon after regained possession of it by stratagem ; but it was finally reduced in the year 1408, by the English, who appear to have retained it without further molestation; and, in the 35th of Henry VIII., William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, was by that monarch appointed captain of the castle and town of Aberystwith. In 1631, Mr. Bushel, who succeeded Sir Hugh Myddelton in the possession of the mines royal of Cardiganshire, having obtained permission from Charles I., established a mint in the castle, for the convenience of paying the men employed in the mines ; and several of the silver coins then struck in it, bearing the crest of the Prince of Wales, have been discovered, which were probably concealed during the troubles of that reign. At the commencement of these commotions the castle was strengthened with additional fortifications, and strongly garrisoned for the king : the royalists kept possession of it till the year 1647, when it was besieged and taken by the parliamentarians, and soon afterwards dismantled. The town, which owes its origin to the erection of the castle, is described by Leland as having been encompassed by walls, the last remains of which were removed some years since, and as being, in his time, a better market than Cardigan; and Camden, who ascribes the building of its walls to Gilbert de Clare, commonly called Strongbow, states that it then was the most populous town in the county. Since that period it has materially increased, both in extent and importance, and may be still regarded as the most flourishing place in this part of South Wales. It is pleasantly situated at the lower extremity of the valley of the Rheidol, amid lofty hills, and on a bold eminence overlooking the bay, of Cardigan, by which it is bounded on one side, while on the other it is environed by the Rheidol, over which is a stone bridge of five arches, forming an entrance to it from the south : it consists principally of two long streets, from which others, branching off nearly at right angles, lead down to the sea-shore. The houses are in general well built, and of respectable appearance, several of them being large and handsome, especially such as are of modern erection, which are principally of stone : the streets are disposed with considerable regularity, and are paved with stones supplied in abundance from the shore, but are not lighted ; and the turnpike roads leading to the town rank among the best in the principality: the inhabitants are supplied with water from the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol, which is brought into the town in barrels, on sledges drawn by one horse, and sold at a low rate. The advantages of its situation on a fine open bay, the purity of its air, and the efficacy of some mineral springs adjacent, have contributed to render it a place of resort for invalids. About the commencement of the last century, it began to rise into notice as a fashionable bathing-place, and, from a series of progressive improvements, is now one of the most frequented places of fashionable resort on this part of the coast. The beach, though composed of pebbles, affords a pleasant and interesting walk ; and the shore, consisting of lofty and precipitous rocks of dark-coloured slate, is worn by the action of the waves into caverns of picturesque and romantic appearance. Hot sea-water baths are provided, with every requisite accommodation; several bathing machines are in attendance; and, from the convenient sloping of the beach, a facility of bathing is afforded, at almost any state of the tide, within a very short distance of the shore. For the accommodation of the increasing number of visitors, who annually resort to this place, many additional lodging-houses have been built, of which the Marine Terrace, a handsome range of modern buildings, affording every accommodation for private families, is situated on the margin of the bay, commanding a fine marine view, enlivened by the frequent arrival and departure of vessels trading to these coasts : in this range is the Belle Vue, a spacious and commodious hotel; and in front, where the beach is level, is a fine promenade. On the south-west of the Marine Terrace is a gateway leading to a spacious castellated mansion, of unique appearance, called the Castle House, commanding an extensive view across the bay: it was originally built as a private mansion by the late Sir Uvedale Price, Bart., of Foxley Hall, in the county of Hereford, and consists of three octagonal towers, connected by ranges of apartments, and having a light and elegant balcony on the side towards the sea. Beyond this, on one side, is the Castle hill, crowned with the venerable ruins of that ancient fortress, and forming another favourite promenade, affording, from different points, various extensive, romantic, and interesting views of the sea, the neighbouring hills, and the surrounding country. On the other side of the Castle hill, separated only by the churchyard, are the new public rooms, handsomely built in the Grecian style of architecture, on ground given by W. E. Powell, Esq., of Nant Eôs, lord -lieutenant of the county, from a design by Mr. Repton. and at an expense of £2000, raised by subscription on shares of £ 10 each, and opened to the public in 1820. The suite consists of a very handsome assembly and promenade room, forty-five feet long, and twenty-five feet broad ; a card-room , twenty-five feet long, and eigh-teen feet wide, opening into the assembly-room by folding doors; and a billiard-room, of the same dimensions as the card-room. The assembly-room and card-room are similarly ornamented, and handsomely fitted up in a corresponding style, and under the same roof is a dwelling-house, with a bar, for providing the visitors with refreshments. The assembly-room is opened generally in July, and closed in October: the meetings are under the superintendence of a master of the ceremonies; and when the room is not wanted for balls, it is used as a reading-room. There is a good library in the new market-place ; and towards the east end of the town the erection of a theatre was begun some years ago, which, from want of funds to complete it, was converted into a place, of worship, but is not now used as such. Races are annually held, generally in August, and continue for two days, which at present are not permanently fixed : a field, near Gogerddan, the seat of Pryse Pryse, Esq., about three miles distant from the town, is, by the courtesy of that gentleman, used as a race-course. The harbour is small, and the approach to it is obstructed in some degree by a bar, which prevents the entrance of ships of any considerable burden, except at high water of spring tides. An attempt was made some time since to remedy this inconvenience, by constructing a pier on one of the ridges of rock which stretch from the shore into the bay ; but it was designed upon too small a scale to be efficient, and though several other plans have been subsequently proposed for the improvement of the harbour, not one of them has been yet carried into effect. The trade is considerable, and, if not obstructed by the insufficiency of the port, would doubtless be much more extensive: it consists principally in the importation of timber, hemp, tar, tallow, wine, spirits, and grocery; and in the exportation of bark and the agricultural produce of the neighbouring country. The number of ships belonging to the port is one hundred and twenty-two, averaging a burden of fifty-three tons each; and during the summer months nearly one hundred vessels are employed in the coasting trade. The herring fishery was formerly carried on to a great extent, and herrings and cod are still taken occasionally. The custom-house, built at the expense of government, in 1828, is a small, but neat and commodious, edifice, commanding a good view of the harbour. Lead mines were formerly worked upon an extensive scale in the vicinity; but they have been abandoned for many years. There are two weekly markets, held on Monday and Saturday ; the former is for corn, butter, cheese, fruit, fish, and poultry, and is held in the area under the town-hall ; and the latter for butcher's meat, for which a new market-place, one hundred and four feet long, and thirty-one feet wide, was erected in 1822, in the street leading to the castle hill, by a tontine subscription. Fairs are held on the Monday before January 5th, Monday next before Easter, Whit -Monday, May 14th, June 24th, September 16th, and the Monday before November 11th: the first Mondays after the 12th of November and the 12th of May are called, by the natives of the surrounding country, Dyddllun Cyvlogi, or " Hiring Mondays;" and on these days a great number of the farmers and others meet here,for the purpose of hiring servants. Aberystwith, is a borough by prescription, under the title of " the Town, Burgh, and Liberty," and the government is vested in a mayor, recorder, chamberlain, and an indefinite number of common burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk and subordinate officers : the mayor is annually elected by a jury at the court leet, and is a justice of the peace within the borough, the limits of which are co-extensive with the chapelry. It is one of the contributory boroughs in this county which unite in the return of one member to parliament: the right of election was formerly vested in the burgesses generally, but is now in the resident burgesses, and in all persons occupying, either as landlord or as tenant under the same landlord, a house or other premises of the clear annual value of at least ten pounds, if duly registered according to the provisions of the late act : the present number of houses within the borough worth ten pounds a year and upwards is three hundred and twenty-four : the mayor of Cardigan is the returning officer. The freedom is obtained only by presentation at the courts leet, which are held by the corporation at Easter and Michaelmas. The county magistrates have concurrent jurisdiction, and hold their meetings in the town-hall, a building in an ancient style of architecture, situated in the principal street, and erected in 1770, in which the Midsummer, and sometimes the Spring or Autumn quarter, sessions for the county are held. The prison. which is also one of the houses of correction for the county, is a small building, adapted to the reception of eight prisoners, in three separate classes. The living is a perpetual curacy, in the archdeaconry of Cardigan, and diocese of St.David's, endowed with £ 600 royal bounty, and £ 400 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Vicar of Llanbadarn-Vawr. The chapel, dedicated to St. Michael, was built by subscription, in the year 1787 : it is a neat plain structure, situated within the precincts of the castle, and separated from the walks around the ruins of that edifice by a stone wall, erected at the expense of the inhabitants : it measures sixty feet in length, and twenty-six in breadth, and is capable of accommodating from seven to eight hundred persons. A gallery was erected at its western end in the year 1790, at an expense of £104.14., which was defrayed by Mrs. Margaret Pryse. The service is performed in the morning and evening in the English language, and in the afternoon in the Welsh. The augmented population of this place, and the increased number of visitors, during the season, having rendered the erection of another place of worship necessary, a church, or chapel, has been recently built upon a larger scale by subscription, aided by a grant of £1000 from the parliamentary commissioners for building new churches, and £400 from the society for the enlargement of churches and chapels: these funds, amounting to £3500, were sufficient for completing the body of the building, which is in the later style of English architecture, and it is proposed to add a tower of corresponding character at some future time. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists. A National school for boys and girls was established in 1819, and is supported by subscription, by which means also a suitable building was erected for its use. There are now no remains either of the town walls or their gates : of the latter, one, called the Great Dark Gate, was situated in the street leading to Llanbadarn-Vawr; another, called the Little Dark Gate, in the street which now leads to the Baptist meeting-house : and a third, opposite to the bridge. The remains of the castle, which occupy the summit of a rock projecting into the bay of Cardigan, consist chiefly of portions of the towers, the principal gateway, and some fragments of walls, forming a picturesque heap of ruins: the area, which was originally of very considerable extent, though at present greatly diminished by the action of the waves, which have undermined the rock, was in the form of an irregular pentagon, and has been laid out in walks and pleasure grounds, with great taste, by the late Mr. Probart of Shrewsbury, to whom the site was granted on lease by the late Col. Johnes, of Havôd. On Pendinas hill, adjoining the town, an ancient British celt has been found ; and on the same hill, in 1802,a golden angel of the reign of Henry VII. was turned up by the spade. There are several traces of encampments in the immediate neighbourhood of the town; and adjoining Craig Glais is a small rock, called Bryn Dioddau, or "the suffering mount," from its having been formerly a place of execution. A chalybeate spring, which is in great estimation for the medicinal property of its waters, was discovered about the year 1779, at a short distance from the eastern extremity of the town, on the road to Llanbadarn-Vawr, and near Plâs Crûg : the well is covered with a small square building, from one side of which the water issues by a spout. There are various other springs in the neighbourhood having a ferruginous impregnation, and traces of sulphur have been lately discovered at Penglais. The average annual expenditure for the support of the poor is £691.14."

[Gareth Hicks: 30 December 1999]