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


"CARDIGAN, a sea-port, borough, market town, and parish, in the lower division of the hundred of TROEDYRAUR, county of CARDIGAN, SOUTH WALES, 232 miles (W. by N.) from London, containing 2795 inhabit-ants. This place, called by the Welsh Aberteivy, from its situation near the mouth of the river Teivy, was probably selected, at a very early period, as an eligible site both for habitation and for commerce, its maritime situation affording a facility of communication with distant parts of the kingdom. Little, however, is known either of its original foundation or of its primitive inhabitants; nor are there either traditionary or authentic records of its history, prior to the conquest of this part of the country by the Normans, who erected a fortress at this place, to defend the passage of the river, and to secure themselves in the possession of the territories which they successively wrested from the native proprietors. It appears about this time to have first assumed the character of a regular town, and it sub-sequently became the capital of the province of Ceredigion, comprehending, in addition to the present county of Cardigan, a large extent of territory, which originally constituted the country of Dimetia and was granted, about the middle of the fifth century, to Caredig, son of Cunedda, a chieftain of North Wales, from whom it de-rived its name, now modified into Cardigan. In the WeIsh annals this place is described as the scene of some of the most sanguinary conflicts which took place in South Wales, during the first three centuries after the Norman Conquest of England. Roger de Montgomery who did homage to William Rufus, in 1091, for the province of Cardigan, finding himself unequal to defend the castle against the native chieftains, relinquished it to Cadwgan ab Bleddyn, Prince of Powys, a man of bold and enterprising ambition, who assumed the sovereignty of South Wales, and maintained a protracted warfare, not only with the Norman lords, who encroached upon his territories, but with the English monarch himself. Cadwgan continued to maintain possession of the castle, and, after the death of William Rufus, entered into an alliance with Henry I. The castle appears to have been at this time a place of considerable importance, and one of the residences of Cadwgan, who, in the Christmas of 1107, gave a splendid festival here, including an Eisteddvod, a grand assembly of the bards, at which, according to some accounts, Owain his son, inflamed by the lively descriptions given by his companions of the beauty of Nêst, the wife of Gerald de Windsor, determined on carrying her off from her husband's castle in Pembrokeshire : others trace this outrage to a banquet given at the castle of Eare Weare, in the parish of Amroath, on the western coast of Pembrokeshire. The act, however, drew down upon his family the wrath of Henry, who, having in vain demanded from Owain the liberation of his captive, incited the nobles of Powys to avenge the insult ; and Cadwgan and Owain were compelled to abandon their country, and take refuge in Ireland. The former returned in the following year, and, having satisfied the king of his innocence, was restored to his possessions but his son, unable to regain the king's favour, carried on a desultory warfare against the English, which, involving Cadwgan with the king, he was a second time deprived of his dominions, which were, however, again restored to him. Upon the death of this chieftain, who was assassinated by his nephew, Madoc ab Rhyrid, in 1110, Henry possessed himself of the sovereignty of South Wales, which he held for several years, until Grufydd, eldest surviving son of Rhys ab Tewdwr, in concert with Owain and Cadwaladr, sons of Grufydd ab Cynan, sovereign of  North Wales, and the chieftains of South Wales, reconquered the whole province of Cardigan, and advanced to the gates of Aberteivy, in the vicinity of which place a sanguinary battle was fought, in 1136, between the allied Welsh and the Norman, English, and Flemish forces then in Wales, or in the marches, in which the latter suffered a total defeat, having, according to the testimony of Giraldus Cambrensis, three thousand men killed, and a great number drowned in the Teivy, by the breaking down of a bridge in the line of their retreat. The castle fell into the hands of the Welsh, who, however, do not appear to have kept possession of it for any considerable time; for, in 1144, Howel and Cynan, sons of Owain Gwynedd, Prince of North Wales, having raised a considerable army, obtained a signal victory over the Normans and Flemings at Aberteivy ; and, having retaken the town and castle, in the latter of which they placed a strong garrison, returned into their own country, laden with honour and with spoil. The castle was afterwards fortified by Roger Earl of Clare, from whom it was wrested, in 1165, by Rhys ab Grufydd, Prince of South Wales, who razed it to the ground. According to most writers it was rebuilt by Gilbert de Clare, in the following year, but was afterwards taken by Rhys, who, having subsequently entered into terms with Henry II., was allowed to retain his possessions in South Wales, and kept it in his own hands till his death. Rhys, in 1171, marched a cavalcade of eighty-six horses from this place to Pembroke, and presented them to that monarch, when on his route to embark for Ireland; and on his having completed the repairs of this castle, in 1176, he celebrated in it a grand festival, and held an Eisteddvod, assembly of the bards, of which notice had been published, for a year previously, in England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, from all which kingdoms numerous distinguished guests arrived, and all the bards of Wales were present. After a display of deeds of arms and other military exploits, the bards were assembled in the great hall, and prizes were adjudged to the most skilful. In this contest the bards of North Wales gained the prizes for poetry ; and among the musicians those of the household of Rhys were allowed to have excelled in minstrelsy. Prince Rhys , in 1188, sumptuously entertained Archbishop Baldwin, attended by Giraldus Cambrensis, then preaching the crusades throughout Wales, first at St. Dogmael's priory, in the county of Pembroke, and on the day following in his castle of Cardigan. After the death of Rhys, in 1198, the castle, then the possession of his son Grufydd, was attacked by his brother Maelgwyn, by whom it was taken; but, in the course of the same year, Grufydd repossessed himself of all his patrimonial territories, with the exception this castle and that of Ystrad-Meirig, which were still in the possession of his brother, who, however, agreed to surrender the former of these fortresses to Grufydd, on his giving hostages for the security of his person; but he had no sooner received them than he repaired the fortifications of the castle, reinforced the garrison, and, placing the hostages in the hands of his ally, Gwenwynwyn, Prince. of Powys , from whom they effected their escape, refused to fulfil his engagement. He retained possession of the castle till the year 1200, when, finding that he could no longer defend it against the power of Grufydd, which was every day increasing, sold it for a small sum to the Normans, that it might not fall into the hands of his brother. In 1215, this fortress was surrendered by the Norman garrison to Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, Prince of North Wales, who returned to Cardigan, in the foll-owing year, to adjust the disputes which had arisen between the native chieftains of South Wales, and to divide among them the territories which they had jointly recovered from the Anglo-Norman invaders. In this partition the castle was assigned to Owain ab Grufydd; but Llewelyn much to the dissatisfaction of that chieftain,kept it in his own possession, and in the treaty which he made with the English king, and which was ratified at Gloucester in 1218, he engaged to restore , with all its dependencies, to the English. In the following year Llewelyn, refusing to fulfil his engagement, and apprehending an attack from the English, strengthened the fortifications, and augmented the garrison of the castle; but no attack was made upon it till 1220, when the Flemings, who had settled in Pembrokeshire, and had recently sworn fealty to him, revolting from their allegiance, marched against Cardigan, and speedily obtained possession of the castle, which was soon afterwards retaken by Llewelyn, who put the garrison to the word. Young Rhys ab Grufydd, being afterwards, as he conceived, wrongfully deprived of the possession of the castle by Llewelyn, went over to the English, placing himself under the protection of the Earl of Pembroke, who after the quarrel between Rhys and Llewelyn had been amicably adjusted, through the interference of the English monarch, seized the castle, which during his absence was again retaken by Llewelyn, and the garrison put to the sword. The earl, on his return from Ireland in 1223, marched with a powerful army to Cardigan; and laying siege to the castle, compelled a surrender, and retaliated upon the Welsh garrison the cruelty which his own soldiers had previously experienced from Llewelyn. Maelgwyn ab Maelgwyn, a Welsh chieftain, having in 1231 forced his way into Cardigan, put all the inhabitants to the sword; and having laid waste and nearly demolished the town, he was checked in his career of destruction only by the fortifications of the castle, which were considered impregnable. Being joined, however, by his cousin Owain, son of Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, attended by some of the best officers of that prince, he returned to besiege the castle ; and having broken down the bridge, closely invested that fortress, and so battered and undermined it, that the garrison, after an obstinate resistance, was finally compelled to surrender. The castle lay in the ruinous state to which it had been thus reduced for nearly nine years, till the accession of Davydd ab Llewelyn ab lorwerth to the sovereignty of Wales, in 1240, when Gilbert Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, encouraged by the weakness of the prince and the unsettled state of the principality in a new reign, seized upon this fortress, which he strengthened with works more extensive and better constructed. From this time the castle appears to have remained in the undisturbed possession of the English, and no further notice occurs respecting it in the Welsh annals. Edward I., after his entire conquest of the country, resided for a month in the castle, during the time he was employed in settling the affairs of the principality. The lordship, castle, and town were settled by Henry VII. on Catherine of Arragon, on her being betrothed to his eldest son, Arthur, Prince of Wales, as part of her dower. Soon after the commencement of the parliamentary war, Cardigan castle was in the hands of the parliament, two of whose agents resided at the priory in the town: it was, however, taken by General Girard, and garrisoned for the king, but was afterwards besieged by the parliamentarian forces under General Laugharne, by whom, after it had sustained an incessant cannonade for three days, by which a breach was made in the walls, it was taken by storm.

The town is pleasantly situated on the north bank and near the aestuary of the river Teivy, over which it has an ancient stone bridge of five arches, connecting the counties of Cardigan and Pembroke: it consists of one principal thoroughfare, extending from the bridge along the turnpike road to Aberystwith, from which another diverges to the east, in a line towards Newcastle: the former contains several respectable shops, and, in both there are a few good houses. For many years the want of a public supply of water was an object of great anxiety to the inhabitants : but in the beginning of the year 1831, the sum of £400 was raised for that purpose by public subscription. A capacious reservoir has been made near the gaol, and iron pipes laid down, by which the water is conveyed into six public conduits in different parts of the town, for the supply of the inhabitants ge-nerally, and from these are branch pipes, conveying it to the houses of those who choose to pay a small annual rate for that additional accommodation. Dramatic performances occasionally take place in the town, and during the assizes and at other times assemblies and con-certs are given ; but there are no buildings especially appropriated for these amusements. The environs are pleasant, and abound with interesting and varied scenery; and the view of the town from the higher grounds is highly prepossessing. The port has jurisdiction over Newport and Fishguard, in the county of Pembroke, to the west, and over Aberaëron, Aberporth, and New Quay, to the north, and carries on a very considerable coast-ing trade, and a limited intercourse with foreign parts. The principal exports are, corn (chiefly oats) to Bristol and Liverpool, butter, oak bark, and slate, which last may be deemed the staple article of the place, though it is not of a very good quality, selling only at half the price of the slate procured in North Wales : the chief imports are, timber from Norway and North America, coal (principally from Liverpool, and sometimes from South Wales and Staffordshire), culm. from South Wales, limestone from Pembrokeshire, and manufactured goods and merchandise for the supply of the shops. There are belonging to the port and its depen-dencies two hundred and ninety-one registered vessels, of an aggregate burden of fifteen thousand one hundred and ninety-five tons, and employing one thousand one hundred men. In the year ending January 5th, 1830, five foreign and five hundred and eighty-two coasting ves-sels entered inwards, and two foreign and one hundred and seventy-nine coasting vessels cleared outwards. The river Teivy is navigable up to the bridge for vessels of from three to four hundred tons' burden at spring tides, but the entrance to the harbour is obstructed by a dangerous bar, having at high water in spring tides only twenty-two feet of water, with a fall of sixteen feet, leaving at times only six feet depth of water, and at neap tides the rise and fall do not exceed eleven feet ; so that the general trade of the port is confined to vessels of from fifteen to one hundred tons' burden. It has been suggested that a great improvement might be made in the harbour, by constructing a pier, extending from Pen yr Ergyd to the south-west, the expense of which probably would not exceed £1000. An extensive and lucrative salmon fishery is carried on in the Teivy, during the summer; and a herring fishery, which in some years is remarkably productive, affords employment to many during the winter. In summer the river assumes a remarkable appearance, from the vast number of coracles, or small portable fishing boats, constructed of wicker covered with leather, and large enough only to hold one person, with which its surface is overspread, and which are much in use throughout the principality. Ship-building was formerly carried on to a great extent, but has almost wholly declined, and the town has now no manufactures of any description. The market is on Saturday; and fairs are held annually on February 13th, April 5th, September 8th, and December 19th. The market for corn is held by sufferance under the shire-hall. Butchers' meat was exposed for sale in the principal street until the year 1823, when a commodious market-house and slaughter-house were built, under the direction of the corporation, on the west side of the town, near the river.

The borough was first incorporated by Edward I., after his final conquest of Wales, and the charter of privileges granted by that monarch was confirmed and extended by several of his successors. By the charter now in force, which was granted in the 19th of Henry VIII., the government is vested in a mayor, two bailiffs, a coroner, twelve common- councilmen, and an indefinite number of burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk and subordinate officers : this charter also partially elevates it into a county of itself, by granting " that the said burgesses and their successors for ever shall have the return of all our writs and of all the suits of our heirs, in whatsoever pleas, real or personal, and of all other cases within the said town of Cardigan ; so that no escheator, sheriff, bailiff, nor minister, of us do enter, or in any thing meddle, within the town and borough aforesaid." The mayor, chosen from the common-councilmen, and the bailiffs and coroner, from the burgesses, are elected annually on the Monday after the feast of St. Michael; the common -councilmen fill up vacancies, as they occur, from the burgesses, and the burgesses are nominated, by a jury of twelve, from among the inhabitants, at the court of the corporation. Among the privileges of a burgess are, exemption from tolls, frontage, and other imposts throughout the British dominions, and the right of claiming on their trials a jury consisting entirely of Englishmen. This borough and its contributories, Aberystwith, Lampeter, and Atpar, return one member to parliament : the right of election was formerly in the burgesses at large, but is now, by the late act for amending the representation of the people, vested in the resident burgesses, if duly qualified according to the provisions of the act, 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 demands : the number of tenements of this value within the limits of the new borough, which are given in the Appendix to this work, is one hundred and ninety-three : the mayor is the returning officer. Adjoining the town is an unenclosed common, containing nearly three hundred acres of good land, which belongs to the burgesses at large. The assizes for the county are held here, as the county town ; as are also the Epiphany quarter sessions, the Easter and Michaelmas sessions being held at Aberystwith, and the Midsummer sessions at Lampeter : the knight of the shire is elected at Cardigan. The shire-hall, erected in 1764, and enlarged in 1829 by the addition of a room for the grand jury and a retiring room for the petit jury, is a neat edifice : the court is commodiously arranged, and contains a bust of the late Thomas Johnes, Esq., lord lieutenant and parliamentary representative of the county, sculptured by Chantrey, at the expense of the county magistrates. The common gaol and house of correction for the county was erected in the year 1793, after a design by Mr. Nash: it occupies a spacious area at the extremity of the town, towards Aberystwith, and comprises six day-rooms, six airing-yards, five work-rooms, and every requisite for the due classification of the prisoners, of whom it is ca-pable of accommodating twenty-two in separate cells, and forty-seven by placing more than one person in each cell : in one of the yards is a tread-wheel, for the employment of prisoners sentenced to hard labour.

The living is a discharged vicarage, in the archdea-conry of Cardigan, and diocese of St.David's, rated in the king's books at £9. 15. 10., endowed with £200 private benefaction, and £400 royal bounty, and in the patronage of the King, as Prince of Wales. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a spacious and venerable structure, consisting of a nave, chancel, and south porch, with a square embattled tower at the west end: the various parts of this structure were erected at different periods, and display different styles of English architecture. The chancel, which is by far the most ancient and the most elegant portion of the building, is in the decorated style, and is externally ornamented with a cas-tellated battlement, and strengthened with buttresses surmounted by light handsome pinnacles. The porch was rebuilt, in the later style, in 1639, and the nave in the same style, but differing in the details, in 1703 :and the tower, which fell down in 1705, was partly rebuilt in 1711, by a brief under the great seal, and completed in 1748, by subscription. The appearance of the interior has been considerably injured by the erection of a carved screen above the altar, of the Ionic order, which ill accords with the prevailing style of architecture : the east window contains some portions of the ancient stained glass with which it was originally filled: the font, which is ancient, is octangular in form, and richly sculptured; and in the south-eastern angle of the church are two arches, under each of which is a handsome marble monument, erected about the middle of the last century. Mathaiarn, one of the sons of Brychan. Prince of Breck-nock, who devoted himself to a religious life, about the middle of the fifth century, is said to have been buried here. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists. The free grammar school, which is a licensed institution, was founded, about the year 1760. by Lady Laetitia Cornwallis, of Abermarlais, in the county of Carmarthen, who endowed it with money in the three per cents., producing at present an income of £21.10. 6. per annum, for the gratuitous instruction of six poor boys of this town: prior to the establishment of St. David's college, at Lampeter. young men were ordained from this school. It is said that there are four scholarships belonging to it, but they are not at present available, neither can any particulars of their foun-dation be ascertained. A National school, in which from sixty to seventy boys are gratuitously instructed, is supported by subscription; and there is also another school for girls, similarly supported, but conducted on a different plan. At the eastern extremity of the town, towards the river, stood a small Benedictine priory, the foundation of which is of uncertain date: it was a cell to the abbey of Chertsey, and its revenue at the dissolution was valued at £32 : it was granted by Henry VIll., together with the other possessions of Chertsey, to Bisham abbey, and subsequently, by the same monarch, to William Cavendish. The Priory was afterwards the residence of the celebrated Catherine Philipps, daughter of Mr. John Fowler of London, and wife of' James Philipps, Esq., better known by her poetical name of Orinda, and as the author of some pleasing poems, and a small work entitled " Letters from Orinda to Poliarchus," by which name was designated her early friend and patron, Sir Charles Cottrell. On the site of the ancient mansion is now a handsome villa, which, with the whole of the Priory estate, is the property of Philip John Miles, Esq., of Leigh Court, in the county of Somerset. Of the walls by which the town was anciently encompassed there are now no remains. The castle was, from its situation, well calculated for defence, and admirably adapted to command the entrance into the western part of the principality, of which it was considered the key : it occupied the summit of an eminence rising to a consider-able elevation above the river, and overlooking the town and a large tract of the open country. The re-mains at present consist only of two bastions and a portion of the curtain wall; the site of the keep is at present occupied by a handsome modern villa, the cellars of which are formed out of the dungeons of that ancient tower, of which the walls in some parts are from nine to ten feet thick ; and the outer ward has been converted into a verdant lawn, tastefully disposed in parterres, the whole effected by John Bowen, Esq. but the property now belongs to Arthur Jones, Esq., by purchase in 1827. Cardigan gives the title of earl to the family of Brudenell. The average annual expenditure for the support of the poor amounts to £554.4."

[Gareth Hicks: 31 December 1999]