Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for BRECKNOCK, or Brecon

BRECKNOCK, or Brecon, a town, two parishes, a subdistrict, and a district in Brecknockshire. The town stands at the confluence of the Honddu and the Usk, 18 miles E by S of Llandovery, and 19½ WNW of Abergavenny. A canal connects it with Abergavenny and the sea; a railway, connecting it with MerthyrTydvil, was opened in 1863; another railway, to connect it with Hereford, and with junction lines N and S, was opened in 1865; and another, to connect it with Neath and with the Central Wales, was opened to Devynnock in 1869. It was anciently called Brycheiniog; and is now sometimes called Aberhonddu. The ancient Britons had a post or town on its site; the Romans built a station at Caer-Bannan, on the Via Julia Montana, in its western neighbourhood; and the native princes long continued to make it a centre of strength, and were called from it Princes of Brycheiniog. Bernard de Newmarch, a Norman baron, obtained from the English crown, in 1092, a grant of a large tract around it; took possession of this by force of arms; and built at the town, in 1094, a strong castle to maintain his power. The castle passed to the Braoses and the Bohuns, and was eventually resumed by the Crown; and, together with strong walls and other fortifications which were erected around the town, it was used for ages to repress the turbulence of the native tribes; and both it and the town walls were dismantled by the towns-people, in the civil war of the 17th century, to avert the horror of the siege. The keep of the castle was made the prison of Morton, Bishop of Ely, under charge of the crafty Duke of Buckingham, and became the scene of the intrigue of these two dignitaries for dethroning Richard III. and enthroning Henry VII.; and hence is called the Ely tower. Buckingham's main motive for joining in the intrigue is alleged to have been resentment of what he thought too small reward from Richard; and therefore is he represented as saying,-

And is it thus? Repays he my deep service
With such contempt? Made I him king for this /
O let me think on Hastings and begone
To Brecknock while my fearful head is on.

The town lies in the heart of the grandest part of South Wales. The tract around it is an assemblage of vales and mountains, picturesque by nature and embellished by art, with the twin alpine peaks, called the Brecknock beacons, culminating 6 miles to the SSW. The town consists chiefly of three streets on the left bank of the Usk, and the flat suburb of Llanfaes on the right bank; and is altogether about a mile long. The remains of the ancient castle, consisting of two square towers in the garden of the castle hotel, not older than the time of Edward III., and of a lofty mound on which the keep stood, are on an eminence in an angle between the Honddu and the Usk. The original structure is believed to have been built of materials from the Roman station of Caer-Bannan; and the completed castle formed an oblong of about 300 feet by 240. Remains of an ancient Benedictine priory, comprising an embattled gateway, the refectory, and part of the cloisters, are on a height a little N of the castle. The priory was founded in 1096, by Bernard de Newmarch, in compunction for his deeds of violence; and was made subject to Battle Abbey. A mansion, now called Brecknock priory, a seat of the Marquis of Camden, stands adjacent to the ruins, and was built out of the demolished parts by Sir CharlesPrice, whose son Richard was Shakespeare's "Sir Hugh Evans." Charles I. was sheltered here by Sir H. Price after the battle of Naseby; and George IV. spent a night here in 1821, after his return from Ireland. The priory walks, connected with the mansion, are extensive, wooded, and picturesque, and are open to the public; and another fine walk lies along the banks of the Usk, under the old town walls. Three bridges span the Honddu; and one, the Usk. The upper Honddu bridge leads to the priory, and is very old, narrow, and inconvenient; the middle one formerly led to the castle and supported a drawbridge, and has two arches with a vastly thick pier in the centre; the lower one was widened in 1794. The Usk bridge connects the main body of the town with the Llanfaes suburb; has seven arches, and commands a fine view. The county hall was built in 1843, at a cost of £12,000; has a tetrastyle Doric portico; and contains an Ionic crown court, 60 feet long, 45 feet wide, and 35 feet high. The county jail was enlarged in 1858; and a new one was projected in 1869, to cost £6,300. There are a borough hall, a market house, extensive barracks, a theatre, an infirmary, and a workhouse. A statue of the Duke of Wellington, 8 feet high, on a pedestal of 10 feet, was placed, in 1854, on the Bulwark. St. John's church was originally the church of the Benedictine priory, extensively rebuilt in the 13th century, and much altered afterwards; is cruciform, with a massive tower; shows the characters of early English in the chancel and transepts, of decorated English in the nave, and of decorated and perpendicular in the tower; measures 62 feet by 29 along the chancel, and 136 ½ by 28½ along the nave; has a wooden screen, dividing the chancel from the transept, and a fine circular Norman font, with intersecting arches; and contains numerous monuments, some of them remarkable. St. Mary's church was originally Norman; has a tower in good perpendicular English; and was enlarged in 1858. St. David's church fell down in 1852; was rebuilt in 1860; is in the early decorated style; and consists of nave and chancel, with tower and spire. Christ's college was originally the chapel of a Dominican friary; was changed, in 1531, into a seat of learning, under a dean and nineteen prebendaries; is now attached to the diocesan college of Lampeter; has an antique stone cross, and monuments of several bishops; and includes buildings in the monastic style, of imposing aspect, erected in 1864, at a cost of £10,000. There are chapels for Independents, Baptists, Calvinistic Methodists, and Roman Catholics; a grammar school, at which Jones, the county historian, was educated; a theological academy for Independents; and an endowed day school, alms-houses, and an hospital, possessing jointly, with other charities, an income of £517.

The town has a head post office,‡ four banking offices, and three chief inns; is the seat of assizes and of quarter sessions for the county; and publishes a weekly newspaper. Markets are held on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday; and fairs on the first Wednesday of March, 4 May, 5 July, 9 Sept., and 17 Nov. Races are run in September. The chief trade has connexion with agriculture, and with the manufacture of iron, and the smelting of copper and tin. The town has sent a member to parliament since the time of Henry VIII.; was chartered, in 1556, by Mary; and is governed by a mayor, a recorder, four aldermen, and twelve councillors. The municipal and the parliamentary boroughs differ in extent; and the one measures 3½ miles by two, exclusive of a portion, about 10 miles distant, in the parish of Llywell. Direct taxes in 1857, £3,621. Real property in 1860, £26,413. Electors in 1868, 293. Pop. of the in. borough, 5,235. Houses, 1,133. Pop. of the p. borough, 5,639. Houses, 1,227. The notorious Dr. Dodd was at one time Prebendary of St. Mary's; and Mrs. Siddons and Charles Kemble were natives. The town gives the title of Baron to the Marquis of Camden. Two extra-parochial tracts, called Christ's-College and Castle-Inn, are included in the town.

St. John's parish consists of the lower division, or chapelry of St. Mary, and the upper division, which includes the hamlet of Venny-Vach. St. David's also consists of a lower division, or Llanfaes, and an upper division. Acres of St. John, 3,637; of St. David, 2,789. Both are vicarages in the diocese of St. David's; and the former has united to it the p. curacy of St. Mary. Value of St. John, £160; of St. David, £141. Patrons of St. John. not reported; of St. David, the Bishop and Dean and Chapter of St. David's.-The subdistrict contains also the parishes of Llanspyddyd, Aberyscir, Battle, Llanthew, and Cantref, and part of the parish of Llandefeiliog-fach. Acres, 43,018. Pop., 7,054. Houses, 1,504.—The district comprehends also the subdistrict of Merthyr-Cynog, containing the parishes of Merthyr-Cynog, Garthbrengru, and Llanfihangel-nant-bran, and the chapelry of Lanihangel-fechan: the subdistrict of Devynnock, containing the parishes of Devynnock, Llandilovane, Llywell, and Trallwng; the subdistrict of Penkelly, containing the parishes of Llanvigan, Llanvrynach, and Llanthetty; and the subdistrict of Llangors, containing the parishes of Llangors, Llangast-Tal-yllyn, Cathedin, Llansantfraid, Llanhamlach, Llanywern, Talachddu, Llandefalley, Llanvillo, LlandefeiliogTre-Graig, and Llanfihangel-Tal-y-llyn, and part of the parish of Gweun-ddwr. Acres, 196,793.-Poor-rates in 1866, £10,682. Pop. in 1861, 17,279. Houses, 3,605. Marriages in 1866, 151; births, 526,-of which 41 were illegitimate; deaths, 385,-of which 84 were at ages under 5 years, and 18 at ages above 85 years. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60,1,324; births, 5,182. deaths, 3,769. The places of worship in 1851 were 41 of the Church of England, with 6,290 sittings; 14 of Independents, with 3,112 s.; 12 of Baptists, with 2,329 s.; 18 of Calvinistic Methodists, with 2,619 s.; 5 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 815 s.; and 1 of Roman Catholics, with 150 s. The schools were 20 public day schools, with 1,198 scholars; 21 private day schools, with 541 s.; 62 Sunday schools, with 3,545 s.; and 1 evening school for adults, with 12 s.

(John Marius Wilson, Imperial Gazetteer of England and Wales (1870-72))

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a town, two parishes, a subdistrict, and a district"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Brecon CP       Brecknock SubD       Brecknock PLU/RegD       Brecknockshire AncC
Place names: ABERHONDDU     |     BRECKNOCK     |     BRECKNOCK OR BRECON     |     BRECON     |     BRYCHEINIOG
Place: Brecon

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