Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for MONMOUTH

MONMOUTH, a town, a parish, a sub-district, and a district, in Monmouthshire. The town stands at the confluence of the rivers Monnow and Wye, ½ a mile N of the mouth of the Trothy, and at the terminus of the Pontypool and Monmouth branch of the West Midland railway, 1¾ mile W of the boundary with Gloucestershire, 2¼ S of the boundary with Herefordshire, 13½ E of Abergavenny, and 129 WN W of London. It takes its name from its position at the mouth of the Monnow; but it was anciently called Abermynwy, Trefynwe, and Mongwy, with reference also to the Wye. lt is supposed to. occupy the site of the Roman station Blestium, mentioned by An tonine; and a Roman way went from it to Usk; yet scarcely any Roman antiquities have been found on or near its site. It was a place of considerable importance in the time of the Saxons; and appears to have been fortified by them, to maintain their acquired territory between the Severn and the Wye. It certainly had a castle at the Norman conquest; and it figured, in connexion with that stronghold, in great subsequent events. The manor, in the Saxon times, belonged to the Crown; was given, at the Conquest, to the Fitz-Baderons; remained in their possession for about two centuries; passed afterwards through varions hands, including the Herberts, Earls of Pembroke; and came to the Dukes of Beaufort. The castle surmounted an eminence overhanging the Monnow, in the northern outskirts of the town; was burnt, in the time of Henry III., by Simon de Montfort; was soon afterwards rebuilt; went to Edward I., to his brother Edmund, to John of Gaunt, and to Henry I V.; appears to have been restored or rebuilt by John of Gaunt; was constructed of red gritstone, with walls from 6 to 10 feet thick, filled up in the interstices with pebbles and cement, as directed by Vitruvins; was the birthplace of Henry V., "Harry of Monmouth, ''the hero of Agincourt; acquired, from that event, a celebrity competing with even imperial Windsor; stood entire, but dilapidated, in the time of Leland; has been allowed to pass into a state of fragmentary ruin, with miserably conditioned interior; retains an interesting portion, with the birth-chamber of Henry V., which also is crumbling away; retains also a conspicuous portcullis, figuring in views over many miles distant; and incloses a seat of the Beauforts, built out of its materials in 1673. Henry V 's. birth-chamber was part of an upper story, 58 feet long and 24 feet wide; and was decorated with ornamental pointed windows, only one of which now remains. The alleged cradle of Henry V., and the alleged armour which he wore at Agincourt. are preserved in the neighbouring mansion of Mitchel-Troy; but they bear evident marks of being of a considerably later period than Henry V. 's The town was anciently fortified with walls and a moat; and it was taken and garrisoned by the parliamentarian forces after the battle of Marston-moor. The walls were entire, but dilapidated, in the time of Leland; the moat also was entire; and there were four gates, called Monksgate, Eastern-gate, Wye-gate, and Monnow-gate or Western-gate. Three of the gates and much of the moat have now completely disappeared.

A Benedictine priory was built adjacent to the site of the parish church, in the time of Henry I., by Wyhenoc, grandson of Fitz-Baderon, and third lord of Monmouth; and was a cell to the monastery of St. Florence, near Salmur in Anjou; and is supposed to have been the place where Geoffrey of Monmouth, author of a romantic history of England, was educated. Geoffrey was a native of the town; was sometimes called Galfridus Arthurins, by latinizing of his proper name Geoffrey-ap-Arthur; became bishop of St. Asaph in 1152; and, in order to pursue his studies unmolested, resigned his bishopric, and retired to the monastery of Abingdon, of which he was made abbot. His history of England is thought to have been a disguised and altered transcript of a history written, in the 7th century, by Tyssilio or Teilau, bishop of St. Asaph; was long regarded as of much value, on account of its antiquity; has been generally pronounced, since the time of Camden, little else than a collection of fables, or at best traditional tales; and is notable chiefly as the source of the history of King Lear in Spencer's "Fairy Queen, ''the materials of Shakespears tragedy of "King Lear, ''and the beautiful fiction of "Sabrina ''in Milton's "Comus." A tower of the priory, in very good preservation, still stands; is now used as a national school; and contains an apartment with decorated oriel window, reputed to have been Geoffrey's study, but evidently of a later date. The town numbers also, among its natives, the bishop John of Monmouth, the monk Thomas of Monmouth, the theologian Hopkins, and the first Duke of Lancaster Henry Plantagenet; and it gave the title of Duke to James, illegitimate son of Charles II., notable for his disastrous rebellion against James II., and known among his followers as King Mon mouth.

The body of the town stands at a little distance from the site of the original seat of population; occupies a tongue of land at the confluence of the Monnow and the Wye; looks, as seen from the Monnow, to be perched on an eminence, flanked by a high cliff; appears, as seen from neighbouring high grounds, to be situated in the centre of a luxuriant vale, surrounded by hills of varions altitudes, of undulating contour, and much beautified with wood; and, as seen from most adjacent places, is distinguished by the finely tapering spire of St. Mary's church, soaring high above the other buildings. It consists chiefly of one main street, extending from the market-place, called Agincourt-square, northeastward to the Monnow; and of several smaller streets, diverging from the main one. The main street is long, spacious, and well-paved; and exhibits an irregularity in its house architecture, which both pleases the eye and speaks of antiquity. The streets leading toward the Wye contain some good blocks of houses; suburban extensions have recently been made beyond the Monnow; and many parts have amenities of garden and orchard. The lofty hill Kymin, contiguous to the E side of the Wye, forms a great attraction both to the inhabitants and to strangers; commands a magnificent view over parts of nine counties; and is crowned by a pavilion built in 179 4, and by a naval temple built in 1801, designed to accommodate the numerous parties who visit the hill to enjoy the view. The pavilion is a clumsy structure, little worthy of its splendid site; and the naval temple measures about 13 feet by 12, is ornamented on the cornice with busts of distinguished naval officers, contains an old carved chair used by Nelson during a visit in 1802, and is now falling into decay. A very remarkable Druidical altar, called the Buckstone, stands on the edge of a lofty precipice about a mile from Kymin hill; has an irregular form, somewhat resembling an inverted pyramid; measures about 2 feet square at the bottom, 17 feet on the N side, 12 feet on the S side, and 11½ feet in height; has the properties of a logan or rocking-stone; and commands a good and extensive view, terminated by the Welsh mountains.

Monnow bridge, over the Monnow on the road to Raglan, is a venerable three-arched structure of 1272; and is surmounted by a gatehouse, called the Welsh gate, a formidable defence of the town in the old times, pierced with two side passages, and now presenting a very picturesque appearance. Another bridge, a wooden one, called Tibb's, crosses the Monnow; a stone one, on the road to Gloucester, crosses the Wye; and a third spans the Trothy. The town hall stands in Agincourtsquare; is a modern edifice, pillared, neat, and commodious; and has, in front, a statue of Henry V., of poor artistic character, and in an awkward attitude. The market-house stands on the brow of the cliff overlooking the Monnow; and is a recent and well arranged structure, erected at a cost of £8,000. The county jail stands on the side of a hill near the further end of the town; is a massive structure on the plan of Howard, with castellated appearance; and has capacity for 25 male and 8 female prisoners. St. Mary's church occupies the site of the ancient priory church; retains that church's tower, with a finely proportioned spire rising to the height of 200 feet; was rebuilt, not long ago, in the early English style; and contains many handsome monuments. St. Thomas' church stands at the foot of Monnow bridge; is early Norman, of simple form, with a low tower; was for many years in a ruinous condition; and, in 1830, was carefully and judiciously restored. There are chapels for Independents, Baptists, Wesleyans, and Roman Catholics. The grammar school, for 100 native boys, and alms houses for 10 men and 10 women, were founded and endowed, in the time of James I., by William Jones, a native of a small village in the neighbourhood; are under the direction of the Haberdashers' company in London; and have an endowed income of £977. The re are a national school, an infant school, a public library, a workhouse, and charities, additional to Jones', £1 6. The town has a head post office,‡ a railway station with telegraph, three banking offices, and three chief hotels; and is a seat of assizes, sessions, and county courts, the head-quarters of the county militia, and a place of election and a polling-place. A weekly market is held on Saturday; a market for cattle, sheep, and pigs, is held on the first Wednesday of every month; fairs are held on Whit-Tuesday, the Wednesday before 20 June, 4 Sept., and 22 Nov.; and races are held annually in October. A manufacture of "Monmouth caps, ''alluded to by Fluellin in "Henry V." was long carried on, to the extent of employing many thousands of hands; but it was driven from Monmouth to Bewdley by the prevalence of a great plague; and it never again revived. Some business is done in tanning, wood-turning, and papermaking, and in corn mills and iron and tin works; and a large traffic exists in the conveyance of country produce, by the navigation of the Wye, between Hereford, Bristol, and intermediate places. The town is a borough by prescription; was first chartered by Edward VI.; is governed, under the new act, by a mayor, 4 aldermen, and 12 councillors; and unites with Newport and Usk in sending a member to parliament. Its borough limits, both municipally and parliamentary, include all Monmouth parish and part of Dixton-Newton parish. Corporation income in 1855, £541. Pop. in 1851,5,710; in 1861,5,783. Houses, 1,177. Electors of the three boroughs M. N. and U., in 1833,899; in 1863,1,666. Amount of property and income tax charged in 1863, £9,735. Pop. in 1851,26,512; in 1861,30,577. Houses, 5,154.

The parish comprises 3,420 acres. Real property, £19,784; of which £7 are in fisheries, and £350 in gasworks. Pop. in 1851,5,189; in 1861,5,271. Houses, 1,069. A section of the parish, annexed to the church of St. Thomas, was constituted a separate charge in 1830, and had a pop. of 1,140 in 1861. The head living or St. Mary's is a vicarage, and that of St. Thomas is a p. curacy, in the diocese of Llandaff. Value of the vicarage, £260;* of the p. curacy, £80. Patron of both, the Duke of Beanfort.—The sub-district contains also the parish of Dixton-Newton, and comprises 7,268 acres. Pop. in 1861,6,024. Houses, 1,231.—The district comprehends also the sub-district of Trelleck, containing the parishes of Wonastow, Mitchel-Troy, Penalt, Llandogo, Llanisshen, Llangoven, Cwmcarven, Penyclawdd, Raglan, and Llandenny, and all Trelleck parish except TrelleckGrange; the sub-district of Coleford, containing the parishes of Staunton and English Bicknor, the township of West Dean, and four tythings of Newland parish, all electorally in Gloucester; and the sub-district of Dingestow, containing the parishes of Dingestow, Rockfield, Tregare, Penrose, Llantillio-Crossenny, Llanvihangel-Ystern-Llewern, Llangattock-Vibon-Avel, St. Maughans, and Skenfreth, and the extra-parochial tract of Treworg-an-with-Park-Grace-Dieu, electorally in Monmouth, and the parishes of Garway, Llanrothall, Welsh-Newton, Ganarew, Whitchurch, and Welsh Bicknor, electorally in Hereford. Acres, 101,791. Poor rates in 1863, £16,496. Pop. in 1851,27,379; in 1861,30,244. Houses, 6,271. Marriages in 1863,212; births, 992,-of which 72 were illegitimate; deaths, 646, -of which 242 were at ages under 5 years, and 28 at ages above 85. Marriages in the ten years 1851-60,1,943; births, 8,998; deaths, 5,495. The places of worship, in 1851, were 47 of the Church of England, with 10,817 sittings; 3 of Independents, with 977 s.; 16 of Baptists, with 2,506 s.; 14 of Wesleyan Methodists, with 1,996 s.; 14 of Primitive Methodists, with 1,181 s.; 4 of Bible Christians, with 233 s.; 2 of Wesleyan Reformers, with 402 s.; and 3 of Roman Catholics, with 420 s. The schools were 39 public day schools, with 2,541 scholars; 37 private day schools, with 767 s.; and 46 Sunday schools, with 3,106 s. The number of inmates in the workhouse, at the census of 1861, was 137.

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

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a town, a parish, a sub-district, and a district"   (ADL Feature Type: "cities")
Administrative units: Monmouth CP/AP       Monmouth SubD       Monmouth PLU/RegD       Monmouthshire AncC
Place names: ABERMYNWY     |     MONGWY     |     MONMOUTH     |     TREFYNWE
Place: Monmouth

Go to the linked place page for a location map, and for access to other historical writing about the place. Pages for linked administrative units may contain historical statistics and information on boundaries.