Christopher J Evans.

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With Maps, Diagrams and Illustrations

Cambridge :

at the University Press


First Edition 1912
Pocket Edition 1920

THE author desires to acknowledge his indebtedness
to several works on the history and antiquities
of Breconshire, especially to The Birds of Breconshire
by Mr E. Cambridge Phillips. His thanks are also
due to Mr John Ward, F.S.A., for his great assistance
during the photographing of exhibits in the Welsh
Museum, Cardiff; to Mr C. H. Priestley, M.I.C.E., for
plans and information supplied ; to Dr W. Black Jones
of Llangammarch Wells for kindly furnishing sunshine
statistics ; to the Principal of the Cardiff University
College for permission to photograph the Celtic handbell ;
and to several ladies and gentlemen of Breconshire who
readily gave permission for photographs to be taken when
they understood the object for which they were intended.

January 1912.



Wrth ochr hon mae Sir Frycheiniog,
Mynyddoedd mawr a mannau cribog,
Ym Muallt rhosydd tiroedd oerllyd,
Rhai mynyddau a choedydd hefyd.

Tiroedd da a choed ddiogel,
O'r Gelli i Dalgarth Cerrig Hywel,
Ac o gwmpas Aberhonddu,
Dyna'r dref gyfoethoca yn Nghymru

Ac yn hon mae Protestaniaid
A thair eglwys iddynt fyned,
Ond hyd eu gwlad mewn amryw fannau,
Mae rhai'n pregethu hyd eu teiau.

Haidd a gwenith, a hefyd rygau
Caws a 'menyn sydd mewn mannau;
Purion bara ceirch diogel,
Yn Nghwmwd Muallt ac yn Llywel.

Gwna'r merched hyn yn gofus gyfan,
Bob gwaith hyswi i mewn ac allan ;
Gwau'r hosanau drwy'r holl flwyddyn,
O Lan-Fair hyd yn Aber-Gwesyn 1 .

1 Contiguous to Radnorshire lies Breconshire, mountainous with many
precipitous places. Builth (the commot) has meadows, exposed lands, some
mountains and also forests.

Good lands and plenteous forests extend from Gelli to Talgarth and
Crickhowell, and also around Brecon : that is the wealthiest town in

The Protestants here have three churches, but over the countryside, in
several places, some preach from house to house.

Barley and wheat and also rye, cheese and butter, are to be found in
some places. Plenty of good oaten bread in the commot of Builth and in

The maids of Breconshire attend carefully to duties within and without
the house, and through the whole year, in the district between Llanfair and
Abergwessyn, they knit stockings.



1. Siluria. Its division into Principalities. Garth

Madryn, Brycheiniog, Brecknock, and Breconshire i

2. General Characteristics. Position and Natural Con-

ditions ......... 3

3. Size. Shape. Boundaries ..... 6

4. Surface and General Features . . . . .11

5. Rivers (a) Nedd, Taff, Tawe, Rhymney, Sirhovvy,

Towy . . . . . . . . -14

6. Rivers (b) The Usk and its Basin . . .17

7. Rivers (c) The Wye and its Basin . . .20

8. Lakes and Waterfalls ...... 23

9. Geology and Soil . . . . . . .29

10. Natural History . . . . . .40

11. Climate and Rainfall ...... 47

12. People Race, Language, Population . . -53

13. Agriculture Main Cultivations, Woodland, Stock . 60

14. Industries and Manufactures ..... 64



15. Mines and Minerals ...... 68

1 6. Spas ......... 70

17. The Breconshire Reservoirs . .... 72

1 8. History of Breconshire . . . . . -77

19. Antiquities Prehistoric, British, Roman, Saxon . 89

20. Ancient Stones of Breconshire .... 95

21. Architecture (a) Ecclesiastical. Abbeys and Churches 102

22. Architecture (A) Military. Castles . . .no

23. Architecture (c) Domestic . . . . .124

24. Communications Past and Present. Roads, Railways,

and Canals . . . . . . . .131

25. Administration and Divisions Past and Present . 137

26. Roll of Honour ....... 143

27. The Chief Towns and Villages of Breconshire . 151



Crickhowell Bridge 4

The Blue Pool and Gorge on Taff Fechan . . .10
The Brecon Beacons . . . . . . .13

In the Vale of Neath 15

On the Senni 18

The Usk near Brecon 19

The Wye at Builth 21

The Irfon in flood . . .- 22

Upper Ffrwdgrech Waterfalls 26

Bwa Maen . . . . . . . . .32

Striated Boulder . .:".. . . . . 33

Glacial Boulder . . . . . . . -35

Outcrop of Silurian Rock 38

Llangorse Lake ........ 45

Prehistoric Implements found in Breconshire ... 54
Neolithic Implement found near Devynock . . -55
Coed Farm, near Brecon . .'.-.. . 61

Cattle Fair, Devynock ....... 63

Limestone Quarries near Vaynor . . . . 65

Talgarth Saw-mills . . . . ." .67

Plan and Section of Cardiff Water System . . . 73



Craig Goch Dam .'..,... 74

Roman Wall, Bannium . 80

Llewelyn's Monument, Cefn-y-Bedd .... 84
Remains of Cromlech near Crickhowell .... 90
Ancient Bronzes found at Llwynfawr . . . -91
Mound on Site of Roman Station near Crickhowell . 93

Celtic Handbell 94

Maen y Morwynion ....... 96

Ancient Carved Stones from Breconshire . . . 101

Brecon Priory Church . . . . . . .103

Bronllys Church . . . . . . . .105

St Mary's Church, Brecon . . . . .106

Llangasty Talyllyn Church . . . . . .108

Brecon : Honddu Mill and Castle 114

Bronllys Castle . . . .. . . .116

Earthworks, Builth Castle . . . . . .117

Crickhowell Castle . . . . . ... .118

Tretower Castle : the Keep . . . . ..123

Treberfedd . . . . . . . ..127

Porthmawr Gate, Crickhowell . . . . . .128

Cottages on Silurian Rock . . . . . .130

The Canal at Brecon . . . . . . , .136

Cefn Brith : John Penry's Birthplace ... . . 144

Theophilus Evans . . . . .... . .145

Sir Bartle Frere . ... . . . . 148

Mrs Siddons . . . . . . - . . .149

Christ College, Brecon . . . . . .152

Vaynor Viaduct . . . . , , . -155

Devynock . . . 156

Llanelieu Church . . ..... . . .159

Henry Vaughan's Tomb. . - . . . . .162

Rood Screen, Partrishow Church . . . . .165

Diagrams . y. .. ....'. . . * . . 169




Breconshire, Physical . . . . . Front Cover

Geological ..... Back Cover

Annual Rainfall of England and Wales . . . 51

Sketch Map showing the Chief Castles of Wales and the

Border Counties ..... to face p. 113
Sketch Map showing British Camps and Roman Stations

and Roads . . . .-'.'. . .132

The illustrations on pp. 4, 13, 19, 26, 45, 103, 118, 128, 136,
152 are from photographs supplied by Messrs F. Frith & Co.,
Ltd., of Reigate ; that on p. 74 by Mr P. B. Abery of Builth ;
that on p. 91 by Mr R. H. Thomas of Aberdare ; that on p. 165
by Mr R. H. Stevens of Crickhowell ; and the remainder, with
the exception of that on p. 159, from photographs taken expressly
for this book by Mr Fred Evans, Llangynwyd, Glamorganshire.


p. x, 1. 24 and p. 145 (title of portrait). For Evans read Jones.

p. 19, 1. 3. For a mile read a quarter of a mile.

p. 24, 11. 7 & 8. For fwo miles and one mile read about a mile
and a half and half a mile respectively ; the
same correction should be applied on p. 161
under Llangorse.

p. 69, 1. 7 from bottom. For Llangion read Llanigon.

p. 91, 1. 3 For Alltfinio read Alltfilo.

p>IOI ' Ll2 " 1 For Llyiuell read Llywel.

p. 167, 1. 6 J

p. 144, bottom line. For 1769 read 1767.

p. 145, 1. 3. For Cymry read Cymru.

p. 146, 1. 5. For 77/5" read 1714.

1. j from bottom. For 1773 read 1764.

p. 153, 1. 8 For Cryn read Cyrn.

p. 158, 1. 4 For Brecon read Builth.

i. Siluria. Its division into Principa-
lities. Garth Mad ryn,Brycheiniog,
Brecknock, and Breconshire.

When the Romans made their appearance in the
islands of Britain, the district now forming the south-
eastern corner of Wales was known to the Britons as
Essyllwg, and was inhabited by a tribe known as Essyllwyr.
These names the Romans translated into Latin as Siluria
and Silures respectively. Siluria comprised most of the
present counties of Glamorgan and Breconshire, the
whole of Monmouthshire, and some other outlying tracts
now forming parts of English counties. It was divided
into districts, probably under sub-chiefs, and of these a
tract of country called Garth Madryn was one. We do
not know the actual extent of this district, but, roughly,
it was contained within the boundaries that now mark the
present county of Breconshire, with the possible exception
of the hundred of Builth.

Garth Madryn, we are told, means " Fox Hill " or
" Fox Hold," and was thus named because it formed the
home of large numbers of those animals. Perhaps the

E. B. I


name was only given to a small portion of the district at
first and was afterwards extended to include the whole
area we have outlined.

Still this does not help us to understand how the
county received its present name. Neither does it tell us
what it means. For this information we must come to
a period several hundreds of years later, in fact to the
period of the departure of the Romans. About this time
the Welsh prince of Garth Madryn was a man named
Brychan, and in his honour it was renamed Brycheiniog
or Brycheiniawg that is, the Land of Brychan. From
that time onwards its princes or rulers were always
described as of Brycheiniog, and in later times still, when
the Normans took most of the district from the Welsh,
the name was still retained to designate the Lordship
formed by the Norman conqueror who was known as the
Lord of Brycheiniog.

The Normans half-translated the word Brycheiniog,
and after some changes the word they used in time
became fixed as Brecknock, or as it is nowadays written,
Brecon. To the Welsh the name is still Brycheiniog,
and when we speak of Breconshire we say Sir Frycheiniog.
The difference in spelling is simply due to a grammatical
rule which alters the first letters of many words in the
Welsh language. For a long period the names Brecon-
shire and Brecknockshire have been used indiscriminately
for our county, but in 1910 the County Council, by
resolution, determined that the form Breconshire shall
be used in all official documents. This may have the
effect of standardising the name of the county, and to


harmonise with the official nomenclature we shall use the
name "Breconshire" in the pages of this book.

We have read in one or two sentences the words
"County of Brecon." Strictly speaking this is not cor-
rect, as Brecon is not a county in the sense that the
English counties Kent, Surrey, and Sussex are. Brecon
is what is termed a "shire," that is, it was formed from a
share of a larger district, i.e. the part shorn off, for the two
words have a common origin in the A.S. scir y to cut, to
divide. For many years, even after the death of Prince
Llewelyn in 1282, the Lordship of Brecknock continued
as a Lordship Marcher, and it was only given the privileges
that belong to our counties and shires in the reign of
Henry VIII. During that reign an Act of Parliament
was passed that divided such portions of Wales as had
not already been made shire-ground into shires, and of
these Breconshire was one. So, to be correct, we should
always speak or write of the shire as Breconshire, and
not as Brecon as if it were a county.

2. General Characteristics. Position
and Natural Conditions.

Breconshire is an inland county one of the three
inland counties of Wales. Its nearest point to the sea
is that portion that forms the upper valley of the Tawe,
where the boundary line is some 12 miles from Swansea
Bay. Crickhowell, the most important place in the south-
east, is over 24 miles from the shores of the Severn

i 2



Estuary, and the rivers Wye and Usk cease to be tidal
many miles distant from the borders of the county.

Though Breconshire has not the advantage of a coast-
line, nature has not been lacking in the provision of natural
attractions that to a certain degree compensate for that
loss. Beautiful scenery is found in the many valleys
through which the numerous sparkling rivers flow. Its
mountains the highest in South Wales afford romantic
views that are equal to any in their majesty and sublimity.
Fish abound in its rivers and lakes, waterfalls of great
beauty are frequent, while on the uplands the moors
are renowned for their game. Perhaps of all the natural
gifts, the medicinal springs at the inland watering places
of the county are the most beneficial from a commercial
point of view, as they attract large numbers of visitors
from other parts of England and Wales during the
summer season.

As is but natural in so mountainous a county, the
population is sparse, and the chief industry of the in-
habitants is agriculture. The mountains are, of course,
unsuited for cultivation but make admirable sheep runs,
hence a great feature of the Breconshire farm is its sheep.
The fertile soil of the valleys, however, amply repays the
farmer for its cultivation.

Though agriculture is the chief industry, the county
is not without other forms of occupation. The southern
border touches the edge of the great South Wales coal-
field, thus allowing it to partake somewhat of the prosperity
of that important region. The suitability of the district
for sheep-breeding and the happy provision by nature of


numerous streams, have given rise to a small woollen in-
dustry which produces flannel and a coarse woollen cloth.
Breconshire also manufactures leather of excellent quality.
Situated in the marchland or border of Wales, with
its eastern border contiguous to that of England, it is
no wonder that in early days Breconshire was debatable
ground. The valleys of the Wye and Usk open to the
east, and though these afford ready communication with
England in these peaceful times, yet they proved a source
of danger and made invasion on the part of marauders
coveting its soil an easy matter in more warlike days.
This way, no doubt, came the Romans; through these
the Saxon hordes made their incursions, and the possession
of the valleys of the Wye and the Usk gave Bernard
Newmarch and his followers their grip on the county
when they rode steel-clad to seek new homes in wild

3. Size. Shape. Boundaries.

As a rule, when we consider the size of a county,
we have to reckon with the fact that counties are divided
for purposes of local government into County Boroughs,
which administer their own affairs, and the remainder
of the county, which is known as the Administrative
County. Sometimes, too, a portion of a county is
attached to a district in another county for administra-
tive purposes on account of convenience, or a county may
administer a portion of another county for the same reason.
So the Administrative County does not coincide altogether


with the bounds of what is termed the Ancient or Geo-
graphical County.

Breconshire has no County Borough, but four parishes
on the southern border are within the Administrative
County of Monmouthshire, though they lie within the
boundaries of the Ancient County of Breconshire. Still,
the area thus detached is so small that unless definitely
stated otherwise, we shall consider the general term
county to mean both the Ancient and Administrative

Breconshire ranks fourth in size among the counties
of Wales and has an area of about 726 square miles or
475,224 statute acres. The area of the Administrative
County is 469,301 statute acres. This places it about
equal in area to the English counties Surrey and Berk-
shire and among the dozen smallest counties of the
country. It occupies about one-sixtyseventh of the entire
area of England and Wales. It is 56 miles long, 35 miles
broad, and has a circumference of 140 miles.

The natural formation of the county seems to have
marked it off as a mountainous region contained within
the bounds of its highlands and streams. In shape it is
irregular, but has somewhat the appearance of a slightly
truncated right-angled triangle with its base to the south
and its vertical side on the west. A smaller irregularly
shaped triangle rises from its longest or eastern side.

The boundaries of the county were fixed when the
shire was formed in 1535. Certain cantrefs, commots 1 ,

1 Brycheiniog at the Survey of Wales in the reign of Howell Dda
(tenth century) was partitioned into four cantrefs or cantreds, i. Cantref


and parishes were named, and of these the new shire was
to consist. Being an inland county the boundaries, save
when they coincide with a river, are purely arbitrary,
but except along the south they are fairly clearly defined.
We will now follow these boundaries upon a map, especial
care being taken to note when they follow along the line
of a river or along a mountain range.

The town of Hay makes a good starting point, as
from here the boundary follows the river Wye as far as
the northern point of the county. From Hay then the
boundary separating Breconshire from Radnorshire
runs for about seven miles in a south-westerly direction
to the vicinity of Three Cocks Junction, when it curves
boldly to the north-north-west. This direction it maintains
to the neighbourhood of Llanfaredd, on the Radnorshire
side, when it takes a sinuous course westward towards
Builth Wells. At Builth Wells it runs for about four miles
in a north-westerly direction and then turns to the north

Mawr, ii. Cantref Tewdos, iii. Cantref Eudaf, and iv. Cantref Selyf. In the
partition of Wales by Prince Llewelyn ap Gruffydd (thirteenth century), as
given in the Myfyrian Archaeology, Brycheiniog has only two cantrefs,
i. Cantref Selyf, comprising the eastern portion of the district, and ii. Cantref
Mawr, comprising the western portion. In the list given in Sir John
Price's Description of ffales, Brycheiniog has three cantrefs and eight

i. Selyf, with two commots, Selyf and Trahayern.

ii. Canol, with three commots, Talgorth, Ystradyw, and Brwynllys or

Eglwys Yail.

iii. Mawr, with three commots, Tir Raulff, Llywell, and Cerrig Howel.
When the shire was formed in the reign of Henry VIII, the Cantref of
Buallt in Powys was added to the three cantrefs mentioned above to form


with a subsequent inclination to the north-west as far as
the confluence of the Elan with the Wye. The boundary
now follows the Elan until it reaches the point where the
Claerwen flows into the Elan, in the district submerged
by the Birmingham Waterworks. It follows the Claer-
wen valley to the point where the counties of Radnorshire
and Cardiganshire meet and then a couple of miles further,
near Llyn Gynon, strikes across country southward into
the valley of the Towy.

The boundary now lies to the west of the county and
follows the Towy valley in a southerly direction until it
reaches the spot where the three counties, Breconshire,
Cardiganshire, and Carmarthenshire meet. To follow the
boundary for some distance further becomes a matter of
difficulty. It zigzags now east, now west, now south and
sometimes north in seemingly haphazard fashion, but has
in the main a south-easterly direction until it reaches the
valley of the Gwdderig, when it makes a bend along the
western slopes of Mynydd Bwlch y Groes. Leaving this
valley it strikes across into the Usk valley, which it follows
to the source of the river in the Carmarthen Vans,
and crossing that range between Llyn y Fan Fawr and
Llyn y Fan Fach strikes south-west into the valley of the
Twrch. The Twrch valley is followed until that stream
flows into the Tawe near Ystalyfera.

Now the boundary runs along the south of the county
and crosses river, valley, and mountain in a manner that
baffles description. From Ystalyfera it winds its sinuous
way over Mynydd y Drum to Coelbren Junction in the
Dulas valley and then over the slopes of Hir Fynydd and

The Blue Pool and Gorge on Taff Fechan


through the valleys of the Pyrddin and the Nedd to Pont
Nedd Fechan. Still winding its way eastwards it passes
to the north of Hirwaun and then trends over Mynydd
Aberdare into the Taff Fawr valley and across Cefn
Merthyr into that of the Taff Fechan. From the Taff
Fechan valley it crosses Mynydd Llangynidr in a series
of straight lines to turn to the south above Brynmawr.
From Brynmawr it pursues its winding easterly course,
keeping south of Clydach and then bending north it
strikes the valley of the Grwyne Fawr. It follows this
river valley almost to its head and then striking boldly
northwards across the Black Mountains arrives at our
starting point the town of Hay.

4. Surface and General Features.

Breconshire is cradled in mountains, some of which
rank as the highest eminences in South Wales. More
than half the county is over 1000 feet above the level
of the sea, and scarcely any is within 300 feet of it.
The general slope of the surface is towards the south
and east.

The river valleys divide it naturally into four hill
districts. The valley of the Usk, crossing the county
from east to west, cuts it into two main portions.
North of this valley is Mynydd Eppynt, which is again
separated from the wilder hill country of the north-west
corner by the valley of the Irfon, a tributary of the Wye.
South of the Usk are the Beacons Bannau Brycheiniog


which, commencing below the town of Crickhowell,
extend westwards into the Forest Fawr or Black Moun-
tains of Carmarthenshire. The remaining hill district,
comprising the Black Forest Mountains, lies in the south-
eastern corner cut off by the Wye, by the Llyfni, a
tributary of the Wye, and by the Usk.

The Beacons, perhaps, are the finest of the moun-
tains in the county, stretching with their spurs along the
whole southern border. Three magnificent peaks mark
their entry from Carmarthenshire, chief of which Capel-
lante towers some 2394 feet above sea-level. Within the
county the peaks succeed each other almost in a line due
east and west. Y Gehirrach comes first, 2381 feet high.
Then follow. Y Fan Nedd (2177 feet), Fan Llia (2071
feet), Fan Fawr (2400 feet), culminating in the peak
appropriately named Penyfan, the monarch of the Beacons
(2907 feet high), the highest point in South Wales, and
the highest Old Red Sandstone peak in the kingdom.
East of Penyfan the range slopes downwards again into
the valley of the Usk. South of the Beacons, the surface
is formed of the high steep barren hills of the great coal
basin of South Wales.

Mynydd Eppynt, separating the valley of the Usk
from that of the Wye, is most appropriately named, for
the range slopes in a long trend in a south-westerly
direction from the neighbourhood of Builth. Near the
Carmarthenshire border it is known as Mynydd Bwlch y
Groes and this spur, continuing round the head waters
of the Usk, connects the Black Forest Mountains with
Mynydd Eppynt. Though not so high as the Beacons


the highest peaks are Moelfre (1450 feet) and Panne
(1290 feet) these hills present a considerable boldness
of outline and amongst them lies some of the loveliest
scenery of the county. The hills in the north-west are
offshoots from the Plynlimmon range, and rise in Y Dry-
garn Fawr to an elevation of 2I2O feet.

East of the valley of the Llyfni the Vale of Talgarth
as it is called rises the chain of the Black Mountains, or
as they are named on the Herefordshire side, the Hatteral
Hills. The mountains rise in the well-known Sugar Loaf
mountain, near Abergavenny, and range in a convex line
with a general north-easterly direction into Herefordshire
some distance south of Hay. The highest peaks are Waun
Fach (2660 feet) and Pen y Gader Fawr (2624 feet).

5. Rivers (a) Nedd, Taff, Tawe,
Rhymney, Sirhowy, Towy.

The rivers of Breconshire are numerous, but though
not one of them is navigable, they are yet of importance for
the quantity and quality of the fish, especially salmon and
trout, that are found in their waters. The river system
falls naturally into three divisions the streams flowing
south from the Beacons and their extensions, the rivers
of the Usk basin, and those of the basin of the Wye.
A glance at the map will show us these divisions and
how the Beacons separate the first from the second, and
how Mynydd Eppynt forms the barrier between the
second and the third.


The streams flowing south from the Beacons do so
in a south-westerly and south-easterly direction, the

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