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The Town of Monmouth
1861 - 1871

Part 1: From "The Book of South Wales, the Wye, and the Coast"
by Mrs. S. C. Hall (A. Hall), 1861

Update: 8 February 2011

The town of Monmouth seen from the Monnow river in 1861  

Monmouth rises from the river-side, occupying a slight elevation, which stands between the Monnow and the Wye, at the mouth of the Monnow, whence its name is derived. The effect is very striking from the bridge at which the voyager moors his boat. The situation of the town is singularly beautiful, occupying a tongue of land formed by the confluence of the two rivers at the termination of a rich valley, surrounded by lofty hills, whose wooded acclivities, from the base to the summit, enrich a landscape rarely surpassed in any part of Wales or England.

Seen from the Monnow, the town seems perched on the height of a huge cliff; whilst from all adjacent places, the church steeple - the Church of St. Mary - towers high above surrounding houses.

    Monmouth Castle ruins sketched in 1861
Monmouth is famous in history: and has been so from a very remote period; although its earliest existing charter is dated no farther back than 1549 - granted by Edward VI. "to the burgesses of his burg and town of Monmouth, in the Marches of Wales, and in the Duchy of Lancaster." It is surmised to have been a Roman station, and to check incursions of the Welsh; there was undoubtedly a fortress here at the Conquest. It is expressly mentioned in Domesday Book as forming part of the royal demesne, "in the custody of William Fitz Baderon," in whose family it remained for two centuries. Lambarde states that " the citie had once a castle in it," which, during the barons' wars, was razed to the ground. "Thus," quoth the chronicler, "the glorie of Monmouth had clene perished, and had it pleased God long after, in that same place, to give life to the noble king Henry V., who of the same is called Henry of Monmouth." It is this castle, and this memorable "birth," that give imperishable renown to the town of Monmouth. The present castle - a miserable and shamefully desecrated ruin, yet one that vies in interest with that of imperial Windsor itself - was built, or perhaps rebuilt, by old John of Gaunt, - time-honoured Lancaster, - to whom it devolved by marriage with Blanche, "daughter and heir" of Henry, Duke of Lancaster, whose title was inherited, with the estates, by the great nobleman who is immortal in the pages of history, and also in those of "the playwright" - William Shakspere.

Passing subsequently through various hands - especially those of the Herberts, Earls of Pembroke - it became the property of the Dukes of Beaufort: and the present duke is now its lord. We cannot believe him to be responsible for the shameful condition in which these remnants, left by old Time, are suffered to exist. The walls are crumbling away; "Harry's window" is breaking up; while the interior has been literally converted into a pigsty, where it is hazardous for a foot to tread. The state of this ruin forms so marked a contrast with that of Raglan, and also that of Chepstow - both of which are the property of the Duke, and remarkable for neatness and order, and due care to preservation - that we must suppose Monmouth to be, in some way or other, out of his jurisdiction. At all events, Monmouth Castle is discreditable to the local authorities; and argues very short-sighted policy, no less than shameful indifference to the source whence the town derives its glory and its fame.
Harry's window in the ruins of Monmouth Castle  
The hero of Agincourt was born here, on the 6th of August, 1387. The chamber in which "he first drew breath was a part of an upper story, 58 feet long by 24 feet broad, and was "decorated with ornamented gothic windows," one of which, the only one that remains, we have engraved.

The "county magistrates" erected a statue to "Harry of Monmouth" in front of the Town Hall, the only authority they could find for "a likeness" being a whole length portrait in the cabinet at Strawberry Hill; this they copied ... an undoubted proof that his fellow-townsmen recollected him some four centuries after his death.

The tower of an old priory, containing
Monmouth is believed to have been the birthplace of another famous man - "Geoffrey of Monmouth:" little is known of his history, except that he became archdeacon of his native town, was "probably" educated at one of its monasteries, and was consecrated Bishop of St. Asaph in 1152. [He] was also called "Galfridus Arthurius," but whose proper name was Geoffrey-ap-Arthur, is known chiefly by his romantic History of England, a work "altered and disguised" from a History of British Kings, written by "Tyssilio, or St. Teilau, Bishop of St. Asaph, a writer who lived in the seventh century." It has been long regarded as a collection of fables, to which no value can be attached; but it originated the tragedy of "King Lear," was the source from which Milton drew the beautiful picture of "Comus," and to which other poets have been largely indebted. There yet remains, in a very good state of preservation, a tower of the ancient Priory, founded during the reign of Henry I., for black monks of the Benedictine order, by Wyhenoc, grandson of Fitz Baderon, and third Lord of Monmouth. In this tower exists an apartment, said and believed to have been Geoffrey's study; but it is evidently of a later date. The building is now used as a National School - remarkably neat, well ordered, and apparently well conducted.

The very old Monnow Bridge with Gatehouse over the middle span  
The Monnow Bridge is an object of considerable interest; so also is the Gate-house - a singularly picturesque structure, "the foundation of which," according to Grose, "is so ancient that neither history nor tradition affords any light respecting its erection." Obviously it was one of the most formidable defences of the town in "old times." The venerable Church of St. Thomas stands close beside the bridge: it is of high antiquity; "the simplicity of its form, the circular shape of the door-way, and of the arch separating the nave from the chancel, and the style of their ornaments, which bear a Saxon character, seem to indicate that it was constructed before the Conquest." It has been carefully and judiciously "restored."

Summerhouse built in memory of Admiral Nelson's visit in 1802
There are few other "remains" of note in the ancient town of Monmouth, although in its suburbs and "within walking distance" there are many. We may, therefore, be permitted to introduce an engraving of a building which is considered and shown as one of its "lions" - a summer-house consecrated to the memory of the great Admiral Nelson, and which contains an old carved chair - his seat during a visit to the neighbourhood, in 1802. But that which attracts most attention in this interesting locality, and to which all tourists will make a pilgrimage, is the Kymin Hill, the ascent to which commences immediately after passing Wye Bridge. It is partly in Monmouthshire and partly in Gloucestershire; and on its summit is a Pavilion, which we picture - less for its intrinsic value (for it is clumsy, and little worthy of the proud position it occupies), than as the spot from which a view is obtained, equal, perhaps, to any that may be found in Wales or in England: from this point are seen no fewer than nine counties: - those of Monmouth, Gloucester, Hereford, Worcester, Salop, Radnor, Brecon, Glamorgan, and Somerset.
The pavilion on Kymin Hill
Of this exciting scene thus writes the county historian:- "I shall not attempt to describe the unbounded expanse of country which presents itself around and beneath, and embraces a circumference of nearly three hundred miles. The eye, satiated with the distant prospect, reposes at length on the near views, dwells on the country immediately beneath and around, is attracted with the pleasing position of Monmouth, here seen to singular advantage, admires the elegant bend and silvery current of the Monnow, glistening through meads, in its course towards the Wye, and the junction of the two rivers."

The Pavilion was built in 1794, and "a Naval Temple" was added to it in 1801, the purpose being to accommodate the numerous parties who visited the hill to enjoy the view: from its windows and neighbouring seats the whole country, near and distant, is commanded. It is impossible for language to render justice to the delights supplied from this spot to all lovers of the grand and beautiful in nature.

The Buckstone, a druidic monument
A road leads from the Kymin to The Buckstone - one of the most famous druidic remains to be found in a district abounding with them: it is a singular relic of the wildest superstitions of our British ancestors:

Which the gentlest touch at once set moving,
But all earth's power couldn't cast from its base!

Such is the poet's reading; and the stone was usually so constructed, or rather so placed, as certainly to "rock" when but lightly touched: hence the popular name of "rocking-stone."

(The form of the stone ls an irregular square inverted pyramid; the point where it touches the pedestal is not above 2 feet square. lts height is about 10 feet: S. E. side, 16 feet 5 inches; N. side, 17 feet; S. W., 9 feet; and its south side, 12 feet. The rock pedestal is an irregular square; S. E. side, 12 feet; N., 14 feet 9 inches; W., 21 feet 5 inches; S., 14 feet. - Fosbroke.)

The town of Monmouth as seen from the banks of the river Wye, in 1861
The town of Monmouth as seen from the banks of the river Wye, 1861

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Part 2: From Slater's Directory of ... Monmouthshire, 1868

Monmouth is a borough, both corporate and parliamentary, a market town, poor-law union and parish, having separate jurisdiction, locally in the lower division of the hundred of Skenfreth; 127 miles W.N.W.from London, 16 E. by S. from Abergavenny, 15 N. from Chepstow, 26 W. by S. from Gloucester, and 19 S. from Hereford. It is situated at the junction of the Wye and the Monnow, each of which rivers is crossed by a stone bridge, while a third bestrides the Trothy. From its locality - at the mouth of the Monnow, the name of the town is derived. The Coleford, Monmouth, Usk, and Pont-y-Pool section of the Great Western railway has a station here, which at present is its terminus; a further extension is shortly to be carried out in the direction of Coleford.

By some antiquaries Monmouth is supposed to have been the Blentium of Antonius; but no Roman antiquities have been discovered to confirm that opinion. ... The town hall, situate in Agincourt-square, is a neat and commodious edifice; in the front is the statue of Henry V, named "Henry of Monmouth", on account of its being the place of his nativity. ... It also appears that Charles I was in the habit of visiting this town, and staying at the King's Arms Hotel, as over the fire place in the bar, is a a large figure of the head of his Majesty worked in plaster of paris as a compliment to him, the figure being in good preservation at the present time. ... The county gaol, situated on the side of a hill, is alike remarkable for its strength and its excellent internal arrangements and discipline.

The principal street of the town is spacious, with others diverging, and all are well paved and gas-lighted. The houses are in general well built, and many have gardens and orchards attached to them. The inhabitants are abundantly supplied with water by means of pipes communicating with an extensive reservoir; there are also a number of reserved pipes in every street to furnish a ready supply of water in case of fire.

Monmouth enjoys a trade with Bristol and other places by means of the Wye, and imports groceries and various goods necessary for the consumption of a large tract of inland country; and by the same means of transit a considerable exportation of timber and bark is carried on. Coals are brought from the forest of Dean, six miles distant, by means of a tramway, and also by a road made from Monmouth to the village of Staunton, in Gloucestershire. The road forms a route to the city of Gloucester, through the forest of Dean, so much admired for its scenery. Bricks and draining tiles are made to some extent, malting is a trade in which several persons are engaged, and there are flour mills in the vicinity.

The inhabitants were first incorporated by Edward VI, but the charter by which the town was governed, previous to the operation of the municipal Reform Act, passed in 1835, was granted by Charles II. Under the new act, the corporation consists of a mayor, two bailiffs, four aldermen, and twelve councillors, with the usual assistant officers, styled "the Mayor, Bailiffs, and Commonalty, of the town and borough of Monmouth;" the same act provided the borough with a commission of the peace. The burgesses of this borough are exempt, by an ancient charter, from paying "all or any toll, tonnage, pickage, and pontage whatever, throughout England." The corporation hold quarterly courts of session, for the trial of misdemeanors within the borough: the assizes for the county, and the petty sessions for the upper division of the hundred of Usk, are also held here. The town is included in the duchy of Lancaster, and subject to the jurisdiction, of the duchy courts; and it belongs to the twenty-sixth circuit of county court towns under the act for the recovery of debts to any amount not exceeding £50;. The borough first exercised the elective franchise in the 27th year of Henry VIII: it returns, conjointly with Newport and Usk, one member to parliament; the mayor and bailiffs are the returning officers .... The Boundary Act defines the limits of the borough to comprise the parish of Monmouth, and all such parts of the old borough of Monmouth (which includes Newport and Usk, contributory boroughs), as lie without the parish of Monmouth.

The places for divine worship are two churches under the establishment, and a chapel each for Baptists, Independents, Wesleyan Methodists, and Roman Catholics. Saint Mary's, the parish church, is a neat and handsome structure, containing many monumental tablets, and a fine organ; it has eight musical bells, which, according to tradition, were brought from France by Henry V. ... Saint Thomas' church (or chapel of ease), an ancient structure, was repaired several years since and new windows inserted, by public subscription, aided by a grant from the church commissioners, and under whose authority a separate district was assigned to it. ...

The charities comprise an excellent grammar school, founded in the reign of James I, by William Jones, Esq., for 100 boys: it is now conducted in a new building, in the Tudor style of architecture; there is also a chapel to accomodate about 160 persons in connection with it: other schools upon the National plan and for infants, a well supported dispensary, some minor charities, and almshouses - the last mentioned were established by the benevolent founder of the grammar school, who bequeathed the munificent sum of £9,000 for the support of ten indigent men and the like number of women. ...

The market house is a handsome, modern and convenient building. The market is held on Saturdays, and the fairs on the first Wednesday after February 10th, Tuesday in Whitsun-week, June 18th [for wool], September 4th, and November 22nd, the last mentioned a very large one. The borough and parish of Monmouth contained in 1841, 5,446 inhabitants; in 1851, 5,189; and in 1861, 5,789.

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Part 3: From the Post Office Directory for ... Monmouthshire, 1871

The town is paved and lighted, and well supplied with excellent water from the reservoir on May-hill.

The church of St. Mary, a stone building in the early English style, has nave, chancel, tower and spire, 200 feet high, with 8 bells, south porch, and organ. The living is a vicarage, yearly value £200, with house ... The church of St. Thomas is an ancient stone building, in the Norman style: it has nave, chancel, tower and porch. The living is a vicarage, yearly value £80 ... There are chapels for Roman Catholics, Baptists, Independents, Primitive Methodists, and Wesleyans.

There are some National and Roman Catholic schools. Jones's Free Grammar school, in the Tudor style founded 1614, in the time of King James I., by William Jones, esq.; two divisions, classical and commercial, 85 boys in former, 125 in latter: capitation fee in former £6, in latter £2 per annum. Exhibitions in the school of £15 and £10; and at the universities, hospital, or any recognised school for the professions, of £50 and £60 per annum. New scheme for the school, dated June, 1868. Head master ... lower master, ... and seven assistant masters ... A chapel is attached and there are houses for the masters: the income is about £2,000.

The Town Hall is in Agincourt-square: it stands on pillars, is a handsome stone structure in the Ionic style ... The quarter sessions and petty sessions and the spring and summer assizes for the county are all held at the Town Hall.

Monmouth County Gaol, a massive castle-like looking structure on the hill side, is now disused: the prisoners are all sent to the prison at Usk, that being a more central place. The town gaol is also shut up, and used now as a warehouse. ...

There are Barracks for the Royal Monmouthshire Militia on Castle-hill. The Monmouth Hospital and Dispensary is in Whitecross-square. ...

Monmouth Union Workhouse is now being erected on the old Hereford road, immediately above the gaol: it is arranged for the accommodation of 200 inmates, and consists of four blocks of buildings; viz., the lodge, receiving building, principal building, and infirmary. The receiving building contains wards for the probationers, and the vagrants of each sex, with bath rooms, lavatories, and airing courts. The principal building contains, on the ground floor, in the centre, an entrance, with apartments for the master and matron, stores, and general administrative rooms, and extending right and left of this centre portion are wings containing wards with centre corridor between; in the front are day rooms and dormitories, with separate bath rooms, lavatories, staircases, and airing courts; and in the rear are day rooms, with bath rooms, lavatories, staircases, and airing courts; in the centre of the rear of building are a dining hall and chapel, with serving rooms combined, a lift, communicating with kitchen, and other culinary apartments and stores in the basement, which contains also cellars, larders and dairies; and on the same level are covered play-grounds for the children, as well as workrooms on the able-bodied men's side, and washhouse, laundry and drying closet on the able-bodied women's side. The infirmary building contains in the centre the nurses' apartments, and in the wings, right and left, are convalescent and sick wards for each sex, as well as bath rooms, and spacious airing grounds. In the rear of this building is a detached fabric, containing nurses' apartments and wards for the infectious cases of each sex. The whole of the buildings are of stone, and enclosed with a low wall and palisading, the contract for the whole of the works complete being about £10,000, which are being executed by Messrs. H. P. Bolt & Co., Newport, Monmouth, under the direction of Mr. G. C. Haddon, architect, of Hereford and Great Malvern; the clerk of the works being Mr. Thomas Davies, of Monmouth.

The Working Men's Institute in Monk-street ... "This Free Institute for Working Men was Founded and Endowed by Mrs. Matilda Jones, of Ancre Hill, A.D. 1868" ....

The manufactures are few ... a foundry, chemical works, corn mills, a saw mill, and paper mills in the neighbourhood. There is some trade with Bristol carried on by means of the river Wye.

There is a newspaper, "The Monmouthshire Beacon," published every Saturday ....

Monmouth Castle, once a formidable fortress and the birthplace of Henry V. of Monmouth, is now represented by few insignificant ruins on Castle-hill.

Conveyance: Coach (Royal Mail) to Lydney, Coleford & Ross, daily, from the King's Head; Coach to Ross twice a day, from the Beaufort Arms hotel; Omnibuses from Beaufort Arms, King's Head, White Swan & Angel hotels, to meet every train.

Emily Waterman married retired Staff Serjeant Alexander Fisher McQuarrie
Previously of the Black Watch, the Royal Monmouthshire Militia, & the Irish Rifles

Archives of the Monmouthshire Militia

Monmouth Castle

Monmouth Castle Museum


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