Welsh Dragon

Brief History of Monmouthshire

The Romans

The Romans built timber forts at Abergavenny, Monmouth and Usk between 43AD and 55AD, but it was another 20 years before the important settlement at Venta Silurum, better known as Caerwent, was built.

Llanmelin above Caerwent was the principal stronghold of the Silures (the native tribe who ruled the area before the Roman invasion) and there was an important military site at the Bulwarks, Chepstow. Long sections of Roman perimeter walls still remain at Caerwent, together with an excavated temple. Archaeological excavations have shown that Monmouth had one of the earliest Roman garrisons in South Wales and a wealth of artefacts including pottery, glass and armour has been unearthed from numerous cremations. There is evidence of a Celtic settlement, largely destroyed during the Norman occupation and the foundation of the modern town plan.

Industrial Heritage

Although the Wye Valley has been a hugely popular tourist destination since the 18th century, it has a significant industrial heritage having had a major metalworking history 500 years ago. The Angidy Valley, above Tintern, houses the remains of some of the earliest industrial activity. Wireworks were founded at Tintern in the 1560s and at Whitebrook in 1606. Copper works and paper mills were also established. Records show that in 1698-1699, 22-24 tonnes of pig iron a week was produced by the Abbey Tintern Furnace. The furnace went out of production in about 1826, before Wordsworth found his way to the area. The present form of villages such as: Brockweir, Llandogo, Redbrook and Tintern are largely a result of their previous 'life' as quayside developments along the industrially-active River Wye.

The leather industry became one of the most important industries in Abergavenny in the 16th and 17th centuries. Old property deeds show that a tanning industry existed on the site of Tan House (on Mill Street) as early as 1691. Tanning was only the first process, so associated trades, such as boot and shoe making, saddlery and glove-making, took place nearby. In the mid-18th century, Abergavenny was briefly known as a spa town and for the manufacture of white periwigs (fashionable with men in the 17th and 18th centuries), as the milk from local goats was considered good treatment for consumption and their hair was made into fine white wigs.

The advent of the railway enabled the expansion of key towns, such as Abergavenny, which also prospered from links with the iron and coal industries of Gwent. Abergavenny also became known for a type of flannel woven locally - an 18th century Welsh flannel mill was known to have been sited on Flannel Street. When Gwenynen Gwent (better known as Lady Llanover) went on her travels to Europe, she took samples of Abergavenny flannel with her, to promote them in the houses and courts of Europe, and set up the Gwenffrwd woollen mill on the banks of the Rhyd-y-meirch River. Monmouthshire has a long history in cider production and in the late 19th century travelling cidermakers were a familiar sight, with cider being the staple drink of the agricultural workforce.

Uprisings

Monmouth's Rebellion in 1685 was instigated by James Scott, the Duke of Monmouth and illegitimate son of Charles II - a courtier with no interest in Monmouth. He led a Protestant uprising against the unpopular James II, mistakenly believing that he had all-England support for his rebellion. After just five weeks, his West Country side were defeated at Sedgemoor and he was beheaded. James II lost the throne three years later.

One of the most renowned trials of the 19th century was set in Monmouth in January 1840. Three of the leaders of the Chartist Uprising at Newport were sentenced to death for treason - which was later commuted to transportation. In February 1840, John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones were taken to Chepstow to begin their journey to Tasmania.

The Picturesque Movement

The Wye Valley has a long history of human settlement, but whilst early settlements recognised the practical and defensive value of views from the cliffs and hilltops; later settlements in the 18th century recognised the attractiveness of these views for visitors. The Wye Valley is reputed to be the birthplace of British tourism and became one of the most important places for the Picturesque movement. The development of Piercefield by Valentine Morris is one of the earliest examples of Picturesque landscaping and was a huge pull for visitors - fuelled by their experiences of the Grand Tour, especially paintings of imaginary landscapes by artists such as: Claude, Vernet and Poussin. To be Picturesque, a landscape had to be suitable for capturing as a picture - whether in a painting or framed by a garden walk.

In his famous journey down the River Wye in 1770, the Reverend William Gilpin identified what was and what was not Picturesque by looking at the different aspects of the Wye Valley: woods; river; cliffs; architecture and landscape. The Wye Tour was a boat trip from Ross-on-Wye to Chepstow, including an overnight stop at Monmouth. As well as JMW Turner, another famous tourist to the Wye Valley was William Wordsworth. The Wye Valley became one of the most important places for the Picturesque movement and the advent of the railway in 1876 made the valley more accessible to a wider range of visitors.

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