Abergavenny, meaning Mouth of the River Gavenny, is a market town in Monmouthshire, Wales. It is located 15 miles (24 km) west of Monmouth on the A40 and A465 roads, 6 miles (10 km) from the English border. Originally the site of a Roman fort, Gobannium, it became a medieval walled town within the Welsh Marches. The town contains the remains of a medieval stone castle built soon after the Norman conquest of Wales.
Abergavenny is promoted as the "Gateway to Wales". Situated at the confluence of a tributary stream, the Gavenny, and the River Usk, it is almost surrounded by two mountains – the Blorenge (559 m) and the Sugar Loaf (596 m) – and five hills: Ysgyryd Fawr (The Skirrid), Ysgyryd Fach (Skirrid Fach), Deri, Rholben and Mynydd Llanwenarth, known locally as "Llanwenarth Breast". It provides access to the nearby Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons National Park. The Offa's Dyke Path is close by and the Marches Way, the Beacons Way and Usk Valley Walk all pass through the town.
The name derives from a Brythonic word Gobannia meaning "river of the blacksmiths", and relates to the town's pre-Roman importance in iron smelting. The name is related to the modern Welsh word gof (blacksmith), and so is also associated with the Welsh smith Gofannon from folklore. The river later became, in Welsh, Gafenni, and the town's name became Abergavenny, meaning "mouth of (Welsh: Aber) the Gavenny (Gafenni)". In Welsh, the shortened form Y Fenni may have come into use for a very short period after about the 15th century, although pronounced similarly in English or Welsh the English spelling Abergavenny is in general use.
The Norman periodAbergavenny grew as a town in early Norman times under the protection of the Lords of Abergavenny. The first Baron was Hamelin de Balun, from Ballon, a small town and castle in Maine-Anjou called "Gateway to Maine", near Le Mans, today in the Sarthe département of France. He founded the Benedictine priory, now the Priory Church of St Mary, in the late 11th century. The Priory belonged originally to the Benedictine foundation of St. Vincent Abbaye at Le Mans. It was subsequently endowed by William de Braose, with a tenth or "tithe" of the profits of the castle and town. The church contains some unique alabaster effigies, church monuments and unique medieval wood carving, such as the Tree of Jesse.
Owing to its geographical location the town was frequently embroiled in the border warfare and power play of the 12th and 13th centuries in the Welsh Marches. In 1175, Abergavenny Castle was the scene of a reputed massacre of local Welsh chieftains by the pious and ruthless William de Braose. So the story goes, after a period of discord and conflict he invited the local leaders to a Christmas banquet under the pretext of resolving differences and building relations but his plan was to eliminate them. Accepting his supposed hospitality, at a traditional time for settling differences, the influential Welsh leaders of the surrounding areas nearly all arrived, proffered their swords as tokens of peaceful intent to servants and, unarmed, were ushered further into the castle where de Braose's armed soldiers hacked them down in cold blood. Giraldus Cambrensis relates how in 1182 the castle was seized back by the Welsh.
1300 to 1900 Abergavenny and Holy Mountain in the 1890sOwain Glyndŵr attacked Abergavenny in 1404. According to popular legend, his raiders gained access to the walled town with the aid of a local woman who sympathised with the rebellion, letting a small party in via the Market Street gate at midnight. They were able to open the gate and allow a much larger party who set fire to the town and plundered its churches and homes leaving Abergavenny Castle intact. Market Street has been referred to as Traitors' Lane thereafter. In 1404 Abergavenny was declared its own nation by Ieuan ab Owain Glyndŵr, illegitimate son of Owain Glyndŵr. The arrangement lasted approximately two weeks.
At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1541 the priory's endowment went towards the foundation of a free grammar school, King Henry VIII Grammar School, the site itself passing to the Gunter family.
During the Civil War, prior to the siege of Raglan Castle in 1645, King Charles I visited Abergavenny and presided in person over the trial of Sir Trefor Williams, 1st Baronet of Llangibby, a Royalist who changed sides, and other Parliamentarians.
In 1639 Abergavenny received a charter of incorporation under the title of bailiff and burgesses. A charter with extended privileges was drafted in 1657, but appears never to have been enrolled or to have come into effect. Owing to the refusal of the chief officers of the corporation to take the oath of allegiance to William III in 1688, the charter was annulled, and the town subsequently declined in prosperity. Chapter 28 of the 1535 Act of Henry VIII, which provided that Monmouth, as county town, should return one burgess to Parliament, further stated that other ancient Monmouthshire boroughs were to contribute towards the payment of the member. In consequence of this clause Abergavenny on various occasions shared in the election, the last instance being in 1685.
Reference to a market at Abergavenny is found in a charter granted to the Prior by William de Braose (d. 1211). The right to hold two weekly markets and three yearly fairs, as held ever since, was confirmed in 1657. Abergavenny was celebrated for the production of Welsh flannel, and also for the manufacture, whilst the fashion prevailed, of goats' hair periwigs.
The title of Baron Abergavenny, in the Nevill family, dates from Edward Nevill, 3rd Baron Bergavenny (d. 1476), who was the youngest son of Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland by his second wife Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster. He married the heiress of Richard de Beauchamp, 1st Earl of Worcester, whose father had inherited the castle and estate of Abergavenny, and was summoned in 1392 to parliament as Lord Bergavenny. Edward Nevill was summoned to parliament with this title in 1450. His direct male descendants ended in 1387 in Henry Nevill, 6th Baron Bergavenny, but a cousin, Edward Nevill, 8th Baron Bergavenny (d. 1622), was confirmed in the Barony in 1604. From him it has descended continuously, through fifteen individuals, the title being increased to an Earldom in 1784; and in 1876 William Nevill [sic] 5th Earl (b. 1826), (d.1915) an indefatigable and powerful supporter of the Tory Party, was created 1st Marquess of Abergavenny.
Abergavenny railway station opened 2 January 1854 and is on the Welsh Marches Line.