Monmouth ( ; Welsh: Trefynwy meaning "town on the Monnow") is a traditional county town in Monmouthshire, Wales. It is situated where the River Monnow meets the River Wye, within of the border with England. The town is north-east of Cardiff, and west of London. It is within the Monmouthshire local authority, and the parliamentary constituency of Monmouth. According to the 2001 census, its population was 8,877.
The town was the site of a small Roman fort, Blestium, and became established after the Normans built a castle here after 1067. Its mediaeval stone gated bridge is the only one of its type remaining in Britain. The castle later came into the possession of the House of Lancaster, and was the birthplace of King Henry V in 1387. In 1536, it became the county town of Monmouthshire.
Monmouth later became a tourist centre at the heart of the Wye Valley, as well as a market town. It now acts as a shopping and service centre, and as a focus of educational and cultural activities, for its surrounding rural area, and is linked by the A40 road to the M4 motorway at Newport and the M50 at Ross-on-Wye.
Excavations undertaken by the Monmouth Archaeological Society on sites along Monnow Street have uncovered a wealth of information about the early history of the town. Indeed, the Council for British Archaeology have designated Monmouth as one of the top ten towns in Britain for archaeology.
The first known settlement at Monmouth was the small Roman fort of Blestium, one of a network of military bases established on the frontiers of the Roman occupation. This was connected by road to the larger Roman towns at Glevum (Gloucester) and Isca Augusta (Caerleon). Archaeologists have found Roman pottery and coins within the modern town centre. During the later Roman period, between the 2nd and late 4th centuries, it appears to have been a centre for iron working, using the local iron ores and charcoal also worked at nearby Gobannium (Abergavenny) and Ariconium (near Ross-on-Wye).
The Middle Ages
After the end of Roman rule in Britain, the area was at the southern edge of the Welsh kingdom of Ergyng. The only evidence of continuing settlement at Monmouth is a record of a 7th century church, at an unknown location within the town, dedicated to the Welsh saint Cadoc. In 1056, the area was devastated by the Welsh prince Gruffydd ap Llywelyn, on his way with an army of Welsh, Saxons and Danes to defeat Ralph, Earl of Hereford and sack the Saxon burh at Hereford, to the north.
Following the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the earldom of Hereford was given to William fitzOsbern of Breteuil, Normandy, one of King William's closest allies, who was responsible for defending the area against the Welsh. A new castle was built at Monmouth, holding commanding views over the surrounding area from a sound defensive site and exerting control over both river crossings and the area's important resources of farmland, timber and minerals. Initially it would have been a motte and bailey castle, later rebuilt in stone, and refortified and developed over time. A town grew up around it, and a Benedictine priory was established around 1075 by Withenoc, a Breton who became lord of Monmouth after Roger, the son of William fitzOsbern, was disgraced. The priory may have once been the residence of the monk Geoffrey of Monmouth, who was born around 1100 and is best known for writing the chronicle Historia Regum Britanniae ("History of the Kings of Britain").
The town was recorded in the Domesday Book, and expanded thereafter. There was early burgage development along Monnow Street, and the suburb of Overmonnow, west of the river, began to develop by the 12th century. Charters from the period refer to the town's trade in iron, and to forges making use of local ore and charcoal. The cinders produced by the forges formed heaps, and were used in building foundations; the name of Cinderhill Street in Overmonnow dates from this period.
During the period of turmoil between the supporters of King Henry III and the barons who sought to curtail his power, the town was the scene of a major battle in 1233, in which the king's forces were routed by the troops of Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke. Later, the castle was extended by Henry's son Edmund Crouchback, after he became Earl of Lancaster in 1267. In about 1300, town walls were built, and the bridge over the Monnow was fortified. The bridge, now pedestrianised, remains in place today, the only such fortified bridge in Britain and reputedly one of only three similar crossings in Europe.
King Edward II was briefly imprisoned at Monmouth Castle in 1326 after being overthrown by his wife Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer, the Earl of March. In the mid 14th century, the castle and town came into the possession of the House of Lancaster through the marriage of John of Gaunt to Blanche of Lancaster. John of Gaunt strengthened the castle, adding the Great Hall, and the castle became a favourite residence of the House of Lancaster. In 1387, John of Gaunt's grandson was born to Mary de Bohun, in the Queen's Chamber within the gatehouse of Monmouth Castle, while his father Henry Bolinbroke was hunting in the area. The boy was known as Henry of Monmouth before his coronation as Henry V; supported by longbowmen from the area, he won the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. Monmouth's links with Henry are commemorated in the naming of the main town square, Agincourt Square, and in the statue of Henry on the front of the Shire Hall.
From the 14th century onwards, the town became noted for the production of woollen Monmouth caps. However, as a border town, its prosperity suffered after nearby areas, including Usk and Grosmont, were devastated through attacks by supporters of Owain Glyndŵr around 1405, though Monmouth itself did not come under attack.
<imagemap> Image:Old map of Monmouth, Wales.jpg|thumb|right|400px|alt=1610 Map of Monmouth by John Speed, roll over the image to link to the places lifted|1610 Map of Monmouth by John Speed, roll over the map key to link to the places listed.
rect 60 34 192 62 Church of St Thomas the Martyr, Monmouth rect 58 161 193 193 Butcher's Rowe (now Church Street) rect 56 195 193 218 St Mary's Priory Church rect 448 26 745 93 Monmouth rect 222 140 359 157 Wye Bridge
desc bottom-left </imagemap> In 1536, Henry VIII imposed the Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542, abolishing the powers of the Marcher Lords and integrating the administration of England and Wales. A new shire was created covering the area west of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire, and Monmouth became its county town. The town gained representation in the English Parliament at the same time, and its priory was dissolved. In 1605, James I granted Monmouth a town charter by letters patent. The granting of the charter included the charge that the town "at all perpetual future times ... be and remain a town and borough of Peace and Quiet, to the example and terror of the wicked and reward of the good". The layout of the town as depicted in Speed's map of 1610 would be easily recognisable to present day inhabitants, with the layout of the main axis clearly visible from the castle via the main street, Monnow Street, to the bridge. Monnow Street is a typical market street, in being wide in the middle (for those selling) and narrow at each end, to help prevent livestock escaping.
Monmouth School was founded by William Jones in 1614. The castle changed hands three times during the English Civil War, and Oliver Cromwell passed through on his way to retaking Chepstow Castle and laying siege to Pembroke Castle in 1648. Monmouth castle was slighted after the wars ended, but the town itself grew in prosperity. Great Castle House, built in 1673, is now the home of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia), the oldest regiment in the British Army. The Shire Hall was built in 1724, and was used for the local Assizes, with the area beneath the building serving as the town market.
By the end of the 18th century, the town had become a popular centre for visitors undertaking the "Wye Tour", an excursion by boat through the scenic Wye Valley taking in the picturesque sights of Ross-on-Wye, Goodrich, Tintern, Chepstow and elsewhere. Poets William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, and Robert Southey, as well as painter J. M. W. Turner, were among those who visited the area.
The 19th and 20th centuries
The town was visited in 1802 by Admiral Horatio Nelson, who knew the importance of the area's woodland in providing timber for the British Navy and approved a Naval Temple built in his honour on the nearby Kymin Hill. In 1840, at Monmouth's Shire Hall, Chartist protesters John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones became the last men in Britain to be sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered after being found guilty of treason following riots in Newport that led to 20 deaths. The sentences were later commuted to transportation to Van Diemen's Land.
Until the establishment of an official police force in 1857, Monmouth had a parish constable assisted by beadles to keep law and order. The appointed constables held office for a year and were often men who had experience in other local government or community roles. William Fuller who held office as Monmouth's constable for over twenty years in the early to mid 19th century, also served as Inspector of Nuisances, Chief of the Fire Brigade, Inspector of Weights and Measures, Clerk of the Market, and Conservator of the Wye.
Fuller is also recorded as having rescued people from drowning, acted as emergency midwife, and rescued a woman from a flooded house. The types of crime that Fuller and subsequent police officers had to deal with in and around Monmouth as the century progressed were recorded in detail in the local newspapers, the Merlin and the Monmouthshire Beacon. These crimes included theft of livestock, clothing, food, valuables, fuel (wood and coal); assault; vandalism; highway robbery; fraud; passing counterfeit coin; prostitution, and indecent exposure, as well as the more serious crimes of concealing the death of an infant, carnal knowledge without consent, and murder. The constable would have been present in court at Shire Hall when many of these cases came before the Quarter Sessions or Assizes. Once the court had passed sentence there was a wide range of punishment available to the authorities. Capital offences were dealt with at Monmouth County Gaol as were whippings and sentences of hard labour. Although a police force of four constables and a sergeant was established in Monmouth in 1836, uncertain finances meant that within two years the force was reduced to just two constables.
Four railways were built to serve Monmouth between 1857 and 1883: the Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway, the Ross and Monmouth Railway, the Wye Valley Railway, and the Coleford Railway. All of these closed between 1917 and 1964.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Monmouth had close links with the Rolls family, who built a mansion at The Hendre just outside the town. In 1904, Charles Rolls established a new car making business with Henry Royce, but in 1910 he was killed in an aeroplane crash at the age of 32; he is commemorated by a statue in Agincourt Square. St Mary's Church contains a memorial to the men of who lost their lives in HMS Monmouth, which was sunk with all hands on 1 November 1914, by German cruisers SMS Scharnhorst and SMS Gneisenau off the Chilean Coast at the Battle of Coronel; the church hosts an annual service in remembrance. Seven Royal Navy ships have been named after the town, including a Type 23 frigate launched in 1991 which is still in operation.
Monmouth remained a relatively sedate and quiet small town for most of the 20th century; its passenger rail services ended in 1959, but its road connections greatly improved with the new A40 bypassing the town in 1966, and later connecting the town to the motorway system. These improved communications contributed to the development of the town, with suburbs extending beyond the rivers Wye and Monnow to the south-east, west and north of the old town centre.