Penybont and District Local History Group Notes 3rd April 2017 at the Thomas Shop Main Topic: History of New Radnor Marion Evans

Geraint welcomed what he suspected was the entire population of New Radnor!

Derek mentioned that plans were well under way for the walk in July.

The Next Meeting on the 1st May will be in the Sale of the Penybont Hall Estate. Shirley, who will be giving the talk indicated that there is too much information to cover all three sales and that she will be concentrating on the 1919 sale.

Geraint mentioned two sad losses that had occurred recently in the Village.

One of our members, Marlene Carpenter died, our thoughts were with Chris.

Also tragically the Haslock family had lost, in a cycle accident abroad, Anna’s partner. A loss of ‘international’ significance, that has brought great sadness to the community. Anna had been one of the artists who had previously had premises within the Thomas Shop complex.

After a moment of reflection – we moved on to the Main Topic:

Marion Evans – “A History of New Radnor”

New Radnor a TOWN in Radnorshire!!! Barely a village, but because of its strategic importance, it has been understood to be a Town. Marion emphasised that she will talk on ‘A History …’ and not ‘The History ….’ As, within much of the writings, there is considerable supposition, much is still unknown, and many commonly written about facts, are clearly wrong.

The site of the Norman Castle is the most significant feature but the area and the fortifications were important long before the Normans arrived. The site overlooks the fertile Walton Basin that has, as we know from a previous talk, has a 7000 year history of agriculture and settlement. On the other side of the castle is the gap that leads into the Radnor Valley. New Radnor provided a strategic defensive position albeit that this was not the typical Welsh Hillfort site, New Radnor provided something different. Nothing much is left of the old fortifications but there was a dyke running along the line from the Vron Fram to Water Break It’s Neck Waterfall. It is unclear whether the dyke kept the ‘Welsh Out’ or the ‘English In’. Summergill Brook was another boundary which as its name suggests became an underground stream during the summer months.

Following the death of Hywel Dda in 948, and a settled period for most of Wales, his descendants fought over territory and New Radnor was destroyed in 991 AD.

Meredydd (ab Owain), grandson of Hywel, and Prince of North Wales, succeeded for a time in forcibly usurping the sovereignty both of South Wales and Powys, dispossessing of his territories his nephew Edwin (ab Eineon ab Owain), great-grandson of Hywel, who in his difficulties obtained the assistance of an English force. With the aid thus received, Edwin drove back Meredydd into his district of North Wales; but the latter recruited his forces with such rapidity that in the following year, 991, he invaded the possessions of Edwin, spoiled the district of Glamorgan, and destroyed the town of New Radnor.” http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-dict/wales/pp331-345

In 1064 a wooden castle is attributed to the Saxon, Harold. Following the defeat of Harold by William in 1066, William built many motte and bailey castles across the country with the biggest concentration along the Welsh Marches. As in other places it is likely that the Castle at New Radnor replaced existing fortifications. In earlier times there would probably have been a settlement under the Castle, the beginnings of New Radnor, or Maesyfed.

It remains unclear who built the Norman castle, or exactly when. It is understood that Philip de Braose, in 1095, had responsibility for the Castle. When Archbishop Baldwin and Giraldus Cambrensis were welcomed by Rhŷs ab Grufydd, Prince of South Wales, to start their Welsh campaign to recruit for the Crusades in 1188, they chose New Radnor as their starting point. This would suggest that there was a community of some standing at this time. Life in New Radnor itself however was about to become more turbulent as in 1194 Rhys, as above, was deprived of his land and territory by the Norman, Roger Mortimer. By 1196 Rhys had gathered an army together and took the Castle at New Radnor. Mortimer returned, but after a fierce battle, Rhys routed the Normans. Marion had visions of the people leaving their homes in Syria when she considered the ups and downs of life in Radnor over the next 80 years. In 1216 the Castle was destroyed by King John when  Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, Prince of North Wales, refused to support the King. By 1231 King Richard had left the Marches in the protectorate of Hubert de Burgh when Llewelyn attacked and destroyed Radnor Castle. The Castle was rebuilt in 1233 by Richard, Earl of Cornwall, but was again destroyed in 1263 when Llewelyn ab Grufydd, Prince of North Wales, and the two sons of the celebrated Simon de Montfort, attacked and destroyed the Castle. It was again rebuilt but its final demise came in 1401 when Owain Glyndwr sacked the Castle in an offensive that also saw the destruction of the Abbey at Cwm Hir. There are some references to a castle beyond this period but it seems likely the a decline in its fortunes seems to have followed Glyndwr’s visit and the brutal execution of 60 people who formed the Guard. In 1538 there was ‘not much of the Castle’.

The Town itself, largely thatched, was laid out in a grid pattern by the Normans as was typical of the medieval period. Other towns locally and further afield were built to the same system, including Ludlow and Cefn Llys. Marion had to confess that she had never thought she would settle in New Radnor, which she described as a ‘failed town’, with an ugly church and war memorial cross, despite its size. Despite these shortcomings New Radnor did become the ‘County Town of Radnorshire’ in 1536, albeit it was no bigger than it is now. It did however have a gatehouse that could be converted into a prison – having a prison does now seem to have been the key to New Radnor’s position within the Shire. In 1562 Queen Elizabeth granted the Borough status with 25 Burgesses within an area of 28,000 acres. Only the Burgesses had the vote at this time.

1645, when Prince Charles visited Bush Farm after the Battle. The poverty of food he found at the farm led him to rename it Beggar’s Bush. The story has its origins as related in: http://www.beggarsbush.org.uk/evanjobb-presteigne-powys-beggars-bush-1675/

The Diary of Sir Henry Slingsby (p.167-8):

“In our Quarters we had little accommodation:: but of the places we came to, the best at old Radnor, where the King lay  in a poor low Chamber, & my Lord Linsey & others by the kitchen fire on hay: no better were we accommodated for victuals; which makes me remember this passage; when the King was at supper eating a pullet and a piece of cheese the room outside was full, but the men’s stomachs empty for want of meat; the good wife troubled with continual calling upon her for victuals, and having it seems but the one cheese, comes into the room where the King was and very soberly asks if the King had done with the cheese, for the Gentlemen without desired it. But the best of it was, we never tarried long in one place, & therefore might the more willingly endure one nights hardship, in hopes the next night might be better” [spelling modernised].

In 1731 a new charter was granted to the Town albeit there were now only 7 Burgesses. The status of New Radnor was important not just to the inhabitants and particularly the Burgesses who could raise Taxes, but to the two MPs who were elected, one to represent the Town, and the other to represent the Borough. These MP’s were not from New Radnor, or even Radnorshire, but they lobbied to keep their positions right up to the 19th century. An analysis of these MP’s contribution to Parliament showed that nothing of importance was ever brought forward by these MP’s.

These Acts of Charter are summarised in:

http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-dict/wales/pp331-345

“The government is vested by the charter in twenty-five capital burgesses, who must be selected from burgesses resident within the borough. It is their duty to elect from among their own number, annually on the first Monday after the feast of the Holy Cross, a bailiff and two aldermen, who act as magistrates for two successive years. They also elect a recorder, who holds his office for life. There are thus seven magistrates, who preside both at the quarterly and the petty sessions, and act within the limits of the borough, to the exclusion of the county magistrates, in all matters, and with respect to all crimes and offences not punishable by death. They are assisted by a town-clerk, a coroner, two chamberlains, and two serjeants-at-mace; and are empowered to levy on all property situate within the limits of the borough a rate of the nature of a county rate, out of which the town-hall and gaol, the borough bridges, and all other lawful corporate expenses, are provided for. The charter requires them to hold a court weekly for the recovery of debts and the determination of pleas not exceeding 40s.: at this court the bailiff presides, assisted by the town-clerk. The petty-sessions are held every Monday.”

The general shift towards Presteigne being the Town responsible for Administration is also documented in this document:

“This borough returns a member to parliament in conjunction with the boroughs of Knighton, Rhaiadr, Cnwclas, and Kevenlleece, to which the town of Presteign with a large adjoining rural district was added by the act passed in 1832 to “Amend the Representation.” The right of election, heretofore vested in the burgesses generally, is now, by the act just mentioned, vested in the surviving members of the former constituency, if resident, and in every male person of full age occupying either as owner, or as tenant under the same landlord, a house or premises of the annual value of not less than £10. The number of voters within the limits of the borough of New Radnor, in 1847, was 137; and the total number of voters, including the contributory boroughs, 515.”

Kevenlleece, or as we know it Cefn Llys, became a ‘rotten Borough’ as in due course it had no Burgesses. New Radnor also failed as a Town and Borough. The early significance of its strategic position became less important and the Town simply failed to grow. In Radnorshire, Presteigne established itself through the Court, and Kington thrived as a market town just a few miles away. Kington did have 4 markets in the year including: Cattle, Horses, a Winberry Fair, and a Goose Fair; but these had gone by the end of the 19th century.

Marion related a story that has its origins around the Battle of Naseby, in

Moving towards the 19th/20th Centuries, as well as the Markets, Marion was able to tell us about the 5 pubs: The King’s Arms; The Oak; Ludlow Arms; The Eagle; and the Cross Inn. New Radnor was on the Drover’s route, and from one of our earlier talks the route from Strata Florida, through Abbeycmwhir, and on to Penybont, over the Radnor Forest down into Hereforshire by way of New Radnor.

In 1876 the trains did come to New Radnor on the Eardisley Line. The opening was described as a ‘massive’ event, with a roasted Ox luncheon at the Eagle, a band, and fireworks. The line was not however a success commercially and closed in 1951, even before Beeching could do the honours. It had been hoped that the line might extend to Aberystwyth but that never happened. The Railway Station became the Post Office following closure.

Turning her attention to the Monument, Marion had to confess that though she thinks it is fairly hideous, she has become more affectionate towards it as it now signals that she has arrived ‘home’. Extraordinarily it was built by ‘grateful subscription of the people’ following adverts in the London Times and was built in honour of The Right Honourable Sir George Cornewall Lewis Bt who had been Chancellor of the Exchequer (1855 -58) and Home Secretary (1859 – 1861)! (His father Sir Thomas Franklyn Lewis from Harpton Court had been MP for New Radnor and we referred to him in a previous talk on the Postal Service.) The original plan had been to site it on the mound in a prominent position, an awful thought!?

Having spoken out against the Monument, Marion dealt with the Church, which also offends her senses. Unlike Old Radnor Church that has been unchanged over the centuries, the Church in New Radnor was rebuilt.

The church was erected in 1843-45, ‘an extreme case of unsuitable rebuilding’ according to Haslam.” http://www.cpat.demon.co.uk/projects/longer/churches/radnor/16921.htm

So Marion is not the only one with reservations about the Church architecture!

The decline in facilities available within New Radnor is similar to many other rural small towns and villages, like Penybont. With only one shop, the Picture Framing business of Michael Capstick, and a mobile Post Office left, as well as the pubs mentioned above there were 6 or 7 shops, including, a dressmaker, grocer, butcher, bakery, forge, and a cycle shop. A feature of the village has been its musical links and through the Partingtons, and others, there was a connection with the Halle Orchestra that has led to free concerts, and while this may not be quite on a par with what it was in the past, the is still a musical tradition that persists.

Geraint contributed that in 1745 Welsh was still spoken in New Radnor but that by 1810 no Welsh was spoken.  As indicated above, and in previous records, there were some strong links  between Penybont and New Radnor when the Turnpike Roads were being developed at the beginning of the 19th Century. One of the former vicars of New Radnor, Dean Merryweather, was referred to by Geraint as ‘another doggy vicar’ – no other information given!

Geraint thanked Marion for yet another excellent talk.

The next meeting has already taken place whe Shirley Morgan gave a brilliant talk on the Sale of the Penybont Estate. So our very next session will be on Monday 5th June when Andy Johnson will be talking about Walks in Radnorshire.

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