history of monmouth

Monmouth grew at the confluence of the rivers Wye and Monnow which was a good defensive site. Being a border town, it has witnessed a long and sometimes turbulent history with the Welsh and English vying for supremacy in the area.
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Recent archaeological evidence has revealed that the Romans established a fort at Blestium (present day Monmouth) in circa 50 A.D. The find has resulted in the rewriting of history books, as the site is the earliest recorded Roman fort in Wales. The Romans smelted in the Cinderhill Street area of Monmouth. The next invaders in the region were the Normans from Normandy in France. In 1068, William Fitzosbern, Earl of Hereford, and childhood friend of the newly crowned William I, built a castle at Monmouth. Remains of the thirteenth century extensions to the original castle can still be viewed. Monmouth was a walled town, but little remains of the wall or the four defence gates. However, Norman remains may still be seen at St. Mary’s Church, and at St. Thomas’ Church.

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Monnow Bridge Gate built in 1272 spans the little river Monnow. This is a unique feature, and is the only fortified bridge left in Britain, and one of the few in Europe. The Normans were not only the conquerors, but also cultivated the religious life of the area. Monmouth Priory was built on the banks of the river Monnow, and monks were invited from Samur in France in the reign of William I (1066 – 1087) to settle there. Geoffrey of Monmouth was educated in the Priory in the early Twelfth Century.

Geoffrey was a brilliant scholar, and wrote a ‘History of the Kings of Britain’ and translated into English ‘Stories of King Arthur’ in 1134. Four hundred years later a window was dedicated to Geoffrey in the Priory which can still be seen. Underneath the projecting window, which is hexagonal in shape and is 8 feet by 6 feet, are three heads carved in stone – a monk, an angel and a priest.

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In 1387, the future Henry V was born in Monmouth Castle. Agincourt Square, in the centre of Monmouth, is named after him in memory of his famous victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. In the early Fifteenth Century, the Welsh Leader Owain Glyndwr fought a battle on the outskirts of Monmouth but was unsuccessful. However, the road leading to the rugby club bears his name, Glendower Street. I am sure he rests peacefully since Monmouth RFC is a member of the Welsh Rugby Union and not the RFU!!!!

Monmouth has a renowned public school (private school). In the early Seventeenth Century, William Jones, from Newland (which lies 5 miles over the border in the Forest of Dean) left the region to seek his fortune by pursuing the trade of a haberdasher in London. Jones prospered and on his death endowed a school for all boys in Monmouth in 1614. Originally, this was a free grammar school for all boys irrespective of wealth or social position. The endowment survived and in 1897 contributed to the establishment of Monmouth School for Girls. In 1903 the William Jones Endowed School was founded and now houses first year pupils and sixth formers at Monmouth Comprehensive School. During the English Civil War (1642 – 1649), Monmouth was visited by King Charles I. The town fell to the Parliamentarians and after the war the castle was slighted. On the sight of the old castle keep, the splendid Castle House was built in 1673. This magnificent house is now the regimental headquarters of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers. An annex to the house contains the fine Regimental Museum.

In 1724, the Shire Hall, which dominates the town square was built. Above the clock on the hall is the town’s coat of arms, a three-mast vessel under full sail. The rugby club adopted the same insignia for its club badge and is a reminder of the days when Monmouth was an inland port. In 1840, the Chartist leaders involved in the Newport Rising were tried at the Courtroom within the Shire Hall.
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The courtroom is still used today but for less serious offences. The rioters John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones were tried for treason. Their offence was that they had rioted to try to achieve universal manhood suffrage, payment of members of Parliament, a Secret Ballot and other democratic rights that we hold dear today. Many notable individuals have visited and have connections with Monmouth. Between 1777 – 1786, John Wesley, the famous Methodist preacher visited the town on numerous occasions. The Methodist Chapel built in 1837 remains as a place of worship. On August 19 th 1799, Lord Nelson visited Monmouth for the first time. He travelled to Monmouth by boat as the roads were merely rough tracks. Monmouth boasts the Nelson Museum which houses a fine collection of Nelson memorabilia.

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Charles Rolls was born at the Hendre near Monmouth. His taste for adventure resulted in him being a balloonist, motorist (founder of Rolls Royce Company) and aviator. Rolls was the first Englishman to fly over of the English Channel and back, non-stop. He was killed in a flying accident during an Air Display at Bournemouth in 1910. There is a fine statue of him, holding a model plane, in Agincourt Square.


For such a small town (circa 8500 people in 2001) Monmouth is steeped in history and is today a popular port of call for visitors to the beautiful Wye Valley.


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