Abergele (Aber-Gelau) - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
ABERGEsLE (ABER-GELAU), a markettown and parish, in the union of St. Asaph, hundred of Isdulas, county of Denbigh, North Wales, 12 miles (N. W.) from Denbigh, 20 (N. W.) from Ruthin, and 209 (N. W.) from London; containing 2661 inhabitants, of whom 945 are in the township of Abergele. This parish takes its name from its situation near the mouth of the river Geley. It is celebrated as the scene of several military exploits in the earlier period of the wars between England and Wales, and for various transactions of great historical interest. Prior to the Norman Conquest, Harold, in his attempt to subjugate this part of the principality, was encountered by Grufydd ab Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, on the plain near Cevn Ogo, in this parish, and, after a sanguinary battle, in which he was defeated, and a considerable number of his men slain, was driven back to Rhuddlan. In the reign of William the Conqueror, Hugh Lupus, on his march to invade the Isle of Anglesey, passing through the defile of Cevn Ogo, which is the narrowest pass on this part of the coast, was attacked by an armed band of Welshmen, which had been posted there to intercept his progress, and of which, after an obstinate and protracted battle, 1100 were left dead on the spot. In the reign of Henry II., Owain Gwynedd, Prince of North Wales, on his retreat from Flintshire, fortified himself in this pass, where he gave battle to the forces of that monarch, and repulsed them with great slaughter: after having secured this important post, he retreated to Pen-y-parc, in the adjoining parish, where he made a stand against the English forces, and effectually checked the further invasion of his dominions. Near the same pass, Richard II., whom Percy, Earl of Northumberland, under pretence of an amicable interview with Bolingbroke, had inveigled from Conway Castle, after his return from Ireland, was surrounded by a military band, bearing the Northumberland banner, and conducted to Flint Castle, where he was treacherously betrayed by the earl into the power of the usurper. From these circumstances it has been justly remarked, that on no spot in the principality has more blood been shed than in the defile of Cevn Ogo.
The Town is delightfully situated in a valley watered by the river Geley, on the great road from Chester to Holyhead, and within half a mile of the Irish sea, which forms the northern boundary of the parish. The coast, in some parts, is formed of sandy cliffs, impending over the sea, which, according to tradition, has made considerable encroachment upon the land; a stone tablet, in the north wall of the churchyard, records in Welsh, but without either name or date, that a man was buried there who lived three miles to the north, to which distance the coast previously extended. The testimony of this epitaph is corroborated by the appearance, at low water, of a large tract of hard loam, in which oak-trees have been found, in an almost entire state, but softened to the consistency of wax. The salubrity of the air, the pleasantness of its situation, and the decided superiority of its shore for sea-bathing, have rendered Abergele a favourite resort for invalids, and made it a most fashionable watering-place: during the summer season it is frequented by numerous families, for whose accommodation every requisite arrangement has been made. The environs abound with picturesque and with strikingly bold scenery, affording various interesting excursions. About half-way between the pass of Cevn Ogo and the town is Gwrych Castle, built by Lloyd H. Bamford Hesketh, Esq., and occupying the summit of a rocky eminence. The front of this extensive structure exceeds 480 yards, and has on each side a noble terrace, 420 yards in length, extending to the east and west entrances, the latter of which is through a lofty arch, flanked by two embattled towers. The building comprises altogether eighteen embattled towers, of which the principal, called Hesketh Tower, is ninety-three feet high. Mrs. Hemans, the poetess, resided at the former mansion of Gwrych, for a time, when a child; her father removing hither with his family from Liverpool. Lead and copper ores, tin, and manganese, are occasionally found in the parish, and many spirited attempts have been made, but without proportionate success, to discover veins of sufficient extent to remunerate the adventurers for working them: lead-ore only is obtained at present, and that but in small quantities. The fine range of mountains on the south of the town abounds with limestone, of which great quantities are procured, and shipped off weekly for Liverpool: 200 men are constantly employed in quarrying, and fifty horses in conveying the produce to the coast. The Chester and Holyhead railway, opened in 1848, has a station about half a mile distant from the town, and a good omnibus conveys passengers to and from the trains as they arrive. The market, held on Saturday, is well supplied with corn and provisions; and fairs, which were formerly noted for the sale of cattle, but have considerably declined, are held annually on the 12th of February, 2nd of April, the day before Holy Thursday, on June 18th, August 20th, October 9th, and December 6th.
The living is a discharged vicarage, rated in the king's books at £12. 9. 9¼.; patron, the Bishop of St. Asaph: the rectorial tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £1486. 17., and the vicarial for one of £489. 19., with a glebe-house and one acre of ground, valued at £15 per annum. The church, dedicated to St. Michael, is a low edifice of great length, and of unpretending character, with a lofty square tower at the west end. There are places of worship for Baptists, Independents, and Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists. A Church school, established in 1836, is supported by subscriptions, collections, and school-pence. It appears from a memorandum in the parish records, dated 1737, that Bishop Fleetwood gave £100, and Mrs. Carter a similar sum, for the establishment of a school. These gifts, it is supposed, ultimately came into the hands of the registrar of St. Asaph, who failed, and all that was recovered for the purpose out of his estate was £29, the interest of which, together with a rent-charge of 10s. bequeathed by Edward Hughes, is paid to the master of the Church school. In 1846 a school was established under Dr. Williams's endowment, from which the master receives £25 per annum, in addition to about £15 paid by the parents of the children; and in 1847 the rector of Kegidock, an adjoining parish, established a school at Penyford, in a cottage within the limits of the parish of Abergele. There are also six Sunday schools, three of them belonging to the Calvinistic Methodists, two to the Independents, and one to the Wesleyans. A dwelling-house and eight acres of land, called Penucha, now yielding only a rent of £7 per annum, were left by a former vicar, as compensation for £190 the amount of various bequests left for the benefit of the poor, which he had otherwise disposed of.
On the summit of one of the limestone hills, about a mile north of the church, is a very large and perfect camp, called Castell Mawr. Near it, on a hill called Coppayr Wylva, or "the mount of the watch-tower," are some remains of an ancient British fortress of great strength, of which the north front is defended by an almost perpendicular precipice, 196 feet in height, while on the east and south are walls of stone and a deep fosse; on the west is a large opening between two mounds of earth and stone, beyond which is another deeper and broader fosse, called Fôs-yRhuveiniaid, or "the Roman fosse." About two miles to the west of the town is Cevn Ogo, a lofty and precipitous rock of limestone, in which, among others of minor extent, is one of the most spacious and magnificent natural caverns in Europe. The cavern has a bold front towards the sea, considerably elevated, and the entrance, which is many feet above the road, is by an arch of comparatively fine proportions, forty-eight feet in height, within a very short distance of which, proceeding inward, rises a tall columnar rock, presenting the appearance of a rudely sculptured massive pillar, and dividing the cavern into two apartments. The recess to the left soon terminates, but that to the right spreads into a spacious chamber, thirty feet in height, and extending to an unexplored depth into the interior of the mountain. The sides and roof of this surprising cavern are studded with beautiful pendant stalactites, many feet in length, ranged on each side with an appearance of perfect order, resembling the pipes of an organ, and reflecting the most brilliant diamondlike hues; the floor is strewed with immense masses of stalagmite, uniformly of a deep orange colour, and of the most grotesque and fanciful forms. Br&ygrave;nfanigl, in the parish, was the residence of Marchudd ab Cynan, head of one of the fifteen ennobled tribes of North Wales, who was contemporary with Roderic the Great: it was subsequently that of his descendant, brave Ednyved Vychan.