Criccieth (Crûgcaith) - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
CRICCIETH (CRÛGCAITH), a borough and parish, formerly a market-town, in the union of Pwllheli, hundred of Eivionydd, Eivionydd division of the county of Carnarvon, North Wales, 5 miles (W. by s.) from Trêmadoc, the post-town, 18 miles (S.) from Carnarvon, and 240 (W. N. W.) from London; containing 811 inhabitants. This place, which is of considerable antiquity, is supposed by some to take its name from the shipwrecks that frequently occurred on this coast, one interpretation of the Welsh name being "the bitter cry," in allusion to that circumstance. Others derive the name from Crûg and Aith, "a pointed hill or mound," in allusion to the rock upon which the castle stands. At an early period Criccieth belonged to Ednyved Vychan, who was seventy-sixth in descent from Henwyn, Duke of Cornwall, and an ancestor in the ninth degree of Henry VII.; he was baron of Brynfanigl, lord of Criccieth, and chief councillor to Llewelyn the Great. He acquired an honourable name, possessing much influence among his countrymen, and is stated to have built a strong fortress here, which, having fallen into decay, was restored and enlarged by Edward I. This castle, during the wars between the Britons and the invading Saxons and Normans, formed one of the defences of the passage, over the sands called Traeth-Mawr, from the territory included in the present county of Merioneth into the country of Snowdon. About the year 1140, Grufydd ab Llewelyn, having been unjustly made prisoner by his brother Davydd, who afterwards succeeded to the sovereignty of North Wales, was imprisoned in it for a considerable time, and then delivered into the power of the English monarch, Henry III.
Edward I., having completed the subjugation of Wales, restored and strongly fortified the castle, appointing William de Leybourn governor or constable, with a salary of £100 per annum, out of which he was to maintain thirty stout men (ten of them crossbowmen), a chaplain, a surgeon, a carpenter, and a mason. Among its later governors was Sir Howel y Twgall, so called from his bearing the figure of a pole-axe upon his shield; who, having attended Edward the Black Prince on his continental expeditions, and meritoriously distinguished himself at the battle of Poictiers, was knighted by that prince, and appointed to the governorship of the castle, which he afterwards made his principal residence. The same prince constituted the town of Criccieth a free borough, and made the constable of the castle mayor, granting the burgesses the same privileges as were enjoyed by those of Rhôs Vair, now Newborough, or Newburgh, in the county of Anglesey. It is not known at what time the castle first fell into decay; but, in the 24th of Henry VIII., orders were issued to the constable to put it into thorough repair, at the king's cost; and that monarch, in the 35th year of his reign, conferred upon the burgesses the right of participating in the election of a representative for the borough of Carnarvon, to which the place consequently became a contributory borough.
Criccieth was a short time since only an inconsiderable village of mean appearance, but it has been much improved of late years, and contains some handsome houses, which, though much scattered, present a good appearance. From its contiguity to the shore of Cardigan bay, the situation is favourable for commerce; but only a few vessels touch here, bringing limestone and coal, and there is neither harbour, nor facility for unloading vessels: only a few fishing-boats belong to the town. The coast is very dangerous, and vessels are occasionally lost, though a pier might be made at a trifling expense, the promontory projecting into the sea already forming part of a natural basin. The area of the parish is 1474 acres. The market, which was on Wednesday, has been disused for several centuries; but three fairs, chiefly for horses and cattle, are held annually on May 23rd, June 29th, and October 22nd.
The affairs of the CORPORATION are regulated by a charter granted by Edward I. in the 13th year of his reign, dated at Cardigan, which bestows certain liberties at length, and refers to those of the city of Hereford, giving to the burgesses of Criccieth exemption from toll throughout the whole of England, and ordaining that the constable of the castle should be always mayor of the town. This charter was afterwards confirmed by the crown at various periods, including the 12th year of Richard II., the time of Henry V. when Prince of Wales, the 3rd of Henry VI., and the 9th of Henry VIII. The style of the corporation is, "the Mayor, Bailiffs, and Burgesses of the borough of Criccieth, in the county of Carnarvon;" and the government is vested in a mayor, deputy mayor, two bailiffs, a recorder, and a serjeantat-mace; but the duties annexed to these offices are of a very trifling description, and the emoluments consequently insignificant. The office of mayor is held by William Ormsby Gore, Esq., of Porkington, in right of his wife, whose family (named Owen) have for a long period held the hereditary office of constable of the castle, and whose ancestor, Ievan ab Meredith, is said to have been mayor in the reign of Henry IV. The bailiffs are elected annually on Michaelmas-day by the burgesses, and are in receipt of some small sums arising from a field containing about two acres, let for 22s. 6d. a year, and a house let for 20s.: the recorder, who is appointed during pleasure, and the serjeant-at-mace, have, like the mayor, no income. The corporation possess a common of thirty-two acres, and also the castle hill, the former of which at one time appertained to certain persons paying quit-rents to the crown in respect of tenements within the borough, but is now open as general pasture ground to all who reside within the liberties, and is of great advantage to the poorer inhabitants.
Criccieth is one of the boroughs contributory to Carnarvon, in the return of a member to parliament. The right of election was formerly in the burgesses generally, but is now, by the act of 1832, for "Amending the Representation of the People," vested in the old resident burgesses only, if duly registered according to the provisions of the act, and in every male person of full age occupying, either as owner, or as tenant under the same landlord, a house or other premises of the annual value of £10 and upwards, provided he be capable of registering as the act directs. The number of houses of this value, situated within the limits of the borough, which comprise an area of 470 acres, and were not altered by the late boundary act, is only fourteen. The freedom is obtained only by gift of the corporation. The charter empowers the corporation to hold courts of session for petty offences arising within the borough, but it does not appear that they have ever exercised that privilege: they hold a borough court annually, at which the bailiffs are chosen and the borough officers sworn in; and they have power to hold a court of requests for the recovery of debts, but no court has been held for many years. The county magistrates used to hold petty-sessions here once a month, but they are now removed to Trêmadoc.
The LIVING is a discharged rectory, with the perpetual curacies of Trêvlys and Ynyscynhaiarn annexed, rated in the king's books at £13. 8. 11½.; present net income, £349, with a glebe-house; patron, the Bishop of Bangor. The tithes of Criccieth have been commuted for a rent-charge of £129. 18., and there is a glebe of about two acres, which, with the appendages, is valued at £15 per annum. The church, dedicated to St. Catherine, is a spacious structure, partly in the later style of English architecture, consisting of a nave, chancel, and south aisle: in the east window are some portions of stained glass, and both internally and externally the building exhibits some good details. In this church were buried Robert Ellis, Groom of the Privy Chamber to Charles II., and many of the Ellises of Ystumllyn; also the Rev. David Ellis, A.M., rector of the parish, who was a celebrated Welsh bard and critic. There are places of worship for Baptists and Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists. The Rev. David Ellis gave £200, directing the interest to be appropriated to the payment of a schoolmaster, to teach all the poor children of the parishes of Criccieth, Trêvlys, and Ynyscynhaiarn, to read in the Welsh language, from Easter to October, yearly; admitting no children but those of regular communicants of the Church of England. The school is at present held throughout the year, and the children who are admitted, few in number, are taught English as well as Welsh, in a cottage rented for the purpose. It has been the practice to hold the school sometimes in Criccieth, at other times in Ynyscynhaiarn. The endowment is secured by a mortgage on a farm in Bottwnog parish, for which £8 per annum interest is paid to the master, the remainder of his salary being made up by subscription, and by fees from some of the scholars. There is a Sunday school in the town, connected with the Calvinistic Methodists. Two cottages with small gardens are in the possession of the parish, arising from a bequest of £50 by Mrs. Jones, of Clenneny, with which they were purchased.
The castle occupies the summit of a conical hill projecting into the sea, and overlooking the northern expanse of the bay of Cardigan; the rock is precipitous on all sides, and connected with the main land only by a narrow isthmus, which for greater security was intersected by a double fosse and vallum. The remains consist of two round towers, square within, which guarded or defended the entrance, and are supposed to have assumed their external form during the repairs by Edward I., when they were probably cased with stone; also a gateway; some fragments of wall, inclosing an area of irregular form; and the foundations of two square towers. Though a fortress of much importance from its commanding situation, it does not appear to have been of very great extent. There are several old mansions in the parish, including Ystumllyn, formerly the residence of the Wynnes, descended from Collwyn ab Tango, one of the fifteen tribes; and Parkia, the residence of the Anwyls, descended from Owain Gwynedd, Prince of North Wales.