Crickhowel (Crûg-Hywel) - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
CRICKHOWEL (CRÛG-HYWEL), a market-town and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Crickhowel, county of Brecknock, South Wales, on the high road from London to Milford Haven, 13 miles (S. E.) from Brecknock, and 153 (W. by N.) from London; containing 1257 inhabitants. This place derives its name from an ancient British fortress, called Crûg Hywel, situated at the distance of about two miles to the north-northeast of it, and which was of great strength and importance. In the reign of William II., Bernard de Newmarch, having wrested the province of Brycheiniog (now Brecknock) from Bleddyn, son of Maenyrch, the native sovereign, divided it among the Norman knights that were associated with him in the expedition, of whom Sir Humphrey de Bourghil received a grant of the manor of Crickhowel, to be holden by the service of one knight's fee, as of the paramount lordship of Blaenllynvi and Dinas, which Bernard retained for himself. The manor continued in the possession of this family for some generations, and afterwards passed to the Turbervilles, descended from Sir Payne de Turberville, to whom Robert Fitz-Hamon had granted the lordship of Coyty, in Glamorganshire. In 1172, Crickhowel Castle was stormed, and its garrison made prisoners, by Sitsyllt ab Ririd, a chieftain of Monmouthshire.
Sir Edmund Turberville is mentioned as lord of Crickhowel in the latter part of the reign of Richard I., and in that of King John, whom he is stated to have served in the wars in France. His grandson, Hugh de Turberville, adhered to Henry III., in opposition to the disaffected barons. In the reign of Edward I., Sir Hugh, assisted by Sir Grimbald de Pauncefote and Sir Roger de Bredwardine, raised troops in Wales for the king's service; to the former of these knights Sir Hugh gave his daughter Sybil, with his Brecknock estates, in marriage, and to the latter he assigned the mesne manor of Gwernvale, and other estates in Crickhowel. Sir Grimbald, in the fourth year of that reign, obtained from the king the grant of a weekly market and an annual fair on the 12th of May, to be held at this town; and the grant was confirmed by Henry IV. to his descendant, Sir John de Pauncefote, with the additional privilege of free warren within the manor. Henry IV., in 1403, during the insurrectionary proceedings of Owain Glyndwr, issued especial orders to Sir John to fortify and defend his castle here against the threatened attack of that daring chieftain, by whom it was ultimately demolished, with many others in this part of the country. In the war between the houses of York and Lancaster, the Pauncefotes were staunch supporters of the latter, and suffered greatly for their adherence to the cause. Hugh de Pauncefote, in the 23rd of Henry VI., settled upon that monarch and his heirs, by indenture, the reversion of this manor, in failure of issue of his own family; which ensuing, the name henceforward ceases to occur in connexion with the place.
From a document among the patent rolls in the Tower, it appears that the barony of Blaenllynvi and Dinas, of which this manor was held by tenure of knight's service, was in the possession, jure uxoris, of Richard, Duke of York, who had espoused Anne, sister of Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March, in whose family it had for some time been vested. Edward IV., grandson of Duke Richard, and the lawful inheritor of the estate, soon after his accession to the throne, granted the manors of Crickhowel and Trêtower to his friend and favourite, Sir William Herbert, of Raglan Castle, Knt., whom he afterwards created Earl of Pembroke, which title, at the request of the king, was given up, in exchange for the earldom of Huntingdon by Sir William's son and successor. The only daughter and heiress of the lastnamed nobleman, the Lady Elizabeth Herbert, conveyed these estates by marriage to Sir Charles Somerset, Knt., afterwards Earl of Worcester, from whom, by lineal descent, they have been transmitted to their present noble owner, the Duke of Beaufort.
The town is beautifully situated on the northeastern bank of the Usk, upon a declivity sloping gently to the river, over which is a bridge of thirteen arches of various dimensions, built of dark-coloured stone, and partially mantled with ivy, the whole being remarkably picturesque in appearance. It is irregularly built, but is inhabited by numerous respectable families, and is greatly resorted to, during the season, by anglers, for trout-fishing in the river Usk, which also abounds with salmon. The population of the parish has rapidly increased since the census of 1831, and more than 100 houses have been built. The environs, within a narrow compass, are strikingly beautiful, presenting a highly pleasing and luxuriant prospect of a richly cultivated vale, watered by the Usk, and, together with the sloping grounds, adorned with numerous elegant seats, genteel residences, farmhouses, and cottages. The line of the horizon is rendered irregular by the picturesque forms of the surrounding mountains; the vast Breannog, rising suddenly on the northern side of the vale, shelters it from the cold winds, and on the south the bold escarpment of the Darren, overlooking the little village of Llangattock, forms an agreeable contrast with the cultivated lands beneath. The steep, but the well-wooded, declivity of Craig Llanwenarth, descending from the pointed Sugar Loaf, with the apparently opposite connexion of the Blorenge mountain, shuts out towards the east the view of the lower lands of Monmouthshire surrounding Abergavenny: while the verdant Myarth, with a chain of other eminences, terminates the prospect to the west.
Crickhowel had formerly two trading companies, the Clothiers' and the Shoemakers', the wardens and officers of which had each a handsome pew in the old church, decorated with their respective emblems of trade, carved in oak. Dr. Smollett, in his novel of "Humphrey Clinker," mentions the Crickhowel flannels; but the manufacture has been entirely discontinued: there is still, however, some business done in the making of shoes. The neighbouring mountains contain mines of iron-ore and coal, and there are several tramways connected with the works. On the banks of the river, at a short distance from the town, are some paper-mills. The Brecknock and Abergavenny canal passes at the distance of about a mile, affording a direct communication with Bristol: lime and coal, the produce of the neighbourhood, together with timber, iron, and grocery, are the principal articles conveyed along it. The market is on Thursday; and fairs are held on February 1st, April 13th, May 12th, September 24th, and November 6th, of which that in May is the greatest. The market-house, the upper part of which is used as the town-hall, is an incommodious building, inconveniently situated in the middle of the High-street, adjoining the turnpike-road.
Prior to the union of Wales with England, Crickhowel was one of the marcher territories, subordinate to the paramount lordship of Blaenllynvi, and was comprehended within the district of the Lower Ystradwy, or, more properly, Ystrad Iw. On the abolition of the independent jurisdiction of the lords marcher, in the 27th of Henry VIII., it was consolidated with the county of Brecknock, and constituted the head of a hundred. The ancient name of Ystradwy is now lost, except in that part of the parish of Llanbedr which is called Llanbedr-Ystradwy. The Norman conquerors of lands in Wales, on introducing the feudal system of tenure, usually conceded to the natives many of their local customs. With this view, they had two courts, one called Englischevia, and the other Welschria; the former comprehending the freeholders, and the latter the customary tenants of the manor. The freeholders, for the most part, held their lands by military, or knight's, service, though a few were permitted to hold in socage; the customary tenants were originally the native peasantry of the country, who, having been despoiled of all real property, were allowed to hold small tenements by certain base services, or personal labour, for the benefit of the lord. These were at first rendered in kind, but afterwards commuted for money payments, still known by the name of Cymmorth rents, or rents in lieu of aid. On divesting the marcher lordships of their exclusive jurisdiction, and bringing them under the authority of the common law of the land, certain privileges were continued to the proprietors. Thus, the Duke of Beaufort, as lord of the manor of Crickhowel, appoints a coroner for the hundred, and holds a court leet twice a year, and a court baron every three weeks, for the manor. He also annually appoints a bailiff for the town, which is a borough by prescription, though the office is now merely nominal, its duties being confined to collecting the manorial chief-rents. Two aldermen, likewise, were formerly elected for the borough, but this privilege has not for some time been exercised. The lords of the manors of Crickhowel and Trêtower have also claimed and exercised the right of executing, by their bailiffs, within the limits of these liberties respectively, all the king's writs, that of Non omittas alone excepted. The county magistrates hold a petty-session every Thursday in the town-hall, for the transaction of business relative to the hundred; and one of the four small-debt courts in the county has been fixed in this town, with jurisdiction over the registration-district of Crickhowel.
The parish comprises about 2000 acres, of which 800 are common or waste land. It is divided into two hamlets, the borough hamlet and the country hamlet, each having its churchwarden, but not possessing separate jurisdiction, the assessments being levied upon the whole. Crickhowel was formerly a chapelry within the parish of Llangattock, the rectors of which received one-third of its tithes, but was made distinct by Lady Sybil de Pauncefote, relict of Sir Grimbald, by whom the portion of the tithes above-mentioned was settled on the rector of Crickhowel parish. The living is now a discharged vicarage, rated in the king's books at £3. 17. 8½., endowed with £200 private benefaction, and £200 royal bounty, and in the patronage of the rector; net income, £120. The rectory is a sinecure, rated at £5. 9. 9½., and in the patronage of the Duke of Beaufort, as lay impropriator of a certain remaining portion of the tithes of the parish, which is rated at £4. 14. 7. The vicar receives two parts, the rector four parts, and his grace three parts, of the great and small tithes. The rectorial tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £100. 13., with a glebe of about two acres, valued at £4. 10. per annum; and the vicarial tithes for one of £50. 6. 6., with a glebe of three roods, valued with appendages at £5 per annum: there is also an allotment for the sexton, consisting of the clear yearly tenths of certain lands specified, within the parish. In a terrier of buildings and lands belonging to the rectory and vicarage, taken August 1st, 1720, it is stated that "one vicarage-house, above sixty years ago (i. e. before 1660) converted into a barn, with one plot of ground, about a quarter of an acre, and garden thereunto belonging," were then "in the possession of Anthony Prichard, vicar." A house erected of late years on this site, has been enlarged and converted into a parsonage, through the exertions of the vicar, the Rev. John Evans.
The church, dedicated to St. Edmund the King and Martyr, was founded and endowed by the munificence of Lady Sybil de Pauncefote, and consecrated in 1303 by David de Sancto Edmundo, Bishop of St. David's. It was originally much larger than at present, but having been found upon examination to be in a very dilapidated condition, a faculty was obtained in the year 1765, enabling the churchwardens to take down the two aisles, and apply the materials in repairing the remainder. It was thus made to consist of a nave, chancel, and two transepts, with a tower rising from the intersection of the nave with the transepts, containing five bells, and surmounted by a shingled spire, the only one in the county. To afford accommodation for the increased population of the parish, a new aisle was built on the south side of the nave, in 1830, by voluntary subscription, raised among the inhabitants as an equivalent for pews, aided by a grant from the Incorporated Society for building and enlarging Churches and Chapels. This additional portion contains 150 sittings, half of which are free, and this is the first known instance of increased accommodation being added to a church by the equitable mode of allowing those who want seats to purchase and annex them in perpetuity to their houses. More recently, some judicious restorations have been effected, including the removal of a low ceiling erected in the nave in the last century. The south transept, called the Rumsey Chapel, was formerly a chantry pendant to the estate of a family of that name in the parish, though erected and endowed prior to their connexion with the place: but the exclusive right has long been forfeited by the owners, from neglect in performing the necessary repairs. The north transept, called the Gwernvale Chapel, was also a chantry belonging to the Gwernvale estate, the proprietor of which still repairs it, and supports his claim to exclusive possession. The chancel is long, narrow, and much lower than the remainder of the building: in each of the side walls are two low arched recesses, probably intended by the foundress as burial-places for the family, two of them having been used for that purpose. Within the upper recess on the south, upon a low altar-tomb, is the mutilated effigy of a knight, in a recumbent posture, cross-legged, and clad in chain mail, having a sword hanging from a belt, and upon the left arm a shield, bearing the device of three lions rampant, the armorial ensign of the Pauncefotes; the inscription is almost entirely defaced, but the tomb is probably that of Sir Grimbald de Pauncefote, husband of the foundress. Lady Sybil herself is supposed to lie interred beneath the opposite arch, where is a low tomb, supporting a recumbent figure of a lady, habited in ancient costume. The interments were made from the outside, as appears from the worked stone facing of the walls at the back of the arches, the want of which behind the other two is considered a proof of their never having been occupied. Projecting into the chancel, near the communion-table, is a large and handsome monument of black and white marble, inclosed by an iron railing, supporting the well-executed effigy, in alabaster, of Sir John Herbert, of San-y-Castell, near this town, who died May 10th, 1666, and his lady Joan, who died some years after. The knight is represented in a reclining posture, with flowing hair, clothed in plate armour, with a truncheon in his right hand, and a helmet at his feet. His lady, richly habited, is recumbent on a quilted mattress, having the head supported upon an embroidered pillow, with tassels at the corners, and holding a small book in her hand. The inscription states that the monument was erected, in 1690, by Elizabeth, wife of Wm. Le Hunt, serjeant-at-law, son of Sir John Le Hunt, of Middleton, in the county of Warwick, Knt.; and upon the east end of the monument are sculptured the figures of a man habited as a serjeant-at-law, the head broken off, and of a female, both kneeling, dated 1703, and 1694. In addition to these, are some neat mural tablets, of minor interest. There are places of worship in the parish for Calvinistic Methodists, Wesleyans, and Baptists.
Two day and Sunday schools, one for boys and the other for girls, are maintained in connexion with the Church of England. For these, two schoolrooms were erected on the site of the ancient vicaragehouse, upon the plot of glebe belonging to the vicarage, at the expense of a late vicar, the Rev. George Jones Bevan, who distinguished himself as the author of some valuable tracts and essays. This schoolhouse, however, as already observed, has been converted into a parsonage-house, and the schools are now held in two other rooms built for the purpose. An infants' school is also supported, and the dissenters have three Sunday schools. John Williams bequeathed a rent-charge of £3 on land called "Ton Glebe," one moiety to be paid on the 29th of September, and the other on the 22nd of December, to two of the most indigent of the poor in the town and parish. A similar bequest of 15s. per annum for the benefit of poor widows and orphans, by Jane Edwards, in 1743, was declared void under the provisions of the Mortmain Act. The poor-law union of which this town is the head, was formed Oct. 6th, 1836, and comprises the ten following parishes and townships; Crickhowel, Grwyne Vawr, Grwyne Vechan, Llanbedr or Llanbedr-Ystradwy, Llanelly, Llangattock, Llangeney, Llangynider, Llanvihangel (or St. Michael) Cwm dû, and Patrishow. It is under the superintendence of sixteen guardians, and contains a population of 17,666.
The Castle and its precincts comprised a space of about eight acres, encompassed by roads, and terminating in a point upon the road to Abergavenny, on the south-eastern side of the town: the lower portion of this area is now occupied by houses, erected within the last few years. The structure itself, with its bailey within the walls, included a surface of two acres, one rood, and fourteen perches: the remains are small, and destitute of picturesque attraction. The mount, vulgarly called the "Castle Tump," commands a fine view of the beauties of the vale both above and below; it was the site of the keep, or donjon, a lofty square building four stories high, the vaults of which are, no doubt, still entire beneath the present mount. About a mile and a half from the town stood the "baptismal and parochial chapel" of St. Mary, still known by its Welsh name, Llanvair, or "Mary-church." That its erection was of a date long prior to that of the present parochial church of St. Edmund is certain, from the report of Giraldus Cambrensis, in the reign of Henry II. He states that he himself, as archdeacon of Brecknock, was cited to appear in capellâ Sanctæ Mariæ de Crucohel, to answer certain interrogatories to be proposed to him by the priors of Llanthony and Brecknock, respecting a fine imposed upon him, but not paid, at the suit of the archbishop of Canterbury, with whom he had been at issue. Having long since fallen into lay hands, it was used, until within the last five and thirty years, as a barn; it was then taken down, and a new farm-building erected upon the spot, so that the name is now the only vestige of the ancient structure. A neighbouring field, called Cae Crochenydd, or "the potter's field," is said by tradition to have been the place of interment for strangers who died within the parish. The principal relic of more remote antiquity situated near Crickhowel is the fortification of Crûg Howel, or "Howel's mount," occupying a conspicuous situation upon a bold knoll of the Breannog mountain, rising to the north of the town. Leland notices it as Cragus Hoelinus, and in an old survey of the manor it is called Cae Crûgiau, or "the mounded inclosure;" the present English inhabitants call it the Table Hill. It is of an irregular triangular form, and slopes gently from the north-western angle, which is very acute: a rampart of loose stones surrounds the area, which comprises a space of 1160 feet within the inner circumference. Towards the vale, the descent is precipitous; the only entrance being from the north, whence a steep narrow way, called Cevnfordd, or "the ridgeway," communicates with the mountain, a bold projection of which, overlooking the fortress, is called Disgwylva, the "look out," or "watching-place;" and upon the summit is the beacon, a high conical heap of stones. The great Roman road denominated by Sir R. C. Hoare the Via Julia Montana, leading from the celebrated Silurian station of Caerleon, by the station near Brecknock, to Maridunum, now Carmarthen, passed through this parish, by the foot of the Breannog mountain; and in a field adjoining the old chapel of Llanvair is a high artificial mound, supposed by some to have been the site of a Roman arx speculatoria, or watch-tower. Near Gwernvale stood a fine British cromlech, which was destroyed not many years ago, for the purpose of ascertaining what lay beneath it. In the parish is a maen hîr, or "long stone," and many more are to be seen in the vicinity, respecting which there is a variety of opinions, some supposing them to have been sepulchral, others simply commemorative, and others again the mere boundary marks of a territory, or district. By the side of the road leading towards Brecknock stands an old gateway, called Porth Mawr, or the "great gate," through the opening of which is a most delightful prospect of the vale and the river Usk. This relic has erroneously been regarded as having formed an appendage to the castle, with which it is stated to have had a subterraneous communication. It was, in fact, the entrance to a mansion called Cwrt Carw, or "Stag's Court," erected in the reign of Henry VII., by a member of the Herbert family: the old house, which is said to have been defended by its owner against a body of the parliamentarian troops under Cromwell, has long since been demolished. The estate upon which the gateway is situated is now the property of Edward William Seymour, Esq., who resides there. Not far from the northern road between Crickhowel and Llanbedr is a stone with a very early inscription, noticed under the head of Llangeney.
At the distance of half a mile from the town stands Gwernvale House, the handsome seat of John Gwynne, Esq., built about the commencement of the present century, by Tristram Everest, Esq. The more ancient mansion of the same name is situated on the hill behind it, and is now the property of Joseph Bailey, Esq. In old writings this estate is designated "Moelmore, alias Gwernvald," and the mesne manor to which it belongs still bears that name: it is now indiscriminately called Gwernvale, or Wernvale, a term which the late Archdeacon Payne ingeniously conjectures to be a corruption of Tir Wronon Voel, "the land of Wronon the Bald," since, from an ancient deed, the place appears to have belonged in the 11th of Edward II. to Wronon, surnamed Voel, or "the Bald," and styled Comportionarius Ecclesiæ Beati Edmundi de Crûghoel. In the year 1668, the estate was purchased by Sir Henry Proger, Knt., a branch of the Gwernddû family in Monmouthshire, who, being a staunch royalist, retired during the usurpation of Cromwell, with his exiled sovereign into France, accompanied by his brothers James, Valentine, and Edward, all of whom served Charles with exemplary fidelity, and even in some instances with culpable zeal. Henry and Valentine are reported to have been personally concerned in the assassination of Ascham, the parliamentarian envoy at the court of Madrid, who was murdered in the open day at his own house. The former, after the Restoration, received the honour of knighthood from the king, who appointed him one of the gentlemen of the privy chamber: he left one son, Charles, a lieutenant-colonel in the Foot Guards, who sold the Gwernvale estate to his uncle, Edward Proger, of Hampton Court. This latter gentleman was appointed, early in life, page of honour to Charles I., and, by the king's command, sworn groom of the bedchamber to his son, then Prince of Wales, at Paris. Throughout the rest of that monarch's reign, his unbounded fidelity to his royal master sustained no diminution, personally attending him in all the vicissitudes of his fortune; and the affection with which the king regarded him, and the estimation in which he was also held by some of the most distinguished royalists, are evinced by the correspondence that he maintained with them. Several letters to him from the king himself, from Prince Rupert, the Duke of Hamilton, the Marquess of Montrose, Lord Cottington, and others, were, in their several autographs, in the possession of the late Archdeacon Payne, who had other curious documents relating to Mr. Proger, besides an original portrait of him by Sir Peter Lely, purchased at a sale of property at Gwernvale, in 1789, and a good painting of his eldest brother, Sir Henry, by Cornelius Jansen. In the year 1650 he was with the young king in Scotland, but, with several other noblemen and private gentlemen, was banished thence by a mandate of the estates of parliament, "as an evil instrument and bad counsellor of His Majesty's late father and himself." Still, however, he retained the good opinion of the king, who in the same year rewarded his services by a grant of 2000 acres of land in Virginia; but from this he derived no real benefit, owing to Charles's inability to enforce the grant, and his neglecting to confirm it after the Restoration. Lord Orford informs us that Mr. Proger received permission of the king to erect a house in Bushy Park, near Hampton Court, of which he had been appointed keeper, on condition that at his death it should lapse to the crown. After representing this county in parliament for seventeen years, he at length declined a contest, and withdrew into retirement, in 1679; and, upon the death of Charles II., resigned all public business. He lived for several years after in depressed circumstances, notwithstanding the services he had rendered to two successive monarchs; and died at the advanced age of ninetytwo, on the last day of December, 1713. By his wife Elizabeth he had a numerous offspring, of whom only three daughters survived: the eldest of these, named Philippa, upon the partition of property which took place after his death, obtained the estate of Gwernvale, which she bequeathed to her husband, Dr. Samuel Croxal, a man of considerable literary attainments, and holding good preferment in the church, who died in 1751, leaving it to a relative, Mrs. Hester Bailiss, with remainder to her niece, married to Mr. John Newby, who soon sold it to Mr. Everest, its late proprietor.
As distinguished residents of Crickhowel may be noticed the late Rev. Henry Thomas Payne, archdeacon of Carmarthen, &c., a well-known philologist, antiquary, and topographer; and Sir William Ouseley, the eminent orientalist, who published three large volumes of travels in the East.