Rhaiadr, Rhayader, or Rhayder - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
RHAIADR, RHAYADER, or RHAYDER, a borough, market-town, and parish, and the head of a union, in the hundred of Rhaiadr, county of Radnor, South Wales, 16 miles (W. N. W.) from New Radnor, 28 miles (W.) from Presteign, and 177 (W. N. W.) from London; containing 742 inhabitants. This place, the name of which signifies a cataract, is by the Welsh more commonly called "Rhaiadr Gwy," from its situation on the river Wye. The water of that stream, rushing with great violence over a ledge of rocks that obstructed its course, formed a cataract, the roar of which might be heard at a considerable distance, till, on the erection of a stone bridge at Rhaiadr in the year 1780, a wider channel was opened for the stream, by clearing away the opposing rocks; since which time it has passed on in comparative tranquillity. The town is evidently of great antiquity; but at what time it was first inhabited is not precisely known. According to Caradoc of Llancarvan, a castle was erected here, in 1178, by Rhŷs ab Grufydd, Prince of South Wales, for the protection of his territories against the incursions of the Norman invaders, who at that time were making frequent irruptions into this part of the country. In 1194, Rhŷs was surprised and made prisoner by his own sons, and, during his confinement, the castle of Rhaiadr was besieged by the sons of Cadwallon ab Madoc, lord of Maelienydd, who, having succeeded in obtaining possession of it, fortified it strongly for their own use. In 1231, Llewelyn, Prince of North Wales, after taking the castle of Montgomery, putting its garrison to the sword, and burning that town to the ground, advanced to this place, where he made similar devastations. Little further is recorded of the history of the castle, but it existed till the civil war in the reign of Charles I., during which it was first dismantled and afterwards totally demolished. By an act of the 27th of Henry VIII., the assizes for the county were appointed to be held alternately here and at New Radnor; but by a subsequent act of the same reign, they were ordered to be held alternately at New Radnor and at Presteign, in consequence of the inhabitants of this place having put the sheriff to death.
The town is situated on the eastern bank of the river Wye, and on the turnpike-roads leading respectively from Worcester, through New Radnor, to Aberystwith, and from Builth, in Brecknockshire, to Llanidloes in the county of Montgomery. It appears to have been originally of much greater extent than it is at present; for on Cevn Ceido is a tract of land, about half a mile from the town, called Pant yr Eglwys, where, according to tradition, the church formerly stood, and to which the borough is said to have extended. The present town consists of four streets, diverging at right angles from the markethouse in the centre, nearly in the direction of the cardinal points, from which they take their names. The houses are irregularly built, and mostly of rather mean appearance; though several respectable dwellings have been erected, and great improvements have been made in the town, within the last few years. Its inhabitants are supplied with water by rivulets, descending from a spring a little above, and flowing through the town, which stands on ground rising gently from the banks of the Wye, and surrounded on all sides by lofty, wild, and barren hills, occasionally relieved with patches of plantations on their declivities, and by spots of cultivated ground at their bases. A new road has been made to Aberystwith, and the inclosure of the waste land within the borough has added much to the prosperity of the town, which is considered to be in a very flourishing state. The principal market is on Wednesday, and a smaller one, chiefly for butchers' meat and other provisions, is held on Saturday: great cattle-markets take place on the four Wednesdays next after Old May-day (May 12th); and there are fairs on August 6th and 27th, September 26th, October 14th, and Dec. 23rd.
This place is a BOROUGH by prescription, and a bailiff is annually elected from among the resident burgesses at Michaelmas, at the court leet of the manor, which belongs to the crown; but he has no magisterial authority, and his power is confined to the receipt of tolls, under the authority of the bailiff of the borough of New Radnor. The burgesses are appointed by a town jury, and presented at the annual court leet; they have scarcely any other privilege than exemption from toll. Rhaiadr is one of the contributory boroughs which, with New Radnor, jointly return a member to parliament: the franchise was conferred by the 27th of Henry VIII., and confirmed by a determination of the House of Commons in 1690. The right of election was formerly vested in the burgesses generally, whether resident or not. It is now, by the act of 1832 for "Amending the Representation," in the old resident burgesses only, if duly registered according to its provisions; and in every 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 not less than ten pounds, provided he be capable of registering as the act directs. The number of tenements of this value within the limits of the borough, which in 1832 were extended, in order to include the village of Cwmtoyddwr, forming a suburb on the opposite bank of the Wye, is forty-five. The steward of the manor used to hold a court baron, once in every three weeks, for the recovery of debts under forty shillings. The powers of the county debt-court of Rhaiadr, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Rhaiadr. The townhall is a plain building, erected by public subscription in 1762, and situated in the centre of the town; the upper part contains rooms well adapted for holding courts, and underneath it is an area in which the market is held. The site of the ancient prison is now partly occupied by a dissenters' meeting-house; and the place for the execution of criminals, when the assizes were held here, was at the north end of the town, near a house called Pen-y-Maes. By the Boundary act, this was made one of the pollingplaces in the election of a knight for the shire.
Rhaiadr once formed part of the parish of Nantmel, from which it was severed, and erected into a parish of itself, co-extensive with the borough, about the year 1735, when the first churchwarden was appointed. The living is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £1000 royal bounty; net income, £75, with a glebe-house; patron, the Vicar of Nantmel. The church, dedicated to St. Clement, was rebuilt in 1733, and a low square embattled tower was added in 1783; the body consists of a nave and chancel. The edifice was thoroughly repaired in 1829, when a gallery, containing eighty free sittings, was erected at the west end by public subscription, aided by a grant of £30 from the Incorporated Society for building and enlarging churches and chapels. There are places of worship for Independents, Baptists, and Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists. A school which had been suffered to fall into disuse, was revived about the close of the last century, and a house adjoining the churchyard was erected at an expense of £88. 18., by public subscription, in 1793. The endowment arises from the rent of a tenement in Disserth, left by John Davies for a school in 1600, and now yielding £8 per annum; and from a rentcharge of £3 a year on lands in Rhaiadr parish, for teaching six poor children, to be chosen by the minister of the parish of St. Harmon. The master also receives some fees, from several scholars not on the foundation; and the Rev. Charles Price's valuable endowment was until lately received by the master: see Cwmtoyddwr. Previously to the establishment of the College of St. David's at Lampeter, in the county of Cardigan, candidates for holy orders were ordained from this institution. There are five Sunday schools.
The Rev. Henry Williams, in 1810, bequeathed £2000 in the three per cent. consolidated annuities, for the endowment of lectures in divinity, to be delivered in the parochial church by a clergyman appointed by the Chancellor and Scholars of the University of Oxford, preference being given to the nearest of kin to the founder; and the same gentleman left the interest of £200 in the same stock for the clerk. Mr. Williams was buried in the churchyard of the parish. A lending-library, consisting of a hundred and twenty volumes, chiefly on divinity, was given to the clergy of the district, in 1810, by the Associates of the late Dr. Bray. The poor-law union of which this town is the head, was formed October 10th, 1836, and comprises the following ten parishes; namely, Abbey-Cwm-Hîr, Cwmtoyddwr, St. Harmon, Kevenlleece, Llanbadarn-Vawr, Llanvihangel-Helygen, Llanyre, Nantmel, and Rhaiadr, in the county of Radnor; and Llanwrthwl, in the county of Brecknock. It is under the superintendence of sixteen guardians, and contains a population of 6722.
There are now no vestiges of the castle of Rhaiadr, except the fosse, which is partly filled up with fragments of rock: the site of the tower or citadel is indicated by a mount overlooking the river Wye, still called Tower Mount. The river, which on the west flowed immediately under its walls, was, by means of a deep trench cut in the solid rock, made upon cases of emergency to surround the fortress. Here was also a religious house belonging to the Dominicans, or Black friars, situated near the bridge, and which may probably have been a cell to the abbey of Strata-Florida, at no great distance, in the adjacent county of Cardigan. In the vicinity of the town are several cairns and barrows, the most remarkable of them being a small mound called Tommen Llansaintfraid, encircled by cottages, and said to have communicated, by means of a subterraneous passage, with the castle.