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Bradshaw’s Guide

Bridge over the Monnow, Monmouth, Wales. Taken between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900. Original: Library of Congress


Monmouth, the capital of Monmouthshire, is on a delightful part of the Wye, at the junction of the Monnow, a parliamentary borough, returning one member, conjointly with Newport and Usk, with an agricultural population of 5,783, which is rather on the decrease; but this will no doubt be augmented by the recent opening of the railway from Pontypool. It was the ancient Blestium, from which a Roman road, in the direction of the present one went to Usk. There was a castle here, even in Saxon times which afterwards became the residence of Henry IV., and here, in 1387, his famous son, Henry V. was born — ”Harry of Monmouth” — the immortal Prince Hal of Shakspeare.

The few remains of this castle (which belongs to the Duke of Beaufort), stand among houses on a ridge over the Monnow, to the west near the gaol, the walls being 6 to 10 feet thick. Here is shown the room in which Henry was born, and the great hall by the side of it. There is a statue of him in the Market Place.

Within a short distance of the town are the following objects of notice: — The Wye, so celebrated for its uniform breadth, lofty cliffs, winding course, and picturesque scenery, which is perpetually changing its character. Elegant and commodious boats, the proprietors of which are always at hand, are kept by Monmouth Bridge, for the use of tourists.

Near the junction of the Trothey, about a mile from Monmouth, is Troy House, an old seat of the Duke of Beaufort, with old portraits and gardens, where the Marquis of Worcester gave Charles I. a dish of fruit “from Troy.” “Truly, my lord,” said the king, “I have heard that corn grows where Troy stood, but I never thought, that there had grown any apricots there before.” Here is Henry’s cradle (so called), and the armour he wore at Agincourt. About 6 miles down the Wye is Beacon Hill, 1,000 feet high, near Trelcch Cross (three Druid stones), and below that Landogo Bigswear, Tintern Abbey, Wyndcliffe, Chepstow (17 miles by water); Wonastow, seat of Sir W. Pilkington, baronet, is a very old seat, which belonged to the Herberts. Treowen, near it, is another, but now turned into a farm house. Up the Trothey is Llantillio House.

A pretty road leads to Beaulieu Grove on the top, near the handsome spire church of Llantillio Crossenny, and the ruins of White Castle, a fortress built by the early Norman possessors of this county. In ascending the beautiful valley of the Monnow, there are two other castles, worth notice — Skenfrith and Grosmont — the latter being under Greig Hill, near a small cross church. Most of these structures were formerly part of the Duchy of Lancaster, through John of Gaunt, but now belong, with large possessions, to the Beaufort family. From Monmouth, up the Wye, you pass Dixton Church, a pretty rustic building; then the New Weir, Symond’s Yat, Courtfield (where Henry V. was nursed), &c., till you come to Ross. But the best plan is to descend from that place (see the Wye). An excursion may be made to the Forest of Dean, and its interesting scenery. You pass (taking the Coleford Road) the Buckstone, an immense Logan stone, on a hill, 56 feet round at the top, and tapering off to 3 at the bottom. Coleford Church is modern, the old one having been destroyed in the civil wars, when Lord Herbert routed some of the parliament people here. About 3 miles north-east is the Speech House, where the miners hold their meetings. To the south, in the direction of Offa’s Dyke, which may be still traced, is Clearwell Park, the seat of the dowager Countess of Dunraven, where a great heap of Roman money was found in 1847, and St. Briaval’s, with its May Pole and hundred court, part of a Norman castle. There are many deserted mines. The wood is cut for hoops, poles, and other purposes.

A good stone bridge crosses the Wye, and one the Monnow — an ancient stone building, called the Welsh Gate, with a Norman chapel (St. Thomas’s) at the foot. Many of the houses are white-washed, and, as they are dispersed among gardens and orchards, the view of the town in summer is picturesque. The parish church of St. Mary has a tapering spire 200 feet. It was attached to a priory, of which there are remains in a private house adjoining. The handsome oriel window is called the “study” of Geoffrey of Monmouth; but he was born in the 11th century, long before such a style was invented. He was a Welsh monk (Geoffry ap
Arthur), who turned the British Chronicles, fables and all, into rugged Latin. To him, however, we are indebted for Shakspeare’s King Lear, and the Sabrina of Milton’s Comus.

Monmouth was once famous for its woollen caps, “the most ancient, general, warm, and profitable covering for men’s heads on this island,” according to Fuller. The manufacture was afterwards transferred to Bewdley. There is, or was, a Capper’s chapel in the church, “better carved and gilded than any other part of it.” Fletcher takes care to remember this.

The well-endowed Free School was founded by W. Jones, who, from a poor shop-boy at this place, became a rich London merchant. Newland was his birth-place; and there, after quitting London, he showed himself under the disguise of poverty, but being told to try for relief in Monmouth, where he had been at service, he repaired hither, was kindly received, and then revealed who he was.

One of the best Avalks is at Chippenham Meadow, near the junction of the Monnow and Wye, under a grove of elms. Anchor and May Hills are good points of view. Past May Hill (across the Wye) is Kymin Hill, the east half of which is Gloucestershire.

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