A history of the county of Brecknock, Wales


Exactly one hundred years have elapsed since Theophilus Jones published the final volume of his History of Brecknockshire. His narrative closes practically, for general purposes, with the reign of King Henry the Eighth, though in the Parochial Section he carries the history forward to about the year 1800. In the latter department, therefore, more than a century awaits a chronicle.

Since the days when the talented Historian compiled his extensive and interesting work, Archaeology has been largely illustrated; ancient Welsh Literature has been translated by a learned Society into the English tongue; Geology has been written and re-written as facts have fallen into their places under the pen of the philosopher; the finest maps the world has ever known have been issued by the Ordnance Survey, rendering a revision of County topography comparatively easy; and Philology has become a new science. It will, therefore, not be necessary to enlarge upon those matters, for by the liberality of publishers the reader will find ready to his hand many books dealing with them.

But in the domain of purely county history, much remains to be added in order that it may be carried to the present period. Records of the county have been collated and arranged in a manner unknown in 1800. The iron industry of Brecknock has waxed, and alas! waned; steam has altered and vastly improved the communications with England, bringing Brecknock within a few hours' journey of the Metropolis and the great trading ports on the Mersey; towns have sprung into being, and many of the largest houses in the county have been built during the 19th century; people formerly unknown here have made it their home, and would fain record their modern fortunes after the great names of those who, in earlier times, moulded the history of the county.

The old bridle paths have given place to good roads laid in every direction throughout the county, making transit easy for man and beast; waterways, established over a century ago, and for many years extensively used for the conveyance of merchandize, have been gradually but surely superseded by various railway systems; elective bodies now control the business affairs of the county, for so many years managed exclusively by the magistrates, and this method of popular representative government has been extended to every town and almost every parish; the criminal law is administered with strict regard to the cause of justice, and the punishment of offenders is no longer inflicted with barbarity; there has been a gradual but gratifying abatement of serious crime; a crude and limited system of education, in operation up to quite recent times, has been replaced by a more generous and perfect National code, rendering possible the admission of even the humblest into the Universities, to the learned professions, and the service of the Church and State; our ancient Royal foundation, Christ College, rescued from the list of perishing and mismanaged institutions, equipped with new buildings and competent teachers, and placed under vigorous government, has developed into one of the most efficient educational establishments in Wales; and added to this we have those various Secondary Schools provided under the Welsh Intermediate Education Act.

The enactment of laws relating to water and sanitation has materially added to the comfort, health, and happiness of the people. The old candle illuminating power, replaced by oil lamps, and subsequently by gas and electricity, no longer provides employment for the tallow chandler, in which business many families of respectability were engaged and amassed wealth and influence; and most, though not all, of the old woollen and milling factories have dis- appeared. Land cultivation has undergone a material change, rural populations have steadily decreased, leaving ruined cottages to mark the places where once resided families wholly engaged in agricultural pursuits. Increased activities in the coal and iron industries, employment upon railways and the like, and migration into the towns in search of the larger wages offered, have undoubtedly been factors in promoting this general exodus from the land, but the fact remains that in many parts of the county the plough is rarely brought into use, the farmer contenting himself in too many instances with the task of rearing stock for the markets, and thereby diminishing the opportunities of employment for the agricultural laborer.

These are but some of the changes which have taken place since the first appearance of Theophilus Jones' work in 1809. The recital of them will give the reader some idea of the additional material needed to complete the narrative as between that period and the present.


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Brecknockshire, now also called Breconshire, was anciently known by the name of Garthmarthrin, or Garthmadrin. Brecknock, on the authority of ancient manuscripts, is said to be identical with Garthmarthrin. The grandsire of Brychan is described as "King of Morganwg (Glamorgan), Gwent (Monmouth), and Garthmarthrin." "Brychan inherited from his mother the territory of Garthmarthrin, which he called after his own name Brycheiniog." The latter portion of the name Garthmarthrin closely resembles the last syllables of Caermarthen. The likeness becomes more striking as the first syllable of each is considered. Caer means a camp: Garth is akin to yard, garden, and the French jardin. It signifies a place guarded. On an old plan of Tintern Abbey the cloistered court is styled '"the Garth." The word occurs more than once in Brecknock as a hill name, and is found in composition in Tal-garth, Garth-brengy; in Pembrokeshire it appears as Fish-guard. The entire name Garth-marthrin and Caer-marthrin seems to be nearly identical. South Wales was not divided into counties until the time of King Henry VIII., and it is very possible that the centre of the county of Brecknock and I he county of Caermarthen may in remote days have formed one district under the same rules and be known under names almost alike.