Welcome to Monmouth Town
Monmouth is in the heart of the Wye Valley, and, as a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is surrounded by magnificent countryside. As a border town, this is where Wales really begins - from the viewpoint on the Kymin, a National Trust property overlooking the town, the hills around Abergavenny, Hay Bluff, and the Brecon Beacons far distant, make a superb vista.
Some of the population of just over 10,000 work locally, particularly in the many schools, but a large percentage commute to Bristol, Cardiff and Hereford.
There is excellent motorway access to the Midlands, the North, South Wales, and to the Severn Bridge and London. For the tourist, Stratford on Avon, the Forest of Dean, Tintern Abbey and the Wye Valley, the Brecon Beacons National Park and West Wales are all within easy reach.
Monmouth has its origins in Roman times when a small Roman garrison was stationed here. The settlement was called Blestium and local archaeologists have found various pieces of pottery, coins, and jewellery from that period.
Monmouth takes its name from the River Monnow, a tributary of the Wye. The area was managed during the eleventh and twelfth century by French lords and a castle was built with views over the surrounding countryside. A Benedictine priory was also founded. In the thirteenth century a fortified bridge was built at the western end of the town, one of only three such fortified river crossing in Europe.
By 1600 Monmouth was a wealthy, bustling town, with potters, tanners, nail makers and cappers boosting the local economy. The famous Monmouth cap was worn with pride at the Battle of Agincourt, which is appropriate as Henry V, the illustrious soldier King, was born at Monmouth Castle in 1387.
As a border town, Monmouth was involved in intermittent border warfare and skirmishes. The population also suffered from periodic flooding of the two rivers, and the ravages of the Black Death; but by about 1450 the street plan of the centre had evolved and is recognisable today.
In 1605 James I gave the town a Charter in the form of letters patent. It was granted in order that the town and borough should "at all perpetual future times.... be and remain a town and borough of Peace and Quiet, to the example and terror of the wicked and reward of the good".
The castle changed hands three times during the Civil War and, following its final capture by the Parliamentarians, most of the fortifications were demolished. Great Castle House, built in 1673 by the third
Marquis of Worcester, is now the home of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia), the oldest regiment in the British Army.
The Shire Hall, built in 1724, dominates Agincourt Square in the centre of town, and presides over the present day market, a much smaller version of its medieval precursor. From 1660-1860 Monmouth enjoyed a time of prosperity, with all sorts of entertainment, including plays and horse racing, linked to the times of the local Assizes.
In 1802 Nelson visited the town and gave his approval to the Naval Temple built in his honour on the Kymin. The Rolls family lived just outside the town and Charles Rolls' mother, Lady Llangattock was a great admirer of Nelson. She collected many memorabilia of the famous Admiral, and bequeathed it to the town in 1924, which may be seen at the museum.
John Frost and other leaders of the Chartist rebellion (1839) were tried for treason in the Shire Hall.
In the nineteenth century, thanks to Wordsworth and many other poets and artists,
the number of visitors to the Wye Valley greatly increased. Today the rivers, the beautiful countryside and some fine Georgian and Victorian architecture are still here for everyone to enjoy.
Monmouth Town Twinning
Monmouth is twinned with the town of Carbonne, in the south-west of France and Waldbronn in Germany.
Places of Interest
Built in the thirteenth century to replace an earlier wooden crossing, the bridge is situated over the River Monnow at the west end of Monnow Street, this stone gatehouse is the only complete example of its kind in Britain. The original building had a portcullis and parapet, which became an attic floor when it was temporarily converted into a house in the eighteenth century.
The Castle and Great Castle House
Little remains of Monmouth Castle, the birthplace of HENRY V. It dates from soon after the Norman invasion of 1066 and was part of a chain of might stone castles in the area, used as based for controlling the local people and for further conquests westwards. In Shakespeare's account of HENRY V, the King has a conversation on the eve of the battle of Agincourt with a Welsh soldier, Fluellen, in which Henry talks of the Wye and his own Welshness. The town is proud of their connections with Henry, despite the fact that he left as a small baby. There is detailed information on Henry in the Regimental Museum (see below).
The House was built in 1673 by the Marquis of Worcester, using some of the stone from the ruined Castle. Today it is the home of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia) and houses the Regimental Museum.
The Regiment's origins go back to 1539 - just after Monmouth was made a County Town - and it became a Militia Regiment, based in the county. In 1877, seeking a more active role, it transferred into the Royal Engineers Special Reserve and, as the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers, served in the Boer War, the two World Wars, and recently in Iraq. It is the only survivor of the Militia system - and is the Senior Regiment of the Reserve Army.
The Shire Hall
Located in Agincourt Square, in was built in 1724 on the site of the Elizabethan market hall at a cost of £1,700. It housed two courts and a room for the Grand Jury at Assizes and Sessions. Perhaps its most famous moment was the trial of John Frost, Zephaniah Williams and William Jones, the Chartist leaders in 1840. Although initially condemned to death, the sentences were commuted to transportation. Sixteen years later Frost was granted a pardon and returned to England, to die in Bristol at the ripe old age of 97.
There are statues of Henry V (in an alcove on the front of the building) and CHARLES ROLLS (co-founder of Rolls Royce) is portrayed admiring an early aeroplane design in front of the arches. The Rolls family estate is just outside Monmouth on the old Abergavenny road. With the advantages of wealth, Charles developed an early interest in cycling, engineering, ballooning and motoring. This led to the formation of the Rolls-Royce Company and the development of the most prestigious motor cars in the world. He can claim to be the first man to make a non-stop double crossing of the English Channel by aeroplane, but his love of flying resulted in his death in a flying accident at Bournemouth in 1910.
Today the Shire Hall still houses the Magistrates Court, together with the Town Council Offices and the Tourist Information Centre. A market is held under the arches on Fridays and Saturdays and there are occasional craft markets during the year, with a farmers market on the second Wednesday of each month.
The Nelson Museum
The museum, which shares a building with the Post Office, has a permanent collection of Nelson memorabilia as well as a variety of exhibitions during the year.
Signposted off the road to the Forest of Dean (be careful of the sharp right hand bend), a drive up to the top of the Kymin is rewarded by a breathtaking view of the town, the Forest of Dean, Herefordshire, and the Black Mountains. The Round House was built in 1794 by 'the gentlemen of Monmouth', who would drive up the hill to play bowls on the green. This is now owned by The National Trust as is the Naval Temple nearby, commemorating sixteen admirals whose distinguished themselves in sea battles in the eighteenth century.
Currently being renovated as a community centre, the house was built in 1671 and restored in 1867.
The town has a wide range of places to worship - Roman Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Church in Wales, Church of England and a Christian Fellowship meeting place.
St Mary's Parish Church
St Mary's was built on the site of the original Benedictine priory church. Extensively rebuilt in 1737, with only the original tower and redesigned spire retained, it was considered to be too small by nineteenth century standards and underwent major renovations in 1881. It has some fine William Kemp stained glass windows and a collection of recently restored medieval tiles are on display.
Located on part of the adjacent Priory buildings, is the GEOFFREY OF MONMOUTH window. This beautiful oriel window, although built three centuries after his death, commemorates the life of the medieval historian. He was possibly educated by the Benedictine Order in the town, and continued his studies at Oxford which resulted in his compilation of a History of the British Kings, which refers to the coming of Christianity, the departure of the Romans and the chivalry of the Court of King Arthur. Its contribution to European literature was immense, assisting Shakespeare with at least two of his plays (Cymbaline and King Lear) and greatly influencing and enriching the work of subsequent historians.
St Thomas's Church
Dedicated to Thomas A Beckett and located next to the Monnow bridge, it is distinguished by its Norman chancel arch, part of the original chapel. Originally located outside the town walls, the church has undergone many sympathetic changes. The stump of the cross was moved into the centre of the road in 1888 and completely rebuilt at a later date.
St Mary's Roman Catholic Church
Situated in St Mary Street, the original church was built in 1793 but it was extensively rebuilt between 1861-1871. The architect was Benjamin Bucknall.
St Peter's Dixton
Situated on the banks of the Wye, just north of the town, this attractive whitewashed building which is in the county of Monmouthshire, is part of the Diocese of Hereford. The original church was destroyed and it was rebuilt shortly after the Conquest. The herring-bone masonry in the north wall of the nave may date from that time. The Church is frequently subject to flooding and plates near the chancel arch record the height of the last three floods.
The Baptist church
Located close to the parish church, the Memorial Stone was laid in 1906 and the architect and builder were both local.
The Methodist Church
Situated in St James Street, it was designed by G.V. Maddox in 1837.
Monmouth is well served by its schools, both primary and secondary.
Monmouth Comprehensive boasts over 1200 pupils and has an excellent academic record.
There are two Haberdashers' Schools - Monmouth School was built in 1615 at the bequest of William Jones a local gentleman whose generosity endowed an institution offering education for poor boys in Latin, Greek and religious instruction. Haberdashers' Monmouth School for Girls was founded in 1892.
There is a variety of shops and businesses in the town most located in Monnow Street.. Church Walk offers craft outlets, a book shop, chemist, coffee shops, etc. and two supermarkets, Waitrose and Somerfield are at the other end of Monnow Street.
Entertainment and Leisure
Music and Drama
Throughout the year there is a full programme of very diverse entertainment going on in the town. The Off Centre Theatre Company produces three or four plays annually, including a very popular pantomime. Monmouth Operatic Society also stage a variety of musical performances from Gilbert and Sullivan to Strauss and including an autumn concert of songs from the musicals.
The Monmouth Choral Society also has an excellent reputation and performs regularly in the town and the surrounding area.
The Merlin Society, one of the largest music societies in the country, holds concerts in the hall at Monmouth School and Nimbus Records, based just outside the town, offers occasional concerts by world-famous soloists and orchestras currently recording there.
Every summer an open air Fesitval is held in Agincourt Square, featuring music for all tastes. This is followed by a very colourful Carnival Day with floats, fairground rides and sideshows.
The Monmouth Town Band features regularly at town events and also has a busy concert calendar.
There is an interesting old cinema in Church Street, the Savoy. It features the current films on distribution nationally.
This is held on the last Thursday in August and is the biggest one-day show in the West attracting over 20,000 visitors. Originally an agricultural show, it still features rare breeds of animals, craft displays, show jumping competitions, dog shows, horse racing and many other attractions. A great day out for the family!
There is a recently built Leisure Centre at the Comprehensive School and a swimming pool. An eighteen hole golf course, which welcomes visitors and has wonderful views of the surrounding countryside, is situated on the edge of the town.
The Rowing Club is found close to the Comprehensive and the town has a splendid collection of competition silverware. Both young and veteran teams can be seen practising on the Wye and every year in May, there is a Regatta attended by teams from all over the country.
Canoeing is another local sport and there is a local raft race for charity in September of each year.
The town also boasts cricket, bowls, rugby, football clubs and the well known Rolls of Monmouth golf club at the Hendre.
The area has much to offer walkers. Offa's Dyke, a long distance footpath beginning in Chepstow and finishing in Prestatyn, North Wales (a total distance of 177 miles) attracts many people to the town as does the scenic Wye Valley Walk. The TOURIST INFORMATION OFFICE in the Shire Hall has a variety of walking leaflets. The surrounding area is rich in natural history and there are many opportunities for birdwatchers.
Places to Visit Around Monmouth
The Tourist Information Office has leaflets about the many castles in the area which are worth a visit and also many other places of interest.