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RADNORSHIRE (Sir Faesyfed)

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Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 810 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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RADNORSHIRE (Sir Faesyfed), an inland county of Wales, bounded N. by Montgomery, N.E. by Shropshire, E. by Here-ford, S. and S.W. by Brecknock and N.W. by Cardigan. This county, which is lozenge-shaped, contains 471 sq. m., and is consequently the smallest in area of the six South Welsh counties. Nearly the whole surface of Radnorshire is hilly or undulating, whilst the centre is occupied by the mountainous tract known as Radnor Forest, of which the highest point attains an elevation of 2163 ft. Towards the S. and S.E. the hills are less lofty, and the valleys broaden out into considerable plains abounding in rivulets. The hills for the most part present smooth, rounded outlines, and are covered with heather, bracken and short grass, though tracts of boggy soil in the uplands are not uncommon. There are rich pastures and numerous woods in the valleys of the Wye and Teme. The Wye Valley has long been celebrated for its beauty, while Radnor Forest and the wild district of Cwmdauddwr present striking views of primeval and unspoiled scenery. Radnor-shire is well supplied with water, its principal river being the Wye (Gwy), which, after crossing the N.W. corner of the county, forms its boundary from Rhayader onward to the English border. Salmon, trout and grayling are plentiful, and the Wye is consequently much frequented by anglers; as are also its tributaries—the Elan (which has been utilized for the great Birmingham reservoirs) the Ithon, the Edw or Edwy, the Lug, the Arrow and the Somergil. The Teme, which divides Radnor from Shropshire on the N.E., is a tributary of the Severn. All these streams are clear and rapid, and abound in fish. In the numerous rocky ravines of the mountainous districts are found many waterfalls, of which the most celebrated is " Water-break-its-Neck," to the W. of New Radnor. Omitting the artificially constructed reservoirs in the valleys of the Elan and Claerwen, the lakes of Radnorshire are represented only by a few pools of which Llynbychlyn near Painscastle is the largest. Geology.—Ordovician rocks occupy most of the western side of the county, they are succeeded eastward by the Silurian formations, the Llandovery, Wenlock and Ludlow beds in the order here given. East of New Radnor an inlier of Wenlock rocks is surrounded by Ludlow beds; while at Old Radnor a ridge of very ancient rocks appears. In the south-east of the county Old Red Sandstone rests upon the Silurian. Between Llandrindod, where there are saline, sulphurous and chalybeate wells, and Builth, is a disturbed area of Ordovician strata with masses of andesitic and diabasic igneous rocks. In the vicinity of Rhayader the strata have been classed as the Rhayader pale shales (Tarannon), the Caban group (Upper Llandovery), the Gwastaden group (Lower Llandovery); these rest upon shales of Bala age. Climate and Industries.—The climate of Radnorshire is bracing, if somewhat bleak, and the rainfall is not so heavy as in the neighbouring counties of Montgomery and Brecknock, but thick drizzling mists are of constant occurrence. The winters are often very severe, and deep snowfalls are not uncommon. Good hay and tolerable crops of cereals are raised in the valleys, and the margin of cultivation has risen considerably since 1880. The extensive upland tracts, which still cover over one-third of the total area of the county, afford pasturage for mountain ponies and for large flocks of sheep. The quality of the wool of Radnorshire has long been celebrated, and also the delicacy of the Welsh mutton of the small sheep that are bred in this county. The most important sheep fairs are held at Rhayader, which also contains some woollen factories. There are practically no mining industries, nor are the quarries of great value. The valley of the Wye is rich in medicinal springs, and the saline, sulphur and chalybeate waters of Llandrindod have long been famous and profitable, and are growing in popular esteem. Communications.—The Central Wales branch of the London & North-Western railway enters the county at Knighton, traverses it by way of Llandrindod and passes into Brecknock at Builth Road Junction on the Wye. The Cambrian railway, after passing through the N.W. corner of the county to Rhayader, follows the course of the Wye, by way of Builth and Hay. Two small branch lines connect New Radnor and Presteign with the system of the Great Western. Population and Administration.—The area of Radnorshire iS 301,164 acres, and the population in 1891 was 21,991, while in 1901 it had risen to 23,362; an increase chiefly due to the immigration of outside labourers to the Elan Valley waterworks. There is no existing municipal borough, although New Radnor, now a mere village with 405 inhabitants (1901), was incorporated in 1561 and its municipal privileges were not formally abolished till 1883. The chief towns are Presteign (pop. 1245); Llandrindod (1829); Knighton (2139), and Rhayader (1215);all, except Rhayader, being urban districts. Radnorshire is included in the South Wales circuit, and assizes are held at Presteign, which ranks as the county town. There is no existing parliamentary borough, and the whole county returns one member to parliament. Ecclesiastically, Radnorshire is divided into 46 parishes, of which 38 lie in the diocese of St Davids, and 8 in that of Hereford. History.—The wild district of Maesyfed (a name of which the derivation is much disputed), corresponding substantially with the modern Radnorshire, originally formed part of the territory of the Silures, who were vanquished by the Romans. Christianity seems to have been introduced into this barren region during the 5th and 6th centuries by itinerant Celtic missionaries, notably by St David, St Padarn and St Cynllo. Towards the close of the 9th century Maesyfed was absorbed into the middle kingdom of Powys, and in the loth century it was included in the realm of Elystan Glodrudd, prince of Fferlys, or Feryllwg, who ruled over all land lying between the Wye and Severn. In the reign of William the Conqueror, the Normans began to penetrate into Maesyfed, where, according to Domesday Book, the king already laid claim to Radenoure, or Radnor (a name of doubtful meaning), in the lordship of Melenith (Moelynaidd), which was subsequently bestowed on the Mortimer family, when castles were erected at Old Radnor (Penygraig), New Radnor and Cefnllys. Later, the Norman invaders forced their way up the Wye Valley, the de Breos family, lords of Elvel (Elfael), building fortresses at Painscastle and at Colwyn or Maud's Castle, In 1188 Archbishop Baldwin, accompanied by Ranulf de Glanville and Giraldus Cambrensis, entered Wales for the purpose of preaching the Third Crusade, and was met in full state at New Radnor by the Lord Rhys, prince of South Wales. The Wye Valley long formed one of the debatable districts between Welsh and Normans, and in 1282 Llewelyn ap Griffith, prince of Wales, was at Aberedw shortly before his death in a skirmish near Builth. After the annexation of Wales by Edward I., the district of Maesyfed remained under the immediate jurisdiction' of the Lords-Marchers, represented by the great families of Mortimer and Todeney. During the summer of 1402 Owen Glendower entered the Marches and raided the lands of the young Edward Mortimer, earl of March, whilst the royal troops were severely defeated at the battle of Bryn Glas near Pilleth. By the Act of Union (1536) Maesyfed was erected out of the suppressed lordships into an English shire on the usual model. For administrative purposes it was now divided into six hundreds, and assizes were ordained to be held in alternate years at Presteign and New Radnor. The newly created county was likewise privileged to return two members to parliament; one for the county, and one for the united boroughs of New Radnor, Rhayader, Knighton, Cefnllys and Knucklas (Cnwclas). The parliamentary district of the Radnor boroughs was, however, disfranchised and merged in the county representation under the act of 1885. The shire of Radnor with its immense tracts of sheep-walk, its absence of large towns and its sparse rural population has always been reckoned the poorest and least important of the Welsh counties, nor since its creation under Henry VIII. has it ever played a prominent part in the national life of Wales. During the Commonwealth the local clergy were made to suffer severely under the drastic administration of Vavasor Powell (t617-167o), himself a Radnorshire man as a native of Knucklas. Of recent years the rise of Llandrindod as a fashionable watering-place and the construction of the Birmingham reservoirs in the Elan Valley have tended to increase the material prosperity of the county. Among the leading families of Radnorshire, may be mentioned Lewis of Harpton Court; Baskerville of Clyro; Thomas (formerly Jones) of Pencerrig; Lewis-Lloyd of Nantgwyllt; Gwynne of Llanelwedd, and Prickard of Dderw. Antiquities.—Radnorshire contains numerous memorials of early British times, of which the entrenchment called Crug-ybuddair in the parish of Beguildy is specially worthy of note. Of Roman remains, the most important are those of the fortified camp at Cwm near Llandrindod, which is believed to be identical with the military station of Magos or Magna. The course of Offa's Dyke (Clawdd Offa) is perceptible at various points in the hilly regions west of Knighton and Presteign. Very slight traces exist of the many castles erected at various times after the Norman invasion. The parish churches of Radnorshire are for the most part small and of rude construction, and many of them have been modernized or rebuilt. The churches at Old Radnor, Presteign and Llanbister, however, are interesting edifices, and a few possess fine oaken screens, as at Llananno and Llandegley. There was only one monastic house of consequence, the Cistercian abbey of St Mary, founded by Cadwallon ap Madoc in 1143 in " the long valley " of the Clywedog, six miles east of Rhayader, and from its site commonly called Abbey Cwm Hir. Its existing ruins are insignificant, but the proportions of the church, which was 238 ft. long, are still traceable. The modern mansion adjoining, known as Abbey Cwm Hir, was for some generations the residence of the Fowler family, once reputed the wealthiest in the county. Customs, &c.—Although in most instances the old Celtic place-names survive throughout the western portion of the county, it is only in the wild remote districts of Cwmdauddwr and St Harmon's that the Welsh tongue predominates, and in this region some of the old Welsh superstitions linger amongst the peasants and shepherds of the hills. In the eastern part of the county English is spoken universally, and the manners and customs of the inhabitants differ little from those prevailing in the neighbouring county of Hereford. On the western side of Radnor Forest the modern spirit of progress has destroyed most of the old local customs. Until the beginning of the 19th century the ancient Welsh service of the pylgain on Christmas morning was observed in Rhayader church; and the same town was formerly remarkable for an interesting ceremony, evidently of great antiquity, whereat after a funeral each attendant mourner was wont to throw a stone upon a certain spot near the church with the words " Carn ar dy ben " (a stone on thy head). The laying of malicious sprites by means of lighted tapers was formerly practised in the churches of the Wye Valley; and a curious service, commemorative of the dead and known as " the Month's End," is still observed in certain parish churches, a month after the actual funeral has taken place. The practice of farmers and their wives or daughters riding to the local markets on ponies, the older women sometimes knitting as they proceed, still continues, and is specially characteristic of agricultural life in Radnorshire. See A General History of the County of Radnor (compiled from the MS. of the late Rev. Jonathan Williams and other sources) (Brecknock, 1905). -
End of Article: RADNORSHIRE (Sir Faesyfed)
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