Walking in Monmouth, Monmouthshire and The Wye Valley

Historic Monmouth

A leisurely walk around Monmouth town, taking in some of the manyplaces of historical interest on offer.

Monmouth began as an alien Norman Castle in Celtic Territory. The castle was then reinforced, spiritually by the foundation of a Benedictine Priory, and commercially by the establishment of a market for privileged traders and burgesses.

A Trip Around Town

Monmouth began as an alien Norman Castle in Celtic Territory. The castle was then reinforced, spiritually by the foundation of a Benedictine Priory, and commercially by the establishment of a market for privileged traders and burgesses.

The Castle and Priory occupied the high ridge above the Monnow while commercial Monmouth slowly spread downhill towards the river crossing of its two bridges.

As Castle and Priory decayed the Market Town and Borough became more important; and it is within the pattern of a Market Town, which was also the Shire Town, that Monmouth can be most easily explained today.

Monmouth Castle was founded in 1068. The most imposing part remaining is the Great Tower where it is thought Henry V was born. His grandfather, John of Gaunt in the late 14th century, had rebuilt it.

To the right is Great Castle House built from the ruins in 1673 by the 3rd Marquees of Worcester as a town house while he was rebuilding Badminton and Troy House. It contains splendidly ornate ceilings and an elaborate plaster overmantal. It has been an assize court, a girls' school, and is now the Headquarters of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers, the senior Reserve regiment in the Army. The Building contains the castle and Regimental Museum, which covers the 900 years from the building of the Castle to the Gulf War. It is open daily in the summer and at weekends in the Winter from 2pm to 5pm. Entrance is free and will also admit to the King's Garden containing only plants known to have been growing before Henry V died in 1422.

Archaeology

Monmouth archaeologists have shown that a Roman fort was established here in the middle of the 1st century, especially on the banks of the Wye near Monmouth School and at Overmonnow. Cadoc was sited below the Castle.

A large wooden tower-like structure, discovered at 22 - 24 Monnow Street, may also be of pre - Norman date. This overlooked a huge defensive ditch crossing the street. Monnow Street was a planned Norman burgage settlement laid out by 1100 AD, outside the castle bailey, on an ancient route. The archaeology of the street has gained national recognition because of the deep stratified layers of house floors, rich in medieval remains, which are found beneath the shops.

The disastrous 14th century is also recorded when the worst floods of the Middle Ages, followed by the Black Death (AD 1348) caused the abandonment of much of the town.

The first floor - tile kiln site in Wales (15th Century) was found at Cadogan House, Monk Street and a Post - medieval pottery kiln site behind St. James House.

The Shire Hall built in 1724 to replace a small market house dominates Agincourt Square. Until 1939 the assizes were held here and in 1840, John Frost and other Chartists were tried for High Treason.

The unconvincing statue on Henry V was placed on the building in 1792; the far better statue of Charles Rolls by Sir Goscombe John stands below.

The Shire Hall is flanked on the right by the King's Head, a 17th century coaching inn containing a plaster overmantel with the head of Charles II. To the left is Beaufort Court, until recently the inn where Nelson stayed with the Hamilton's when he visited Monmouth in 1802.

Priory Street was built in 1837 as a bypass to get the coaches out of Church Street. It remains easily the best addition to the street plan of Monmouth, which had become established by the 14th century. It passed along the steeply sloping banks on the Monnow, so it required a viaduct under which were built Slaughterhouses. At the same time G. V. Maddor, the local architect of the scheme, built a new Produce Market, now the Monmouth Museum and gave the other side of the street a fine classical facade.

When you reach the railings you will see, across the Monnow, Vauxhall, where 18th century pleasure gardens gave John Wesley, amongst many others, great enjoyment.

On the other side of the road are the remains of the Benedictine Priory, now a Youth Hostel. The oriel, erroneously known as Geoffrey's Window was built in the late 15th century, some 300 years after Geoffrey of Monmouth died.

When you reach the traffic lights go to the left into Monk Street. It took its name from the Monk's Gate and you can see the curve of one of the bastions when you look down to the Masonic Lodge, a Georgian theatre converted by G. V. Maddox in 1846. Two examples of Maddox's work can be seen alongside in Kingsley House and Hendre House. Monk Street has good Regency houses, numbers 14 and 20, with well-made wooden porches.

Continue on the same side until you reach Chapel House a fine house with plaster ceilings contemporary with Great Castle House and a good staircase.

You are now on The Parade, which leads to the Hospital, a delightful building by Richard Creed in 1902. Just below it is the gatehouse and condemned cells of The County Gaol, built with the advice of John Howard by W. Blackburn in 1790.

At the top of the hill is the Union Workhouse built by G. C. Haddon in 1871. It is now part of Haberdashers' Monmouth School For Girls, which stands overlooking the town across the road.

The main building is by H. Stock and was opened in 1897. Coming back towards the traffic lights you pass North Parade House, the 18th century home of a wool merchant. The present garage section was his warehouse, the four cottages adjoining housed his workers; and he and his family lived in the house, which has a large walled garden at the back. This is probably the best-planned workplace in Monmouth and the house has good Adam-style fireplaces.

Monkswell Road was built in the 1870's out of stone from the gaol that was dismantled when the prisoners were moved to Usk.

Further down the road is Parade House, once an inn that was enlarged and givern its Gothic windows in the mid-19th century.

Before reaching the New Dixton Road at the traffic lights notice the pleasant recessed porch of number 11.

Cross the road past a new block of flats and The Royal George, a fine house (1737) with Corinthian pillars to the porch. Opposite is Oak House built by G.V.Maddox in 1848. It is now the Telephone Exchange.

At the end of the street is Whitecross House with hipped roof and opposite the churchyard, the Baptist Chapel by B. Lawrence in 1907 and the Working Men's Institute, now The Art Centre, also by B. Lawrence in 1868.

Whitecross Street that you now meet has several large houses, which have suffered many changes. The Conservative Club was once the judge's lodgings and before that a Classical Academy, while St. James's House, which begins at the back as a burgage of 18th Century when the classical porch and round-headed window were introduced. It is now a boarding house for Monmouth School. There are good ceilings in the house across the road.

 The Rolls Hall, now the Library, by F. A. Powell was given to the town at the Golden Jubilee in 1887 by Lord Llangattok.

At the other side of the Catalpa tree is Cartref, once the Monmouth Dispensary, while the Old Nag's Head stands on part of the medieval Dixton Gate, which leads to the River Wye and Dixton Church.

Go round the square into St. James's Street, which has several good classical porches and a variety of fanlights until you come to The Grange, a house with a fire mark in the pediment of the porch. Close to it is the Methodist Church, the work of G.V.Maddox in 1837. This is a delightful building with coved ceilings, a gallery and organ loft on classical pillars and a sophisticated pulpit between high windows, a tribute to Methodist preaching.

Wyebridge Street leads down to Wye Bridge, rebuilt in 1617 and widened later, and then to the Kymin (2 miles), with its Round House and Naval Temple. The former was built as a summerhouse for the gentry in 1792, and the latter as a memorial to the Navy in 1800; and as Nelson remarked when he visited it, the only one in the Kingdom.

Cross the street and you come to Monmouth School, built with money bequeathed by William Jones in 1614. The buildings now standing are by W. Snooke and H. Stock and date from 1865 and 1895.

Further along are the Almshouses, another William Jones benefaction, rebuilt by J. B. Bunning in 1842 and now part of the School.

Now go up St. Mary Street, past Duffryn House, at times a chapel and a theatre (and the place where the Classical Revival made its last defiant stand) to the Roman Catholic Church, opened in 1792 but the tower, by B. Bucknall, not built until 1870. Like all nonconformist buildings it had to be out of sight, behind other houses and it was only when these were demolished that it was revealed. At the top of the street, notice the curved front of the Griffin. This phenomenon, which occurs elsewhere, is said to have been needed so that the Duke of Beafort's timber wagons could get through the town.

Ahead are St. Mary's Gates (1758) and the Parish Church. It was once the Priory Church; Smith of Warwick rebuilt it in 1735; and G. E. Street built the present church in 1882. Only the tower remained the same throughout. There is good glass inside by Kempe and a collection of mediaeval tiles.

Return to Church Street and its cinema with a décor of 1927.

The White Swan Yard has the original swan sign in lead, and out in Church Street, Mr. Stokes' Chemist Shop, once a Post Office, has its proper window and much of its original furnishings inside.

Out in Agincourt Square again, notice the carved eaves of Number 1 and the date 1628. There are two more 17th Century houses down Agincourt Street beyond the Shire Hall, while along Glendower Street is the Congregational Chapel, built by W. Armstrong of Bristol in 1844 and made ruinous by Bureaucratic indescion.

Monnow Street was closed at the top by St. Stephen's Gate and at the bottom by Monnow Bridge; a late 13th century fortification which, with Monnow Street, severs the walled central core of the town from the faubourg or false borough of Overmonnow.

Monnow Street wide in the middle and gated at each end, was an ideal market area and remained so until the castle market was built in 1876. It contains an admirable mixture of fine houses and small workshops, both now threatened by insensitive development. The important houses are Lloyds Bank, internally ruined but containing one good Adam-style fireplace; Cornwall House, the finest house in the street with a late 18th century street frontage and a fine façade built in 1752 facing Chippenham and Chippenham House with its well-balanced 18th century front.

The Robin Hood Inn, one of Monmouth's oldest pubs, has a good 15th century doorway.

Monnow Bridge which replaced a wooden bridge in the late 13th century has been greatly altered, widened, pierced with side doorways, built against and used for many purposes: gaol, guard house, militia store and dwelling house.

Beyond it is Overmonnow Church, dedicated to Beckett in 1186 and restored by J. Pritchard in 1874. It contains a 12th century chancel arch, a curious font and some good woodwork.

Opposite is Overmonnow House, once the Vicarage with a fine staircase.

Along Drybridge Street are some 15th century houses, restored in the 19th century with wallpaper blocks, fixed between timber framing.

Drybridge House was built in 1671 by W. Roberts and restored by Crompton Roberts in 1867. He was the patron of Overmonnow, placing the cross in the middle of the square, building schools and restoring the church. Drybridge Terrace, one of the most delightful courts in Monmouth, was saved from slum clearance by the forethought of one of its inhabitants.

A ditch, the Clawdd Du, crossed by a small 13th century bridge, defends Overmonnow.