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Grid reference: SO295145
Location: 51°49’26"N, 3°1’0"W
Population: 14,055
Post town: Abergavenny
Postcode: NP7
Dialling code: 01873
Local Government
Council: Monmouthshire

Abergavenny is a market town in Monmouthshire. It is located 15 miles west of Monmouth on the A40 and A465 roads, six miles from the border with Herefordshire.

Situated at the confluence of a tributary stream, the Gavenny, and the River Usk, it is almost surrounded by two mountains – the Blorenge at 1,834 ft[1] and the Sugar Loaf at 1,955 ft[2] – and five hills: Skirrid Fawr, Skirrid Fach, Deri, Rholben and Mynydd Llanwenarth, known locally as "Llanwenarth Breast". The town is situated just south of the Black Mountains, part of the Brecon Beacons National Park. Offa's Dyke Path long distance footpath passes close by and the Marches Way, The Beacons Way and Usk Valley Walk all pass through the town.

Formerly a mediæval walled town, it was originally a Roman fort, Gobannium. It contains the remains of a mediæval stone castle built soon after the Norman conquest.


Origins of the town and its name

Gobannium was a Roman fort guarding the road along the valley of the River Usk which linked the legionary fortress of Burrium (Usk) and later Isca Augusta (Caerleon) in the south with Y Gaer, Brecon and Mid Wales. It was also built to keep the peace among the local British Iron Age tribe, the Silures. Remains of the walls of this fort were discovered west of the castle when excavating the foundations for a new post office and telephone exchange building in the late 1960s.

The name derives from a Brythonic word Gobannia meaning "river of the blacksmiths", and relates to the town's pre-Roman importance in iron smelting. The name is related to the modern Welsh word gof (blacksmith), and so is also associated with the Welsh smith Gofannon from folklore. The river later became, in Welsh, Gafenni, and the town's name became Abergavenny, meaning "mouth of the Gavenny.

The Norman period

Abergavenny grew as a town in early Norman times under the protection of the Lords of Abergavenny. The first Baron was Hamelin de Balun, from Ballon, a small town and castle in Maine-Anjou called "Gateway to Maine", near Le Mans, today in the Sarthe département of France. He founded the Benedictine priory, now the Priory Church of St Mary, in the late 11th century. The Priory belonged originally to the Benedictine foundation of St. Vincent Abbaye at Le Mans. It was subsequently endowed by William de Braose, with a tenth or "tithe" of the profits of the castle and town. The church contains some unique alabaster effigies, church monuments and unique mediæval wood carving, such as the Tree of Jesse.

Owing to its geographical location the town was frequently embroiled in the border warfare and power play of the 12th and 13th centuries in the Welsh Marches. In 1175, Abergavenny Castle was the scene of a reputed massacre of local Welsh chieftains by the pious and ruthless William de Braose. So the story goes, after a period of discord and conflict he invited the local leaders to a Christmas banquet under the pretext of resolving differences and building relations but his plan was to eliminate them. Accepting his supposed hospitality, at a traditional time for settling differences, the influential Welsh leaders of the surrounding areas nearly all arrived, proffered their swords as tokens of peaceful intent to servants and, unarmed, were ushered further into the castle where de Braose's armed soldiers hacked them down in cold blood. Giraldus Cambrensis relates how in 1182 the castle was seized back by the Welsh.

1300 to 1900

Owain Glyndŵr attacked Abergavenny in 1404. According to popular legend, his raiders gained access to the walled town with the aid of a local woman who sympathised with the rebellion, letting a small party in via the Market Street gate at midnight. They were able to open the gate and allow a much larger party who set fire to the town and plundered its churches and homes leaving Abergavenny Castle intact. Market Street has been referred to as Traitors' Lane thereafter. In 1404 Abergavenny was declared its own nation by Ieuan ab Owain Glyndŵr, illegitimate son of Owain Glyndŵr. The arrangement lasted approximately two weeks.

At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1541 the priory's endowment went towards the foundation of a free grammar school, King Henry VIII Grammar School, the site itself passing to the Gunter family.

During the Civil War, prior to the siege of Raglan Castle in 1645, King Charles I visited Abergavenny and presided in person over the trial of Sir Trevor Williams, 1st Baronet of Llangybi, a Royalist who changed sides, and other Parliamentarians.

In 1639 Abergavenny received a charter of incorporation under the title of bailiff and burgesses. A charter with extended privileges was drafted in 1657, but appears never to have been enrolled or to have come into effect. Owing to the refusal of the chief officers of the corporation to take the oath of allegiance to William III in 1688, the charter was annulled, and the town subsequently declined in prosperity. Chapter 28 of the 1535 Act of Henry VIII, which provided that Monmouth, as county town, should return one burgess to Parliament, further stated that other Monmouthshire boroughs were to contribute towards the payment of the member. In consequence of this clause Abergavenny on various occasions shared in the election, the last instance being in 1685.

Reference to a market at Abergavenny is found in a charter granted to the Prior by William de Braose (d. 1211). The right to hold two weekly markets and three yearly fairs, as held ever since, was confirmed in 1657. Abergavenny was celebrated for the production of Welsh flannel, and also for the manufacture, whilst the fashion prevailed, of goats' hair periwigs.

The title of Baron Abergavenny, in the Nevill family, dates from Edward Nevill, 3rd Baron Bergavenny (d. 1476), who was the youngest son of Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland by his second wife Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt, first Duke of Lancaster. He married the heiress of Richard de Beauchamp, 1st Earl of Worcester, whose father had inherited the castle and estate of Abergavenny, and was summoned in 1392 to parliament as Lord Bergavenny. Edward Nevill was summoned to parliament with this title in 1450. His direct male descendants ended in 1387 in Henry Nevill, 6th Baron Bergavenny, but a cousin, Edward Nevill, 8th Baron Bergavenny (d. 1622), was confirmed in the Barony in 1604. From him it has descended continuously, through fifteen individuals, the title being increased to an Earldom in 1784; and in 1876 William Nevill [sic] 5th Earl (b. 1826), (d.1915) an indefatigable and powerful supporter of the Tory Party, was created 1st Marquess of Abergavenny.

Abergavenny railway station opened 2 January, 1854 and is on the Welsh Marches Line.

Later history

Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess was kept under escort at Maindiff Court during the Second World War, after his flight to Britain.[3]

Sporting traditions

Abergavenny is the home of Abergavenny Thursdays F.C., which was formed in 1927.

Abergavenny Cricket Club play at Pen-y-Pound, Avenue Road, and Glamorgan County Cricket Club play some of their games here. Abergavenny Cricket Club is one of the oldest in the country and celebrated the 175th anniversary of its foundation in 2009.

Abergavenny Tennis Club also play at Pen-y-Pound and fields Men's, Ladies', Mixed and Junior teams where it has tasted success on many occasions. The club engages the services of a head tennis professional to run a coaching programme for the town.

Abergavenny is also the home of Abergavenny RFC, a rugby union club founded in 1875 who play at Bailey Park. They play in the Welsh Rugby Union Division Two East league.

Abergavenny hosted the British National Cycling Championships in 2007 and 2009.

Markets and fairs

Cattle market

A cattle market has been held in Abergavenny on its current site since 1863. During the period 1825–1863 a sheep market was held at a site in Castle Street, to stop the sale of sheep on the streets of the town. Today the market is leased and operated by Abergavenny Market Auctioneers Ltd., who hold regular livestock auctions on the site. Market days are: Tuesday – The sale of finished sheep, cull ewe/store, a Fodder auction (sale of hay and straw). Some Fridays – The sale of cattle. A few other sales are held on the site on other days throughout the year.

Following the closure of Newport Cattle Market to make way for a new development. Newport’s sale will be held at Abergavenny Cattle Market on every Wednesday.

Following the sale of the cattle market land to Morrisons, a new cattle market will now be provided out of town once the market act has been repealed.

The Market Hall

Various markets are held in the Market Hall, for example: Tuesdays – retail market, which also stretches into the town hall car park and temporarily the Cattle Market, while Brewery Yard car park is regenerated; Wednesday – flea market; 4th Thursday of the month a farmers' market; Friday – retail market; Saturday – retail market (also in the town hall car park); 3rd Sunday of the month – antique fair; 2nd Saturday – craft fair.


  • Abergavenny hosted the National Eisteddfod of Wales in 1838 and 1913.
  • Lord Abergavenny is a character in William Shakespeare's play Henry VIII.
  • In 1968, the town was immortalised in the song (Taking a Trip Up to) Abergavenny by Marty Wilde.
  • In 1996 a film, Intimate Relations starring Julie Walters, Rupert Graves, Les Dennis and Amanda Holden was filmed at many locations in and around Abergavenny.
  • The town's local radio station is currently Sunshine Radio, broadcasting on 107.8 FM, although an application to provide a new service was made by a competing broadcaster Xfm South Wales.[4]
  • Abergavenny is twinned with Östringen in Germany, Beaupréau in France and Sarno in Italy.
  • The pop-rock band Ruby Cruiser came from Abergavenny, releasing an album on One Little Indian records in 1999.
  • Sherlock Holmes refers, in The Adventure of the Priory School, to a case he's working on in Abergavenny.[5]
  • In the book Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Abergavenny is mentioned by Stan Shunpike, the conductor of the Knight Bus when the bus takes a detour there to drop off a passenger.

During September the town holds the Abergavenny Food Festival.

Notable people

  • One of the eleven Victoria Cross gallantry medals awarded at Rorke's Drift was awarded to John Fielding from Abergavenny. He had enlisted under the false name of John Williams (VC). One was also awarded for the same action to Robert Jones (VC), born at Clytha between Abergavenny and Raglan. Another Abergavenny-born soldier, Thomas Monaghan received his VC for defending his colonel during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
  • Matthew Jay, the late singer-songwriter, also spent much of his life in the town.
  • Saint David Lewis, Catholic priest and martyr, was born in Abergavenny.
  • Marina and the Diamonds, singer-songwriter who was born and brought up in Abergavenny until she moved to London at the age of eighteen.
  • Malcolm Nash the cricketer famous for bowling to Gary Sobers who hit six sixes off one Nash over (36 runs) is from Abergavenny.
  • Owen Sheers, the poet, grew up in Abergavenny.
  • Abergavenny produced a world famous strongwoman, Vulcana.
  • Raymond Williams (1921–1988) academic, critic and writer was born and brought up locally.

Buildings of note

From 1851 the Monmouthshire Lunatic Asylum, later Pen-y-Fal Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, [1] stood on the outskirts of Abergavenny. Between 1851 and 1950 over 3,000 patients died at the hospital. A memorial plaque for the deceased has now been placed at the site.


  1. Geograph British Isles – The Blorenge from the B4598 road at Ty'r-pwll
  2. Geograph British Isles – River Usk with Sugar Loaf in background
  3. BBC. WW2 People's War – Marjorie's War
  4. OfCom Application for FM Independent Local Radio Licence For Herefordshire and Monmouthshire
  5. http://sherlock-holmes.classic-literature.co.uk/the-adventure-of-the-priory-school/ebook-page-02.asp