New Radnor Post Office
|Brecon & Radnorshire|
The village is said to have been built to replace Old Radnor perhaps as early as 1065, and it became a planned mediæval town, with streets laid out in a grid pattern. It was linked to other settlements nearby and regionally such as Builth Wells, Presteigne and Kington, and later Huntington Castle near Gladestry.
The mediæval castle and town remains
The castle was described as being nearly square with massive square towers at three corners and two smaller round towers covering the town. There were still walls standing in 1840 but today only the earthworks remain. The rest of the stonework must have been utilised as a ready supply of cut stone and was depleted by the local people for their homes and farms and some became buried, emerging in digging in the 19th Century.
The earthworks consist of a large mound or motte, protected to the north by a double ditch, probably built by the earl of Cornwall in 1233. Beyond this is a large bailey with the foundations of a rectangular building within it.
The town is still surrounded by considerable remains of the town walls which are especially visible to the south-west. The layout of the town within the walls might suggest that New Radnor started life as a Roman town or an Anglo-Saxon burgh.
New Radnor castle was originally called Trefaesyfed and was once a considerable fortress and a significant border castle in the Welsh Marches and played its part in the turmoil, violence and barbarity of the early mediæval period typical of such a site.
It is believed that Harold Godwinson, later King Harold II of England had a fortress at Old Radnor. In 1064 he completed a major campaign against Gruffyd, King of North Wales (which concluded when Gruffyd's subjects, no doubt frustrated by the trouble brought upon them by their king's repeatedly rebellions, cut his head off and sent it to Harold. It was in 1064 that Harold founded a stronghold at New Radnor and gave it command over the area. The name "Radnor" is English not Welsh, from Readan ora, meaning "red place". In Welsh Old Radnor is Pencraig ("cliff head") and New Radnor Maesyfed ("absorbent field" or " Hyfaidd's field").
After Harold's death at the battle of Hastings, New Radnor could be occupied by the land's new Norman lords.
The first castle at New Radnor may have been built by William Fitz Osbern, Earl of Hereford. Certainly he held the land by the time of his death in 1071 and the layout of the powerful castle suggests that it was built by a man of great influence. Soon after 1086 New Radnor was granted to Philip de Braose. It may have been at this time that ten minor castles were built nearby to strengthen the Norman hold on the district.
In the aftermath of the battle of Dingestow New Radnor Castle was seized by the sons of Einion Clud of Elfael. Einion o'r Porth and Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth entertained Baldwin of Exeter, Archbishop of Canterbury and Gerald of Wales here in 1188 during their famous tour of Wales. Einion was killed by his brother in 1191 and in 1195 the Amazonian Matilda de St Valery was probably responsible for retaking the castle for her husband William de Braose. As a result, the previous overlord, Rhys ap Gruffydd, returned and sacked the castle before winning the battle of Radnor against Roger Mortimer and Hugh de Say.
Rhys died in 1197 and by 1200 William de Braose was back at Radnor Castle. In 1208 King John took the castle from the rebellious de Braose, only to lose it in 1215 to Giles de Braose, Bishop of Hereford. In August 1216 King John and Gwallter Clud, the brother of Einion o'r Porth, burned the castle in revenge.
After the death of the last Braose of Radnor the castle was taken into royal custody, but was destroyed by Prince Llywelyn ab Iorwerth in 1231. In 1233 it was illegally rebuilt by Richard, 1st Earl of Cornwall and then passed to the young Roger Mortimer of Wigmore Castle. In 1264 Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, allied with Simon de Montfort, 6th Earl of Leicester took and again destroyed the castle. In all, the castle had changed hands twelve times in only eighty years! On four of these occasions the castle was said to have been 'destroyed'.
After the turmoil of the thirteen the century, the castle as it stood was allowed to remain in relative peace until the chaos that descended in the west at the fall of Richard II.
Radnor Castle was attacked and apparently destroyed by Owain Glyndŵr and his forces during his rebellion of 1400 to 1412. Owain's forces allegedly attacked it in either 1401 or 1403, capturing the garrison of sixty men inside, whom he then hanged from the curtain walls over the battlements, then beheaded and buried nearby. It has since been proven that this story of the castle's fall and the massacre of the garrison in 1403 is a much later legend that has no basis in fact, but human bones were accidentally disturbed during excavations for church rebuilding in 1843 and as they were excavated it was noted that the skulls were piled separately to the skeletons. They were unceremoniously piled in a mass grave.
By 1405 King Henry IV of England had regained the castle, garrisoned it with a new force of thirty men-at-arms and one hundred and fifty archers, under the command of Richard, Lord Grey. This force was more suitable for the defence of the castle and posed a deterrent to another attack.
The modern period
Radnor Castle gently fell into decay, by 1538 only one tower remained habitable and that was used as the county prison. The castle was in the care of the Earls of Pembroke in the reign of James I and then passed to Lord Powis.
During the English Civil War the castle was visited by Charles in 1642 but after a siege was captured and dismantled by Parliamentary forces to prevent its becoming a Royalist stronghold again, a process known as "slighting".
Administrative centre & market town
New Radnor was established as the county town of Radnorshire, and here the county court was held.. Later this honour passed to Presteigne. The old Town Hall is still in the village today. The town used to have its own regular markets, including a livestock market held once a week throughout the year. But this is no longer the case.
The parliamentary seat of Radnor was sometimes involved in turbulent local politics, as in 1693 when two rival families the Lewis's (Whigs) and the Harley's (Tories) met on the High Street in New Radnor and drew swords, such was the bad blood between them. One man involved, later Sir Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford and Mortimer, became MP, was three times Speaker of the House of Commons and also Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1710. After becoming Lord Treasurer he nearly became Prime Minister but fell from grace, dismissed by Queen Anne. Accused by Parliament of high treason by conspiring with Jacobites, he was imprisoned in The Tower of London in 1715 until acquitted. He died in 1724.
New Radnor monument
A 777-foot monument stands in the village, built in memory of Sir George Cornewall Lewis (1806–1863). The family owned large estates and were powerful men in Radnorshire and Sir George became a lawyer and went on to become the MP for Herefordshire, rising to serve as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Home Secretary and Secretary of State for War]. The monument fell into disrepair, and still awaits repair.
Rural area and tourism
New Radnor's main sources of income and jobs and employment opportunities are still from farming and agriculture and today there are new smaller businesses such as cider-making, picture framing and holiday homes, bed & breakfast establishments and tourism in general.
There is also a huge quarry nearby which employs local people. The stone locally is known for being extremely hard.
- Remfry, P.M., Radnor Castle, 1066 to 1282 (ISBN 1-899376-03-8)
- Remfry, P.M., Ten Castles of Radnor Lordship, 1066-1304 (ISBN 1-899376-06-2)