Abergavenny (/ˌæbərɡəˈvɛni/; Welsh: Y Fenni pronounced [ə ˈvɛnɪ], archaically Abergafenni meaning "Mouth of the River Gavenny") is a market town and community in Monmouthshire, Wales. Abergavenny is promoted as a Gateway to Wales.[1][2] It is located on the A40 trunk road and the A465 Heads of the Valleys road and is approximately 6 miles (10 km) from the border with England.


The Market Hall and Town Hall clock tower
Location within Monmouthshire
Population12,515 (2011)
OS grid referenceSO295145
  • Abergavenny
Principal area
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtNP7
Dialling code01873
FireSouth Wales
EU ParliamentWales
UK Parliament
Welsh Assembly

Originally the site of a Roman fort, Gobannium, it became a medieval walled town within the Welsh Marches. The town contains the remains of a medieval stone castle built soon after the Norman conquest of Wales.

Abergavenny is situated at the confluence of the River Usk and a tributary stream, the Gavenny.[3] It is almost entirely surrounded by mountains and hills: the Blorenge (559 m, 1,834 ft),[4] the Sugar Loaf,(596 m, 1,955 ft), Ysgyryd Fawr (Great Skirrid), Ysgyryd Fach (Little Skirrid), Deri, Rholben and Mynydd Llanwenarth, known locally as "Llanwenarth Breast". Abergavenny provides access to the nearby Black Mountains and the Brecon Beacons National Park. The Offa's Dyke Path is close by and the Marches Way, the Beacons Way and Usk Valley Walk all pass through the town.

In the UK 2011 census, the six relevant wards (Lansdown, Grofield, Castle, Croesonen, Cantref and Priory) collectively listed Abergavenny's population as 12,515.[5][6][7][8][9][10] The town hosted the 2016 National Eisteddfod of Wales.


The town derives its name 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 Abergafenni, meaning "mouth of (Welsh: Aber) the Gavenny (Gafenni)". In Welsh, the shortened form Y Fenni may have come into use after about the 15th century, and is now used as the Welsh name. Abergavenny, the English spelling, is in general use.[11]


Roman period

Gobannium was a Roman fort guarding the road along the valley of the River Usk,[3] which linked the legionary fortress of Burrium (Usk) and later Isca Augusta or Isca Silurum (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.[12]

11th century

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 tithe of the profits of the castle and town.[13] The church contains some unique alabaster effigies, church monuments and unique medieval wood carving, such as the Tree of Jesse.[14]

12th and 13th centuries

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 site of a massacre of Seisyll ap Dyfnwal and his associates by William de Braose, 4th Lord of Bramber.[15] Reference to a market at Abergavenny is found in a charter granted to the Prior by William de Braose.[13]

15th to 17th centuries

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.[13]

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 Trefor Williams, 1st Baronet of Llangibby, a Royalist who changed sides, and other Parliamentarians.[13]

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 ancient 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.[13]

The right to hold two weekly markets and three yearly fairs, beginning in the 13th century, was held ever since as confirmed in 1657.[16] Abergavenny was celebrated for the production of Welsh flannel, and also for the manufacture, whilst the fashion prevailed, of goats' hair periwigs.[13]

19th to 21st centuries

Abergavenny railway station, situated southeast of the town centre, opened on 2 January 1854 as part of the Newport, Abergavenny and Hereford Railway. The London North Western Railway sponsored the construction of the railway linking Newport station to Hereford station. The line was taken over by the West Midland Railway in 1860 before becoming part of the Great Western Railway in 1863. The station is on the Welsh Marches Line and is mostly served by Transport for Wales services.[17] A railway line also ran up the valley towards Brynmawr and to Merthyr Tydfil. This line was closed following the Beeching cuts and the line to Clydach Gorge is now a cycle track and footpath.

The Baker Street drill hall was completed in 1896.[18] Adolf Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess was kept under escort at Maindiff Court Hospital during the Second World War, after his flight to Britain.[19]

Baron of Abergavenny

The title of Baron Abergavenny, in the Nevill family, dates from the 15th century with Edward Nevill, 3rd Baron Bergavenny, 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 1587 in Henry Nevill, 6th Baron Bergavenny, but a cousin, Edward Nevill, 8th Baron Bergavenny, 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, an indefatigable and powerful supporter of the Tory Party, was created 1st Marquess of Abergavenny.[13]

Coldbrook Park was a country house in an estate some 1 14 miles (2 km) southeast of the town. The house was originally built in the 14th century and belonged to the Herbert family for many generations until purchased by John Hanbury for his son, the diplomat Sir Charles Hanbury Williams.[20] Sir Charles reconstructed the house in 1746 with the addition of a nine-bay two-storey Georgian façade with a Doric portico. It subsequently passed down in the Hanbury Williams family until it was demolished in 1954.[21]


Held during the first week of August every year, the National Eisteddfod is a celebration of the culture and language in Wales. The festival travels from place to place, alternating between north and south Wales, attracting around 150,000 visitors and over 250 tradestands and stalls. The Chair and Crown for 2016 were presented to the festival's Executive Committee, at a special ceremony in Monmouth held on 14 June 2016.[22]

The Abergavenny Food Festival is held in the second week of September each year. The Steam, Veteran and Vintage Rally takes place in May every year. The event expands year on year with the 2016 rally including a rock choir, shire horses, motorcycling stunts, vintage cars and steam engines.[23] The Country and Western Music Festival is attended by enthusiasts of country music. It marked its third year in 2016 and was attended by acts including Ben Thompson, LA Country and many more. The event was last held in 2017.[24][25] The Abergavenny Writing Festival began in April 2016 and is a celebration of writing and the written word.[26] The Abergavenny Arts Festival, first held in 2018, celebrates arts in their broadest sense and showcases amateur and professional artists from the vibrant local arts scene together with some from further afield.[27]

Welsh language

In recent decades the number of Welsh speakers in the town has increased dramatically. The 2001 census recorded 10% of the local population spoke the language, a five fold increase over ten years from the figure of 2% recorded in 1991.[28]

The town has one of the two Welsh-medium primary schools in Monmouthshire, Ysgol Gymraeg y Fenni,[29] which was founded in the early 1990s. It is also home to the Abergavenny Welsh society, Cymreigyddion y Fenni,[30] and the local Abergavenny Eisteddfod.[31]

Sporting traditions

Abergavenny was the home of Abergavenny Thursdays F.C., which was formed in 1927, but wound up in 2013. However, football is now represented in the town by the new Abergavenny Town team which was formerly called Govilon FC. Town play at the Pen-y-pound Stadium and are members of the Welsh League Division 1 for season 2019-20

Abergavenny Cricket Club play at Pen-y-Pound, Avenue Road, and Glamorgan CCC also play some of their games here. Abergavenny Cricket Club is one of the oldest in the country. It was founded in 1834, and celebrated the 175th anniversary of its foundation in 2009.[32] Abergavenny Tennis Club also play at Pen-y-Pound and plays in the South Wales Doubles League and Aegon Team Tennis. The club engages the services of a head tennis professional to run a coaching programme for the town and was crowned Tennis Wales' Club of the Year in 2010.

Abergavenny is also the home of Abergavenny RFC, a rugby union club founded in 1875 who play at Bailey Park. In the 2018-19 season they play in the Welsh Rugby Union Division Three East A league.[33] Abergavenny Hockey Club, formed in 1897, currently compete in the Davis Woods hockey league and play at the Old Hereford Road ground. Abergavenny hosted the British National Cycling Championships in 2007, 2009 and 2014, as part of the town's Festival of Cycling.[34]

Cattle market

A cattle market was held in Abergavenny from 1863 to December 2013.[3][35] 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. At the time of its closure the market was leased and operated by Abergavenny Market Auctioneers Ltd, who held regular livestock auctions on the site. Market days were held on Tuesdays for the auction sale of finished sheep, cull ewe/store and fodder (hay and straw), and some Fridays for the auction sale of cattle. Following the closure of Newport's cattle market in 2009 for redevelopment, Newport’s sales were held at Abergavenny every Wednesday.[36]

In 2011, doubts about the future of Abergavenny Cattle Market were raised following the granting of planning permission by Monmouthshire County Council for its demolition and replacement with a supermarket, car park, and library.[37]

In January 2012, the Welsh Government announced the repeal the Abergavenny Improvement Acts of 1854 to 1871 which obliged the holding of a livestock market within the boundaries of Abergavenny town;[38] that repeal being effective from 26 March 2012.[39]

Monmouthshire County Council, which requested that the Abergavenny Improvement Acts be repealed, supported plans for a new cattle market to be established about 10 miles (16 km) from Abergavenny in countryside at Bryngwyn, some 3 miles (5 km) from Raglan. There was extensive local opposition to this site, which is situated on a notoriously dangerous B road.[40][41][42] The new Monmouthshire Livestock Centre, a 27-acre site at Bryngwyn, opened in November 2013.[43]

The Market Hall

Various markets are held in the Market Hall, for example: Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays – retail market; Wednesdays – flea market; fourth Thursday of each month – farmers' market; third Sunday of each month – antique fair; second Saturday of each month – craft fair.[44]

Cultural history

  • Abergavenny hosted the National Eisteddfod of Wales in 1838, 1913 and most recently in 2016
  • 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 stations are currently Sunshine Radio, at 107.8 FM, and NH Sound 1287 AM.
  • Abergavenny is twinned with Östringen in Germany, Beaupréau in France and Sarno in Italy.
  • Abergavenny is home to an award winning brass band.[45] Formed in Abergavenny prior to 1884[46] the band became joint National Welsh League Champions in 2006[47] and SEWBBA and again joint National Welsh League Champions in 2011.[48] The band also operate a Junior Band training local young musicians
  • During September the town holds the Abergavenny Food Festival.[49]
  • Abergavenny was named one of the best places to live in Wales in 2017.[50]
  • The Borough Theatre in the town centre hosts live events covering drama, opera, ballet, music, children’s events, dance, comedy, storytelling, tribute bands and talks.[51]
  • The town held its first Abergavenny Arts Festival in 2018.[52]
  • The Melville Centre is close to the town centre and includes the Melville Theatre that hosts a range of live events.[53]

Buildings of note

Abergavenny Castle is located strategically just south of the town centre overlooking the River Usk. It was built in about 1067 by the Norman baron Hamelin de Ballon to guard against incursions by the Welsh from the hills to the north and west. All that remains is defensive ditches and the ruins of the stone keep, towers, and part of the curtain wall. It is a Grade I listed building.[56]

The Church in Wales church of the Holy Trinity is in the Diocese of Monmouth. Holy Trinity Church was consecrated by the Bishop of Llandaff on 6 November 1840. It was originally built as a chapel to serve the adjacent almshouses and the nearby school. It has been Grade II listed since January 1974.

Other listed buildings in the town include the parish Priory Church of St Mary, a medieval and Victorian building that was originally the church of the Benedictine priory founded in Abergavenny before 1100; the sixteenth century tithe barn near St Mary's; the Victorian Church of the Holy Trinity; the Grade II* listed St John's Masonic Lodge; the Museum; the Public Library; the Town Hall; and the remains of Abergavenny town walls behind Neville Street.[57]

From 1851, the Monmouthshire lunatic asylum, later Pen-y-Fal Hospital, a psychiatric hospital, 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. After closure in the 1990s, its buildings and grounds were redeveloped as a luxury housing development comprising houses as well as apartments.[58] Some psychiatric services are now administered from Maindiff Court Hospital on the outskirts of the town, close to the foot of the Skirrid mountain. The hospital is housed in historic buildings, and is known for Rudolf Hess who was incarcerated here during WW2.



One of the eleven Victoria Cross medals won at Rorke's Drift was awarded to John Fielding from Abergavenny. He had enlisted under the false name of Williams. One was also awarded for the same action to Robert Jones, born at Clytha between Abergavenny and Raglan. Another Abergavenny-born soldier, Thomas Monaghan received his VC for defending his colonel during the Indian Rebellion.

In 1908 following the formation of the Territorial Force the Abergavenny Cadet Corps was formed and affiliated with the 3rd Battalion, The Monmouthshire Regiment. In 1912 the regiment was affiliated with the new formed 1st Cadet Battalion, The Monmouthshire Regiment.[60]

Notable people

See also Category:People from Abergavenny

See also


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  4. Geograph British Isles – The Blorenge from the B4598 road at Ty'r-pwll
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  11. Hywel Wyn Owen, The Place-Names of Wales, 1998, ISBN 0-7083-1458-9
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