Carmarthen (/kɑːrˈmɑːrðən/; Welsh: Caerfyrddin [kɑːɨrˈvərðɪn], "Merlin's fort" or "Sea-town fort") is the county town of Carmarthenshire in Wales and a community. It lies on the River Towy 8 miles (13 km) north of its estuary in Carmarthen Bay.[2][3] Carmarthen has a claim to be the oldest town in Wales – Old Carmarthen and New Carmarthen became one borough in 1546.[4] Carmarthen was the most populous borough in Wales in the 16th–18th centuries, described by William Camden as "the chief citie of the country". Growth was stagnating by the mid-19th century, as new centres developed in the South Wales coalfield.[4] The population in 2011 was 14,185, down from 15,854 in 2001.[5] Dyfed–Powys Police headquarters, Glangwili General Hospital and a campus of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David are located in Carmarthen.

Location within Carmarthenshire
Population14,185 [1] (2011 Census)
OS grid referenceSN415205
  • Carmarthen
Principal area
Ceremonial county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtSA31-33
Dialling code01267
FireMid and West Wales
EU ParliamentWales
UK Parliament
Welsh Assembly


Early history

When Britannia was a Roman province, Carmarthen was the civitas capital of the Demetae tribe, known as Moridunum[2] ("Sea Fort"). It is possibly the oldest town in Wales, recorded by Ptolemy and in the Antonine Itinerary. The Roman fort is believed to date from about AD 75. A Roman coin hoard was found nearby in 2006.[6] Near the fort is one of seven surviving Roman amphitheatres in Britain and only two in Roman Wales (the other being at Isca Augusta, Roman Caerleon). It was excavated in 1968. The arena itself is 50 by 30 yards (about 46 by 27 metres); the cavea (seating area) is 100 by 73 yards (92 by 67 metres). Veprauskas has argued for its identification as the Cair Guorthigirn[7] ("Fort Vortigern") listed by Nennius among the 28 cities of Britain in his History of the Britains.[8] Evidence of the early Roman town has been investigated for several years, revealing urban sites likely to date from the 2nd century.[9]

During the Middle Ages, the settlement then known as Llanteulyddog ('St Teulyddog's)[10] accounted one of the seven principal sees (Cantrefi) in Dyfed.[11] The strategic importance of Carmarthen caused the Norman William fitz Baldwin to build a castle there, probably about 1094. The current castle site is known to have been occupied since 1105. The castle itself was destroyed by Llywelyn the Great in 1215 but, rebuilt in 1223, when permission was given for a town wall and crenellations, making it one of the first medieval walled towns in Wales. In 1405, the town was captured and the castle was sacked by Owain Glyndŵr. The Black Book of Carmarthen of about 1250 is associated with the town's Priory of SS John the Evangelist and Teulyddog.

The Black Death of 1347–1349 arrived in Carmarthen with the thriving river trade.[12] It destroyed and devastated villages such as Llanllwch. Local historians site the plague pit for the mass burial of the dead in the graveyard that adjoins the Maes-yr-Ysgol and Llys Model housing at the rear of St Catherine Street.


The ancient Clas church of Llandeulyddog was an independent, pre-Norman religious community, which became in 1110 the Benedictine Priory of St Peter,[13] only to be replaced 15 years later by the Augustianian Priory of St John the Evangelist and St Teulyddog.[14][15] This stood near the river, at what is now Priory Street (51.8601°N 4.2975°W / 51.8601; -4.2975 (St John's Priory), SN418204). The site is now a scheduled monument.

Grey Friars

Franciscan Friars (Grey Friars, or Friars minor) became established in the town in the 13th century, and by 1284 had their own Friary buildings in Lammas Street (51.855794°N 4.309076°W / 51.855794; -4.309076 (Carmarthen Greyfriars)), on a site now holding a shopping centre.[16] The Franciscan emphasis on poverty and simplicity meant the church was smaller (some "70 to 80 feet long and 30 feet broad" – 21/24 by 9 m) and more austere than the older foundations, but this did not prevent an accumulation of treasures, as it became a sought=after location for burial.[17] In 1456 Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond died of plague in Carmarthen,[18] three months before the birth of his son, the future King Henry VII. Edmund was buried in a prominent tomb in the centre of the choir of the Grey Friars Church.[17] Other notables buried there were Rhys ap Thomas and Tudur Aled.[16]

The Friary was dissolved in 1538, and many unsuccessful plans were made for the building. Even before the friars had left in 1536, William Barlow campaigned to have the cathedral moved into it from St David's,[17] where the tomb and remains of Edmund Tudor were moved after the Carmarthen buildings were deconsecrated. There were repeated attempts to turn the buildings into a grammar school.[17] Gradually they became ruined, although the church walls were still recognisable in the mid-18th century.[17] By 1900 all the stonework had been stripped off and there were no traces above ground. The site remained undeveloped until the 1980s and 1990s, after extensive archaeological excavations of first the monastic buildings and then the nave and chancel of the church. These confirmed that the former presence of a church, a chapter house and a large cloister, with a smaller cloister and infirmary added later. Over 200 graves were found in the churchyard and 60 around the friars' choir.[19]

Arthurian legend

According to some variants of the Arthurian legend, Merlin was born in a cave outside Carmarthen. The town's Welsh name, Caerfyrddin, is widely claimed to mean "Merlin's fort", but a reverse etymology is also suggested: the name Merlin may have originated from the town's name in the anglicised form of Myrddin.[20] (See Merlin § Name and etymology). An alternative explanation is that Myrddin is a corruption of the town's Roman name. Several surrounding areas still allude to this, such as nearby Bryn Myrddin (Merlin's Hill).

Legend also had it that if a certain tree called Merlin's Oak fell, it would bring the downfall of the town. Translated from Welsh, it reads: "When Merlin's Oak comes tumbling down/Down shall fall Carmarthen Town."[21] To obstruct this, the tree was dug up when it died; pieces of it remain in the town museum.

The Black Book of Carmarthen includes poems that refer to Myrddin (Ymddiddan Myrddin a Thaliesin, "Conversation of Merlin and Taliesin") and possibly to Arthur (Pa ŵr yw'r Porthor?, "What man is the porter?"). Interpretation of these is difficult, as the Arthurian legends were known by this time and details of the modern form had been described by Geoffrey of Monmouth before the book was written.

Early modern

One of the earliest recorded Eisteddfodau took place at Carmarthen in about 1451, presided over by Gruffudd ap Nicolas.[22][23]

The 'Book of Ordinances' (1569–1606) is one of the earliest surviving minute books of a town in Wales. It gives a unique picture of an Elizabethan town.[24]

After the Acts of Union, Carmarthen became judicial headquarters of the Court of Great Sessions for south-west Wales. The town's dominant pursuits in the 16th and 17th centuries were still agriculture and related trades, including woollen manufacture. Carmarthen was made a county corporate by a charter of James I in 1604. This decreed that Carmarthen should be known as the 'County of the Borough of Carmarthen' and have two sheriffs. This was reduced to one sheriff in 1835 and the ceremonial post continues to this day.

The Priory and the Friary were abandoned after the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. The chapels of St Catherine and St Barbara were lost. The church of St Peter's survived as the main religious establishment.

During the Marian persecutions of the 1550s, Bishop Ferrar of St David's was burnt at the stake in the market square – now Nott Square. His life and death as a Protestant martyr are recorded in Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

In 1689, John Osborne, 1st Earl of Danby, was created 1st Marquess of Carmarthen by William III. He was then created Duke of Leeds in 1694, and Marquess of Carmarthen became the courtesy title for the Duke's heir apparent until the Dukedom became extinct on the death of the 12th Duke in 1964.

18th century to present

In the mid-18th century, the Morgan family founded a small ironworks at the east end of the town. In 1786 lead smelting was established to process the ore carried from Lord Cawdor's mines at Nantyrmwyn, in the north-east of Carmarthenshire. Neither of these firms survived for long. The lead smelting moved to Llanelli in 1811. The ironworks evolved into a tinplate works that had failed by about 1900. The borough corporation was reformed by a 1764 charter and again by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835.

In the late 18th century John Spurrell, an auctioneer from Bath, settled in Carmarthen. He was the grandson of Robert Spurrell, a Bath schoolmaster, who printed the city's first book, The Elements of Chronology in 1730. In 1840, a printing press was set up in Carmarthen by William Spurrell (1813–1889), who wrote a history of the town and compiled and published an 1848 Welsh-English dictionary and an 1850 English–Welsh dictionary.[25] Today's Collins Welsh dictionary is known as the "Collins Spurrell". A local housing authority in Carmarthen is named Heol Spurrell in honour of the family.[26]

The origins of Chartism in Wales can be traced to the foundation in the autumn of 1836 of Carmarthen Working Men's Association.[27]

Carmarthen gaol, designed by John Nash, was in use from about 1789 until its demolition in 1922. The site is now occupied by County Hall, designed by Sir Percy Thomas. The gaol's "Felons' Register" of 1843–1871 contains some of the earliest photographs of criminals in Britain. In 1843 the workhouse in Carmarthen was attacked by the Rebecca Rioters.

The revival of the Eisteddfod as an institution took place in Carmarthen in 1819. The town hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1867, 1911 and 1974, although at least in 1974, the Maes was at Abergwili.

Carmarthen Grammar School was founded in 1587 on a site now occupied by the old hospital in Priory Street. The school moved in the 1840s to Priory Row, before relocating to Richmond Terrace. At the turn of the 20th century, a local travelling circus buried one of its elephants that fell sick and died. The grave is under what was the rugby pitch.

The population in 1841 was 9,526.[28]

World War II prisoner-of-war camps were situated in Johnstown (where the Davies Estate now stands) and at Glangwilli — the huts being used as part of the hospital since its inception. To the west of the town was the "Carmarthen Stop Line", one of a network of defensive lines created in 1940–1941 in case of invasion, with a series of ditches and pillboxes running north and south. Most of these have since been removed or filled in, but two still remain.[29][30]

The Carmarthen community is bordered by those of Bronwydd, Abergwili, Llangunnor, Llandyfaelog, Llangain, Llangynog and Newchurch and Merthyr, all in Carmarthenshire.

Carmarthen was named as one of the best places to live in Wales in 2017.[31]


Carmarthen Town Council, established in 1974, consists of 18 town councillors elected from the three wards of the town. The town council's responsibilities include maintenance of the town's five parks and of the town cemetery.[32]

The three electoral wards of Carmarthen Town North, Carmarthen Town South and Carmarthen Town West each elect two county councillors to Carmarthenshire County Council.

Twin towns

Carmarthen is twinned with:
Lesneven, Brittany, France
Santa Marinella, Italy
As Pontes, Galicia, Spain


Carmarthen Castle

Little remains of the original medieval castle at Carmarthen, but the old Gatehouse still dominates Nott Square. The motte is also accessible to the public. Castle House, within the old walls, is a museum and Tourist Information Centre.[33]

St Peter's Church

St Peter's is the largest parish church in the Diocese of St David's and has the longest nave: 60 metres from west porch to east window and 15 metres across the nave and south aisle.[34] It consists of a west tower, nave, chancel, south aisle and a Consistory Court, built of local red sandstone and grey shale. The tower contains eight bells, of which the heaviest, tuned to E, weighs 15 cwt 18 lb (783 kg).

Carmarthen Bridge

The concrete A484 road bridge across the River Towy designed by the Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis was completed in 1937. It was Grade II listed in 2003.[35] The loss of the original medieval bridge that it replaced caused controversy.

Pont King Morgan

To create better pedestrian access across the Towy from the railway station to the town centre, a cable-stayed bridge was constructed in 2005 linking to the foot of Blue Street. The cost was £2.8 million.[36] The bridge was commended in 2007 by the Structural Steel Design Awards for its high-quality detailing. Previously, access was across Carmarthen Bridge some 700 feet (210 m) to the east.[37]

Picton's monument

In 1828, a monument was erected at the west end of the town to honour Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton, from Haverfordwest, who had died at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The pillar, which was about 75 ft (23 m), was designed to echo Trajan's column in Rome. A statue of Picton, wrapped in a cloak and supported by a baluster above emblems of spears surmounted the column. The structure stood on a square pedestal. Access was by a flight of steps to a small door on the east side, facing the town. A series of bas-reliefs by Edward Hodges Baily adorned the structure. Above the entrance door was the name "PICTON", and over this a relief showing the Lieutenant General falling mortally wounded from his horse on the battlefield of Waterloo. "WATERLOO" was written across the top. The west side had a relief beneath the title 'BADAJOS' showing Picton scaling the walls with his men during the Battle of Badajoz (1812). On the south side of the pedestal was a description of Picton's life in English. A Welsh version of his exploits was inscribed on the north side. Each side of the square pedestal was adorned with trophies. The top of the square column was adorned with imitative cannons on each side.

Within a few years, the monument became dilapidated. The sculpted bas-reliefs proved "unable to withstand Carmarthen's inclement weather", according to local antiquarians. Although Baily made replacements, they were never put up. The entire pillar was taken down in 1846. In the 1970s, the replacement sculptures were rediscovered in Johnstown and are now displayed in Carmarthenshire County Museum.

After demolition of the first monument, a new structure honouring Picton was commissioned from the architect Frances Fowler. The foundation stone was laid on Monument Hill in 1847. In 1984, the top section was declared unsafe and taken down. Four years later, the whole monument was rebuilt stone-by-stone on stronger foundations.

The Nott statue and plaque to Ferrar

A statue of General Nott was erected in 1851. According to the PMSA, "The bronze statue was cast from cannon captured at the battle of Maharajpur. Queen Victoria gave 200 guineas to the memorial fund. The statue occupies the site of the market cross, which was dismantled when the market was resited and Nott Square created in 1846."[38]

The Market Square was where Bishop Robert Ferrar of St Davids was executed in March 1555. A small plaque below the statue of General Nott commemorates the place where he was burned at the stake during the Marian Persecutions.

Listed buildings

The many other listed buildings include The Guildhall, Capel Heol Awst, Capel Heol Dŵr, Carmarthen, Carmarthen Cemetery Chapel, Elim Independent Chapel, English Baptist Church, English Congregational Church, Penuel Baptist Chapel, Christ Church, Eglwys Dewi Sant, Church of St Mary and Eglwys Sant Ioan.


Motorcycle speedway racing was staged in the early 2000s at a track built on the western outskirts of the town. The team raced in the Conference League.

The town has two rugby union teams: Carmarthen Quins and Carmarthen Athletic. The Quins currently play in the Welsh Premier Division league after their promotion to the Premiership in the 2008/2009 season.

CPC Bears is a rugby league club based in Carmarthen and the regional side for Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. They play in the Welsh Premier Division of the Rugby League Conference.

The town has a semi-professional football team, Carmarthen Town F.C. playing in the Welsh Premier League, the top league in Welsh football. Founded in 1948, it plays its home games at Richmond Park. The club colours, reflected in its crest and kit, are gold and black.

The town has two golf courses, a leisure centre with an eight-lane, 25-metre swimming pool, where the Carmarthen district swimming club is based, a synthetic athletics track, and an outdoor velodrome. It also has an athletics team, Carmarthen Harriers. A cycle track was established in about 1900 and remains in use.


The A40, A48, A484 and A485 converge on Carmarthen. The M4 route, which links South Wales with London, terminates at junction 49, the Pont Abraham services, to continue north-west as the dual carriageway A48 and finish at its junction with the A40 in Carmarthen.


Carmarthen railway station is on the West Wales Line. It opened in 1852. The town has rail links to Cardiff via Swansea to the east and Fishguard Harbour, Milford Haven, Tenby, Pembroke and Pembroke Dock to the west. There are daily direct intercity trains to London. The area suffered a number of rail closures in the 1960s under the Beeching Axe: one to Llandeilo closed in 1963 and one to Lampeter and Aberystwyth in 1965.


Carmarthen is a stop on the Eurolines bus route 890, linking London with a number of cities and towns in Munster and South Leinster in Ireland. The service may be used to destinations in Ireland, but may not be used to other stops in Britain. There is a Park and Ride service running daily from Monday to Saturday from 7.00 to 19.00 between Nantyci, to the west of Carmarthen town, and the town centre.[39]

Regeneration and redevelopment

The former cattle market in the heart of the town underwent regeneration, with the new shopping centre opening on 30 April 2010.[40] The centre includes a multi-screen cinema, a Debenhams department store, a market hall, restaurants and a multi-storey car park. The new market hall opened on 8 April 2009.[41]

Notable people

See Category:People from Carmarthen
See Category:People from Carmarthenshire


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