Tàlgarth - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
TÀLGARTH, a parish, partly in the hundred of Tàlgarth, in which it comprises the decayed borough of Tàlgarth, and the townships of Grwyne Vawr and Grwyne Vechan; and partly in the hundred of Pencelly; unions of Hay and Crickhowel, county of Brecknock, South Wales, 9 miles (E. N. E.) from Brecknock; containing 1388 inhabitants, of whom 673 are in the borough. This place derives its name from its situation in front of the chain of lofty hills called the Black Mountains, which are partly included within the limits of the parish. It once comprised three inferior lordships marcher, called respectively English Tàlgarth, Welsh Tàlgarth, and Dinas; the village was anciently a borough and market-town, and had numerous privileged fairs, which are all that remain of its former distinctions. The parish is very extensive, comprising, according to a survey made in 1801, which is quoted by Mr. Jones in his History of Brecknockshire, an area of not less than ninety thousand one hundred and forty-five acres. Its surface is mountainous, and the soil extremely various, being in some parts fertile and productive, and in others affording only scanty herbage for sheep and young cattle. The 'scenery is much varied, but it is characterised more by features of rugged boldness than of picturesque beauty; in some parts the views border upon the romantic. Though no longer a market-town, nor retaining any of its municipal privileges, Tàlgarth is, notwithstanding, a large and well-built place: it occupies an eminence rising gently from the river Ennig, which is here crossed by a stone bridge of one arch, and, after precipitating itself over several successive ledges of rock, falls into the river Llynvi.
In the parish were formerly many ancient seats, the residences of genteel families, which, having in course of time been abandoned by their proprietors, have fallen into neglect, and are now become comparatively insignificant. Among these is Porthaml, noticed by Leland, who derives its name from the hospitality and affluence of the proprietors, the Vaughans, of whom Sir William Vaughan was first high sheriff of Brecknockshire; it is now the property of the Earl of Ashburnham, by the marriage of one of his ancestors with the heiress of that family: part of the embattled wall of the old mansion, and one of the towers, are at present remaining. Tregunter, an old seat of the Gunters, from whom it derives its name, was originally bestowed by Bernard Newmarch upon Sir Peter Gunter, in reward for his services, and continued in that family for many years: the estate was purchased by the late Thomas Harris, Esq., who erected the present handsome mansion, surrounded by fine grounds, and commanding a pleasing view of the adjacent country, which is richly wooded, of the lofty hill called Troed, near Tàlgarth, and of part of the range of the Black Mountains. Tredustan, a commodious mansion, was for many years the seat of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, and, after her death, was converted into an academy for young men intended for the ministry among her ladyship's connexion. The seat named The Hermitage is beautifully situated in a retired spot.
The village stands within a mile of the turnpikeroad leading from London to Brecknock, through Hay; and the Brecknock and Hay tramroad, in its course through the parish, passes close to it. A new turnpike-road through Tàlgarth forest to Crickhowel and Abergavenny has been formed, diminishing by three miles the distance between Tàlgarth and those two places. The various bridges in the parish are kept in repair by the inhabitants, with the exception only of Pont-y-Tŵr, or "the tower bridge," over the river Llynvi, in the village, which is repaired by the county; this bridge takes its name from a square tower, forming at present part of a small farmhouse, noticed by Leland, who supposes it to have been the ancient borough gaol. Fairs, which are numerously attended by dealers from all parts of the country, and at which great numbers of horses and cattle are sold, are held annually on February 2nd, March 12th, May 31st, July 10th, September 23rd, November 2nd, and December 3rd.
The living is a vicarage not in charge; patrons, the Dean and Canons of Windsor, to whom, after the dissolution of the priory of St. John at Brecknock, the advowson and tithes, which had previously belonged to that establishment, were granted by Henry VIII. The tithes of the parish have been commuted for £895, which sum is thus apportioned. From the hamlets of Trevecca, Pwllywrach, and Forest, £40 are received by the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol. Out of the same hamlets, those of Grwyne Vawr and Grwyne Vechan, and the borough of Tàlgarth, £590 are derived by the dean and canons, who have also a glebe of 22 acres, valued at £22 per annum, and called Tîr-y-Prior, or "the prior's land," from having been possessed by the priory. The vicar receives from the borough, and the hamlets of Grwyne Vawr and Vechan, £285, and likewise has a glebe of 22 acres, valued at £22 per annum. The church, which stands in the higher part of the village, and from all parts of the surrounding country presents a very respectable appearance, is dedicated to St. Gwendeline, or Gwenvrewi, and is a spacious and ancient structure, with a handsome square embattled tower surmounted with turrets. The interior consists of a nave and south aisle, separated by a series of five obtusely pointed arches, springing from octagonal pillars with plain capitals; the windows at the east end are in the later English style. From the churchyard, which is ornamented with numerous yew-trees, is a delightful prospect over a richly cultivated tract of country, embracing a great portion of the counties of Hereford and Radnor. The Independents and Calvinistic Methodists have places of worship: one belonging to the former, at Tredustan, possesses a small endowment, arising from the sum of £170, raised, as is supposed, by subscription, and secured on a bond from the late Lewis Williams, of Pentwyn, in the parish of Gwenddwr, bearing interest at 4½ per cent., and dated January 1st, 1797. Two day schools are held, one of them in connexion with the Established Church, and the other conducted on the British and Foreign system; also five Sunday schools, one of which is a Church school, three belong to the Calvinistic Methodists, and one to the Independents.
Trevecca House, in the hamlet of Trevecca, was built by Howel Harris, the friend and disciple of the Rev. George Whitefield, whose tenets he adopted; and it became the seat of a religious community founded by this gentleman, to whose zeal may be ascribed the prevalence of Calvinistic doctrines among the dissenters in Wales. He was born at this place in 1714, and entered as a student at St. Mary's Hall, Oxford, in 1735; but, continuing there only one term, he quitted the university, became immediately an itinerant preacher, and, after experiencing considerable persecution, settled in his native place, where he was highly respected, and laid the foundation of a community, similar in some respects to those of the Moravians. For this purpose he built the house of Trevecca, and inclosed a sufficient quantity of garden-ground and land, for the accommodation of a large number of inhabitants, whom he invited to invest their property in one general fund, for the equal benefit of all. A portion of the day was spent in religious exercises at the chapel, in which service was performed three times in the day; and, during the intervals, the members were employed in cultivating the land belonging to the institution, the produce of which, after supplying the wants of the immediate locality, was sent to market, and the money added to the common fund. A woollen manufacture was also carried on by the members, who thus supplied the adjacent country, and even distant places, with some of the finest flannel made in the principality. The society flourished greatly, and at one time consisted of a hundred and fifty efficient members, exclusively of children; but after the death of Mr. Harris, who was both chaplain and treasurer, the number declined considerably, and the establishment is now rapidly hastening to decay. Mr. Harris, a short time prior to his death, settled the house and grounds, together with several leasehold farms, in trust for the use of the community; the leasehold property has long since fallen in, and there now remains only the house, with about seven acres of ground. The building is of singular appearance, combining the Grecian, early English, castellated, and Elizabethan styles of architecture; and being much too large for its very few proper inmates, it is let in tenements to different families: the chapel is opened regularly every alternate Sunday for public worship.
Walter Williams, of Neuadd-Vâch, bequeathed £10, the interest of which he appropriated to the instruction of one poor boy; and the parish is entitled to share in the benefit of the Boughrood charity at Brecknock, for apprenticing children, under the liberal endowment of Rice Powell. Near the church are four almshouses, with a garden to each, erected at the expense of John Gunter, Esq., who died in 1689; they have no endowment, and are kept in repair by the parish. Thomas Harris, Esq., of Tregunter, in 1782, bequeathed the interest of £200, for clothing ten men yearly, which is accordingly carried into effect under the superintendence of Mrs. Madocks, of Tregunter. Thomas Bennet, of Pen-yrWrlodd, in 1727, left a house and garden, called Tŷ Bâch, in the parish, the rent to be distributed among the poor of Trevecca; the house was pulled down many years since, and the ground pays 10s. per annum, which is divided among widows of the hamlet. Mrs. Sybil Williams, of Trêvithel, bequeathed £20 in money, now secured on Capel-y-Fin, in Llanigon; and Thomas Watkin Probert, by deed, in 1663, gave to the poor £10 per annum, charged on estates in Tàlgarth and Llangorse: both which charities are distributed on Good Friday.
On the Black Mountains are some imperfect Druidical remains, and vestiges of military works of ancient British origin. On a farm called Pendre, about half a mile from the village, is a very perfect earthwork, forming the segment of a circle, and extending for about two hundred yards; it appears to have been thrown up to cover the retreat of the natives to the mountains, or it may have been an outpost of the fortified station of Dinas, which lies directly in its rear, at the distance of two miles. This last fortress, once a place of great strength, occupies the summit of a conical hill, commanding the mountain pass to Crickhowel, and the eastern parts of the Vale of Usk; it was formerly of great importance, and constituted the head of a lordship marcher, conferring upon its possessor the dignity of a baron of parliament. It is said by most writers to have been built by one of the lords marcher; but Camden is of opinion that it had been previously occupied by the Britons, and identifies it with the fortress of Brecenanmere, which was attacked by Ethelfleda, daughter of Alfred the Great, and Countess of Mercia, who had previously defeated Hwgan, Prince of Brecknock, and who took his wife with thirty of her attendants prisoners at Brecenanmere, and sent them into England. According to Leland, in whose time it was in ruins, Dinas was destroyed by the inhabitants of this part of the principality, during the reign of Henry IV., to prevent its falling into the hands of the Welsh chieftain, Owain Glyndwr. Near the place is a sulphureous spring, called Dinas Well.
Thomas Harris, who purchased the estate of Tregunter, and was an elder brother of Howel, above noticed, was born in the parish; in early life he settled in London, where he realized an ample fortune, with which he retired to his native place. The eldest of the brothers, Joseph, according to a tablet in the church, distinguished himself by his scientific researches; he held a respectable situation in the Mint, and was the author of several astronomical and mathematical treatises, which were highly appreciated.