If you haven’t already seen the many announcements across my numerous social media channels, I am here to tell you that March is Welsh History Month on the Hisdoryan blog.
If you’ve been following me for a while you will know I am a proud Cymraes who studied Welsh History at university. That may have been a long time ago, but I’ve never lost my passion for the past of the beautiful country I am lucky to call home. History makes us who we are and – after extensively researching my family tree – I know my history is Welsh!
So to kick off Welsh History Month I thought I would share with you some lesser known historical facts about the history of Powys. Its the part of Wales I live in – that massive county slap bang in the middle, and its made up of the historic areas of Breconshire, Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire. Powys is often overlooked as, compared to the rest of Wales, there’s not a lot of people here – but it is breathtakingly beautiful and packed full of unspoilt history.
- Brecon Cathedral contains the biggest cresset stone in Britain, holding 30 cups.
- The last native Welsh parliament was held in Machynlleth in 1404 by Owain Glyndwr (c.1359-1415), the last native Welshman to hold the title Prince of Wales.
- The Judges Lodging in Presteigne contains the only working example of a gas-powered chandelier in Britain.
- Sir John Price (1502-55) was the man responsible for dissolving the monasteries in Wales. He was also the author of the first book to be printed in Welsh Yn Y Lhyvyr Hwnn. He lived in the Prior’s House beside Brecon Cathedral.
- The gardens at Powis Castle, just outside Welshpool, are the oldest unaltered gardens of their kind in Britain, dating from the 17th Century.
- The graveyard at St Andrew’s Church, Presteigne contains the grave of 17-year-old Mary Morgan, the last women in Wales to be publicly executed.
- The first official Welsh settler in America, Howell Powell, was from Brecon. He left for the state of Virginia in 1642.
- Newtown was the birthplace of Britain’s first socialist, Robert Owen (1771-1858). He is buried in the churchyard of the abandoned St Mary’s Church.
- Knighton is the only town that is situated right on Offa’s Dyke, the first official border between England and Wales.
- Famous 18th Century actress Sarah Siddons (1755-1831) was born Sarah Kemble at The Shoulder of Mutton Inn on Brecon High Street. The pub is still there, but is now called The Sarah Siddons.
- The world’s first ever mail order business was established in Newtown in the mid 1800s by local entrepreneur Pryce Pryce-Jones (1834-1920) He was also the first person in Wales to have a telephone line installed and – to top it all off – he also invented the sleeping bag!
- Llandrindod Wells was home to Tom Norton (1870-1955), who opened the first Ford agency in Wales and also introduced Wales’ first bus service that ran from Llandrindod to Newtown.
- The last Welsh-born Prince of Wales, Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, was killed in a skirmish at Cilmeri in 1282.
- The first deep pit mine in the Rhondda Valley was sunk by Llandinam-based tycoon David Davies (1818-90).
- Elan Valley – a series of large dams near Rhayader – was the biggest construction project of the Victorian era.
- The Welsh rugby anthem Sospan Fach was composed in Llanwrtyd Wells in 1895.
- Lord David Davies of Llandinam (1880-1944) – a member of Lloyd George’s ‘kitchen cabinet’ – endowed the world’s first department of international politics at The University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
- Doldowlod Hall, near Rhayader, was purchased by James Watt (1736-1819) – the inventor of the steam engine – as his retirement home.
- Craig-y-Nos in the Upper Swansea Valley was home to world famous opera singer Adelina Patti (1843-1919), and was one of the first private houses in Britain to have electricity.
- Gregynog, near Newtown, was built in 1860 and was the first large house in Britain to be made of concrete.
- The small village of Abbeycwmhir, which can be found in the hills above Rhayader, is home to the ruins of what was once the largest abbey in Wales. The abbey is also the burial place of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, the last native Prince of Wales.
- Sir George Everest (1790-1866), the namesake of the world’s highest peak Mount Everest, was born just outside Crickhowell in a Georgian house which is now a hotel.
- Welshpool is home to the only unaltered cockpit preserved on its original site in Britain.
- St Stephen’s Church at Old Radnor is the only church in Wales dedicated to St Stephen. It is also home to what is potentially the oldest font in Britain.
- The Beacon Beacons National Park was the first National Park in Wales, established in 1957.
- A few miles west of Welshpool you will find Dolobran Meeting House, the first Quaker meeting house in Wales built in 1701.
- Built in 1717, Plas Meeting House in Llandegley is the oldest continually use Quaker meeting house in Wales.
- The Iron Age hill fort of Castell Dinas near Talgarth occupies the highest castle site in Wales at a staggering 450m above sea level.
- The half-timbered market hall in the centre of Llanidloes is the only remaining market hall of its kind in Wales.
- The oldest Romanesque shrine in Britain can be found hidden in the Berwyn mountains at St Melangell church.
Tell the truth now – how many of these facts about the history of Powys did you already know?
Have you got an amazing fact about the history of Powys or Welsh history that you think more people should know about? Let me know in the comments below.