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Carmarthen

[kahr-mahr-thuhn]
Carmarthen (Welsh Caerfyrddin - caer fort + Myrddin Moridunum) is the county town of Carmarthenshire, Wales. It is built on the River Towy and has a population of about 13,148

Carmarthen has a number of surviving heritage attractions including the Roman amphitheatre and the castle. The Gwili Railway, a section of the former railway line to Aberystwyth, has also been re-opened as a heritage railway for tourists.

Carmarthen has a large proportion of Welsh speakers, with the county of Carmarthenshire as a whole having the largest population of such by number (the largest Welsh-speaking population by proportion is in Gwynedd). Although Carmarthen is on navigable water the harbour no longer sees commercial use, in part due to the treacherous approaches. Carmarthen is location of the headquarters of Dyfed-Powys Police, home to Trinity College Carmarthen - an associate higher education provider of the University of Wales as well as the West Wales General Hospital.

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

History

Roman

When Britannia was a Roman province, Carmarthen was the civitas capital of the Demetae tribe, known as Moridunum (meaning sea fort). Carmarthen is possibly the oldest town in Wales and was recorded by Ptolemy and in the Antonine Itinerary. The Roman fort is believed to date from AD75-77. A coin hoard of Roman currency was found nearby in 2006 Near the fort is one of seven surviving Roman amphitheatres in the United Kingdom and one of only two in Wales (the other being at Isca Augusta or Roman Caerleon). It was excavated in 1968. The arena itself is 46 by 27 meters; the circumference of the cavea seating area is 92 by 67 meters.

Medieval

The strategic importance of Carmarthen was such that the Norman William fitz Baldwin built a castle probably around 1094. The existing castle site is known to have been used since 1105. The castle was destroyed by Llywelyn the Great in 1215. In 1223 the castle was rebuilt and permission was received to wall the town and crenellate (a murage). Carmarthen was among the first medieval walled towns in Wales. In 1405 the town was taken and the castle was sacked by Owain Glyndŵr. The famous Black Book of Carmarthen, written around 1250, is associated with the town's Priory of St John the Evangelist and Teulyddog.

During the Black Death of 1347-49 the plague was brought to Carmarthen via the thriving river trade. The Black death 'destroy'd' and devastated villages such as Llanllwch. Local historians place the plague pit, the site for mass burial of the dead, to be the graveyard that adjoins the 'Maes-yr-Ysgol' and 'Llys Model' housing at the rear of St Catherine Street.

Early modern

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

Both the Priory and the Friary were abandoned during the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, the land being return to monarchy. Likewise the chapels of St Catherine and St Barbara were lost, the church of St Peter's being the main religious establishment to survive this era.

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. A Protestant martyr, his life and death are recorded in John Foxe's famous book of martyrs.

18th century to present

In the mid 18th century the iron and coal trades became much more important although Carmarthen never developed ironworks on the scale of Dowlais or Merthyr Tydfil. Carmarthen hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1867, 1911 and 1974 although, at least in the case of the 1974 Eisteddfod, the Maes was at Abergwili.

The Boy's Grammar school was founded in 1587 on the site that is now occupied by the old hospital in Priory Street. This school moved in the 1840s to Priory Row before relocatiing to Richmond Terrace. It was here at the turn of the century that a local travelling circus was given permission to bury one of their elephants after it fell sick and died:the elephant's final resting place is under what was the school rugby pitch.

During World War II prisoner of war camps were situated in Johnstown (where the Davies Estate now stands) and at Glangwilli - the POW huts being utilised as part of the hospital at its inception.

Famous citizens

Arthurian legend

According to some variants of the Arthurian legend Merlin was born in a cave outside Carmarthen, with many noting that Merlin may be an anglicised form of Myrddin. Historians generally disagree with this interpretation of the name, preferring that Myrddin is a corruption of the Roman name, but the story is popular. Many areas surrounding Carmarthen still allude to this, such as the nearby Bryn Myrddin (Merlin's Hill).

Legend also had it that when a particular tree called 'Merlin's Oak' fell it would be the downfall of the town as well. In order to stop this the tree was dug up when it died and pieces are now in the museum. The occasional flooding of the appropriately-named Water Street has been attributed to ongoing redevelopment of the area.

The Black Book of Carmarthen includes poems with references to Myrddin (Ymddiddan Myrddin a Thaliesin) and possibly to Arthur (Pa ŵr yw'r Porthor?). The interpretation of these is difficult because the Arthur legend was already known by this time, and many details of the modern form of the legend had been described by Geoffrey of Monmouth before the book was written. In addition some of the stories appear to have been moved into Wales at some point before their recording in the book.

Sculptures, monuments and memorials

Picton's monument

The original monument , erected in 1828 stood at the west end of the town, and was erected in memory of the gallant Sir Thomas Picton, who died in the Battle of Waterloo. It was about 75 foot high, and was similar to Trajan's pillar in Rome. The pillar stoods on a square pedestal, with a small door on the east side, which fronts the town, where the monument was ascended by a flight of steps. Over the door, in large characters, was the name, PICTON; and above this is a relief showing part of the field of battle, with the hero falling from his horse, from the mortal wound which he received. Over this, in large letters, is inscribed WATERLOO. On the west end is represented the Battle of Badajoz (1812), Picton scaling the walls with a few men, and attacked by the besieged. Above this is the word BADAJOS. On the south side of the pedestal is the following inscription:—

Sir THOMAS PICTON,

Knight Grand Cross of the Military Order of the
Bath,
Of the Portuguese Order of the Tower and Sword,
and of other foreign Orders;
Lieutenant-General in the British Army, and
Member of Parliament for the Borough of
Pembroke,
Born at Poyston, in Pembrokeshire, in August,
1758;
Died at Waterloo on the 18th of June, 1815,
Gloriously fighting for his country and the
liberties of Europe.
Having honourably fulfilled, on behalf of the
public, various duties in various climates:
And having achieved the highest military renown
in the Spanish Peninsula,
He thrice received the unanimous thanks of
Parliament,
And a Monument erected by the British nation
in St. Paul's Cathedral
Commemorates his death and services,
His grateful countrymen, to perpetuate past and
incite to future exertions,
Have raised this column, under the auspices of
his Majesty, King George the Fourth,
To the memory of a hero and a Welshman.
The plan and design of this Monument was given
by our countryman, John Nash, Esq. F.R.S.
Architect to the King.
The ornaments were executed by
E.H. Bailey, Esq. R.A.
And the whole was erected by Mr. Daniel
Mainwaring, of the town of Carmarthen,
In the year 1826 and 1827.

On the north side was the translation of the above in Welsh; and on the top of the pedestal, on each side of the square, were trophies. The top of the column was also square, and on each side were imitative cannons. The statue of the hero surmounts the whole, wrapped in a cloak, and supported by a baluster, round which are emblems of spears.

However, within a few years this monument had fallen into a dilapidated state. The bas-reliefs which had been sculpted by Edward Hodges Baily were 'unable to withstand Carmarthen's inclement weather', as Joyce and Victor Lodwick put it (see 'The Story of Carmarthen' p.391). Although the sculptor made replacements, they were never put up, and the entire monument was taken down in 1846. The replacement sculptures lay neglected and forgotten in Johnstown until the 1970s, when they were rescued and transferred to the Museum.

The monument as it appears today was designed by the architect Frances Fowler and the foundation stone was laid in 1847. This monument, too, has had its troubles. In 1984, the top section was declared to be unsafe and was taken down, and in 1988 the whole monument was rebuilt stone by stone on new stronger foundations.

The monument still stands on its commanding position at the top of Picton. Despite Picton's military prowess there was another side to his character. In his day he was known as a merchant of slaves and slaveowner. He was also known as a cruel torturer and the word 'Pictoning' derives from him. Many local people feel the monument to him at Picton Terrace should be removed and something more consistent with 21st century values be put in its place. Also to be noted, there is an elephant buried under the monument.

General Nott Statue in Nott Square

A statue of General Nott was erected in Nott Square 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.

Black Book of Carmarthen

Sport

Speedway racing was staged in the early 2000s at a track built on the Showgrounds on the western outskirts of the town. The team raced in the Conference League. More notably, the town has its own football (soccer) team: Carmarthen Town F.C. and two rugby union teams - Carmarthen Quins and Carmarthen Athletic. The town also boasts two golf courses.

Transport

Carmarthen railway station is on the West Wales Line. Carmarthen is served by rail links through to Cardiff via Swansea to the east and Fishguard Harbour, Milford Haven, Tenby, Pembroke and Pembroke Dock to the west.

A number of major roads converge on Carmarthen. These are the A40, A48, A484 and A485 roads

Pont King Morgan

Opened in the early months of 2006, the footbridge links Carmarthen railway station with Blue St.

Future plans

The former cattle mart in the heart of the town is undergoing regeneration. The development will include a new multi-screen cinema, Debenhams department store, market hall, restaurants and a multi-storey car park.

Photographs of the Carmarthen area

References

External links

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