Abergavenny (Y Fenni), meaning Mouth of the River Gavenny, is a market town in Monmouthshire, Wales.

It is 24 km (15 mi) west of Monmouth on both the A40 road and A465. Situated at the confluence of a tributary stream called the Gavenny and the River Usk, it is almost surrounded by two mountains - the Blorenge (559 m) and the Sugar Loaf (596 m) - and five hills - the Skirrid Fawr, the Skirrid Fach, the Deri, the Rholben and Mynydd Llanwenarth, known locally as 'Llanwenarth Breast'. The town is situated just south of the Black Mountains, Wales, part of the Brecon Beacons National Park.

Formerly a medieval walled town for defence, it was originally a Roman fort called Gobannium. It contains the remains of a mediæval stone castle built soon after the Norman Conquest. It is in the Welsh Marches 9.83 kilometres (6.11 mi) from the English border. Offa's Dyke Path long distance footpath passes close by and the Marches Way, The Beacons Way and Usk Valley Walk all pass through the town. A sign on the Town Hall gives Abergavenny the title 'Gateway to Wales'.

Abergavenny railway station opened 2 January 1854 and is on the Welsh Marches Line.


Origins of the town and its name

Gobannium was a Roman fort guarding the road along the valley of the River Usk linking the legionary fortress of Usk or Burrium, and later Caerleon or Isca Augusta, in the south with Y Gaer, Brecon and Mid Wales and for keeping 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.

The name derives 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 Abergavenny, meaning "mouth of (Welsh: Aber) the Gavenny (Gafenni)". In Welsh, the shortened form Y Fenni came into use after about the 15th century, although the longer English version of the name is in general use.

The Norman period

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 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, 7th Baron Abergavenny with a tenth or tithe of the profits of the castle and town. The church contains some unique alabaster effigies, church monuments and unique medieval wood carving, such as the Jesse.

Owing to its geographical location the town was frequently embroiled in the border warfare and power play of the 12th century and 13th century in the Welsh Marches. In 1175, Abergavenny Castle was the scene of a reputed massacre of local Welsh chieftains by the pious and ruthless William de Braose, 7th Baron Abergavenny. So the story goes, after a period of discord and conflict he invited the local leaders to a Christmas banquet under the pretext of resolving differences and building relations but his plan was to eliminate them. Accepting his supposed hospitality, at a traditional time for settling differences, the influential Welsh leaders of the surrounding areas nearly all arrived, proffered their swords as tokens of peaceful intent to servants and, unarmed, were ushered further into the castle where de Braose's armed soldiers hacked them down in cold blood. Giraldus Cambrensis relates how in 1182 the castle was seized back by the Welsh.

1300 to 1900

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 in 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.

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.

During the Civil War, prior to the siege of Raglan Castle in 1645, Charles I visited Abergavenny and presided in person over the trial of Sir Trefor Williams of Llangibby, a Royalist who changed sides, and other Parliamentarians.

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.

Reference to a market at Abergavenny is found in a charter granted to the Prior by William de Braose (d. 1211). The right to hold two weekly markets and three yearly fairs, as held ever since, was confirmed in 1657. Abergavenny was celebrated for the production of Welsh flannel, and also for the manufacture, whilst the fashion prevailed, of goats' hair periwigs.

The title of Baron Abergavenny, in the Nevill family, dates from Edward Nevill, 3rd Baron Bergavenny (d. 1476), who was the youngest son of Ralph Neville, 1st Earl of Westmoreland by his second wife Joan Beaufort, daughter of John of Gaunt. He married the heiress of Richard 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 1387 in Henry Nevill, 6th Baron Bergavenny, but a cousin, Edward Nevill, 8th Baron Bergavenny (d. 1622), 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 (b. 1826), (d.1915) an indefatigable and powerful supporter of the Tory party, was created 1st Marquess of Abergavenny in 1876.

Later history

Rudolf Hess, Hitler's Deputy, was kept under escort at Maindiff Court during the Second World War after his flight to Britain.

Sporting Traditions

Abergavenny is the home of Abergavenny Thursdays F.C., which was formed in 1927, and is currently a member of the Gwent County League Division 3. The club's current position comes within 15 years of their being one of the top sides in Welsh football, winning the old format Welsh Football League in 1991 and 1992, but being relegated in 1993 after just one season in the newly formed League of Wales. The club suffered relegation from the Welsh Football League in 2001 and has since slipped down through the next two divisions into its current position, although the future is now looking brighter.

Abergavenny Cricket Club ground enjoys a wonderful setting at Avenue Road, Pen-y-Pound, Abergavenny and Glamorgan CCC play some of their games here.

Abergavenny is also the home of Abergavenny RFC a rugby union team founded in 1875 who play at Bailey Park. As of 2007 they play in the WRU Division Three East league.

Markets and fairs

Cattle Market

A cattle market has been held in Abergavenny on its current site since 1863. Before 1863 a sheep market was held at a site in Castle Street between 1825-63 to stop the sale of sheep on the streets of the town. Today the market is leased and operated by Abergavenny Market Auctioneers Ltd, who hold regular livestock auctions on the site. Market days are: Monday – The sale of finished lambs and cull stock. Tuesday – The sale of finished sheep, cull ewe/store, a Fodder auction and sale of hay. Some Fridays – The sale of cattle. A few other sales are held on the site on other days throughout the year.

Market Hall

Various markets are held in the Market Hall, for example: Tuesdays – retail market (also stretches into the Town hall car park and Brewery yard car park); Wednesday – Flea Market; 4th Thursday of the month a Farmers market; Friday – retail market; Saturday – retail market (also in the Town Hall car park); 3rd Sunday of the month - antique fair; 2nd Saturday - craft fair.

Incidental Information

See also


  • see also: Jürgen Klötgen, "Prieuré d'Abergavenny - Tribulations mancelles en Pays de Galles au temps du Pape Jean XXII (d'après des documents français et anglais du XIV° siècle collationnés avec une source d'histoire retrouvée aux Archives Secrètes du Vatican)", in Revue Historique et Archéologique du Maine, Le Mans, 1989, p.65 - 88 (1319 : cf John of Hastings, lord of Abergavenny; Adam de Orleton, bishop of Hereford, John de Monmouth, bishop of Llandaff).

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