Builth, or Llanvair-Yn-Muallt - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
BUILTH, or LLANVAIR-YN-MUALLT, a market-town and parish, the head of a union, and anciently a borough, in the hundred of Builth, county of Brecknock, South Wales, 17 miles (N.) from Brecknock, and 170 (W. N. W.) from London; containing 1203 inhabitants. The proper name of this parish, both as applied by the native inhabitants, and as used in legal documents from the earliest times, is Llanvair-yn-Muallt, or "St. Mary's in Builth." The name Builth, by which the place is commonly known, and which is more correctly written Buallt or Muallt, implying "a land of boscage used for pasture," and more especially for the pasture of oxen, is with strict propriety applied generally to the territory within which the town is situated, and is derived from the Welsh Bu, "an ox," and Allt, "a wooded eminence," at once descriptive of the face of the country and the use to which it was appropriated. The origin of the town is involved in very great obscurity; some writers, judging from the course of the Roman road from Deva, now Chester, to CaerBannau, near Brecknock, and strengthened in their opinion by the resemblance of the names, have fixed the Roman station Bull�um Silurum at this place. But, though a Roman road may have passed by Builth, and some military post may have been established in the neighbourhood, no remains have been discovered to corroborate such an opinion; and many writers of respectable authority altogether deny that any part of the present county of Brecknock was ever comprehended within the ancient province of Siluria. The present town appears to have arisen subsequently to the erection of a castle here, probably by the Norman invaders of this part of the principality, under the command of Bernard Newmarch, about the year 1098. The first historical notice of the place occurs in an account of the marriage of Maud, second daughter of Milo Fitz-Walter, lord of Brecknock, to Philip de Breos, one of Bernard's followers, who, having attacked and conquered the territories of Elystan Glodrhŷdd, which bordered on the river Wye, established in them the lordship of Builth, from which circumstance he is designated, in the account of his marriage above referred to, "lord of Builth, which he obtained by conquest." Frequent mention of this castle occurs in the annals of South Wales, but its history is nevertheless very imperfectly known; and neither the name of its founder, nor the exact time of its erection, has been precisely ascertained. The lordship of Builth descended, together with the lordships of Brecknock and Hay (the latter in right of his mother), to William, son of Philip de Breos, upon whose subsequent attainder they became forfeited to the crown.
King John restored part of the vast possessions of that nobleman to his son, Giles de Breos, Bishop of Hereford, but retained in his own possession the remainder, in which were included the lordship and castle of Builth. These, however, the bishop soon after recovered, taking possession of all the ancient estates of his family, which were subsequently confirmed to him by the king. Giles was succeeded in them by his younger brother, Reginald de Breos, who, in 1221, being besieged in his castle at Builth by Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, despatched messengers to Henry III., to apprise him of his danger; upon which, that monarch, coming to his assistance, compelled Llewelyn to raise the siege and retire. After the death of Reginald, who had married a daughter of Llewelyn's, the lordship of Builth and his other possessions descended to his eldest son, William de Breos, by a former marriage. This nobleman, preferring the English interest, notwithstanding his father's connexion with the family of Llewelyn, remained a stedfast adherent to the government of Henry III., and became involved in the wars which that monarch carried on against the Welsh, in one of which he was made prisoner by Llewelyn, to whom the lordship of Builth, with a large sum of money, was given for his ransom. The castle having, after the death of William, reverted to the English crown, was held under Prince Edward by Sir Roger Mortimer, who was appointed governor. During his absence on a summons to attend the English parliament, in 1260, it was surprised in the night by Llewelyn ab Grufydd, Prince of North Wales, who attacked it on pretence that Sir Roger Mortimer, contrary to his oath, had violated the neutrality which he had promised to observe, and supported the English cause. The conduct of Mortimer upon this occasion gave great umbrage, on the other hand, to the English government; and being suspected, from his near affinity to Llewelyn, of partiality to the interests of that prince, he was summoned before the English council, by whom he was fully acquitted of any participation or connivance in the loss of the castle, though much to the dissatisfaction of Prince Edward, who formally entered his protest against the decision of that assembly.
In 1282, the town and its vicinity were the scene of the last struggles for Welsh independence, to which a period was finally put by the death of the gallant and unfortunate Llewelyn, the last of the native sovereigns of Wales: to this melancholy catastrophe, the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood are accused of having materially contributed, either by their cowardice, or by their treachery. No two writers give the same account of the event; some authorities representing the castle to have been at that time in the possession of the Welsh prince, and others in that of the English monarch, with whose subjects in the marches Llewelyn is said to have held a treasonable correspondence. All, however, concur in stating that the object of his visit to South Wales, after the brilliant success which had attended his arms at the Menai straits, was to hold a conference with some of the chieftains in this district. Llewelyn, for this purpose, came to Aberedw, about four miles below the town, where he had a castle or mansion; and there passed the night. During his stay he was alarmed by the approach of the enemy, who had received intelligence of his movements and present situation; and, being nearly surrounded by the forces of the English, under the command of Sir Edmund Mortimer and John Giffard (who had marched from Herefordshire, or, according to other writers, only from Builth, to surprise him), he, as is commonly stated, caused his horse's shoes to be reversed, in order to mislead his pursuers by their impressions on the snow, which then covered the ground. The stratagem, however, being treacherously discovered to the English, by Madoc G�ch M�n Mawr, the blacksmith whom Llewelyn had employed, a pursuit was commenced. Llewelyn fled towards Builth, crossing the bridge over the Wye, which he caused to be demolished, before the arrival of his pursuers, who were, consequently, compelled to return to a ford eight miles lower down on the river, where they effected a passage. Meanwhile Llewelyn had sought succour from the garrison at Builth, which being refused, either from dread of the presence of an English force, or from treachery, he led his party westward up the vale of Irvon, and crossed that river a little above Llanynis church, by a bridge called Pont-y-Coed, where he stationed his men. The English, on coming up, were unable to obtain possession of the bridge; but discovering a ford at a short distance, a small party of them secretly crossed it, and falling upon the Welsh unawares, put them to the rout. The Welsh prince was slain in a small dell, since called Cwm Llewelyn, or "Llewelyn's dingle," a short distance from the scene of action, by one Adam de Francton, who, ignorant of his quality, immediately joined his countrymen in the pursuit, but returning, probably for the sake of plunder, discovered that his victim was the Prince of Wales, on whose person he found a letter in cypher and his privy seal. He then cut off his head, which he sent to the King of England, at Conway; and the body, being afterwards dragged a short distance from the spot, was buried on the banks of the Irvon, in a place since called Cevn bedd Llewelyn, "the ridge of Llewelyn's grave." The alleged conduct of the inhabitants of Builth, in refusing shelter to the last native sovereign of the principality, in this expiring struggle for liberty, procured for them the opprobrious appellation of Bradwyr Buallt, or the "Traitors of Builth."
John Giffard, who had distinguished himself in this engagement, was appointed governor of the castle of Builth, under the crown, as appears from the records in the Exchequer. This office he continued to hold till the 25th or 26th of Edward I.; but, towards the close of the reign of Edward II., the castle and lordship were either granted to Roger Mortimer, Earl of Wigmore, or, having been restored to the family of de Breos, were obtained by that nobleman on his marriage with Maud, daughter of the third William de Breos. From this time they remained in the possession of that family, till the attainder of the last Earl of March, when they again reverted to the crown, to which they continued an appendage till the reign of Charles I.
In the year 1691 the town was nearly destroyed by an accidental fire, which broke out on the 20th of December, in that year. The loss sustained by the sufferers who applied for relief under this calamity was estimated at �10,780, and by persons of more independent property, who did not make application for assistance, about �2000 more. Letters-patent were granted by the crown, authorising the distressed inhabitants to gather alms from charitably disposed persons throughout the kingdom, and under this authority a few hundred pounds were collected; but the money was so misapplied that only one house in the town was rebuilt from the fund. In this instrument, which is illuminated with the portraits of King William and Queen Mary, and with the arms of England, Scotland, Ireland, and France, highly emblazoned, it is stated that "the fire raged for five hours, and that, from the boisterousness of the winds, it consumed the dwellings of forty-one substantial families, with all their corn, furniture, effects, and merchandises, to the great impoverishment of the adjacent country, and decay of trade, it being a very considerable market-town, and having no other market kept within ten miles of it." Since this calamity no events of importance have occurred.
The town is romantically situated on the river Wye, whose banks, throughout the whole of its winding and varied course, are crowned with picturesque beauty. It is irregularly built, consisting principally of two streets, which, meeting in an acute angle, unite and afterwards extend for a considerable distance along the road leading to Llandovery. Several neat houses occupy the space between the river and the churchyard, nearly parallel with the course of the Wye, over which is a handsome stone bridge of six arches, connecting the counties of Brecknock and Radnor, erected in 1770, at their joint expense. There are also some well-built houses of respectable appearance in detached situations. The surrounding scenery is eminently distinguished for its richly diversified and highly picturesque character: the adjoining hills, in some places approaching to mountainous elevation, are interspersed with groves of thriving plantations, alternated with lofty and boldlyprojecting masses of rock, overhanging the river; whilst other hills, clothed with flourishing timber from the base to the summit, combine, with partial appearances of sterility and rugged grandeur, the more pleasing features of verdure and cultivation. The approach from Brecknock is exceedingly interesting: the contrast between the high state of cultivation in the vicinity of Builth, and the barren mountains which are traversed in approaching it, is peculiarly striking; the prospect being adorned with the meandering course of the Wye, a variety of beautiful scenery in the foreground, and a long range of mountains in the distance, which, although lofty, present a soft and delicate outline. The soil around the town is very superior to that in the remainder of the hundred: the lands are inclosed, and in an excellent state of cultivation; the climate is milder, and the crops are earlier than in other parts of the county.
Owing to the alterations and improvements in the high roads, the town now occupies a situation on the direct line of communication between North and South Wales, the high road from Brecon to Llandrindod, and that from Hay to Llanwrtyd, passing through the place; and from the numerous other local advantages which it possesses, it is capable of great improvement. The Wye, and its several tributary streams, by which the inhabitants are amply supplied with water, abound with trout; and within a mile and a half of the town, are some excellent mineral springs, one of them saline, another chalybeate, and a third sulphureous. These springs, which are situated about half a mile from the banks of the Wye, in the parish of Llanvihangel-Brqyn-Pabuan, have become within the last few years, from their well-established reputation, a source of great attraction to visiters, the number of whom has been rapidly increasing, and for whose accommodation numerous houses have been erected by the landowners in Builth. The growing importance of the locality, through the influx of visiters in the summer months, has also drawn many strangers to fix their permanent residence here; and a new suspension foot-bridge lately thrown over the river Irvon, has contributed in no small degree to supply the requisite facilities of communication with the north-western vicinity, and to enhance the admiration of the beautiful scenery of the neighbourhood by those who visit the waters. The market, which is very numerously attended, is on Monday; and fairs, which are also much frequented, are annually held on the third Monday in February, the Monday before the 12th of May, on June 27th, the last Monday in August, October 2nd, and December 6th, for the sale of agricultural produce, and wares. This place is said to have been anciently a borough, with a charter of incorporation from its Norman lords, and in all ancient documents, the inhabitants were styled the "Burgesses of Builth;" but they at present enjoy no municipal privileges, and the town is under the jurisdiction of the county magistrates. The powers of the county debt-court of Builth, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Builth. A small lock-up house has been erected for the confinement of petty offenders, with apartments for the two parish constables.
The parish is separated by the river Wye on the north from that of Llanelweth in the county of Radnor, and is bounded on the south and east by that of Llanddewi'r Cwm, and on the west by the parishes of Llanganten and Maesmynis. It comprises by computation about 700 acres, which, with the exception of 20 acres of woodland, are nearly equally divided between arable and pasture; the soil rests upon clay, and produces wheat, barley, oats, and potatoes, all raised for home consumption.
The living is a perpetual curacy, endowed with �200 private benefaction, �400 royal bounty, and �600 parliamentary grant; patrons, alternately, the Price family, and V. Pocock, Esq., the impropriators, whose tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of �90. The tithes belonged to the priory of Brecknock, upon the dissolution of which they were purchased by Sir John Price, and continued for some time in the possession of his heirs; they were afterwards purchased by Richard Price, Esq., of Knighton. Attached to the living are about twenty-eight acres of bounty land, bought in the year 1739, and half an acre of garden-ground; but the parsonage-house fell into decay more than a century ago, and has not been rebuilt. The total net income of the benefice is �106. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, and, with the exception of the ancient tower, rebuilt in the year 1793, at the expense of the parishioners, is a neat plain structure, 60 feet long, and 20 wide. In the chancel are the remains of a monument with the mutilated effigy of John Lloyd, of Towey, Esq.; and on a brass plate in the north wall just above it is an inscription, setting forth that he was a servant to Queen Elizabeth, whose father he had also served in Scotland and elsewhere, and that he was the first sheriff and justice of the peace that ever dwelt in this lordship after the division of Wales into counties. There are several places of worship for dissenters.
Thomas Pritchard, a native of the town, who had acquired an ample fortune in London by trade, in 1752 bequeathed �1800 New South Sea annuities to certain trustees, to apply the dividends annually to such charitable purposes, for the benefit of the parish, as they and the principal inhabitants should deem most beneficial. In 1759, a bill, in the nature of an information, was filed by the Attorney-General to establish this will; and in 1760, the money was directed to be laid out in building a school-house, the payment of a master's salary, and the placing out of apprentices; any remaining surplus to be applied to the relief of the poor. No school-house was erected under this decree; but a very good building has been erected as a boys' school by voluntary subscription of the parishioners, on a piece of ground let by the late Thomas Price, Esq., on lease, at a pepper-corn rent. The income arising from the bequest is �54. 16. 8. per annum, to which have been added �5 per annum, the interest of �100 bequeathed by the Rev. Benjamin Lawrence, in the year 1829, and now secured on mortgage. Of these united sums, �30 per annum are paid to a schoolmaster, for teaching thirty boys, and �16 per annum to a mistress, for teaching sixteen girls; �5 per annum are paid to a clerk for managing the business of the charity, and the remainder is expended in the necessary repairs of the building, and in providing books for the use of the scholars. There is no surplus for distribution among the poor, nor will the funds, after defraying the expenses of the school, afford any thing for the apprenticing of children, though a few have been put out at different periods with premiums of �5 each, when a balance has accrued: the town is, however, entitled to participate in the benefits resulting in this respect from the liberal endowment of the Boughrood charity at Brecon. The master and mistress each receive an increase of salary in fees, paid by the parents of some scholars admitted in addition to the numbers abovementioned. A Sunday school for boys is held in the spacious room of the free school, and one for girls in the chancel of the church: there are also several Sunday schools in connexion with dissenters. Margaret Powell, in 1715, bequeathed �20, due to her upon the mortgage of a tenement called H�ngwm, to the poor of the parish.
The poor-law union of which this town is the head, was formed Jan. 2nd, 1837, and comprises the following thirty-one parishes and townships; namely, Alltmawr, Builth, Crickadarn, North Gwenddwr, South Gwenddwr, Gwravog, Llanavan-Vawr, Llanavan-Vechan, Llanddewi-Abergwessin, Llanddewi'rCwm, Llanganten, Llangynog, Llanlleonvel, Llanvihangel-Abergwessin, Llanvihangel-Bryn-Pabuan, Llanynis, Llysdinam, Maesmynis, Penbyallt, Rh�sverrig, and Tr�vllys, in the county of Brecknock; and Aberedw, Bettws-Disserth, Caregrina, Disserth with Tre'r Coed, Llanbadarn-y-Garreg, Llandrindod, Llanelweth, Llansantfraid-in-Elvel, Llanvaredd, and Rulen, in the county of Radnor. It is under the superintendence of 35 guardians, and contains a population of 8714, of whom 6345 are in Brecknockshire.
Of the ancient castle, occupying a gentle eminence above the river Wye, the only remains are a small fragment of the north wall, which appears to have been of unusual strength and thickness, though the quality of the stone was not very durable. The deep trenches by which it was surrounded still shew the original form and extent of this once important fortress, which commanded the river, over which was originally a bridge, nearly opposite to it. The keep was on the summit of a steep conical mound, fifty yards in circumference at the base, and entirely surrounded with a deep moat. The state apartments and other buildings were chiefly on the south-west side, where an outer moat communicates with the inner moat by a deep cut: both of these trenches appear to have been occasionally filled with water, for the better defence of the fortress. The circuit of the whole is about three hundred and fifty paces. On a precipitous eminence, rising from the bank of the river Irvon, at a short distance from its junction with the Wye, is a mound of earth, which is said to have been anciently the site of a mural fortress, called Castell Caer Beris; but nothing either of its origin or history is known, and the only memorials existing at present are the name and the site. About a mile west of the town is a small brook, called Nant-yr-Arian, or the "Money brook," from the circumstance of its having been a place of guarded intercourse between the inhabitants and the country-people during the prevalence of the plague in the town. At that time the people of the adjoining districts are said to have deposited at this place the provisions with which they supplied the town, and the inhabitants to have thrown their money into the brook, to prevent infection.