Caerleon

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The city of Chester was also historically called Caerleon. For the champion racehorse, see Caerleon II

Coordinates: 51°36′54″N 2°57′32″W / 51.615°N 2.959°W / 51.615; -2.959

Caerleon
Welsh: Caerllion
Caerleon vue.jpg
A view of Caerleon from St Julians, Newport
Caerleon is located in Newport, Wales
Caerleon
Caerleon
 Caerleon shown within Newport
Population 8,708 (2001 census)
OS grid reference ST336909
Principal area Newport
Ceremonial county Gwent
Country Wales
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town NEWPORT
Postcode district NP18
Dialling code 01633
Police Gwent
Fire South Wales
Ambulance Welsh
EU Parliament Wales
UK Parliament Newport West
List of places
UK
Wales
Newport

Caerleon (/kərˈlən/; Welsh: Caerllion) is a suburban village and community, situated on the River Usk [1] in the northern outskirts of the city of Newport, South Wales. Caerleon is a site of archaeological importance, being the site of a notable Roman legionary fortress, Isca Augusta, and an Iron Age hill fort. The Wales National Roman Legion Museum and Roman Baths Museum are in Caerleon close to the remains of Isca Augusta. The town also has strong literary associations, as Geoffrey of Monmouth makes Caerleon one of the most important cities in Britain in his Historia Regum Britanniæ, and Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote Idylls of the King while staying there.

History[edit]

Roman fortress[edit]

Main article: Isca Augusta
Remains of the Roman amphitheatre
A map of all Roman fortresses in Europe with Caerleon noted

Caerleon is a site of considerable archaeological importance as the location of a Roman legionary fortress or castra. It was the headquarters for Legio II Augusta from about 75 to 300 AD, and the site of an Iron Age hill fort. The Romans called the site Isca after the River Usk (Welsh Wysg). The name Caerleon may derive from the Welsh for "fortress of the legion"; around 800 AD it was referred to as Cair Legeion guar Uisc.[2]

Substantial excavated Roman remains can be seen, including the military amphitheatre, thermae (baths) and barracks occupied by the Roman Legion. In August 2011 the remains of a Roman harbour were discovered in Caerleon.[3] According to Gildas, followed by Bede, Roman Caerleon was the site of two early Christian martyrdoms, those of Julius and Aaron. Recent finds suggest Roman occupation of some kind as late as AD 380.[4] Roman remains have also been discovered at The Mynde, itself a distinctive historical site.[5]

Middle Ages[edit]

During the Middle Ages, after the Romans had left Britain, Caerleon or nearby Venta Silurum (now Caerwent) was the administrative centre of the Kingdom of Gwent. The parish church, St Cadoc's was founded on the site of the legionary headquarters building probably sometime in the 6th century. A Norman-style motte and bailey castle was built outside the eastern corner of the old Roman fort, probably by the Welsh Lord of Caerleon, Caradog ap Gruffydd. It was held in 1086 by Turstin FitzRolf, standard bearer to William the Conqueror at Hastings. From the apparent banishment of Turstin by William II, it was held from 1088 by Wynebald de Ballon, brother of Hamelin de Ballon who held Abergavenny further up the River Usk. Battles raged between the Welsh and Normans and in 1171 Iorwerth ab Owain and his two sons destroyed the town of Caerleon and burned the Castle. Caerleon was an important market and port and presumably became a borough by 1171, although no independent charters exist. Both castle and borough were seized by William Marshal in 1217 and Caerleon castle was rebuilt in stone. The remains of many of the old Roman buildings stood to some height until this time and were probably demolished for their building materials.

The Welsh Revolt[edit]

Round Tower, at The Hanbury Arms, Caerleon, 2010

During the Welsh Revolt in 1402 Rhys Gethin, General for Owain Glyndŵr, took Caerleon Castle together with those of Newport, Cardiff, Llandaff, Abergavenny, Caerphilly and Usk by force.[6] This was probably the last time Caerleon castle was ruined, though the walls were still standing in 1537 and the castle ruins only finally collapsed in 1739 - their most obvious remnant is the Round Tower at the Hanbury Arms public house. The Tower is a Grade II* listed building.[7]

English Civil War[edit]

Across the Afon Llwyd from Caerleon, in the region of Penrhos Farm, are two English Civil War forts. In 1648 Oliver Cromwell's troops camped overnight on Christchurch Hill, overlooking Newport, before their attack on Newport Castle the next day.

Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century[edit]

Caerleon in 1800, from the south and showing the bridge

The old wooden Caerleon Bridge was destroyed in a storm in 1779 and the present stone version was erected in the early 19th century. Until the Victorian development of the downstream docks at Newport Docks, Caerleon acted as the major port on the River Usk. The wharf was located on the right bank, to the west of today's river bridge which marked the limit of navigability for masted ships. A tinplate works was established on the outskirts of the town around this time and Caerleon expanded to become almost joined to Newport.

A plaque on the Mynde wall in High Street references the Newport Rising of 1839 in which John Frost of Newport was a prominent figure in the Chartist movement. John Jenkins, owner of Mynde House and owner of Ponthir Tin Plate works, built the wall to keep demonstrators out.

The name of the Drovers' Arms on Goldcroft Common bears witness to the ancient drovers' road on the old road from Malpas. It is thought that the common itself was once the site of a cattle market.[8]

The Mari Lwyd[edit]

Main article: Mari Lwyd

Writing in 1951, local historian and folklorist Fred Hando described the traditional journey through Caerleon of the Mari Lwyd or "Venerable Mary", a tradition similar to that of Hoodening found in Kent, Padstow and Cheshire, and involving a man dressed with a horse's skull. The jaw of the skull could be made to move, with the aid of rods. Hando's informant, Gus Sergeant of Bulmoor, reported that the Mari Lwyd had not been seen in the town for at least 20 years. But he was still able to describe it:

"We filled the eye-holes with wadding and 'pop alleys' and fixed great ears made of wadding stiffened with cardboard; then we stuck rosettes on the sides of the skull and strung long coloured ribbons as reigns."

One man acted as leader of the Mari, holding the ribbons, and then came the Mari itself draped in a white sheet. It was followed by three singers, who sang in Welsh, although "they didn't understand the words". On occasion the procession of the Mari Lwyd would start as far north as Newbridge-on-Usk and proceed through the town, ending as far south as Goldcliff. The party would be invited into houses along the way and given "money and home-made cakes and gallons of beer." Another of Hando's informants provides a description, dated 1841, of the Yuletide tradition:

"The custom of chaunting at their neighbours' doors on the twelfth night ... on which occasion they are fantastically dressed with ribbons of various colours. One of the party carries a horse's head decorated in the same manner. Representations of trees, to which are appended apples and oranges, are also carried about, and on one of the branches an artificial bird, called "Aderyn Pica Llwyd" (the grey hobgoblin bird) is placed."[9]

Arthur and Caerleon[edit]

Geoffrey of Monmouth, the first author to write at length of King Arthur, makes Caerleon one of the most important cities in Britain in his Historia Regum Britanniæ. He gives it a long, glorious history from its foundation by King Belinus to when it becomes a metropolitan see, the location of an Archbishopric superior to Canterbury and York, under Saint Dubricius, followed by St David who moved the archbishopric to St David's Cathedral.

Geoffrey makes Arthur's capital Caerleon and even Sir Thomas Malory has Arthur re-crowned there. The still-visible Roman amphitheatre at Caerleon has been associated with Arthur's 'Round-Table' element of the tales;[10] and has been suggested as a possible source for the legend.[11]

"For it was located in a delightful spot in Glamorgan, on the River Usk, not far from the Severn Sea. Abounding in wealth more than other cities, it was suited for such a ceremony. For the noble river I have named flows along it on one side, upon which the kings and princes who would be coming from overseas could be carried by ship. But on the other side, protected by meadow and woods, it was remarkable for royal palaces, so that it imitated Rome in the golden roofs of its buildings... Famous for so many pleasant features, Caerleon was made ready for the announced feast." (Historia Regum Britanniae "History of the Kings of Britain")

Though the huge scale of the ruins along with Caerleon's importance as an urban centre in early medieval Kingdom of Gwent may have inspired Geoffrey, the main historical source for Arthur's link with "the camp of the legion" is the list of the twelve battles of Arthur in the 9th century Historia Brittonum. However the "urbs legionis" mentioned there may rather more probably be Chester - or even York.[12] "Camelot" first appears in Chrétien de Troyes' Lancelot, though Chretien also mentions Caerleon.

Plaque at birthplace of Arthur Machen, The Square, High Street

Caerleon also has associations with later Arthurian literature as the birthplace of the writer Arthur Machen who often used it as a location in his work. The Hanbury Arms was visited by Tennyson who lodged there while he wrote his Morte d'Arthur (later incorporated into his Idylls of the King).[13] Today Caerleon has a modern statue of a knight, "The Hanbury Knight", in reflecting inox by Belgian sculptor Thierry Lauwers.[14] In Michael Morpurgo's novel Arthur, High King of Britain, Caerleon is the castle where Arthur unknowingly commits incest with his half-sister Morgaine, resulting in the conception of his son Mordred who will later bring about his downfall.

Modern day Caerleon[edit]

Overview[edit]

Goldcroft Common, Caerleon

Caerleon is centred around a small common. Goldcroft Common is the only remaining of the seven commons of Caerleon. Most of the small businesses of Caerleon are near the common as is the Tourist Information Office and Town Hall which has a World War I and World War II memorial garden. The intersection of High Street and Cross Street is known as The Square.

Buildings of note are Saint Cadoc's Church, the National Roman Legion Museum, the Roman Baths Museum, The Mynde, The Priory Hotel, Caerleon Catholic Church and Rectory, Caerleon Endowed School, the Round Tower, the Toll House at Caerleon Bridge, The Malt House hotel, University of South Wales Caerleon Campus and St Cadoc's Hospital. The historic remains of the Roman Legionary Fortress Isca Augusta is popular with tourists and school parties and there is a marked heritage trail in the village. The Millennium Wildlife Garden is a small nature garden on the banks of the River Usk. The hilltop vantage point at Christchurch provides panoramic views of the Vale of Usk and Bristol Channel.

The municipal playing fields are at Caerleon Broadway and a good quality children's playground is in Cold Bath Road. Private sport and leisure facilities are available at the Celtic Manor and the University of South Wales Caerleon Campus. Caerleon library is located in the grounds of Caerleon Comprehensive School and is associated with Newport Central Library. Caerleon has a few restaurants, cafés and take-away food outlets and many public houses that have restaurant facilities. The Ffwrrwm is a small specialist shopping courtyard with an eclectic display of sculpture. Caerleon also has its own station of Gwent Police and an active community policing presence.

Governance[edit]

Caerleon is an electoral ward of Newport City Council. Caerleon is within the UK Parliamentary constituency of Newport West, the National Assembly for Wales constituency of Newport West and the Wales European Parliament Constituency.

Geography[edit]

The centre of Caerleon sits in the Vale of Usk and the River Usk forms part of the community's southern boundary. In the north-west part of the village, across the railway bridges, the land rises sharply up to Lodge Wood and its hill fort. The community's western boundary is formed by the A4042 road (Heidenheim Drive) and the northern boundary partly by the Malthouse Road and partly by the Afon Llwyd river which flows southwards to the River Usk along the village's eastern side. Across the River Usk from Caerleon, to the south-east and east, St Julian's Park, the village of Christchurch and the upland region around Christchurch Hill as far as the M4 motorway and the A449 road are also within the community.

Road Transport[edit]

Caerleon Town Hall

Caerleon is 3½ miles from Newport city centre and 5½ miles from Cwmbran. Caerleon is 2 miles north of the M4 motorway.

Caerleon is accessed via Junction 25 (Caerleon Road) for westbound M4 traffic. There is no M4 Junction 25 exit for eastbound M4 traffic so for eastbound traffic Caerleon is accessed via M4 Junction 26, then A4051 (Malpas Road) and A4042 (Heidenheim Drive) to the Junction 25A offslip.

An alternative route to Caerleon is M4 Junction 24 (Coldra), B4237 (Chepstow Road), then B4236 (Royal Oak Hill/Belmont Hill) over Christchurch.

Conversely, traffic joining the M4 from Caerleon can join the M4 eastbound at Junction 25 but to join the M4 westbound traffic must follow the Junction 25A offslip, Heidenheim Drive, Malpas Road route to M4 Junction 26. Alternatively, traffic can join the M4 both eastbound and westbound at Junction 24.

The Ffwrrwm, Caerleon

The B4596 (Caerleon Road) links Newport city centre to Caerleon via M4 Junction 25, crossing Caerleon Bridge into Caerleon High Street. The B4236 (Ponthir Road) links Caerleon to Cwmbran. The Usk Road links Caerleon to Usk.

The centre of Caerleon (High Street, Mill Street and Castle Street) is a one-way traffic system and there are car parks at Broadway and Cold Bath Road. A regular bus service links Caerleon to Newport city centre and Cwmbran. There is a limited City Sightseeing open-top bus service in summer months. A cycle and pedestrian walkway alongside the River Usk links Caerleon to Malpas and Newport city centre at Crindau.[15]

Railways[edit]

Trains pass through Caerleon on the Welsh Marches Line but trains do not stop at the closed Caerleon railway station. The nearest passenger stations are Newport railway station, Cwmbran railway station and awkward for access Rogerstone railway station.

Airports[edit]

The nearest airport is Cardiff Airport (30 miles/48 km). Located at Rhoose on the Vale of Glamorgan Line, changing at Cardiff Central from Newport.

Education[edit]

A large campus of the University of South Wales is located in Caerleon including student accommodation blocks. The secondary school is Caerleon Comprehensive. The primary schools are Caerleon Endowed Infants School, Caerleon Endowed Junior School, Lodge Hill Infants School and Lodge Hill Junior School.

Education is generally conducted in the English language in schools but at least a mandatory Welsh language content must be provided under the Welsh education curriculum. There are no Welsh-medium education schools in Caerleon but there are three primary schools elsewhere in Newport; Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Teyrnon in Brynglas, Ysgol Gymraeg Casnewydd in Ringland and Ysgol Gymraeg Ifor Hael in Bettws. The nearest Welsh-medium secondary school is Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw in Trevethin, Pontypool.

Housing[edit]

Historically housing was largely located on the west bank of the River Usk between Caerleon Bridge and the University campus along with a small number of houses on the east bank. A number of substantial housing developments have been created to the West of Caerleon: Lodge Hill, Home Farm, Roman Reach, Trinity View, Brooklea and The Brades as well as smaller cluster developments near the centre of the village. Substantial housing developments in nearby Ponthir and Cwmbran has also increased traffic congestion in Caerleon.

Sport[edit]

The Caerleon ward is home to the Celtic Manor Resort, location of the 2010 Ryder Cup.[16] Caerleon also has a good quality 9-hole municipal golf course, driving range and golf clubhouse. However, during winter months the golf course is prone to flooding due to its location alongside the River Usk.

The association football club Caerleon A.F.C. is based in Caerleon along with two rugby union clubs; Newport High School Old Boys RFC and Caerleon RFC whose grounds are less than a mile apart.

Caerleon Bowls Club has a good quality outdoor green. Caerleon has one chapter of the Academy of Historical Fencing, a western martial arts group who study and practise fencing with the weapons and styles of medieval and renaissance Europe. The club trains on the University Campus and also has two Chapters in Bristol.

Culture and community[edit]

Tree sculpture in Caerleon

Caerleon has hosted an arts festival in July each year since 2002, which includes tree sculptors from around the world.[17] Many of the sizeable sculptures are retained around Caerleon as a Sculpture park and local landmarks. The arts festival coincides with the Roman military re-enactment in the amphitheatre which demonstrates Roman military armour, infantry tactics, cavalry tactics, equipment and siege engines such as ballistae.

Live music events and Visual arts are staged at venues including the open-air Roman Amphitheatre, which hosts plays in the summer.

An informative and wide ranging history of Caerleon was published in 1970 by local amateur historian Primrose Hockey MBE,[18] who was a founder member of Caerleon Local History Society. An archive of her local history collection is kept by the Gwent Record Office.[19]

St Cadoc's Hospital in Caerleon has been featured as a location of episodes in the BBC television programmes Doctor Who and Being Human.

Notable people[edit]

Inclusion criteria: notable people who were born, resided or were schooled in Caerleon.

See also Category:People from Caerleon

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Barber, Chris (1996) Arthurian Caerleon: in literature and legend. Blorenge Books ISBN 1-872730-10-8
  • Brewer, Richard J. (2000) Caerleon and the Roman Army: Roman Legionary Museum, a guide ; 2nd ed. Cardiff: National Museum Wales Books ISBN 0-7200-0488-8 (1st ed. Caerleon - Isca: the Roman Legionary Museum, 1987)

External links[edit]