View of Aberystwyth
Aberystwyth shown within Ceredigion
|OS grid reference|
|– Cardiff||90 mi (140 km) SE|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Fire||Mid and West Wales|
Aberystwyth (Mouth of the Ystwyth, //, Welsh: [abɛrˈəstʊɨθ]) is a historic market town, administrative centre and holiday resort within Ceredigion, West Wales. Often colloquially known as Aber, it is located near the confluence of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol.
Since the late 19th century, Aberystwyth has also been a major Welsh educational centre, with the establishment of a university college there in 1872. At the 2001 census, the town's population was 15,935, reducing to 13,040 at the 2011 Census. During nine months of the year, there is an influx of students—to a total number of 10,400 as of September 2012.
- 1 Geography
- 2 Physical features
- 3 History
- 4 Governance
- 5 Culture
- 6 Education
- 7 Tourism and local economy
- 8 Transport
- 9 Notable people
- 10 In fiction
- 11 Twinned towns
- 12 References
- 13 External links
The town is situated near the confluence of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol, on the west coast of Wales. Although the name may seem to suggest otherwise, only the River Rheidol passes through the town; following the reconstruction of the harbour, the River Ystwyth skirts the town.
Aberystwyth has a pier and a fine seafront which stretches from Constitution Hill at the north end of the Promenade to the mouth of the harbour at the south, taking in two separate beach stretches divided by the castle. Today it is essentially made up by a number of different areas: Aberystwyth town, Llanbadarn Fawr, Waunfawr, Penparcau, Llanbadarn and Trefechan, with Penparcau being the most populous.
Aberystwyth is an isolated town, considering the population density of the United Kingdom. The nearest substantial settlements are located at least 1 hour 45 minutes' drive away: Swansea, to the south, is 70 miles (110 km) away; Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, England, to the east, is 75 miles (120 km) away; and Wrexham, to the north-east, is approximately 80 miles (130 km) away. The Welsh capital, Cardiff, is over 100 miles (160 km) away. London is 210 miles (340 km) distant from Aberystwyth.
||Cardigan Bay||Clarach, Borth, Ynyslas, Aberdyfi, Tywyn, Dolgellau, Porthmadog, Caernarfon, Bangor||Waunfawr, Penrhyncoch, Comins Coch, Bow Street, Talybont, Machynlleth, Welshpool, Oswestry, Wrexham|
|Cardigan Bay||Llanbadarn Fawr, Ponterwyd, Llangurig, Llanidloes, Newtown, Shrewsbury, Telford, Birmingham|
|Cardigan Bay||Trefechan, Penparcau, Llanrhystud, Aberaeron, New Quay, Cardigan, Lampeter, Carmarthen, Swansea, Cardiff||Llanilar, Pontrhydfendigaid, Devil's Bridge, Tregaron, Rhayader, Llandrindod Wells, Hereford|
Aberystwyth experiences an oceanic climate (Köppen climate classification Cfb) similar to almost all of the United Kingdom. This is particularly pronounced due to its west coast location facing the Irish Sea. Air undergoes little land moderation and so temperatures closely reflect the sea temperature when winds are coming from the predominant onshore (westerly) direction. The nearest Met Office weather station is Gogerddan, 3 miles to the northeast, and at a similar elevation.
The absolute maximum temperature is 34.6 °C (94.3 °F), set during July 2006. This is also the July record maximum for all of Wales, suggesting that the area's low lying situation, aided by a possible föhn effect when winds are offshore can act to achieve high temperatures on occasion. Typically the warmest day will average 28.0 °C (82.4 °F) and 5.6 days will achieve a maximum of 25.1 °C (77.2 °F) or above.
The absolute minimum temperature is −13.5 °C (7.7 °F), set in January 2010. Typically 39.8 days will register an air frost.
|Climate data for Gogerddan, elevation 31m, 1971–2000, extremes 1960–|
|Record high °C (°F)||16.1
|Average high °C (°F)||7.8
|Average low °C (°F)||2.2
|Record low °C (°F)||−13.5
|Average precipitation mm (inches)||103.47
Aberystwyth is a major tourist centre and a cultural link between North Wales and South Wales. Constitution Hill is scaled by the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway giving access to fine views and other attractions at the top, while much of the finest scenery in Mid Wales lies within easy reach of the town. This includes the wilderness of the Cambrian Mountains, whose valleys contain forests and meadows which have changed little in centuries. A convenient way of reaching the interior is by the preserved narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway.
Although the town is relatively modern, it contains a number of historic buildings, including the remains of the castle and the Old College of Aberystwyth University nearby. The Old College was originally built and opened in 1865 as a hotel but, due to the bankruptcy of the owner, the shell of the building was sold to the university in 1867. The new university campus overlooks Aberystwyth from Penglais Hill to the east of the town centre. The terminus for the standard-gauge railway is also very impressive, having been built in 1924 in the typical style of the period. Generally, the architecture is a mix of Gothic, Classical Revival and Victorian.
The town is generally regarded as the capital of Mid Wales and several institutions have regional or national offices there. Perhaps the most important of the public bodies located in Aberystwyth is the National Library of Wales. The library also incorporates the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, one of six British regional film archives. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, which maintains and curates the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW), providing the public with information about the built heritage of Wales. Aberystwyth is also the home to the national offices of UCAC and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg and the site of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research. The Welsh Books Council and the offices of the standard historical dictionary of Welsh, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, are also located in Aberystwyth.
There is evidence that during the Mesolithic Age the area of Tan-y-Bwlch at the foot of Pen Dinas (Penparcau) was used as a flint knapping floor for hunter-gatherers making weapons from flint that was deposited as the ice retreated.
Bronze and Iron Ages
The remains of a Celtic fortress on Pen Dinas (or more correctly 'Dinas Maelor'), a hill in Penparcau overlooking Aberystwyth, indicates that the site was inhabited before 700 BC. On a hill south of the present town, across the River Ystwyth, are the remains of a medieval ringfort believed to be the castle from which Princess Nest was abducted. This rare survival is now on private land and can only be accessed by arrangement.
The recorded history of Aberystwyth may be said to date from the building of a fortress in 1109 by Gilbert Fitz Richard (grandfather of Richard de Clare, known as Strongbow, the Cambro-Norman lord notable for his leading role in the Norman invasion of Ireland). Gilbert Fitz Richard was granted lands and the lordship of Cardigan by Henry I, including Cardigan Castle. The fortress built in Aberystwyth was located about a mile and a half south of today's town, on a hill over the south bank of the Ystwyth River. Edward I replaced Strongbow's castle in 1277, after its destruction by the Welsh. His castle was, however, built in a different location, at the current Castle Hill, the high point of the town. Between the years 1404 and 1408 Aberystwyth Castle was in the hands of Owain Glyndŵr but finally surrendered to Prince Harry (the future King Henry V of England). Shortly after this, the town was incorporated under the title of Ville de Lampadarn (the ancient name of the place being Llanbadarn Gaerog or the fortified Llanbadarn, to distinguish it from Llanbadarn Fawr, the village one mile (1.6 km) inland. It is thus styled in a Royal charter granted by Henry VIII but, by Elizabeth I's time, the town was invariably named Aberystwyth in all documents.
Early modern era
In 1649, Parliamentarian troops razed the castle, so that its remains are now inconsiderable, though portions of three towers still exist. In 1988, an excavation within the castle area revealed a complete male skeleton, deliberately buried. Though skeletons rarely survive in Wales' acidic soil, this skeleton was probably preserved by the addition of lime from the collapsed building. Affectionately known as "Charlie" and now housed in the Ceredigion Museum in the town, he probably dates from the English Civil War period, and is likely to have died during the Parliamentarian siege. His image is featured in one of nine mosaics created to adorn the castle's walls.
Hafod Uchtryd was a mansion built by Thomas Johnes from 1783, part of it being designed by John Nash. The landscaped gardens were formed by blasting away parts of hills to create vistas. Roadways and bridges were built and hundreds of thousands of trees were planted. The result was a landscape that became famous and attracted many visitors including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and it is believed to have inspired a passage in his poem Kubla Khan. The house was demolished in 1955, but the landscape remains today.
Rural industries and craftsmen were an important part of life in a country town. Information recorded in the local trade directory for 1830 shows that there were in Aberystwyth: Twenty boot makers, eight bakers, two corn millers, eleven carpenters and joiners, one cooper, seven tailors, two dressmakers, two straw hat makers, two hat makers, three curriers, four saddlers, two tinsmiths, six maltsters, two skinners, four tanners, eight stonemasons, one brewer, four lime burners, three shipwrights, three wheelwrights, five cabinet makers, one nail maker, one rope maker and one sail maker.
The Cambrian Railways line from Machynlleth reached Aberystwyth in 1864, closely followed by rail links to Carmarthen, which resulted in the construction of the town's impressive station. The Cambrian line opened on Good Friday 1869, the same day that the new Eugenius Birch designed 292 metres (958 ft) Royal Pier opened, attracting 7,000 visitors.
The railway's arrival gave rise to something of a Victorian tourist boom and the town was once even billed as the "Biarritz of Wales". During this time, a number of hotels and fine townhouses were built including the Queens Hotel, later renamed Swyddfa'r Sir when used as offices by the town council, and most recently used as the external scenes of the police station in the television show Hinterland. One of the largest of these hotels, "The Castle Hotel", was never completed as a hotel but, following bankruptcy, was sold cheaply to the Welsh National University Committee, a group of people dedicated to the creation of a Welsh University. The University College of Wales (later to become Aberystwyth University) was founded in 1872 in this building.
In 1895, various businessmen who had been behind the Aberystwyth New Harbour Company formed the Aberystwyth Improvement Company (AIC) to take over the works of the defunct Bourne Engineering & Electrical. In 1896, the AIC completed three projects: the new landside pavilion for the Royal Pier; built the Cambria Hotel (later the United Theological College) and formed Constitution Hill Ltd, to develop a Victorian theme park. Chief engineer George Croydon Marks designed all the AIC developments, including the United Kingdom's longest funicular railway, which takes passengers up a 50% gradient to a park and camera obscura.
On the night of Friday, 14 January 1938, a storm with estimated wind speeds of up to 90 mph (140 km/h) struck the town. Most of the promenade was destroyed, along with 200 feet (61 m) of the pier. Many properties on the seafront were damaged, with every property from the King's Hall north affected, those on Victoria Terrace having suffered the greatest damage. Work commenced on a protective coffer dam until 1940, with total costs of construction coming to £70,000 (equivalent to £2.5 million today).
Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg held their historic first protest on Trefechan Bridge in Aberystwyth, on 2 February 1963. The first independent Welsh Evangelical Church was established in Aberystwyth (see Evangelical Movement of Wales).
In March 2009, mayor Sue Jones-Davies, who had played the role of Judith Iscariot in the film Monty Python's Life of Brian (1979), organised a charity screening of the film. Principal actors Terry Jones and Michael Palin also attended. There is a popular, but incorrect, "urban myth" that the town had banned the film (as some jurisdictions did) when it was first released.
During the aftermath storms from Cyclone Dirk, on Friday 3 January 2014 the town became one of the worst hit in Wales, with enormous swells uprooting boulders from the sea walls, leaving roads and pavements along the promenade buried under a mass of paving stones, bricks, shale and twisted metal. Properties on the adjoining promenade were then evacuated for the next five days, including 250 students from the University. Ceredigion Council have appealed to the Welsh Assembly Government for funds, whilst Natural Resources Wales are still undertaking surveys and emergency preventative measures.
For the purposes of local government, Aberystwyth's administration has a two-tier structure consisting of two separate councils. As local government is a devolved matter in Wales, both Councils are regulated by the Welsh Government and the National Assembly for Wales.
Aberystwyth Town Council is the first tier of local government in Aberystwyth which is the closest to the general public with a membership of 19 elected town councillors from five wards. The last elections were held on the 3rd of May 2012. The council has responsibilities for cycle-paths, public footpaths, bus shelters, parks, gardens (including the castle grounds) and allotments. The Council is a statutory body which is consulted regarding planning decisions in the town’s area and makes recommendations to the planning authority, Ceredigion County Council. Further to this, the Town Council is involved in leisure, tourism, business, license applications, wellbeing and environmental health, recycling and refuse collection.
Like Aberystwyth Town Council, Ceredigion County Council is a statutory body incorporated by Act of Parliament. The County Council is the second tier of local government in the area and is a unitary authority with a far wider range of powers. The Council deals with roads, street lighting, highways, social services, children and family care, schools and public libraries. Aberystwyth itself elects six of the 42 councillors in five separate wards (Bronglais, Central, North and Rheidol wards elect one councillor each while Penparcau ward elects two). Of the current county councillors, elected in May 2012, four are Plaid Cymru, one is a Welsh Liberal Democrat, and one is an independent.
The first ever public library in Aberystwyth was opened in Compton House, Pier Street on 13 October 1874. In 1882 the library was moved to the Assembly Rooms which were leased to the council for 21 years. The lease expired in 1903 and the library returned to Pier Street, this time to the Old Banking Library at the corner with Eastgate Street, although this was short lived.
A Carnegie library was built in Aberystwyth in 1905, with a grant of £3,000. Located in Corporation Street, it was designed by the architect Walter Payton of Birmingham, who was one of 48 who entered the competition to design the building. It was formally opened on 20 April 1906 by Mrs Vaughan Davies, wife of the local MP.
The Town Library moved to the old Town Hall, now known as Canolfan Alun R. Edwards, Queen's Square, in 2012, following the buildings refurbishment. The County Council vacated the Town Hall in a move to their purpose built offices on Boulevard de Saint-Brieuc in 2009.
National Library of Wales
The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth, is the national legal deposit library of Wales. Established in 1907, it is a Welsh Government sponsored body. According to Cyril Evans, the library's centenary events co-ordinator, "The library is considered to be one of the world's greatest libraries, and its international reputation is certainly something that all Welsh men and women are intensely ... proud of". Welsh is the main medium of communication within the organisation; it aims to deliver all public services in Welsh and English.
Aberystwyth Arts Centre is one of the largest and busiest arts centres in Wales. It encompasses a 312 seat theatre, 900 seat concert hall, 125 seat cinema, and has accompanied studio, galleries, plus public spaces which include cafes and a bar.
Arad Goch is an Arts Council funded community theatre and art gallery based in the town. The premises holds a theatre, gallery, several art studios and meeting rooms, and a darkroom.
The major languages spoken in Aberystwyth are English and Welsh. The 2001 census reported that, in the seven wards of Aberystwyth, 39% of the residents self-identified as either being able to speak, read or write Welsh. This is lower than Ceredigion as a whole (54%) but higher than Wales overall (19%).
Aberystwyth has a live music scene which has produced bands and artists such as:
The University Music Centre promotes a varied programme for instrumentalists, singers and listeners from the university and the wider community.
The University chamber choir, The Elizabethan Madrigal Singers, have been singing in the town since 1950 and continue to hold a number of concerts throughout the year. They can also often be heard singing in local pubs.
Also on a Wednesday evening a number of traditional folk music artist congregate in the popular ale drinkers pub, The Ship and Castle.
Aberystwyth give its name to a well known hymn tune.
Aberystwyth has several sporting associations, including Aberystwyth Athletic Club which was formed in 1955. Aberystwyth RFC is the local rugby union club formed in 1947 and plays in the Welsh Rugby Union leagues.
Aberystwyth Town F.C., formed in 1884, won the Welsh Cup in 1900 before becoming a founder member of the Welsh Premier League (then League of Wales) in 1992. The club last reached the Welsh Cup final in the 2008–2009 season. Football teams University of Wales F.C., Penparcau, Bow Street, and Penrhyncoch as well as ATFC Reserves play in the third tier of Welsh football, the Spar Mid Wales League.
Aberystwyth Cricket Club have three senior teams and have been playing in the town in one form or the other since the 1830s. A new Penparcau Boxing Club has been built in Penparcau. The boxing club has produced some of the finest boxers in wales, such as Jamie Beasley and Phil Dowse.
Aberystwyth has two comprehensive schools serving the town and a wide rural area, namely Ysgol Gyfun Gymunedol Penweddig and Penglais School. The former uses Welsh as the primary language of tuition, the latter, English.
Aberystwyth is home to Aberystwyth University whose predecessor, University College Wales, was founded in 1872 and renamed 'the University of Wales, Aberystwyth' in the mid-1990s. Prior to the college's establishment, Wales had very limited academic-degree capability through St David's College, Lampeter (founded in 1822 but, since 2010, has become amalgamated with Trinity University College, Carmarthen to become 'the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David' with campuses in Carmarthen and Lampeter).
Tourism and local economy
As well as having two cinemas and a golf course, the town's attractions include:
- The Aberystwyth Cliff Railway, a funicular railway
- A Victorian camera obscura at the top of Constitution Hill.
- The Vale of Rheidol steam railway (The narrow-gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway)
- Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
- The Parc Penglais nature reserve
- The Ystwyth Trail cycle path
- National Library of Wales
The all organic dairy unit of Rachel's Organic is based in Glan yr Afon, and is the largest private sector employer in Aberystwyth. But many comment that due to its isolated nature, Aberystwyth has developed its own micro-economy: while Rachel's employs 130, new Welsh Assembly offices will employ 1000; the local low-pay sector is dominated by students from the university.
The Cambrian News newspaper came to Aberystwyth from Bala in 1870, after it was purchased by Sir John Gibson. Printed in Oswestry, in May 1880 the paper integrated operations in a former Malthouse in Mill Street. Owned by the Read family from 1926, in 1993 printing was contracted out, enabling the move of editorial staff to the current open-plan offices on Llanbadarn Fawr Science Park. On the death of Henry Read, the paper was purchased by Sir Ray Tindle in 1999, whose company owns more than 200 weekly newspapers in Britain. Now printed in tabloid format, Cambrian News is the second largest weekly-print circulation newspaper in Wales, with 24,000 copies in six regional editorial versions, read by 60,000 weekly readers. The circulation area of mid, west and north Wales covers 3,000 square miles (7,800 km2).
Aberystwyth is served by Aberystwyth station, situated in the town centre. The station is the terminus of a service provided by Arriva Trains Wales, on a two-hourly basis (most trains leave at half-past the odd-numbered hours), over the scenic Cambrian Line to Shrewsbury and Birmingham via Machynlleth and Mid Wales. Connecting services from Machynlleth also provide a link to Gwynedd's west coast as far as Pwllheli. There is no longer a southbound link to Carmarthen via Lampeter, this line having fallen victim to the Beeching Axe in 1965.
Aberystwyth station is also the terminus of the Vale of Rheidol Railway, a steam operated narrow gauge heritage railway. Constructed between 1901 and 1902, it was intended to ship mineral cargo, primarily lead, from Devil's Bridge down to Aberystwyth for trans-shipment. By the time it was finished, lead mining was in a deep downturn and, thanks to the Aberystwyth Improvement Company, it therefore came to rely largely on the tourist industry, opening for passengers in December 1902. It still remains open for the summer season, offering a journey of 12 miles (19 km).
In 1896, the Aberystwyth Improvement Company formed Constitution Hill Ltd which, under the direction of chief engineer George Croydon Marks, developed the United Kingdom's then longest funicular railway, the Aberystwyth Cliff Railway, which takes passengers up a 50% gradient.
Two of Wales's important trunk roads, the A487 and A44, meet in the town, with much traffic between north and south-west Wales passing through. The B4574 mountain road linking the town to Rhayader is described by the AA as one of the ten most scenic drives in the world.
Aberystwyth is also a hub for Wales's TrawsCambria bus network. Regular direct services were provided under this network to Bangor, Cardigan and Carmarthen, along with occasional trips to Cardiff. However the direct Cardigan service is no longer regular (reduced to 6 trips per day, with no services between 09:10 and 16:05) and the Carmarthen/Cardiff services have been removed from the TrawsCambria network and rebranded CymruExpress. A daily National Express coach to London and Birmingham also exists.
The port of Aberystwyth, although it is small and relatively inconsequential today, used to be an important Atlantic Ocean entryway. It was used to ship locally, to Ireland and as a transAtlantic departure point. Commercially, the once important Cardiganshire lead mines exported from of this location.
The importance of maritime trade in the 19th century is reflected in the fact that a lifeboat has been based at Aberystwyth since 1843, when a 27ft boat powered by six oars was funded by public subscription and placed under the control of the harbourmaster. The RNLI took over the service in 1861 and established Aberystwyth Lifeboat Station which celebrated 150 years in 2011. The station uses the Atlantic 85-class inshore lifeboat Spirit of Friendship.
Aberystwyth (albeit an alternative universe version) is the setting for the cult Louie Knight series by Malcolm Pryce which transfers Chandleresque "noir" stories and dialogue to this small seaside town. This alternative reality features many landmarks of Aberystwyth such as the University and the National Library of Wales, but the social situation is radically altered to more closely resemble the pulp/noir stereotypical "Dirty Town" that the narrative plays off. Most of the humour in the books is derived from the almost seamless juxtaposition of the real Aberystwyth and the fictional, noir Aberystwyth. Various aspects of Welsh culture are reflections of what you might expect to see in reality, but with a pulp twist – for example, prostitutes wear Welsh stovepipe hats.
Stripping Penguins Bare, the second of Michael Carson's Benson Trilogy of comic novels is set in the town and university in the 1960s.
In the setting for Classic Battletech, a star system in the Timbuktu Theatre of Alarion Province of the Lyran Commonwealth / Lyran Alliance is named Aberystwyth.
The local writer Niall Griffiths has set many of his novels here and reflects local slang, settings and even individuals. Grits and Sheepshagger are set wholly in Aberystwyth, which also features prominently in his other novels such as Kelly and Victor and Stump. He portrays a more gritty side of Aberystwyth.
Nancy Bond's A String in the Harp is set in the small coastal town of Borth, near Aberystwyth. The main characters' father is on sabbatical leave from Amherst University and working at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
According to Douglas Adams' 1983 humorous dictionary of toponymic neologisms The Meaning of Liff an Aberystwyth is "A nostalgic yearning which is in itself more pleasant than the thing being yearned for".
Y Gwyll (2014–), a Welsh television programme broadcast on S4C, BBC One Wales and BBC Four and known as Hinterland in English, is set in Aberystwyth and filmed in the town.
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|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Aberystwyth.|
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|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Aberystwyth.|