Machynlleth (Machynllaeth) - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
MACHYNLLETH (MACHYNLLAETH), a market-town and borough; a parish comprising the three townships of Machynlleth otherwise Y Dre, Is-y-Garreg, and Uwch-y-Garreg; and the head of a union; in the Lower division of the hundred of Machynlleth, county of Montgomery, North Wales; containing 2482 inhabitants, of whom 1636 are in the township of Machynlleth, 39 miles (W. by N.) from Montgomery, and 209 (W. N. W.) from London. This place, which is of considerable antiquity, is supposed to have been the site of the Maglona of the Itineraries, a Roman station, where, in the reign of the Emperor Honorius, the captain of the "Numerus Solensium" was posted, under the Dux Britanniarum, to keep the mountaineers in subjection. Connected with the principal station, which occupied the highest part of the hill, was an outwork called Cevn Caer, or "the ridge of the city," about four miles from the present town, in the adjoining parish of Pennal, in the county of Merioneth: there were formerly some remains of the outwork, and several Roman coins have been at various times discovered there. Few circumstances of historical importance connected with Machynlleth are recorded. In 1402, Owain Glyndwr, flushed with repeated successes, assembled the estates of the principality in the town, where he held a parliament, that solemnly acknowledged his title to the sovereignty of Wales, of which kingdom he caused himself to be formally invested with the crown. At this parliament Davydd Gam, who had married the sister of Owain Glyndwr, but was, notwithstanding, a zealous partisan and adherent of Henry IV., attended, apparently for the purpose of promoting Owain's pretensions to the crown, but with the disguised intention of assassinating that chieftain. In this attempt, however, he was frustrated by a timely discovery of his treachery; and, being seized and imprisoned, he would have been instantly executed but for the intercession of Owain's most zealous friends and partisans. In resentment for his treachery, Owain burnt Davydd's house and laid waste his lands, and detained him in confinement at Machynlleth till the year 1412, when he was finally ransomed by his father and other vassals of the English crown. Charles I., when on his route to Chester, had a bed prepared for him in a house in the town, called "the Garrison;" the bed and furniture, which have been carefully preserved, are now deposited at Esgair Llyveren, in the county of Merioneth.
The town is situated near the western extremity of the county, about a quarter of a mile from the southern bank of the river Dovey, and on the turnpike-road leading to Aberystwith from the principal parts of North Wales, and also from Shrewsbury. It is romantically embosomed in mountains that encompass it on every side, and from which a beautiful view is obtained of the Vale of Dovey, abounding in highly picturesque and richly diversified scenery, with the winding course of the river, from above the parish of Cemmes to its influx into the bay of Cardigan. The streets are wide and spacious, the houses in general neat and well built; and the whole town, which is amply supplied with water, has a regular and prepossessing appearance. A book society has been some time established, and is much patronized. The environs are pleasant, comprehending much beautiful scenery and many interesting objects. At Uwch-yGarreg, a township in the parish, is Pistyll Rhaiadr, one of the finest waterfalls in the principality: though inferior to some in the beauty of the scenery immediately adjoining, it is not surpassed in romantic grandeur by any. The Dovey is celebrated for its salmon-fishing.
The manufacture of flannels, principally of the coarser kind, is carried on to a considerable extent, and some webs are also made. In this manufacture more than forty carding-engines and seven fullingmills are employed in the town and its vicinity; the weaving is done by the workmen at their own dwellings, and about 200 pieces, averaging about 150 yards each, are sent to the market held at Newtown, every alternate Thursday. Lead-ore is found in the parish, and mines of that metal have been opened in the township of Is-y-Garreg; but they are not at present in operation: there are quarries of good slate, some of which are worked upon a moderate scale. The river Dovey is navigable to Derwenlâs, within two miles of the town, and affords a facility of conveying the produce of the quarries and mines to their destination, and of supplying the neighbourhood with various commodities. The average annual exports from this place are, 500 tons of bark, 40,000 feet of oak timber, 150,000 yards of oak poles for collieries, 100 tons of lead-ore, and 1500 tons of slate. The average imports are, 5000 quarters of rye and wheat, 1000 tons of coal, 500 tons of culm, 2000 tons of limestone, 11,000 English and foreign hides, and groceries and other shop goods to the amount of £14,000 in value. The market is on Wednesday. Fairs are held annually on the first Wednesday in March, on May 16th, June 26th, July 9th, August 7th, September 18th, October 21st, and November 26th, for cattle, horses, and wares: a statute fair, also, occurs on the Wednesday before Easter.
This place, as a contributory borough, together with Llanidloes, Welshpool, and Llanvyllin, returned a member for Montgomery. The elective franchise was granted in the 27th of Henry VIII., and was exercised by the boroughs for many years without interruption. Eventually, however, it underwent important alteration. On a petition to the House of Commons, in 1685, complaining of an undue return, it was resolved that the right of election was vested in the burgesses not only of Montgomery, but also of Llanidloes, Welshpool, and Llanvyllin, no mention being made of Machynlleth; and on a similar petition, presented to the Commons in 1728, it was resolved that the elective franchise was confined solely to the borough of Montgomery, which then continued to return the member, to the exclusion of the other towns. These resolutions being at variance with each other, the burgesses of Llanidloes, Llanvyllin, and Welshpool, and also those of Machynlleth, the latter having neglected to support their claim at the two former periods, were allowed the privilege, by a statute of the 28th of George III., of asserting their claim to join in choosing a member for Montgomery before any future committee of the House, and of appealing against any subsequent decision within twelve calendar months. No practical benefit, however, appears to have resulted from this privilege. By the act of 1832, for "Amending the Representation," the town was again declared one of the contributory boroughs within the county to return one member to parliament. The right of election is vested in every male person of full age occupying, either as owner, or as tenant under the same landlord, a house or other premises in the borough of the annual value of at least £10, provided he be capable of registering as the act demands; and the number of tenements of this value within the limits of the borough, which are minutely detailed in the Appendix, is about a hundred. Since 1832, the contributory boroughs, besides Montgomery, have consisted of Machynlleth, Llanidloes, Welshpool, Llanvyllin, and the newly-created borough of Newtown. The election of the knight of the shire takes place here or at Montgomery, being the towns at which the ancient county court is held alternately. The town is also one of the polling-places in the election for the shire. The town-hall, or market-house, a plain and commodious building, was erected in 1783, by Sir W. W. Wynn, Bart., grandfather of the present owner of Wynnstay, who is lord of the manor, and holds courts leet twice in the year. The powers of the county debt-court of Machynlleth, established in 1847, extend over the registration-district of Machynlleth. This court, and the petty-sessions for the hundred, are held in the town monthly.
The parish comprises an area of 9876 acres, of which 4799 are common or waste, affording pasturage to numerous flocks of sheep, that feed on the declivities of the hills; the lower grounds are fertile and productive, and peat is found in various parts of the district. The living consists of a rectory and a vicarage, united under the provisions of an act of the 29th and 30th of Charles II.; the rectory, which was a sinecure, is rated in the king's books at £11. 10. 7½., and the vicarage at £6. 6. 0½.: patron, the Bishop of St. Asaph. The tithes have been commuted for £400 payable to the incumbent, and £3. 3. to the parish-clerk: the glebe comprises 3a. 1r. 20p., valued at £25 per annum; and there is a glebe-house. The church, dedicated to St. Peter, is a handsome structure, in a style resembling later English architecture. It was rebuilt, with the exception of the tower, in 1827, and contains 873 sittings, of which 300 are free, in consideration of a grant of £300 from the Incorporated Society for the building and enlargement of churches and chapels: the edifice is well arranged and neatly fitted up. The ancient tower, in the same year, was raised a few feet higher, and crowned with battlements and crocketed pinnacles. There are places of worship for Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists, Independents, and Baptists. Day and Sunday National schools were established here in 1829, by John Jones, Esq., of Upper Norton-street, London, but a native of this town, who in that year gave £1000 three per cent. consols. for their endowment. This sum is augmented by the use of a prior bequest of £200 by John Owen, Esq., for teaching children, and a grant of £40 from Ann Jones for the like purpose: the endowments of the schools altogether amount to nearly £55 per annum. Commodious buildings were erected at the same time by subscription, occupying three sides of a quadrangle, with a projection in the centre; the expense amounting to £600. In these schools, which are supported partly by the endowments, and partly by subscription, a large number of children of both sexes receive gratuitous instruction; the master and mistress have a joint salary of £60 per annum, with a house and garden rent-free, and the master is allowed to take a few pay-scholars. Ten Sunday schools are supported by the dissenters.
There are seven houses in the town inhabited from time immemorial by paupers, three of which were bequeathed by Isaac Pugh, and the others are supposed to have been the gift of Humphrey Morris. The latter donor also assigned £60, the interest to be expended partly in keeping the buildings in repair and supplying the inmates with clothing, and partly in educating and apprenticing poor children; but the portion for the repair of the houses has been lost. Several persons have at different periods left sums for the benefit of the poor, including £60 by Thomas Pugh, £40 by Rowland Owen, £20 each by Humphrey Morris, Gwen Owen, and John Davis, and other smaller benefactions; all of which were consolidated, and the amount, £190, lent on two bonds to the Montgomeryshire turnpike trusts, now yielding an interest of £9. 10. Of this income, £5 are annually distributed among the poor of the town, £1 each among those of the two townships of Uwchy-Garreg and Is-y-Garreg, and the remaining £2. 10. in apprenticing poor boys of the town. A few small charities have been lost. The poor-law union of which this place is the head, was formed January 16th, 1837, and comprises the following eleven parishes and townships; namely, Machynlleth, Is-y-Garreg, Uwch-y-Garreg, Cemmes, Dârowen, Llanbrynmair, Llanwrin, and Penegoes, in the county of Montgomery; Pennal, and Towyn, in that of Merioneth; and Scybor-y-Coed, in that of Cardigan. It is under the superintendence of fifteen guardians, and contains a population of 12,306. A savings' bank has been some time established in the town.
On a hill immediately above Penyrallt House are the remains of an ancient fortification of great strength, within sight of Cevn Caer, and commanding all the passes in the district around it. Part of the senate-house in which Owain Glyndwr assembled his parliament, is yet remaining: it was built with the slate stone of the country, and, from the appearance of the spacious entrance, which is still in good preservation, seems to have been an edifice of no mean extent. The old building called "the Garrison" is situated near the Wynnstay Arms, and it is supposed that there was formerly a subterraneous passage leading from this place to the fortification of Cevn Caer, in the adjoining parish of Pennal. Adjacent to the town is a field named the "Garshion," at the extremity of which is a copious spring, whence the inhabitants of Machynlleth are supplied with water.
Dôl Guog, near the town, was for some time the retreat of the celebrated Llywarch Hên, an eminent bard, who flourished towards the close of the sixth and at the commencement of the seventh century. He was chieftain of a part of Cumbria, or Cumberland, but having survived twenty-four of his sons, who fell in fighting the battles of their country against the Saxons, and falling into poverty in his old age, he retired, under the protection of Cynddylan, prince of part of Powys, to this place, where he devoted himself to the pursuits of poetry. He died at the advanced age of 105 years, and was buried at Llanvawr, near Bala. Many of his compositions while in retirement here, have been published in the Welsh Archæologia, and in a separate volume by Dr. Pughe. Howel Swrdwal, a Welsh bard, was minister of the parish in the fifteenth century; as was also, for many years, Ievan Llawdden, an eminent poet of the Vale of Loughor, who flourished from 1430 to 1470. Dr. Davies, head master of the grammar-school at Macclesfield, was a native of the town.