There are three railway stations: the London and North Western in the Brecon road, the Great Western to south of the town, and the Abergavenny Junction, Great Western and North Western railways to the north. An ancient stone bridge of seven arches crosses the Usk just outside the town, and near it is a fine iron bridge, over which the London and North Western Railway crosses.
The town is on the high road from London to Brecon, at t the extremity of a pass wher e the lofty mountains abruptly terminate, and lays claim to high antiquity; it was the "Gobannium" of Antonine, a Roman station, and so called from the river Gobannius, now the Gavenny, from which (with the prefix "Aber," denoting its situation at or near the confluence of that river with the Usk) it derives its name: the town is almost encircled by hill and mountains, one of which, the Sugar Loaf, rises to an elevation of 1,954 feet, the Derry, the Graig, the Rholbin and the Llanwenarth Breast forming its base.
A long range of hills running from Pontypool terminates here in the magnificent Blorenge, 1,720 feet high: the Great Skirrid, or Holy Mountain, on the other side the town, is 1,601 feet high; here once stood a chapel dedicated to St. Michael: the Little Skirrid is 750 feet high.
Previous to the revolution of 1688 this was a corporate town, its government being vested in a bailiff and twenty-seven burgesses; but the attachment of the inhabitants to the Orange dynasty being somewhat equivocal, William III deprived them of their charter. The town was subsequently governed by a body of 'Improvement Commissioners', elected pursuant to an Act of Parliament obtained in 1854, and this arrangement continued until the "Local Government Act, 1894," established the late Urban District Council.
In 1899 a charter of Incorporation was granted, constituting the town a municipal horough, which is divided into four wards and governed by a Corporation consiting of a Mayor, four Aldermen and twelve Councillors.
The town is paved, lighted with gas, and abundantly supplied with the purest water on the constant supply system, the water being conveyed through pipes from a spring at the base of the Sugar Loaf mountain, the pressure being sufficient to drive the water to the highest house in the town. The works, gas and water are the property of the town. The Abergavenny ancient parish has been formed into two, the municipal area being known as Abergavenny and the remainder as Abergavenny Rural.
The church of St. Mary, in Monk street, was formerly the church of the ancient Benedictine mitred priory of St. Mary, founded by Hamelyn Baludun in the 11th century and by W. de Braose in the time of King John; it is a cruciform building of stone, 172 feet in length, mainly in the Decorated and Perpendicular styles, and consists of a presbytery of three bays, 67 feet long, with arches opening into lateral chapels in its western bays, nave, transepts, of which the chapels form eastern extensions, and an embattled central tower with turret, conntaining 8 bells: like other Benedictine minsters in Wales, the church was divided between the convent and the parish, the choir being formed just eastward of the crossing and containing twenty-four stalls of carved oak, twelve on each side, which still remain; these have a coved canopy and in several instances open lattice work at the back, and each range terminates eastwards in a separate stail with a lofty spired canopy; the Perpendicular nave, 45 feet wide, is of three bays, with a north- aisle; and the transept is 67 feet in length.
The church contains a most interesting series of monuments, consisting chiefly of altar tombs, ten in number, bearing recumbent effigies, dating from the 13th to the 16tb century, described elsewhere.
In 1882 the nave and north aisle, or Lewis chapel, were restored at a cost of £5,778, and in 1896 the chancel, for some years closed, was reopened and the chapels and transepts renovated, the vestry constructed in 1828 within the south transept being entirely removed: the cost of these alterations amounted to about £600: there are 710 sittings. The register, which includes those of Hardwick and Llwyddu, dates from 1653. The living is a vicarage, net income £295, without residence, in the gift of the Hyndman trustees, and held since 1895 by the Rev. Frederick William Garforth Whitfield, M.A., of Trinity College, Dublin, and surrogate.
Holy Trinity is an ecclesiastical parish formed in 1895. The church, in Baker street, erected and endowed by Miss Herbert in 1840, is an edifice of stone in the late Perpendicular style, consisting of chances, nave, south aisle, north and south porches and a turret containing one bell: the stone slab of the present altar was originally that of the ancient parish church of St. John the Baptist, Abergavenny, and was discovered walled up in a chimney breast of the old "Cow inn," Neville street, by Iltyd Gardner esq. and Fred. Gardner esq. and presented by them to Holy Trinity church: the consecration marks are roughly cut: the Early English piscina now in the sanctuary was found in the wall of the north transept of old St. John's church and presented by ths Worshipful Master and Brethren of the St. John's Lodge of Freemasons to this church: the church was restored in 1885, at a cost of £1,250, and enlarged in 1897, and now affords 650 sittings. The register dates from the year 1885. The living is a vicarage, net yearly value, £190, with residence, in the gift of the Bishop of Llandaff, and held since 1893 by the Rev. John Robert Phillips, of St. Aidan's.
Christ Church is an iron building, with spire, erected in 1879-1880 at a cost of £963, and will seat 340 persons.
The Catholic Church, dedicated to Our Lady and St. Michael, in Pen-y-Pound, is a building of stone in the decorated style, erected in 1860, and consisting of chancel, nave and aisles and has several stained windows. The reredos, erected in 1883, was the gift of the late John Baker-Gabb esq. of Abergavenny, and of Rome. The subject is St. Michael and All Angels; it contains six large panels and canopy and is altogether an elaborate and costly work of art: there are sittings for upwards of 400 persons: Rev. Charles Austin Wray, OSB, priest.
The Baptist chapel in Market street will seat 400 persons, and that in Frogmore street 700; the Primitive Methodist in Victoria street has 200 sittings: the Wesleyan chapel in Castle street, 350; and the Presbyterian chapel in Frogmore street, 400; the Plymouth Brethren have a meeting room in Princes street, seating 200, and there is a Congregational chapel in Castle street with 500 sittings. A cemetery of three acres, with two mortuary chapels, was formed in 1855, at a cost of £2,000, and is under the control of a joint committee, who meet at the Town Hall every quarter. A new cemetery for the parish of Abergavenny and the Rural District, comprising about 13 acres, and situated in the parish of Llanfoist, was opened in 1894. The Town Hall, Cross street, is an elegant building, in the Early English style, with a lofty tower containing a clock with four dials, presented by the late Crawshay Bailey esq.; the assembly room is provided with an orchestra, and will seat 600 persons: at the back of and adjoining the Hall is an excellent and spacious covered market, conveniently fitted for the sale of meat, fish, fruit, vegetables, butter and eggs: this market is always fully supplied, and is well attended by buyers from the hiIl districts. The market-day is Tuesday; a fruit and vegetable market is held on Friday.
The fairs are the third Tuesday in January, third Tuesday in March, 14th May, third Tuesday in June, last Tuesday in July, 25th September and third Tuesday in November.
The Corn exchange, which is also attached to the Town Hall, has an entrance from Cross street. The Cattle Market, covering an area of 2 acres, is well and conveniently laid out in Lion street. The Abergavenny Reading Association has rooms in Lion street. The Young Men's Institute is carried out in the school room attached to Holy Trinity.
The Masonic Hall, in St. John's street, occupies the site of the old Grammar school and the ancient parish church of St. John, the embattled tower of which still remains.
There are breweries, corn mills, lime and stone works, iron foundries, engine works and maltings. The Post Office is in Cross Street. There are four banks, a branch of the National provincial Bank of England Limited, one of the Capital and Counties Bank Limited, Lloyds Bank Limited, and the Birmingham District and Counties Banking Co. Limited.
The Lunatic Asylum for the county, standing on an eminence on the Old Monmouth road, is an extensive building of stone, erected in 1851 at a cost of £37,083, and enlarged at different times at a further cost of £21,000, and again in 1882-3, at an addi tional cost of£50,000, these additions including a chapel of stone, erected at a cost of £3,500, which stands apart in the grounds, and consists of chancel, nave, transepts north porch and a central turret containing one bell. There is one stained window, presented by the architects Messrs. Giles and Gough, of London, and a flne organ presented by the late superintendent, Dr. McCullough. In 1891-2 the asylum was further enlarged, and it is now available for 950 patients: the total amount expended on buildings, lands, furniture and outfit has been £133,700.
The County Constabulary station is in the Grofield, in which Petty Sessions and the County Court are held.
The H and I companies of the 4th Volunteer Battalion South Wales Borderers have their head quarters in the town. The Abergavenny Club House has about 400 members.
The Dispensary, in Castle street, established in 1828, receives an average of 200 patients yearly, and is supported by donations and voluntary subscriptions. A Cottage Hospital for five patients was established in Nov. 1889, and is supported by voluntary contributions. The Almshouses, on either side of Holy Trinity church, were built and endowed by the late Miss Herbert, of Little Hill House, for the occupation of eight poor persons, each of whom has a weekly allowance of four shillings.
Abergavenny is a place of considerable trade and holds a position of importance in the county. A variety of Roman coins and remains of baths have been discovered in the town, and within half a mile of it are the remains of a Roman camp, near which was a chapel of ease, now converted into a farm-house. Shortly after the Norman conquest, a castle was erected here by Hameline Baludun, whom Camden calls "the first Lord of Abergavenny" and who was a son of Dru de Balun, one of the Norman adventurers who came over with William the Conqueror. Subsequently this fortress became a leading stronghold during the resistance made by the Welsh to the lords marchers, in their desperate struggles for the recovery of their independence. The castle at length came into the possession of the Nevilles, in which family the honour is still vested. George Neville, the fifteenth baron, was, in the year 1784, created Viscount Neville and Earl of Abergavenny, and the present earl was raised to the marquessate in 1876, with the subsidiary title of Earl of Lewes, now assigned by courtesy to his eldest son.
Abergavenny is the only barony among the numerous honours conferred by the Crown on the chieftains who, subsequent to the Norman invasion, assisted in the subjugation of Wales. The remains of the castle occupy a wooded eminence to the south-west of the town, and consist principally of two towers, one round and the other pentagonal and now covered with ivy: There are also traces of the moat. On the site of the keep is now a dwelling-house, used as a refreshment house for visitors. The precincts of the castle have been laid out with walks, flower beds and tennis courts and provided with seats, and are now maintained as pleasure grounds under the management of the corporation and a small fee is charged for admittance. Neville Court is the seat of the Marquess of Abergavenny, K.G.
The Hill is the residence of Henry Ferrers Ferrers esq., and Nant Oer that of Ferdinand Pakington John Hanbury Williams esq. D.L., J.P. & The Pentre that of Lt.-Col. James Seager Wheeley D.L.
The Marquess of Abergavenny K.G. (who is lord of the manor), Lieut-Col. James Seager Wheeler D.L.,. of the Pentre, R.Baker-Gabb esq. and Arthur Herbert esq. JP., of Coldbrook Park, are the principal landowners.
The area of Abergavenny parish and borough is 825 acres; rateable value, £34,423; the population in 1891 was 7,743, which includes six officers and 97 inmates in the workhouse.
The population of Abergavenny Rural parish, with the hamlets of Hardwick and Llwyndu, in 1891 was 1,293, including the Asylum; the area is 3,394 acres; rateable value, £44,096.
HARDWICK is a hamlet, one mile from the town, on the south side.
LLWYNDU is a hamlet, forming the north side, 1½ miles from the town: here is a small chapel of ease to St. Mary's.
Parish Clerk: George J. Burnett, Woodland Road, off Hereford road.