Brecon is a market town and community in southern Powys, Mid Wales, with a population of 7,901. Historically it was the county town of the County of Brecknock; although its role as such was eclipsed with the formation of the County of Powys, it remains an important local centre. Brecon is the third largest town in Powys, after Newtown and Ystradgynlais. It lies north of the Brecon Beacons mountain range, but is just within the Brecon Beacons National Park.
Brecon’s town walls were constructed by Humphrey de Bohun after 1240. The walls were built of cobble, with four gatehouses and was protected by ten semi-circular bastions. In 1400 the Welsh prince Owain Glyndŵr rose in rebellion against English rule, and in response in 1404 100 marks was spent by the royal government improving the fortifications to protect Brecon in the event of a Welsh attack. Brecon’s walls were largely destroyed during the English Civil War. Today only fragments survive, including some earthworks and parts of one of the gatehouses; these are protected as scheduled monuments.
There is also a Castle which was the creation of Bernard de Neufmarche in around 1093. The confluence of the Usk and Honddu made this an ideal location for its construction – water was useful for defence, sustenance and for powering the mills.
About 250 m north of the castle stands Brecon Cathedral, a fairly modest building compared to many cathedrals. The role of cathedral is a fairly recent one, and was bestowed upon the church in 1923 with the formation of the Diocese of Swansea and Brecon from what was previously the archdeaconry of Brecon — a part of the Diocese of St David’s.
Saint Mary’s Church began as a chapel of ease to the priory but most of the building is dated to later medieval times. The West Tower, some 27 m (90 ft) high, was built in 1510 by Edward, Duke of Buckingham at a cost of two thousand pounds. The tower has eight bells which have been rung since 1750, the heaviest of which weighs 16 cwt (815 kg). In March 2007 the bells were removed from the church tower for refurbishment. The church is a Grade II* listed building.
The Church of St. David, referred to locally as Llanfaes Church, was probably founded in the early sixteenth century. The first Parish Priest, Maurice Thomas, was installed there by John Blaxton, Archdeacon of Brecon in 1555. The name is derived from the Welsh – Llandewi yn y Maes – which translates as St. David’s in the Field. It is probable that the site and the name of the present Church were chosen because of the close proximity of a fresh water well called Ffynnon Dewi (David’s Well) which was situated approximately 150 metres south of the church. It is believed that St. David drank from this well during his pilgrimage around Wales and it is also believed that at that time, there was probably some form of religious activity on or near the site on which the church now stands. St.David’s Church – Full history
Plough Lane Chapel, also known as Plough United Reformed Church, is a Grade II* listed building. The present building dates back to 1841 and was re-modelled by Owen Morris Roberts and is considered to be one of the finest chapel interiors in Wales.
The Welsh name, Aberhonddu, means “mouth of the Honddu”. It is derived from the River Honddu, which meets the River Usk near the town centre, a short distance away from the River Tarell which enters the Usk a few hundred metres upstream. After the Dark Ages the original Welsh name of the kingdom in whose territory Brecon stands was (in modern orthography) “Brycheiniog”, which was later anglicised to Brecknock or Brecon, and probably derives from Brychan, the eponymous founder of the kingdom.
Before the building of the bridge over the Usk, Brecon was one of the few places where the river could be forded. In Roman Britain Y Gaer, Brecon (Cicucium) was established as a Roman cavalry base for the conquest of Roman Wales and Brecon was first established as a military base.
Present Day Brecon
Today Brecon is a thriving community and is popular as a holiday destination, being on the northern edge of the Brecon Beacons National Park, affording among the best views of the Brecon Beacons themselves, a range of hills, including Pen y Fan, the highest point in southern Britain at 886 m (2,907 ft). The latest Powys County Council (2011) estimate of the population of the town is 8,020.
The vast majority of visitors to the Brecon Beacons National Park, would say that sightseeing is the most popular activity for visitors and of the more active pursuits, walking is the most popular, but cycling, caving, water-sports, trekking and fishing are also widely enjoyed. In recent years, hang-gliding, parascending and mountain biking have increased in popularity. The rich natural and built heritage of the National Park is also a source of pleasure for the many visitors who enjoy bird-watching, painting, photography, visiting archaeological and historical sites and shopping.