Knighton is a small market town and community situated chiefly in Powys, Wales, within the historic county boundaries of Radnorshire. Lying on the River Teme, the town straddles the English-Welsh border; Knighton railway station, as well as a small part of the town’s built-up area, is located in Shropshire, England. Knighton is the sixth largest town in Powys. The name Knighton derives from Old English meaning ‘A settlement of knights’ or ‘knights town’. This was both an Anglo-Saxon and later a Norman fortified boundary, a place where knights protected the borderlands from Welsh invaders. Tref-y-clawdd, its Welsh name, is not a translation: it means ‘town on the dyke’ (i.e. Offa’s Dyke) and not Knighton. It is in a sparsely populated tract of mid-Wales and the English border characterised by a hilly plateau cut by narrow river-valleys with a broadly east-west axis. To the west, ground rises steeply towards Radnor Forest, and to the north, more gently, to the summit of Clun Forest. Turning east, the elevation falls gently to the Shropshire Plain. To the south of the town stands Llan Wen hill.
Knighton is known for a well preserved section of Offa’s Dyke. Intriguingly, Wat’s Dyke also runs parallel to Offa’s Dyke and a few miles to the east. An earthwork that runs north-south along the English/Welsh border from Basingwerk near Holywell to Oswestry. The dykes aside, two Norman castles, constructed in the 12th century, are the oldest survivors in modern Knighton. The town became a borough in 1203, with a charter permitting a weekly market and annual fair. The castle was besieged by Owain Glyndŵr in 1402 and the castle and much of the town were destroyed. The major battle of the rebellion was fought at Pilleth 3 miles south of the town in the same year.
The town’s church dates from the 11th century, but much of it was rebuilt in the 19th century. It is one of only two in Wales dedicated to St Edward; the patron saint of England before St George. This dedication to an English saint is a symptom of the dual English/Welsh nature of the town that was not legally resolved until 1535 when Knighton was finally confirmed as part of Wales by the Acts of Union. Knighton also has a Baptist chapel and a small Catholic church.
Knighton first prospered as a centre of the wool trade in the 15th century and was later an important point on the two drover routes from Montgomery to Hereford, and from London to Aberystwyth. Otherwise, Knighton was remote from the centres of commerce. It seemed likely that the railway revolution would also fail to reach the town; the 1840s and 1850s saw considerable railway building right across Great Britain but Radnorshire had a small population and little industry. The construction of the railway was made economically viable – just – by an entrepreneurial drive to connect the Mumbles and Milford Haven with the cities and factories of the industrial Midlands. The Knighton Railway Company was formed by local landowners and businessmen to build a line from Craven Arms to the town.Work began in August 1858 and the line reached Knighton in March 1861. The station itself was built in 1865.
To mark the accession of H.M. Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 the initials “ER” were planted out in deciduous trees within an evergreen forest on the hill to the north of the town.
In August 1970, Knighton hosted a rock festival with bands such as The Move and the somewhat more obscure Pete Brown & Piblokto, Roger Bunn, Forever More, Clark-Hutchinson, James Litherland’s Brotherhood (James was originally part of Colosseum) and Killing Floor. Comperes were radio DJ Pete Drummond and local resident and bluesman Alexis Korner, who also performed.
On the last Saturday in August the town holds its annual Carnival and Show, which attracts thousands of visitors to the town from all over the world. It features two parades, one at midday, and another at around 8 pm; these consist of various themed carnival floats and people dressed in fancy dress. The show takes place at the town’s showground at Bryn-y-Castell; also home to Knighton Town F.C., Knighton Cricket Club and Knighton Hockey Club.
Knighton Community Centre is the towns largest venue and plays host to many events such as discos, performances, wrestling, bands, artists along with local clubs and organisations. Within the town are the visible remains of two early castle mottes. One at Bryn-y-Castell and the other hidden behind the fire station and in a private garden. Just outside Knighton and visible for many miles, is an observatory with a telescope, Europe’s largest camera obscura and a planetarium. The observatory is part of the Spaceguard UK project which searches for asteroids that might threaten the earth.
In common with many small towns, Knighton has rugby, cricket, football and hockey teams. It also has a 9-hole Golf course established in 1906, and designed by Harry Vardon. The football club, Knighton Town, plays in the Mid Wales League and Aspidistra Radnorshire Cup. The footballer Arthur Rowley, brother of England international Jack– managed the town’s football team.
For recreational sportsmen and women a swimming pool and leisure centre are available.
The Clock Tower– similar to those in Rhayader, Hay on Wye and Machynlleth– built in 1872 is a central landmark and visible in the picture above. Knighton is at the centre or the start of two National Trails; Glyndŵr’s Way and Offa’s Dyke Path. The Offa’s Dyke Association has a visitors’ centre in the town alongside the site of the ceremony at which John Hunt, Baron Hunt of Llanfair Waterdine inaugurated the long distance footpath in 1971. It is a walk recommended by the Daily Telegraph. A further trail– the Jack Mytton Way– passes nearby and yet another– Wat’s Dyke Way– is proposed.