Machynlleth has many attractions to occupy your time during your visit. Some that may even capture your imagination and leave you breathless, and some that might just get you that adrenaline rush you enjoy.
Machynlleth sometimes referred to colloquially as Mach, is a market town and community in Powys, Wales and within the historic boundaries of Montgomeryshire . It is in the Dyfi Valley at the intersection of the A487 and the A489 roads.
Machynlleth was the seat of Owain Glyndŵr’s Welsh Parliament in 1404, and as such claims to be the “ancient capital of Wales”. However, it has never held any official recognition as a capital. It applied for city status in 2000 and 2002, but was unsuccessful. It is twinned with Belleville, Michigan.
Machynlleth hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1937 and 1981.
There is a long history of human activity in the Machynlleth area. In the late-1990s, radiocarbon dating showed that copper mining was taking place in the Early Bronze Age (c. 2,750 years ago), within a mile of the town centre.
There are legends of a once fertile plain, the Cantre’r Gwaelod, now lost beneath the waves of Cardigan Bay.
The Romans settled in the area; they built a small Roman fort at Pennal (Cefn Caer) four miles west of Machynlleth, and are reputed to have had two look-out posts above the town at Bryn-y-gog and Wylfa. One of the earliest written references to Machynlleth is the Royal charter granted in 1291 by Edward I to Owen de la Pole, Lord of Powys. This gave him the right to hold “a market at Machynlleth every Wednesday for ever and two fairs every year”. The Wednesday market is still a busy and popular day in Machynlleth 700 years later.
The Royal House, which stands on the corner of the Garsiwn, is another of the mediaeval houses that can still be seen today. According to local tradition, Dafydd Gam, a Welsh ally of the English kings, was imprisoned here from 1404 to 1412 for attempting to assassinate Owain Glyndŵr. After his release by Glyndŵr, ransomed Gam fought alongside Henry V at the Battle of Agincourt and is named amongst the dead in Shakespeare’s Henry V. The name Royal House undoubtedly refers to the tradition that Charles I stayed at the house in 1643.
The weekly market and biannual fair thrived, and in 1613 drew complaints from other towns whose trading in cloth was being severely affected. A document dated 1632 shows that animals for sale came from all over Merionethshire, Montgomeryshire, Cardiganshire, Carmarthenshire and Denbighshire, and prospective buyers came from Flintshire, Radnorshire, Brecknockshire, Herefordshire and Shropshire, in addition to the above.
The Dyfi Bridge was first mentioned in 1533, by Geoffrey Hughes, “Citizen and Merchant taylour of London” who left £6 13/4 “towards making of a bridge at the toune of Mathanlleth”. By 1601 “Dyfi bridge in the Hundred of Mochunleth” was reported to be insufficient, and the current one was built in 1805 for £250. Fenton describes it in 1809 as “A noble erection of five large arches. The piers are narrow and over each cut-water is a pilaster, a common feature of the 18th century”.
On 29 November 1644, a Civil War battle took place near Dyfi Bridge between Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army, commanded by Sir Thomas Myddelton of Chirk Castle, and the Royalists. A great many were killed and the nearby manor house Mathafarn was burnt down on the same day. Many houses in Machynlleth occupied by Royalists were also burned down.
Mary Cornelia, the daughter of local landowner Sir John Edwards married Viscount Seaham, the second son of the third Marquess of Londonderry, in 1846 and they set up home in Plas Machynlleth. He became Earl Vane on the death of his father and the fifth Marquess on the death of his half-brother.
To celebrate the 21st birthday of their eldest son, Viscount Castlereagh, the townspeople subscribed to the erection (at the town’s main road intersection) of the clock tower, which has become widely known as the symbol of Machynlleth. The tower, which stands on the site of the old town hall, is the first thing many visitors will notice. The foundation stone was laid on 15 July 1874 amid great festivities.
Another son, Lord Herbert Vane-Tempest, was the last member of the family to live at the Plas and was killed in the Abermule train collision on the Cambrian Railways, of which he was a director.
From 1859 to 1948 the town was served by the narrow gauge Corris Railway, which brought slate from the quarries around Corris and Aberllefenni for onward despatch to the markets. The railway’s Machynlleth station building, built in 1905, can still be seen alongside the road approaching the town from the north.
Machynlleth main-line station was built by the Newtown and Machynlleth Railway, and continues to provide a link to Aberystwyth and the Cambrian coast to the west and Newtown and Shrewsbury to the east. Currently services are run by Arriva Trains Wales.
Machynlleth is home to the signalling centre that controls the new European Rail Traffic Management System (ERTMS) on the Cambrian Line. The system went into full operational use in March 2011.
Machynlleth retains its strong Welsh character with Welsh spoken alongside English. The 2011 Census indicated that 67% of the population have some knowledge of Welsh with 39% able to read, write and speak the language.
Machynlleth has a special role in Welsh history because of its connection with Owain Glyndŵr, a Prince of Wales who rebelled against the English during the reign of King Henry IV. Owain was crowned Prince of Wales in 1404 near the Parliament House, which is one of three mediaeval houses in town, in the presence of leaders from Scotland, France and Spain, and he held his own Parliament in the town. He held his last parliament in the nearby village of Pennal, by the Church of St Peter ad Vincula. It is thought that after the rebellion floundered, Owain went into hiding in the area around Machynlleth.
Tourism is the primary employment sector with a wide range of activity based attractions (for example several mountain biking trails) as well as the visitor centre at the Centre for Alternative Technology. Agriculture continues to play a significant part in the make-up of the town and surrounding area. Another important local industry and employer is the renewable energy sector. Driven by the Centre for Alternative Technology (a research centre dedicated to the development of sustainable technologies), the area also hosts a wind farm at Cemmaes. The area now has a rapidly expanding renewable energy industry with several small to medium sized companies now operating in or around the town.
The town has a large market on Wednesdays which includes traditional Welsh together with Spanish and French food stalls.
The town has hosted the Machynlleth Comedy Festival annually since May 2011, featuring comedians such as Jon Richardson, Pappy’s, Josie Long, Stewart Lee and Richard Herring. The festival dominates the town for a weekend, with events running over three days in nine venues.
Machynlleth is also the home of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Wales. It originated in 1986 as Y Tabernacl, a centre of performing arts in an old chapel, a private initiative by former journalist Andrew Lambert. In 1994 this was expanded with a new complex of art galleries, a recording studio and a language laboratory. Lambert had previously tried to convert the town’s old railway station into a hotel and museum, employing international architect Richard Rogers.
MoMA Wales hosts the annual Machynlleth Festival, as well as its own annual open exhibition of art.