Presteigne

presteignePresteigne  is a town and community in Powys, Wales. It was the county town of the historic county of Radnorshire. Despite lying on a minor B road the town has, in common with several other towns close to the Wales-England border, assumed the motto, “Gateway to Wales”. The town sits on the south bank of the River Lugg, which forms the England–Wales border as it passes the town — the border effectively wraps around three sides of the town (north, east and south). Nearby towns are Kington to the south and Knighton to the north, and surrounding villages include Norton and Stapleton. The town falls within the Diocese of Hereford. Presteigne is considered by Country Life magazine editor Clive Aslet to be one of Britain’s top 10 small towns.

History

The town probably began as a small settlement around a Minster church dedicated to St Andrew and at the time of the Domesday Book and formed part of the manor of Humet.

By the mid-12th century it was known as ‘Presthemede’ or ‘the border meadow of the priests’. A century later, it passed into the control of the Mortimers, powerful Marcher lords, and on their fall passed into the hands of the Crown.

Portrait of Owain Glyndwr

Portrait of Owain Glyndwr

At the end of the 13th century, the majority of the town’s inhabitants, mainly English, enjoyed some prosperity but the Black Death and the Glyndŵr rebellion had destroyed this and by the end of the 15th century, the now largely Welsh, population lived in a struggling village. A significant victory in their rebellion was won by the forces of Owain Glyndŵr nearby at the Battle of Bryn Glas in 1402.

The development of a thriving cloth industry in the Tudor period brought short-lived prosperity, ended by three new epidemics of plague in three successive generations. Thereafter it became a market town and, until the later 16th century, a centre for processing locally grown barley into malt.

By the Acts of Union, Presteigne – at first jointly with New Radnor – became the county town of Radnorshire and its administrative and judicial centre, housing the county gaol and the Shire Hall.

By the end of the 19th century its newer and larger neighbour, Llandrindod Wells, had usurped the role of administrative centre, but Presteigne remained the venue for the Assizes until these were abolished in 1971.

After a period of stagnation in the first half of the 20th century, the town has developed a diverse manufacturing base and has begun to exploit its tourism potential while its environment and the development of its social, cultural and leisure facilities have helped to attract people to settle.

Henry Edward’s Old English Customs: Curious Requests and Charities mentions the bell-ringer appointed by John Beddoes in 1565 to ring a ‘day bell’ at 8am, and a curfew at 8pm. Beddoes specified that in the event of the custom being abandoned for more than a year, (except in plagues) the funds set aside for this position would revert to his heirs.

Beddoes – a wool merchant – also gave his name to Presteigne’s secondary school – John Beddoes School – which he established in 1565, and endowed with land.

presteigneDuring the 1930s, the Ministry of Labour opened a work camp for long-term unemployed young men. Many of the inmates came from the crisis-hit coal mining, steel and heavy industry communities of South Wales. Presteigne was one of a number of Instructional Centres created by the Ministry, and it also had a satellite camp in Shobdon, Herefordshire. By 1938, the Ministry had 38 Instructional Centres across Britain. The camp was situated in Slough Lane near Hill Farm and is now a small private housing site. Land owned by Capt Lewis RN, of Clatterbrune House, was used to hold first Italian and then German POW’s during the Second World War and is now the home of Presteigne St. Andrews Football Club.

Present Day

presteigneopened as an extension of the Leominster and Kington Railway on 9 September 1875. The railway line commenced at Titley Junction, passed through Leen farm, to Staunton-on-Arrow, in front of the Rodd farm via Corton into Presteigne. By 1929 it was possible to join one of the three steam trains a day – each way – and make the 6 hour journey to London. The passenger service on this line ended in 1951, but a freight service continued to run every other day until the line was finally closed for good in 1961. Knighton is the nearest railway station, serviced by Arriva Trains Wales.

The town has become a local cultural centre. It hosts 2 indigenous festivals. First, the oddly named Sheep Music Festival dedicated to contemporary music; and the Presteigne Festival of Music and the Arts  which casts a broader cultural net. It attracts composers of the calibre of Ian Wilson. The town has an award-presteignewinning museum – The Judge’s Lodging. – created from Radnorshire’s disused Shire Hall and re-opened in 1997 by Robert Hardy. The Church of St Andrew permanently houses a 16th-century Flemish Tapestry. Presteigne was also host to the World’s first competitive electric bicycle race The town has inspired twelve songs for voice and piano – A Garland for Presteigne.