Welshpool is a town in the county of Powys in Wales, in the historic county of Montgomeryshire, 4 miles from the Wales–England border. The town is low-lying on the River Severn; its Welsh language name Y Trallwng literally means “the marshy or sinking land”. Welshpool is the fourth largest town in Powys. In English it was initially known as Pool but its name was changed to Welshpool in 1835 to distinguish it from the English town of Poole. It has a population of 6,664, contains much Georgian architecture and is just north of Powis Castle.
St Cynfelin (he is also known as St Matu) is reputed to be the founder of the church of St Mary’s and St Cynfelin’s in the town during “the age of the saints in Wales” in the 5th and 6th centuries. The parish of Welshpool roughly coincides with the medieval commote of Ystrad Marchell in the cantref of Ystlyg in the Kingdom of Powys.
The Long Mountain, which plays as a backdrop to most of Welshpool, once served as the ultimate grounds for defence for fortresses in the times when the town was just a swampy marsh. Welshpool served briefly as the capital of Powys Wenwynwyn or South Powys after its prince was forced to flee the traditional Welsh royal site at Mathrafal in 1212. After 1284 Powys Wenwynwyn ceased to exist.
The town was devastated by the forces of Owain Glyndŵr in 1400 at the start of his rebellion against the English king Henry IV. Today the waymarked long-distance footpath and National Trail Glyndŵr’s Way runs through the town.
The church of St Mary has a complicated architectural history. Haslam suggests it was refounded in c.1250 and that much of the tower dates from that century. The rest of the building appears to have been added to during nearly every subsequent century, and was restored twice in the Victorian era. Inside there is little that predates the 19th century.
A considerable number of the buildings in the centre of the town have been listed, invariably Grade II apart from St Mary’s church which is the sole Grade I structure. Numbers 5 and 6 Mount Street are thought to be 15th-century timber-framed cottages, while The Mermaid, 1 Mount Street and 38 Mount Street are attributed to the 16th century. It is no coincidence that all of these lie at the top of the town away from the commercial centre where the demands for refurbishment are always likely to have been greater. In this respect the recent uncovering from beneath its later veneer of a timber-framed first-floor hall-house lying back from Broad Street in Hopkin’s Passage is instructive.
Powis Castle, on the outskirts of the town, also has a Grade I listing and is surrounded by magnificent C17th gardens and later parkland.
A second-century Roman burial in the area of the Smithfield was discovered in 1959, and stray Roman coins have also come to light within the town.
The ‘Old Church’ lay at the junction of Mill Lane with Salop Road. Traditionally associated with Llywelyn’s church, the building that was still standing as a ruin in the 18th century was erected in 1587, but badly damaged by fire in 1659. However, Capel Sainte Lleu’n which stood south of the present church and Salop Road was referred to in a will of 1545. The discovery of human remains in 1986 attests the presence of an adjacent graveyard.
Domen Gastell is a well-preserved motte, but the bailey has suffered from re-use as a bowling green.
St Mary’s church is generally considered to have been founded with the borough in the 13th century. However, it lies on the opposite side of the Lledan Brook from the borough. Its position on a spur above a watercourse is typical of early medieval foundations and Soulsby has commented on the fact that an estate map of 1629 has the statement ‘Welshe towne’ printed adjacent to the church. The map also implies an oval churchyard – in contrast to the rectangular area today – but this could be no more than a stylistic device employed by the cartographer. Overall, a strong case can be made for this being an early church and by extension the earliest settlement at Welshpool should be in the Salop Road/Mill Lane area, previously favoured by the Romans.
The layout of the town is essentially linear with the main axis, Broad Street lying on the southern edge of the Lledan Valley. By 1629 both the town hall and the market house as well as the market cross were located in the centre of this thoroughfare. Several lanes run off Broad Street to north and south with a road intersection (now Berriew Street and Church Street) at its eastern end. Narrow burgage plots remain clearly defined on Broad Street and Berriew Street, and it is evident from the estate map of 1629 that at that time (and by implication in previous centuries) Broad Street was the main focus. A feature of this urban pattern is the numerous narrow alleys, many of them named, which ran off the main street.
The agricultural dimension to medieval and early post-medieval Welshpool is largely lost. Sub-divided fields once covered a substantial area of lower ground between the town and the Severn and are depicted as such on an estate map of 1663 but these have been almost completely erased by the modern industrial development. Depicted on the map was ‘the Ould Field’ near a later farm called Henfaes which is probably the earliest area of cultivation. Nevertheless, ridge and furrow cultivation has been recognised in various places, both in Powis Park and in the hills surrounding Welshpool and it may be that some of this is of medieval origin.
Powis Park contains other significant earthworks including an enclosure, just above the Oldford Estate, which is probably medieval, though it bears a passing similarity to a Roman military site.
Welshpool railway station is on the Cambrian Line and is served by Arriva Trains Wales. The town is also the starting point of the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway, a narrow-gauge heritage railway popular with tourists, with its terminus station at Raven Square. The light railway once ran through the town to the Cambrian Line railway station, but today Raven Square, located on the western edge of the town, is the eastern terminus of the line.
A small network of bus services link surrounding towns and villages, mainly operated by Tanat Valley Coaches. Notable is service No X75, serving Shrewsbury to the east and Newtown and Llanidloes to the south west, also service No D71 to Oswestry via Guilsfield and Llanymynech. In addition there is a local town service operated by Owen’s Coaches. The semi-disused Montgomery Canal also runs through Welshpool. To the south of the town is Welshpool Airport which is also known as the Mid Wales Airport. Three major trunk roads pass through Welshpool: the A458, A483 and the A490.
The local economy is primarily based upon agriculture and local industry. The Smithfield Livestock Market is the largest one-day sheep market in Europe, whilst the town’s industrial estates are home to numerous different types of small industry. Due to the town’s small size and population the attraction of high street stores is limited, meaning many of the residents are forced to shop in neighbouring towns like Newtown and Shrewsbury.
The town is the home of Ardwyn Nursery and Infants School, Oldford Nursery and Infants School, Gungrog Nursery and Infants School, Maes-y-dre Primary School and Welshpool High School is a secondary school which teaches a range of pupils from ages 11–18 and is consistently set to a very high standard of education throughout Key Stage 3 and 4 and A Level studies.
Welshpool has a football club and a rugby union club, the former being Welshpool Town F.C. and the latter, Welshpool Rugby Football Club. The town also has hockey and cricket clubs. The Montgomeryshire Marauders Rugby League Club are also nominally based in Welshpool, as this is where the majority of their home fixtures take place.