Raglan Village

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The whole of Castle Street and the High Street were at the heart of the Norman settlement and of the medieval town of Raglan i.e. long before the English Civil War came along to take the historical limelight! St Cadoc’s Church was planted here in the 6th Century. The earliest reference to Raglan Castle is c.1100 while the earliest reference to Raglan Village is in 1354. Ian Soulsby's 1983 book, The Towns of Medieval Wales, was based on the work of the Urban Archaeology Research Unit at University College Cardiff between 1973 and 1978. Soulsby has a section on Raglan in which he describes its Norman origins saying-:

"The town was not a planned settlement, and there is no record of a borough charter, although the 68 holdings recorded in 1354 were regarded as being burgages and the vill as a burgus." He includes a sketch of the presumed vill with its burgages and says " ... the market cross, the focal point of the community, was located in Beaufort Square opposite the church, and it is likely that the 68 burgages lined the two highways, the High Street and Castle Street, leading from it."

The village of Raglan may have derived its name from either: Rhaglaw, (WELSH meaning ‘The seat of the Chief Governor of the District’) or Rhagland (WELSH derived from rhag ‘fore’ and glan ‘bank’, hence ‘rampart’).

The town of Raglan lies at a point where the former Roman road from Gloucester and Monmouth to Usk crosses that from Chepstow to Abergavenny. The importance of the site, therefore, may suggest that settlement here was well established before the Norman Conquest and certainly St Cadog's church is a much older foundation since it was originally dedicated to St David who is said to have established a monastery here. (1)

Reliable evidence is not forthcoming until the 11th Century, however, with the arrival of the Normans to the district under the direction of William fitz Osbern, who bestowed 'inter alia' tithes of the vill of Raglan on the Norman abbey of Cormeilles*. He may also have been responsible for the construction of the initial motte-and-bailey castle which appears to underlie the remains of the impressive 15th-century structure which lies to the north of the town.(2)

The town was not a planned settlement, and there is no record of any borough charter, although the 68 holdings recorded in 1354 were regarded as being burgages and the vill as a 'burgus."(3) (Source: The Towns of Medieval Wales, Ian Soulsby, 1983)

In 1465 a weekly market at the Market Cross at Beaufort Square was established at Raglan with a fair held twice a year in May and October. In the large space around this stone the markets were held, the base of the cross doubtless forming the table on which bargains were struck. Another smaller sheep market was held outside the Ship Inn on the High Street. Over the years, the ‘Sheep Inn’ became the Ship Inn’.

Although we know that Inns and Pubs were in Raglan since before the Civil War, the first publican that we know of was George DOWKINS. Things weren't going for poor George. The London Gazette, August 23, 1737 includes George Dowkins in the list of persons being prisoners for Debt in the Gaol in the County of Monmouth!

Today Raglan is described as a village. In the 17th Century, stocks and a whipping post were used for punishment. By 1632, a court house was established on the High Street. In recent times, the old court house has been used at various times as a jail, police station, restaurant and currently, a private residence.

With a 14th-century population in the region of 250-300 Raglan was only a modest town and did not experience any expansion when the new castle was built in the following century. Indeed, it declined significantly, and by the 1530's Leland could note that 'the town… ys bare'.(8)

Whatever recovery was achieved in the succeeding 100 years, Raglan Village received a further setback during the English Civil War. Raglan became the centre of royalist organisation in the area, and the castle was garrisoned by the Earl of Worcester. Some additions were made to the castle itself and further defences were provided by the construction of earthworks in the surrounding area.

Raglan Castle was besieged for two months from 3 June to 19 August 1646 by parliamentary troops under Sir Trefor Williams of Llangibby and was taken on 19 August. The town did not escape, most of the houses being put to flames. Elizabeth Purston wrote in 1646 of the besieged royalists burning Raglan town to the ground. St Cadoc's Church was also damaged but it is unclear whether the Royalists or the Parliamentarians were at fault in any event “its stately steeple levelled with the earth.”

After the castle was despoiled in 1646, the link between castle and village was severed. Raglan village was rebuilt over the centuries serving close-knit farming community and hosting visitors to Raglan Castle. Some 200 years later, the population of Raglan parish had increased to nine hundred and this must have prompted the 8th Duke of Beaufort to build the North aisle, repair the Church and expand the Graveyard. At this time, new windows were installed including a memorial of the 1st Lord raglan who died in the Crimea in 1855, a window commemorating the marriage of Lord Henry Somerset (the Duke's son, and Lady Isabel Somers-Cocks).

To learn more:

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Flickr images of Old Raglan: http://www.flickr.com/photos/raglan_history/

(Source: Ian Soulsby's 1983 book, The Towns of Medieval Wales. Thanks to Jean Hancock for her contributions)

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