Travel in and around Raglan through the Ages, Nicole Maidment, 1988

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HORATIA MEMORIAL ESSAY COMPETITIONS WINNER OF 1988

by - Nicole Maidment

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Settlements usually build up where lots of routes come together. If you look at a modern map you could be excused if you expected to find a large settlement here. This is because just outside the village the main East-West road, the A40, meets the main road to the coast, the A449. We have therefore to look back in history to find out why Raglan is not a town instead of a village.

The first form of transport and the only one which has stayed since the time of Adam and Eve, is walking. These days people think of a foot-path as the pavement at the side of a road, but I mean routes used only by people. If you look at a large scale map you will see the patterns of the old footpaths, but the best way to see these is to leave the road and follow the signs.

There are many footpaths around Raglan but most people don’t know about them and even fewer use them. Many are just paths between farms and although they are mostly used for short journeys there are still some long paths, as for example Offa’s Dyke

In our days they say man’s best friend is a dog but in the past man’s best friend, as far as travel is concerned, was a horse. In the countryside you will find bridle paths which are like footpaths but allow horses and riders to travel across land.

As civilisation developed so too did the need of travel for markets, trading and industry. To understand why Raglan has not grown bigger we must look at the reasons why other towns in the area have grown instead.

Newport is large because it is on the sea and ships could trade with other parts of the country and abroad. The river could be used to transport goods inland and it was easy to build roads on the flat land by the coast.

Pontypool and Abergavenny are at the valley entrances to mountain areas and this has made them natural places for routes to meet.

Chepstow has the sea and also the River Wye which was used to transport heavy goods by boats. Although rivers were used for travel they were also a barrier to travel by road. Towns therefore developed where rivers could be bridged. This might explain why Usk is bigger than Raglan. It certainly made Monmouth grow as boats could reach there from the coast and the main roads could cross the river there.

The more people could easily travel to places the bigger they grew and could develop business, markets and even industry. Transport had to be improved to allow people to get to these centres where they would buy and sell goods and animals. The old bridleways and footpaths therefore had to be improved.

Although the towns I have mentioned grew to serve quite large areas, other villages grew to provide services for local areas and Raglan was one of these. It even had its own small animal market and sheep sales were held regularly on the cobbled area outside the Ship Inn.

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Between towns travel was frequent and it was necessary for people and wagons to pass. Bridleways developed into roads along which carts could be drawn and animals driven. The more they were used the more it was necessary to build roads better and wider.

If you look at the roads in and around Raglan you will see examples of what I mean. The roads from local farms and small villages, such as Llandenny, are very narrow and it is not possible for two cars to pass. This is mainly because in the old days of horses and carts there was very little traffic along those roads.

The people of Raglan would have to go to the larger towns for markets and so those roads would be better developed. If you look at some of the roads leading out of Raglan you will see that those leading to the main towns, for example Chepstow Road, Monmouth Road and Abergavenny Road are wider and there is no problem in cars passing. This is because throughout the ages these roads were well used and had to be well maintained, strongly built and wide enough to enable traffic to pass in each direction.

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Although Raglan was not a natural centre for routes it did, like every other village have to have ways of getting to towns and so there would be some of these wider roads leading out of the village. Raglan was a village where people would stop on the way to other towns rather than a place where people intended to stay. Coaches stopped to pick up passengers and the village provided accommodation and meals for coaches passing through. The Beaufort Arms was a coaching inn and it still provides similar services for tourists. Nowadays however, it is a different sort of coach which carries the guests – a fast bus and not a stage coach. This is a good example of a building carrying out similar services over the ages even though methods of travel have changed.

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There are other examples like this in the village. Where Watkin’s Garage now is, there used to be the village Blacksmith. When horses were replaced by motor vehicles, such as motor bikes and then cars, the business started by doing motor repair and service as well as blacksmith’s work. Over the years horse transport has died out and so the business has changed to deal entirely with vehicles. Although it is now very different than it was 100yrs ago it still serves the same purpose, that is to look after the means of travel. Instead of supplying hay and horseshoes it now supplies petrol and tyres.

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Over 100s of years the road system stayed very much the same. There were footpaths for short journeys, narrow roads between farms and villages and wider roads between towns. The main difference was the quality of the roads. This had to be improved because of motor travel. More people could afford to buy cars and heavy lorries needed better surfaces.

Although the road network has not changed very much there was an important new network in the last century with the building of the rail system. There is not much left of this system in the area and the nearest line is at Abergavenny. Due to the Industrial Revolution the main railway system in South Wales was along the coast and into the coal valleys. The lines in this part of Gwent were only rural back lines. There were not enough people or goods to make the lines profitable.

There were two main rural systems in the area, one running from Newport, through Pontypool and Abergavenny to Hereford. There was also a line up the Wye Valley to Monmouth and then east through Ross and on to Gloucester. At one time it was hoped that Monmouth would be part of a major system with links all over the country but in the event this fell through and only modest schemes developed. Even these eventually closed down.

A branch was set up to join the two systems already mentioned. This ran from Pontypool to Monmouth and passed through Little Mill, Usk and Raglan. The Coleford, Monmouth, Usk and Pontypool Railway was incorporated on 20th August 1853 as a single line railway. At that time it went as far as Wyesham and did not reach Monmouth until 12th October 18(?). Unfortunately by this time the industrial traffic patterns were changing. For example, coal from the Forest of Dean was being replaced by coal mined in Northamptonshire and other coal was being imported.

Because of these changes, arising from the Industrial Revolution, the Great Western Railway decided not to develop the Pontypool – Monmouth line beyond a rural branch line. The passenger service finished 30th May 1955, and the transport of goods on 13th June 1955.

Like the modern dual carriageways the railway by-passed and did not go through Raglan. In fact if it were not for the name Station Road it would be easy to think Raglan never had a railway station. Although the line closed over thirty years ago, there is still evidence of its existence as the Old Station can be seen from the A40. Many motorists must be surprised and curious to see a railway station at the side of the road. Just as with the Beaufort Arms and Watkin’s Garage, where buildings and businesses have altered to meet new transport needs, so too has the Station. Although it originally served the rail system with four, and later three, services a day, it now serves the new road system by acting as a store for the Highways Department of Gwent County Council.

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Just as some of the businesses in the village have changed with the history of travel, so too does the modern road system, the dual carriageways, have a link with travel history. The A40 and A449 have improved communication in the area a great deal. Due to the volume of traffic and the need to ensure a speedy flow it has been necessary for the main road to by-pass the village centre. Before it was built, the old cottages in the village were battered by heavy lorries.

The A40 to the north of the village was built in l968 and the A449 was finished in 1973. Although they intersect at Raglan they have had little effect on the development of trade or industry in the village as the purpose of these roads is to carry traffic past, and not to, the village. Indeed, if it were not for the noise of distant traffic it would be almost impossible, standing in the middle of the village, to realise that these major roads were so close.

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For those who have been curious about a railway station at the side of a main road, this is because for almost the entire length of the old railway line from Usk to Monmouth the dual carriageway follows the same route. If you look at an old map you will see this. Last century rail took over as the most important form of transport and now road traffic has replaced rail and it is interesting to know that the new road is on top of the old railway.

It’s nice to walk around the village and try to recognize the old parts and new parts and to try to understand how they changed. Sometimes there is room for old and new side by side. For example last century the railway was thought to be a modern invention yet it was used mainly to let people travel to see the historical castle. To get to the castle there was a footpath from the station which became known as Raglan Footpath. It is funny to see a railway station, built for the most modern type of transport, being named after the oldest way of travel, a footpath. In fact if you stand at the castle gate you can still see a footpath sign pointing towards the old railway station.

There is also another peculiar way in which travel has affected the village. Most people would not think that a railway could affect a Church clock but it has. According to the Church guide Miss Anna Maria Bosanquet presented the clock in 1863 but because the railway “had incurred her displeasure she decreed the station should be punished by having no clock face in that direction.” So we see that travel has some strange effects.

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The old properties in the village were built along the main road. When travel was by foot and horse people could not travel far to work and so there were very few houses. The people who lived in them would work in the village or on the land nearby. Nowadays roads are much better and more families have a car. It is therefore possible for people to travel long distances to work each day, and even to school. This is why the village has grown much bigger in the last 30 years than it did for 100s of years before. Although the old buildings are stretched along the main roads the new houses have been built between these roads and would hardly be noticed by tourists.

So we can see by looking all around us how travel in and around Raglan has affected the road pattern outside the village and the housing pattern inside it.


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