Abergavenny is a market town with a population of some 13,600 located in the north of the modern county of Gwent, in what was formerly the historic county of Monmouthshire, about fourteen miles to the west of Monmouth. The town is situated at confluence of the river Usk with its tributary the Gavenny; its Welsh name Abergyfenni, often shortened simply to "Y Fenni", means the "mouth of the river Gyfenni". As it lies only twenty miles from the English border it sometimes likes to boast that it is "The Gateway to Wales".
Abergavenny was known to the Romans as Gobannium; here they built a timber fort to protect the road that stretched between their fortresses at Caerleon and Brecon. Almost a thousand years later the Normans chose to build a castle at almost the exact same location in order to protect their lines of communication along the Usk Valley. The castle, built by Hamelin de Ballon in 1087, is now only a picturesque ruin. The original castle motte was occupied by a Regency hunting lodge built in 1819 for the Marquess of Abergavenny which now houses the Abergavenny Museum.
The castle became the capital of the Marcher Lordship of Abergavenny or Bergavenny as it was often known, later held by the families of de Braose, Hastings and Beauchamp. A town grew up alongside the castle, which owing to its location was frequently embroiled in the intermittent border warfare between the Welsh and the Marcher Lords during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In 1175 it was the scene of the famous murder by the so-called Ogre of Abergavenny which led to the castle being burnt in retaliation in 1182. In reaction to these events by 1241 the town was protected by its own walls, but these did not prevent from the town from being burnt by Owain Glyndwr in 1404.
Abergavenny recovered from this and blow and during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the tanning and weaving industries became established in the town which was celebrated for the production of a type Welsh flannel known as "Abergavenny flannel". In the eighteenth century, it briefly became a spa town as the local goats milk was regarded as a treatment for consumption. The goats hair also served to supply the manufacturing of periwigs until they went out of fashion. The town continued to expand in the nineteenth century with opening of the Brecknock and Abergavenny Canal in 1812 and the coming of the railways in the middle of the century and although not directly effected itself the industrialization of the neighbouring valleys ensured the town's prosperity.
The local church, St Mary's Priory Church is regarded as one of the finest churches in Wales. It was originally as the church of the Benedictine monastery established by Hamelin de Ballon at the end of the eleventh century, very little of this Norman building survives and most of the current structure dates from the fourteenth century. The church does however contains an impressive number of monuments and sculptures dateing from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century, most famously that of the Tree of Jesse, one of the finest medieval sculptures in the world.
Abergavenny is twinned with Beaupreau in France, Oestringen in Germany and Sarno in Italy and is the home of the Walnut Tree inn, often cited as the best restaurant in Britain.
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