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Vale of Llangollen
Historic Landscape
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Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Vale of Llangollen: Llangollen
Llangollen Community, Denbighshire
(HLCA 1152)

CPAT PHOTO 1766-01

Small market town of early medieval and medieval origins now forming an important regional tourist centre exploiting its canal and railway heritage.

Historic background

The origins of the earliest settlement at Llangollen are uncertain, though it has been supposed that a church dedicated to St Collen was established in the 6th or 7th century, the site of whose grave may have been indicated by the cell-y-bedd (‘grave chapel’) which existed as separate building structure next to the church until about 1749. An original shrine of the second half of the 12th century is possibly represented by Romanseque fragments built into the more recent fabric of the church. By the early years of the 13th century the church’s income was probably granted to the Cistercian abbey at Valle Crucis, which had been founded in about 1201 but little is known of the nature of the nucleated settlement that probably existed in the vicinity of the church at this time. The location of the settlement is strategically important: it controls both the important river crossing of the Dee and access along the Dee valley, though it was never to acquire military significance.

In about 1234 the establishment of new fisheries on the Dee led to friction with the freemen of the town. A local trading centre probably became established here by at least the 1260s, once the neighbouring castle had been built Dinas Brân, which formed the administrative focus of the Welsh lordship of Powys Fadog. The castle ceased to have any military importance following the Edwardian conquest, but the town continued to have economic significance, the king granting Roger Mortimer the right to hold a weekly market and two annual fairs. The river Dee has been bridged by a river at Llangollen since at least the 1280s. The present bridge was built in about 1500 but has been repaired and extended on many occasions between the 17th and 20th centuries. Nothing is known of the form or extent of the medieval settlement of Llangollen, though it is evident that water-power had been harnessed between Llangollen and Pentrefelin for monastic corn mills and for a fulling mill by 14th century.

The town, described as a village by John Leland in the 1530s and said by Edward Llwyd to comprise about 70 houses in the later 17th, underwent a rapid expansion between the later 18th and earlier 20th centuries in response to the coming of the branch from the Ellesmere canal (1805), the Holyhead Road (1815), and the railway (1861) which greatly encouraged local processing industries including slate processing, cloth manufacture and timber, based upon water power, and upon the burgeoning tourist industry and giving rise to speculative developments in the southern and western parts of the town in the 1880s and 1890s.

A general decline in these processing industries during the inter-war and post-war periods made available a number of former mills and factories for various alternative uses. The economy of the town today is largely based upon the tourist industry exploiting its canal and railway heritage and is the focus for cultural events, notably including the Llangollen International Music Festival.

Key historic landscape characteristics

The town of Llangollen spans the full width of the valley floor, between a height of about 90–140 metres OD to the north and south of the river Dee. As well as taking in the whole of the historic core and modern built-up area of the town, the historic landscape character area has for convenience been extended to include some adjacent areas with buildings and structures relating to industrial and transport history on the western side of the town, as far as Berwyn Station, just below the Horseshoe Falls.

The older quarter of the town lay to the south of the river, probably along the line of Bridge Street, in the area between the church and the bridge, where the market house is known to have been sited. Little is known of the surviving extent of buried archaeological deposits which might yield information about the early history of the settlement. Its primary historical interest today is its built heritage predominantly of the later 18th to early 20th centuries which illustrate the origins and development of the town.

A number of buildings have earlier origins, however, being timber-framed of 16th or more commonly 17th-century date, suggesting that the buildings of the early town were mostly half-timbered and probably closely related in form to those in the surrounding countryside. When the town began to expand in the later 18th century most building works were carried out in either local grey slates and shales or in locally manufactured brick, most of the surviving earlier timber buildings being refronted in these materials.

The town had become important as a local commercial centre and staging point on the turnpike roads to Corwen and Ruthin by the mid to late 18th century, with the establishment of Public houses and coaching inns such as the Royal Hotel (formerly the King’s Head) and the Hand Hotel. A major phase of town-centre redevelopment evidently took place in the 1860s, coinciding with the arrival of the railway. The distinction between those buildings with an earlier core, and those which were built of a piece in the later 18th century or during the 19th century, is an important one and partly explains the highly varied and picturesque form of the town.

The architectural characteristics of the town are firstly its urbanised form, with a recognisable commercial core, with densely developed residential streets around it; secondly, its and small-scale 19th and 20th-century suburbs, from the detached and semi-detached houses that stretch out towards Pentrefelin and scale the slopes on the south side of the river; and thirdly, the 20th-century housing estates on the east side of the town. Much of the urban development takes the form of terraced houses, ranging from the three-storeyed Georgian-style rows on Berwyn Street and Bridge Street, to smaller rows of cottages. This implies an organisation of building work which is rare in a rural context; it produces a formality of design which seems recognisably urban. Llangollen is also characterised by a surprising variety of styles and materials, indicating its growth over a considerable period, and via a number of different hands. The buildings in the town depart from rural vernacular traditions in a number of important respects: the constraints of urban building plots lead to tighter, more compact house-planning, often with an emphasis on height. There is more emphasis on style and detail such as the gothick window detailing in Abbey Square and the polychrome brickwork of several buildings along on the A5.

A number of public areas were created about the turn of the 20th century — the Victoria Promenade being opened in 1899 to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and later extended to the Riverside Park.

The town also includes a number specialist building types of the 19th and early 20th centuries. These include several industrial buildings within the town such as the old tannery, former and nonconformist chapels. There are also examples of an identifiable commercial architecture. The Old Bank, Berwyn Street is a good example of this: it is built on a corner site, which it exploits by a distinctive curving façade, and with emphasis given to the ground floor former bank premises. The town also includes a number of civic buildings including town hall and police station.

The town possesses a complex social hierarchy of building, each with its own geography. Houses within the confines of the town range from the detached villa such as Siambr Wen, to substantial terraced houses and small cottages.


Amgueddfa Llangollen 2003; Baughan 1980; Bingley 1814; Borrow 1862; Breese 2001; Cadw 1995; Cadw Listed Building Lists; CPAT Historic Environment Record; Edwards 1969; Edwards 1988; Edwards 1991; Ffoulkes-Jones 1980; Hubbard 1986; Lhwyd 1909-11; Jack 1981; Jenkins 1969; Jervoise 1936; Lewis 1833; Mavor 1971; Pennant 1773; Pratt 1997; Quartermaine et al. 2003; Radford and Hemp 1959; Thomas 1908-13; RCAM 1914; Roberts 0000; Sherrat 2000; Silvester 1995; Silvester 1999; Simpson 1827; Simpson 1853; Smith 1906; Smith 1988; Soulsby 1983; Thomas 1908-13; Thomas 1954; Williams 1990; Williams 2001; Wilson 1975

For further information please contact the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust at this address, or link to the Countryside Council for Wales web site at

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