from Newport to Caerleon.
Suburbs, Ultra Pontem.
Ancient Encampments in the vicinity.
roads lead from Newport to Caerleon; the one crosses the Usk over
the new bridge, and continues along the turnpike two miles and
a half, then passes the west end of Christchurch, descends to
the bridge, and over the Usk to Caerleon; this is the shortest,
and most frequented; the other winds round Malpas Pill, continues
parallel to the right bank of the Usk, and enters the northwestern
gate of Caerleon. This was the only way during the construction
of Newport bridge. The distance from Newport to Caerleon by this
road, is four miles and a half.
principal object of curiosity in this route, is the church of
Malpas, on the right side of the road, a mile and a half from
a religious house for two cluniac monks at Malpas, which was a
cell to the priory of Montacute, in Somersetshire; and is supposed
by Tanner to be the Terra de Cairlion, granted to that monastery
by Winebald de Baeluna, in the reign of Henry the first. Edmund
earl of Stafford, who possessed Newport Castle, was the patron.
It was granted as parcel of Montacute, in 1546, to sir William
Herbert of St. Julians.
of this cell, now the parish church, is worthy of being visited
by the antiquary, as one of the most ancient religious edifices
in these parts.
It is a small
building of unhewn stone, of an oblong shape like a barn, with
a belfry having two apertures for bells. The arched door which
is on the western side, the stone frames of the three principal
windows, as well as the arch which separates the chancel from
the church, are all rounded, and decorated with friezes of hatched
moulding, denticles, and receding columns, peculiar to the Saxon
and Norman architecture. The arch of the southern window, which
seems to have been a doorway, is more elegantly ornamented, and
embossed with roses, not unlike the Etruscan style. All the columns,
which are mostly of a rude form, have dissimilar capitals and
shafts, a striking feature in Saxon structures. Some modern gothic
windows have been introduced into the stone frames of the original
is dedicated to St. Mary, and is a perpetual curacy in the diocese
of Landaff. After the dissolution, it remained in the patronage
of the family of St. Julians, to whom the site of the priory
lands was granted, but is now in the presentation of sir Charles
Morgan, the family of Tredegar having purchased the advowson,
with the great and small tythes. The extended value of the curacy
is only five pounds; but it has been greatly benefited by queen
Annes bounty; lands having been purchased and annexed to
it, which are now let for thirty-five pounds, and are highly improvable.
supposed, by those who are fond of tracing etymologies from the
Latin tongue, to derive its appellation from Malo passu, or a
bad pass; because the Roman road, which is supposed to have passed
this way, was rough and hilly; but a more natural derivation is
furnished by my friend Mr. Evans, from Malpaes, or a plain within
the hills, which exactly corresponds with the situation, it being
a plain between hills, and the only plain in the vicinity.
little beyond Malpas church, I quitted the turnpike road which
leads by Lantarnam to Pont y Pool, and followed the route to Caerleon.
About midway I mounted a steep and rugged ascent, and looked down
on the rich vale, stretching in the form of a bow, with Newport
castle and Caerleon church at each extremity, and the venerable
mansion of St. Julians, seated on the feathered banks of
the Usk, occupying the middle of the arc. On one side Caerleon
appears in a flat, and on the other the narrow and long town of
Newport rises along the side of an eminence to the church of St.
Woolos, embowered with trees. I rode under an ancient encampment
near the old lodge of Lantarnam park, and passed through the opening
which once formed the entrance of Isca Silurum, the residence
of the second Augustan legion, and the chief station of the Romans
in the country of the Silures, now occupied by the small town
of Caerleon, which is seated on the right bank of the Usk. There
is no occasion to employ many words in proof of these facts; the
remains of the walls and amphitheatre, the numerous sculptures,
altars, pavements, inscriptions, coins, and other antiquities
discovered within the town and the vicinity, evidently prove it
the site of a great Roman city. Immense quantities of Roman bricks,
stamped with the impression in relievo of LEG II AVG which still
continue to be found, several of which I myself observed, testify
that it was the station of the second Augustan legion, during
a long course of years.
is denominated in Antonines Itinerary, Isca Legionis secundæ
Augustæ; by the monk of Ravenna, Isca Augusta; by others,
Isca Silurum; and by Richard, Isca Colonia.
name of Caerleon is generally supposed to be derived from Caer,
the British word for a fortified city, and Leon, a corruption
of Legionum, meaning the city of the legions. But this derivation
is denied by Mr. Owen, author of the Welsh Dictionary, and one
of the best British linguists: he affirms its British name to
be Caer Lliön, or the city of the waters; this etymology
is not inapplicable to its situation on the banks of a tide river
which rises very high, and near the Avon Lwyd, a torrent inundating
Cambrensis gives a brilliant account of its ruins in the twelfth
century: Many remains of its former magnificence are
still visible; splendid palaces which once emulated with their
gilded roofs the grandeur of Rome, for it was originally built
by the Roman princes, and adorned with stately edifices; a gigantic
tower, numerous baths, ruins of temples, and a theatre, the walls
of which are partly standing. Here we still see, both within and
without the walls, subterraneous buildings, aqueducts, and
vaulted caverns; and what appeared to me most remarkable, stoves
so excellently contrived, as to diffuse their heat through secret
and imperceptible pores.
present ruins, however, are extremely inconsiderable, and consist
only of walls, and the excavation of the amphitheatre. The form
and size of the ancient town may be discovered by the line of
the walls, which though in many places dilapidated, and in others
covered with buildings, have been traced by Mr. Evans: with his
kind assistance I examined their site, and am enabled to present
to the public an accurate plan of the town, taken by Mr. Morrice.
shape of the fortress appears to be oblong, inclining to a square;
three of the sides are strait, and the fourth, like the northern
wall of Caerwent, curvilinear: the sides are of different
dimensions, and inclose a circumference of about 1800 yards; the
corners are gently rounded, like most of the Roman stations in
Britain, and the four angles nearly correspond with the cardinal
points of the compass.
our survey at the southern angle, near the extremity of the Round
Table field, where the walls exhibit the most striking remains
of their ancient structure; their present elevation is in
no place more than fourteen feet, which is considerably less than
their original height: their greatest thickness between eleven
are more dilapidated than those of Caerwent, but formed in the
same manner, with fragments of stone bedded in cement. Near this
angle, the mortar, after the Vitruvian method, not uncommon in
Italy, is tempered with pounded brick, particles of which chequer
the surface, and are incorporated with the substance. The facings
have been mostly removed for the construction of other buildings:
those which remain are principally of hewn grit stone.
side passes the Round Table or amphitheatre, in a direction parallel
to the Usk, and skirts the lawn of the abbey, now Miss Morgans
house; where part has been rebuilt with the Roman facings, and
part remains in its original state. At the northern extremity
of the Round Table field, it is intersected by the Broad way,
which from its straitness and uniform breadth, appears to have
been a street leading from the fortress to the meads on the banks
of the river. Here was probably a gateway, which seems to be marked
by the elevations at each end of the breach. In crossing
the stile on the other tide of the Broad way, Mr. Evans pointed
out to me a Roman Terminus, used as one of the cap-stones, bearing
the inscription TERMIN.
the line of wall re-appears, and continues along the Bear-house
field, where a foss is quite plain; but only detached masses of
wall, fringed with shrubs, are visible.
At the western
angle it turns along the side of the Malpas road, to the remains
of a gateway leading into Goldcroft common, and proceeds in a
direct line, occupied by several cottages and gardens, where the
foss is only visible, to the turnpike, near the junction of the
Usk and Pont y Pool roads.
At the northern
angle the wall forms part of the stable of a public house, called
the New Inn, trends through several gardens, orchards, and tenements,
is occasionally lost in the streets and lanes, becomes again conspicuous
in the castle yard, and terminates in the east angle, which projects
over the rail road, near the foss of the castle.
of wall from this point to the south angle is curvilinear. It
passes through the precincts, and skirts the foss of the castle;
is intersected by Bridge street, near a gate which has been recently
taken down; forms the foundation of the gable end of a house,
now occupied by Mr. Andrew Butler; passes through his garden;
is lost in a narrow lane, leading to the quay, and re-appears
an the adjoining field, gradually rising in height, until it ends
in the southern angle.
from this survey, that the foss is only visible on part of the
western, and the whole of the northern side. On the other parts
it was perhaps unnecessary, from the greater abruptness of
the ground, or the traces of it have been obliterated by outworks
principal gates seem to have been placed in the middle of the
four sides. The first in Bridge street, the second at the Broad
way, the third leading into the Newport high road, which was the
site of the Julia Strata, and the fourth into Mill street, through
which the Roman road passed to Gobannium or Abergavenny.
a striking peculiarity in the situation of the ancient Roman fortress,
which has hitherto escaped the notice of travellers, and would
have escaped mine, had not Mr. Evans pointed it out to me. Caerleon
appears on a superficial view to occupy a flat position,
but in fact, that portion of the present town, which is inclosed
by the Roman walls, is placed on a gentle rise, connected
at one extremity with the lower part of the eminence, on which
the encampment of the Lodge is situated. This rise shelves on
the west and south sides towards the Usk, and on the east towards
the Avon Lwyd, and seems to have formed a tongue of land, which
before the draining of the meadows, was probably a kind of peninsula.
Hence the fortress, from its position on a rise between two rivers,
and almost surrounded with marshy ground, was a place of considerable
strength, and well calculated to become the primary station of
the Romans in Britannia Secunda.
The era in
which the Roman fortress was built, cannot be ascertained with
precision; conjectures may be formed, and Horsley, whose opinion
deserves great weight, supposes that the Romans first settled
here in the reign of Antoninus Pius. It is mentioned in Antonines
Itinerary; and the numerous coins of the early emperors, which
have been here discovered, seem to confirm this opinion. The walls
however appear to have been constructed under the lower empire.
to Richard of Cirencester, Caerleon was a Roman colony, and the
primary station in the country of the Silures; circumstances which
sufficiently account for its extent and magnificence.
a field close to the banks of the Usk, and near the south-west
side of the wall, is an oval concavity, measuring seventy-four
yards by sixty-four, and six in depth. The sides are gently sloping,
and covered, as well as the bottom, with turf. It is called by
the natives Arthurs Round Table; but is undoubtedly the
site of a Roman amphitheatre. According to the prevailing opinion,
it was merely a campestrian amphitheatre, hollowed in the ground,
and surrounded with banks of earth, in the sides of which turf
seats were formed for the spectators. This opinion is however
disproved by the express assertions of Giraldus, who describes
the walls as standing in his time. The author of the Secret Memoirs
of Monmouthshire also observes, in 1706 a figure of Diana,
with her tresses and crescent, moulded in alabaster, was found
near a prodigious foundation wall of freestone, on the south
side of King Arthurs Round Table, which was very wide, and
supposed to be one side of a Roman amphitheatre. Within
the memory likewise of many persons now living, stone seats were
discovered on opening the sides of the concavity.
part of Caerleon inclosed by the walls, was the site of the ancient
camp or fortress; but the suburbs extended to a considerable distance.
As I walked along the banks of the Usk, beyond the Bear-house
field, near half a mile to the west of the town, I observed great
quantifies of Roman bricks and hollow tiles. These suburbs are
said to have occupied both hides of the river. According to tradition,
they comprised a circumference of not less than nine miles, and
reached as far as Christchurch and St. Julians; and the
village on the southern hide of the bridge, still bears the old
Roman name of Ultra Pontem. Large foundations have likewise been
discovered in the elevated grounds to the north and north-west
of the walls, particularly beyond the skirts of Goldcroft common.
Most of the
Roman antiquities discovered at Caerleon have been removed from
the place. The only specimens now remaining, are a few coins in
the possession of Miss Morgan, which on account of her absence
I could not inspect; a rude sculpture, in basso relievo, of a
Venus Marina holding a dolphin in her hand, of which Mr. Wyndham
has given an etching in his tour, and an antique intaglio.
is a cornelian seal set like a ring, and representing the figure
of Hercules strangling the Nemean lion. It is very small, but
not ill executed. According to Mr. Wyndham, who saw it soon after
it was discovered, and extols its workmanship, it belonged to
Mr. Norman, maltster. Mr. Strange says, that it was found in digging
the foundation of a cellar, opposite the White Hart public house.
An engraving of it is given in the Archæologia. It is now
the property of Mr. Nicholl, a gentleman resident at Caerleon,
who readily permitted the inspection, and to whom I was indebted,
not only for his polite attentions, but for much information,
which he was so obliging as to communicate. Pritchet the shoemaker,
who possessed the large hollow tile, which Mr. Wyndham describes
as part of a sarcophagus, was alive at the time of my first journey
to Caerleon. He was eighty-five, and died
in the winter of 1798. He informed me, that in digging his garden,
he had discovered many coins and rings, all of which he had disposed
of; among the coins he mentioned a Julius Cæsar, and a Drusilla,
in high preservation.
columns of freestone which support the market-house, probably
belonged to some Roman structure. They are of the Tuscan order,
low and massive. In repairing the streets of Caerleon, about 1784,
two bases of the same dimensions, materials, and workmanship as
those of the columns, were discovered near the house now occupied
by Mr. Blanning, which stands close to the ancient walls.
some foundations, three cap-stones of a cornice, which appeared
to have been placed at the angle of a building, were discovered.
According to Mr. Evans, who examined them, they were of freestone,
and scarcely inferior, in elegance of workmanship, to the
angular cornices in the ruins of Palmyra. These fragments
have been considered by some persons as parts of the ancient cathedral;
but were most probably the remains of a splendid Roman temple.
of Roman bricks, coins, and jasper tesseræ, or the square
dies which formed the mosaic pavements, have been found at St.
Julians and Penros, and seem to point out those places as
the site of some magnificent mansions. They were probably the
villas of the Roman prefects, or generals. This opinion, suggested
by Mr. Evans, is corroborated by the vestiges of two causeways;
one leading to Pont Saturn, in the road to Penros, and the other
through the wood of St. Julians.
to the conjectures of some antiquaries, the Broad way led to the
ancient quay; and this opinion has been supported by accounts
of iron rings and staples for moorings, fixed in the rocks on
the opposite bank. But I could not learn that the smallest vestiges
of foundations, indicating the existence of a quay, were ever
discovered in these parts; and the accounts of rings and staples,
are mere idle and traditionary reports.
and orchards of Caerleon, are strewed with innumerable quantities
of cinders, containing much iron, which are called by the natives
Roman cinders, and are considered as pieces of ore, imperfectly
smelted by the Romans. These fragments are found in many places
which were occupied by the Romans; before the introduction of
the Lancashire ore, they were conveyed to the iron works, and
by means of the improved state of modern machinery, yielded a
considerable portion of metal. In some parts of Monmouthshire,
not far removed from the iron works, the profit drawn from the
Roman cinders has almost defrayed the purchase of the land.
Roman fortress, we traced several outworks of considerable strength.
Near the eastern angle in Mill street, are remains of a line of
ancient wall, with the foundation of a gateway, running nearly
parallel to the Roman fortifications; but not sufficient to ascertain
is more difficult to trace the ruins of the celebrated castle,
which resisted so many assaults, while the town, notwithstanding
its Roman fortifications, surrendered to each invader. The castle
works extended in a line between the south side of the wall and
the Usk, beyond a round tower near the Hanbury Arms, and terminated
at the remains of two round towers or bastions, which were built
upon the rocks on the verge of the river. According to Domesday
book, there was a castle in Caerleon at the time of the conquest.
Parts of the ancient works still remain, particularly the tower
near the Hanbury Arms, which exhibits in its circularly arched
doorway, and embrasures, the early style of fortification: it
is now pierced with modern windows, and much altered from its
original state. The thickness of the walls, the bold sweep of
the arches, and the composition of the cement, according to the
Vitruvian method, have led some persons to suppose it a Roman
structure, which was afterwards included in the works of the castle.
no apparent remains of the tower called by Giraldus gigantic;
but the mound on which it was constructed is still entire. It
is an artificial eminence of considerable height, 300 yards
in circumference at the base, and 90 at the summit; it stands
between the banks of the Usk, and the southern side of the wall,
and is generally supposed to be the site of the Norman keep or
citadel, and posterior to the other works. In the time of Leland
the ruins were very considerable; and Churchyard, who wrote in
the reign of Queen Elizabeth, described it, as
may not be forgot,
stands upon a forced hill,
far from flowing flood. (The Worthiness of Wales)
In the middle
of this century, the walls of the tower were not less than forty
feet in height; but they were loosened by the severe effects of
the frost in 1739, and fell down in enormous fragments. Within
the memory of the oldest inhabitants were remains of dilapidated
buildings at the bottom, and a flight of stone steps. During my
last excursion, some massive foundations were discovered towards
the summit. The greater part had been removed by the lord of the
manor, and sold to Mr. Williams, a currier, who had built a house
with the materials. The remains which I observed were not
less than twenty feet in depth, ten in breadth, and thirty in
length; the whole forming a solid and compact mass, of large stones
bedded in mortar, which the workmen had great difficulty in separating.
I noticed among the fragments, much slate, many glazed pantiles,
and numerous pieces of burnt and charred wood, which seem to imply,
that part of the building had been destroyed by fire.
top of this eminence, the wild and beautiful environs of Caerleon
are seen to the greatest advantage. The principal objects are
the town, gently rising at the extremity of an oval vale; the
bridge, supported by lofty and slender piles; the rapid Usk, flowing
through fertile meadows; the sloping hills, richly clothed with
wood; and Christchurch, towering like a cathedral, on the brow
of an overhanging eminence.
from the mount, and tracing the foss, I observed, towards its
south-western side, heaps of Roman bricks and tiles, which had
been recently dug up in making excavations. Among these were some
fragments of large bricks, two feet square, and two inches in
thickness. They formed part of a Roman sarcophagus, which measured
six feet and a half in length. It was found on the side of the
mount, several feet above the ground; and Mr. Blanning, who
politely accompanied me, and supplied me with these particulars,
pointed out the place where it had been discovered, which was
apparent from the red colour communicated by the bricks to the
surface. The situation of this sarcophagus seems to indicate,
that the lower part of the mount existed in the time of the Romans,
and was a continuation of a natural ridge, which stretches nearly
the same height, not far from the banks of the Usk, and that the
upper part was raised, since the deposition of the sarcophagus,
to its present elevation.
In the street
leading from the bridge, and near the passage to the castle, are
the ruins of a portal, which seems to have once formed the entrance
of the castle works. Parts of a round tower still remain, with
the groove for a portcullis, and a public house called the Gate-house
marks its situation. (At the time of my last excursion these remains
were taking down.)
the southern extremity of the bridge, in the district sometimes
called the village of Caerleon, and sometimes distinguished by
the Roman appellation of Ultra Pontem, are the ruins of an ancient
fort, intended for the purpose of guarding the passage over the
river. Grose has given an engraving as it existed in 1778, and
from the roundness of the arches and the mode of construction,
concludes that it was a Roman edifice; but the dilapidated state
of the work renders it difficult to ascertain its exact form or
it was the invariable custom of the Romans to construct fortified
camps near their principal stations, for airing the troops, exploratory
purposes, securing convoys, and guarding cattle, we should expect
to find traces of their ancient encampments in the neighbourhood
of Caerleon. The remains of four encampments, two on the north
and two on the south side of the Usk, are still visible in the
vicinity; but neither of them seems to bear a positive Roman character.
remarkable of these is the encampment of the Lodge, in the old
park of Lantarnam, near a mile to the north-west of Caerleon,
anciently called Bellingstocke, which is supposed by Harris to
have been the æstiva or summer camp of the second legion:
it is of an oval, or rather an elliptical shape, large dimensions,
and surrounded with double ramparts, excepting to the south-west,
where there is a quadruple line of ramparts and ditches. The entrenchments
are in some places not less than thirty feet in depth. The entrance
is to the west, and defended by a tumulus, twelve yards in height,
which is placed on the inner rampart. It bears more the appearance
of a British, than of a Roman encampment; and if I may be allowed
a conjecture, was the site of the British town on the arrival
of the Romans. This conjecture is strengthened by the authority
of an ancient chronicle of the kings of the isle of Britain, which
mentions the existence of a British town built by Beli, on the
banks of the Wysc, or Usk.
this British fortress afterwards became a summer camp of the Romans,
was again a strong post of the Britons on their departure, and
subsequently occupied by the different nations who besieged Caerleon.
The depth of the ditches, and height of the vallum, seem to indicate
a Saxon station, as their camps are distinguished by those peculiarities.
Perhaps Harold, on his conquest of lower Gwent, here established
himself when he invested Caerleon, as it was a place of great
importance, either for the defence or attack of the town. The
Normans likewise did not omit to seize this post, called by Churchyard
Caerleons hope" in the numerous assaults which
Caerleon sustained in feudal times.
encampment, on the north side of the Usk, is at Penros, an eminence
above the Avon Lwyd, to the north-east of Caerleon; it is environed
only by a single rampart, and the form is nearly square, with
five bastions. From the remains found at Penros, it may have been
also the site of a Roman camp, which was altered and strengthened
with bastions during the civil wars of the last century.
encampment, to the south of the Usk, is near the high road leading
from Caerwent to Newport, above Mayndee, the seat of William Kemeys,
esq. who has erected a summer-house in the midst of the area,
which commands a singular and beautiful prospect. It is a small
circular entrenchment, and could only be calculated for exploratory
purposes, or guarding cattle.
camp is in the wood of St. Julians, above the Usk. As I
was several times prevented by bad weather from visiting it, I
shall only observe, that from the plan and description given by
Mr. Morrice, who took the survey, it was probably a Saxon
encampment, formed by Harold to command the river, and to cut
off all communication between Caerleon and the south, as the camp
at the Lodge did to the north. It certainly could never be intended
as a defence of Caerleon, because the farthest side has no rampart
or ditch, and is only secured by a natural ravine, at some distance
from the camp. It must have been often occupied by the Anglo Normans,
who frequently besieged and possessed themselves of Caerleon.