Caerleon Net
John Leland, 1506 - 1552

John Leland (Leyland) was appointed King’s Antiquarian in 1533 and authorised by King Henry VIII to have access to the libraries of Cathedrals, Abbeys, Priories and any other places where records and ancient writings were stored. In this way he collected and transcribed many documents which almost certainly would have been lost, or at least dispersed, during the dissolution of the monasteries (which began in 1536). In order to complete this task he travelled widely; visiting, among other places, Somerset (in 1533), York (1534) and St. Albans (1535). He became interested in the places he visited, as well as the documents he called to see, and maybe was already starting work on his next project...

In 1539 he began travelling England and Wales again. This time his purpose was to make first hand observations to write a book to be entitled "History and Antiquities". He completed these travels in 1545, and on his return wrote:

"there is almost neyther cape nor baye, haven, creke or pere, ryver or confluence of ryvers, breches, washes, lakes, meres, fenny waters, mountaynes, valleys, mores, hethes, forestes, woodes, cyties, burges, castels, pryncypall manor places, monasteryes, and colleges, but I have seane them, and noted in so doynge a whole worlde of thynges verye memorable."

Above, a passage from one of Leland's notebooks. It refers to his visit to Exeter in 1542:

"There was a priorie of s. Nicolas a celle to Bataille abbay i the north side of the toune.
Joanes de Grandesons bisshop of Excester made an hospitale of s. John a endowid it the lande. This hospitale is hard by the est gate."

Unfortunately this work was never completed; he became insane in 1550 and died in 1552. However, his notes were so detailed, including historical and geographical data, that they became invaluable to later scholars.

So far we (at Caerleon Net) have been unable to locate unedited text relating to Caerleon. The following quotes have been drawn from an article by WN Johns, which appeared in Monmouthshire Medley, Volume One (see references). Some of the language and spelling has been brought up to date, while elsewhere the original has been preserved.

"Newport is but 2 miles from Cairleon. From Newport to the place where Ebouith goith on to Wisch Haven a good mile and a halfe. And then more then a half mile to the Haven Mouth. The Bridges of Cair­leon and Newport be both of wood. From the Haven Mouth of Wisch to the Mouth of Remmy, wher no Haven is or coming in mete for shippes, about III miles. On this shore is no very notable Thing. The Bankes of it be clyvid inough to defend the Se for ranging into the Low Ground of Wenceland. Newport is a bigge Towne whereof that parte where the Paroche Chirch is standith on a Hill. The Chirch is S. Guntie Olave in English. There is a great stone gate by the Bridge at the Este Ende of the Town, another yn the middle of the town as in the High Strete to passe through, and the 3 at the west end of the towne; and hard without is the paroche church. The fairest of the town is all yn one streat. The towne is in ruine. The castelle is in the este ende of the town above the bridge. There was a house of religion by the key beneth the bridge.

Some say that Caerleon should be in Base Ventland; some say nay. The Welshmen say that Caerleon is but VIII miles from Chepstow, but, indeed, it may be counted XII English miles. It standeth magnificently on the further side of Wische, one of the principal rivers of Wales, so that the great ships might well come now to the town as they did in the Romans’ time, but that Newport Bridge is a lett. Nevertheless, big boats come to the town. The ruins of the wall of the town yet remain, and also of the castle. There is opinion that the old Roman Church was about Mr. X's house, where I lay. There on digging appeared certain paintings on stones. There were found at late certain incrustments hard by the castle. In the town is now but one parish church and that is of St. Caducus."


Leland says Gwent comprised three divisions, viz., Low, Middle, and High Venteland, and extended from Chepstow to Newport on one side, and to Abergavenny on the other; the latter of which he says “maketh the cumpace of Hye Venteland.”

He describes Wentloog as being “divided from Ventifla by este (east) with the ryver Wiske (Usk), by south with the Severn Se, by west with the ryver of Remny to the very hedde of it, and towards the north north est by the hills of High Wenteland."


Leland's Description of Gwent, in the Time of Henry VIII, W N Johns, Monmouthshire Medley Volume One, Reginald Nicholas.

The Life of John Leland (The First English Antiquary). From a manuscript believed to have dated from the middle of the 18th Century. Alfred Cooper, 1896 (Copy in Newport Reference Library.)

John Leland's Itinerary, Travels in Tudor England, by John Chandler, 1993, Sutton Publishing. NB Unfortunately this does not include Leland's travels in Wales!

We leave the last words to John Leland:

"I trust so to open this wyndow, that the lyght shal be seane, so long, that is to say, by the space of a whole thousand yeares stopped up, and the old glory of your renoumed Britaine to reflorish through the worlde."

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