A Brief History of Brecon

Brecon is a town of significant historic and architectural character set in an area of outstanding natural beauty. The Cathedral and market town, population 7,500, is nestled below the Brecon Beacons, highest mountains in south Wales. The character of the town, tucked into the River Usk, still very much reflects its mediaeval origins and whilst much of its architecture is now 18th century Georgian, with over 500 protected buildings in the town centre, it retains its 11th and 12th century street pattern. The town was circumscribed by a medieval wall, additional portions of which were uncovered as recently as 2004. See Brecon - the Medieval Wall Unearthed.

Photo Doris Kays Kraushaar
The town, which grew out of the French Norman conquest of 1093, although Kings of Brecon had existed for many years before, is the administrative centre of the 519 square miles of the Brecon Beacons National Park, one of 10 designated in Britain for their natural beauty - and it sits in an area of mountains, lakes and small towns hidden in the folds of natural valleys.

Brecon takes its name from the Welsh word for the area, Brycheiniog, named after a 5th century Welsh prince. The area's first historic connections are evident from the iron age fort, Pen-y-Crug, which is sited on a hill to the north of the town.

Because of its strategically important location in the Welsh Marches, the area has historically been the centre of conflict between the Welsh and a succession of invaders. The Romans built a fort, Y Gaer, approximately 3 miles from what is now the town centre. The Normans built castles both at Brecon and nearby Hay-on-Wye. The town grew up around the old Roman fortification.

Brecon is steeped in history. The town was granted its borough charter in 1246 by Humphrey de Bohun, Earl of Hereford and Exeter, Hereditary Constable of England and Lord of Brecknock.

When the Welsh made their last stand for independence at nearby Builth, the Welsh patriot, Llewelyn ap Gruffdd rode through the town and was killed at nearby Cilmery in 1282. On December 12, 1411, the borough received its first Royal Charter from King Henry IV.

By the middle of the 16th century, Brecon had become one of the most important towns in Wales because of its position on the main route across Southern Wales from London to the coast. It was named in the "Act of Union" in 1536 as one of four "local capitals" of Wales. Later, in 1542, Henry VIII set up a chancery here and installed an exchequer in the castle. The town later flourished as the centre of the thriving wool industry and remains a centre of agriculture for the area.

The town still boasts the oldest private school in Britain, Christ College, set up in 1541 by King Henry 8th who had six wives - two of whom he had beheaded, was until recently a school exclusively for boys, but it has recently opened its doors to girl boarders. Fees range to 10,000 a year ($15,000).

Brecon is also the site of the oldest agricultural show, a 900-year-old cathedral and a 33-mile canal, built to carry coal and running through some of the finest countryside. The canal and cathedral - the finest church in Wales and built by the Normans - are now among its prime tourist attractions with many visitors booking holidays on the canal from its boat hirers.