History of Overmonnow
A suburb of Monmouth since the Middle Ages, Overmonnow was the result of the town’s sprawl into Welsh-controlled lands and as such was defended by the Clawdd-Du, or “Black Dyke”. Known for iron-working and wool-making, it is believed to have been the origin of the Monmouth Cap, fashionable between the 15th and 18th centuries, and thence to have gained the name “Cappers’ Town”, while the waste products of the former industry gave their name to Cinderhill Street.
Also known as “Little Monmouth”, Overmonnow developed a small rivalry with the rest of the town. At a celebration of Queen Victoria’s coronation, a man styling himself mayor of Overmonnow demanded formal admittance across Monnow Bridge and rode around the town at the side of the mayor of Monmouth, and the 19th century also saw annual “muntlings”, or battles, on the bridge between the young people of Cappers’ Town and Up-Town (these were banned in 1858, doubtless to the disappointment of the young people in question).
Currently Overmonnow has been developed as a residential and light industry area, and at Drybridge Park houses the Monnow Vale Integrated Health and Social Care Facility.
Clawdd-du is Welsh for 'black dyke', and refers to the defensive medieval dyke built to protect Overmonnow, as the west side of the river Monnow remained mostly under Welsh control while the Normans occupied Monmouth. It marked the extent of Overmonnow until the 1930s, after which development continued to the west.
It is thought that the defence consisted of a semi-circular dyke and ditch that could perhaps have been flooded from the River Monnow. A late medieval bridge remains across the ditch, leading to Goldwire lane and St Thomas' Square.
Built on the site of an earlier wooden bridge near the end of the 13th century, Monnow Bridge is one of only two such fortified stone bridges surviving in the United Kingdom. With its defensive gate and portcullis it was intended to serve as a second line of defence behind the Clawdd-Du, but the easily-fordable nature of the River Monnow arguably rendered it ineffective. It was commonly used as a toll gate, but also as a prison, a munitions store, a lodge, and in 1839 as a garrison when local authorities feared Chartist attack.
The bridge was repaired twice in the 18th century to sustain increased traffic, and a pedestrian passageway was driven through the wall in 1819 to relieve congestion. Another passageway followed in 1845 amid further repairs, and from 1889 to 1902 the bridge underwent an extensive renovation programme to stave off collapse (and also open the gatehouse for public viewing). This roughly coincided with its return to the County Council from the Duke of Beaufort, whose family had received it in 1835. It was further renovated in the 20th century, and from 2004 to 2014 the Welsh Government and the European Union funded restoration efforts culminating in its current state.
Overmonnow Market Cross
The market cross is a Grade II Listed structure, and is part of a group of historic buildings including the bridge and St Thomas’ Church at the old centre of Overmonnow. Estimated to have originally been built in the 15th century, it was rebuilt in 1888 by H Wall of Newport to the design of F A Powell, incorporating the socket stone and possibly the base of the shaft of the original, while the modern figures were added by Philip Chatfield in 2002. It would originally have marked the location of a market square, deriving from an Early Mediaeval architectural tradition in the British Isles.
The four figures in the recess of the cross represent St Thomas (for St Thomas the Martyr, Overmonnow), St Mary (for St Mary's Priory Church, Monmouth), St Michael (for St Michael and All Angels, Mitchel Troy) and St Cenhadlon (for St Cenedlon, Rockfield).
Church of St Thomas the Martyr
Founded as a Norman chapel between 1170 and 1186, the church was dedicated to St Thomas a Beckett along with several others in the vicinity. It moves in and out of recorded history through the course of the millennium. First mentioned in a Bull of Pope Urban III in 1186, it was damaged by fire in the Battle of Monmouth in 1233 and its repair was authorized the following year. By 1256 it was the home to a number of anchorites, cell-bound consecrated hermits, but by 1543 it is described simply as a “little chapel”.
It largely fell out of use in the 18th century, and until 1832 it served as a Chapel-of-Ease for St Mary’s Parish Church. However, it then became the parish church for Overmonnow, and attendance increased sufficiently that 150 of 410 seats were reserved for private use. Other seats could be reserved for prices ranging from £10 to £25.
Architectural features of interest include a Norman chancel arch, a Norman piscine in the south wall, and what are believed to be original doorways in the north face. 19th century restorations have been credited to Thomas Henry Wyatt and John Prichard (assistant to Augustus Pugin who pioneered the Gothic Revival), while the east window is relatively modern, dating to 1957.
Ty Price Community Hall
The Hall is believed to date from the 1830s, attached to Overmonnow House which then served as the vicarage for the church. It became a community meeting place early in the 20th century, and was used as a British Restaurant in the Second World War, providing affordable nutritious meals to those in need. After the war it kept up this work as a local distribution centre for Meals on Wheels, in addition to functioning as a general-purpose community activity hub.
It is hoped that with the recent refurbishment the Hall will continue to play a major role in serving vulnerable people in the vicinity.
Drybridge House is a 17th Century, Grade II listed building on Drybridge Street, Monmouth. The house was owned by the Roberts (and Crompton-Roberts) family for 400 years. It has many fine rooms with woodcarvings and oak paneling.
It is now managed by Bridges Centre, a community centre and meeting place licenced for weddings.
The Fairy Door
Esther Lacey’s original view of the tree ‘fairy door’ in St Thomas’ Square, right next to Ty Price, was the winner in our 'Wow Overmonnow' photo competition. Esther explains ‘I am lucky enough to know the carpenter who made the original fairy door. Although he chooses to remain anonymous he is pleased that people love his door and the magic that it creates.’
‘Although many people photograph this unique little doorway, most of these shots are taken from a standing position, looking down at it. I decided to lie down in the road to get a low view point, with my son alerting me to any oncoming cars! I was keen to get the new community hall doorway in the background, and then noticed that the other two doorways could also be included in the frame, with a vanishing point perspective.’