Bridge over the River Wye at Builth Wells
|OS grid reference|
|Sovereign state||United Kingdom|
|Post town||BUILTH WELLS|
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|Senedd Cymru – Welsh Parliament|
Builth Wells (/ /; Welsh: Llanfair-ym-Muallt) is a market town and community in the county of Powys and historic county of Brecknockshire (Breconshire), mid Wales, lying at the confluence of rivers Wye and Irfon, in the Welsh (or upper) part of the Wye Valley. It has a population of 2,568.
Builth is a longstanding anglicization of the Old Welsh Buellt/Buallt which combines bu being [bɨː], comparable to some Middle English orthography), meaning "ox" with gellt (later gwellt), meaning "lea or leas"; the same form is used regardless of gender of the animal.
History and geography
Builth first emerged in post-Roman times, probably on the other side of the Irfon from its present site at Dol Eglwys (Church Mound) where a ruined early medieval church is thought to have stood. Vortigern, the British ruler alleged to have invited the Saxons to Britain, is sometimes said to have owned land in nearby Builth Road on the Radnorshire side of the Wye; the site previously having been known as Cwrt Llechrhyd. Early Post-Roman Builth was an independent kingdom. The most famous ruler was Elystan Glodrydd from whom many local gentry claimed descent. As an important component of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren, a political entity referred to in the poems of Taliesin, Builth was regularly at war with the Kingdom of Powys. Glodrydd probably lived at Llanafan Fawr rather than the modern site of Builth Wells. Until the foundation of the Norman town Llanfair ym Muallt the main settlement was Llanafan. Stories about Philip de Braose centre on Llanafan not modern Builth.
The site of the town controlled an important ford across the Wye, the crossing point of the main north-south route in Wales and an important south-west-east route. It was militarily and economically significant for centuries. The Welsh name for the town "Llanfair ym Muallt" refers to the foundation of a Norman church dedicated to St Mary. The churchyard is however, a truncated oval which is strongly suggestive of an original Celtic foundation. The town was laid out as two streets connecting a castle and a church and was protected by a hedge rather than a wall. This type of town is sometimes called a Bastide, a kind of medieval market settlement. In exchange for rights to live and trade in the market of the new town skilled townspeople paid the lord various dues. In many parts of Wales the skilled workers were of Flemish or English origin. However, Builth may have had important significance in Welsh language culture as The Mabinogion was long thought to have been recorded in its final form by medieval monks here and recent historical opinion has shifted to a view that it was written down by a lawyer in Builth.
Despite repeated destructive fires, at one time involving a charitable collection in London, Builth Wells grew as a traditional Welsh market town. It received major boosts from the development of toll roads; it was at the centre of early road networks and the arrival of the railway at Llanelwedd. The railway allowed it to develop as a spa, and is well known nationally as hosting the Royal Welsh Showground (over the Wye in Llanelwedd in the post town).
The only remains of the castle are huge earthworks. Builth Castle was built under King Edward I, the construction taking nearly five years in the 1270s. It replaced several earlier castles built by the Marcher Lord Baron Philip De Braose who claimed the area as a Marcher Lordship (Marcher Lords were substantially independent of the King of England and the Prince of Gwynedd). There may also have been an earlier castle at Caerberis (the fort of Peris) on the north side of the River Irfon near the original settlement. Owain Glyndŵr's forces attacked Builth Castle when it was in the charge of John Oldcastle during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr and it was repaired in 1409, the bill being £400.
Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales, came south from Gwynedd to the vicinity of Builth Castle in December 1282. There is evidence of treachery from the occupants of the castle and, while Llywelyn was separated from the main body of his forces, he was surprised by the Norman French and mortally wounded. A monument to Llywelyn at nearby Cilmeri, near to where he was killed, receives many visitors, especially on the anniversary of his death.
In the centre of the town is a large mural (about 35 feet (11 m) by 30 feet (9.1 m) wide) depicting the final days of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd. The mural shows Llywelyn and his men in a scene depicting the fighting and a representation of Builth Castle, from which Llywelyn was turned away when trying to flee from the English. He was ambushed and killed at Cilmeri, two miles from the town on 11 December 1282.
For elections to Powys County Council the town's boundaries are coterminous with the Builth electoral ward, which sends one county councillor to sit on the council. Since 1995 the ward had been represented by Independent councillors. At the May 2017 elections the seat was won by former international rugby player, Jeremy Pugh, after forebear Avril York resigned in December 2016 to move to Hong Kong.
Twelve town councillors are elected every four years to serve on Builth Wells Town Council and represent the interests of the town's residents.
The White Bull of Builth may be a reference to a herd of White Park Cattle that lived in the area from Post-Roman times. Two herds survived in Wales to modern times. The laws of the time suggest that the medieval and later economy of the Welsh borders was strongly dependent on cattle. The Hereford cattle breed, named after Hereford market where it was most prominently sold was the main breed of the Welsh borders. Builth was the market for a variant of the Hereford called the Builth Smokey Face. This was the traditional animal of the area but the breed has not existed for many, many decades.
The beef cattle market has vanished and economically sheep are now vastly more important than cattle with consequences for the traditional woodlands of the area, the salmon runs and other important ecological features.
Many of the town's buildings, including the 1876 Market Hall, were built from stone from Llanelwedd Quarry. Much of the facing and other dressed stone used in the construction of the Elan Valley dams was also quarried here. The quarry produced the first occurrence of laumontite in Wales. The quarry is operated by Hanson Aggregates.
The town is served by Builth Road railway station on the Heart of Wales Line, which is located just over 2 miles to the north-west. The more central (Builth Wells) railway station on the Mid-Wales Railway was opened in 1864, and closed with the line in 1962 -actually before the Beeching Axe. It was located across the river, next to the present showground.
One of the main Wales north-south trunk roads, the A483, passes through the town, using the former railway route. As of June 2009 part of this road, along with the other main route through town (A470), is the subject of a transport study by the Welsh Assembly to help alleviate traffic congestion in the town centre.
The 18th-century bridge at Builth Wells carries heavy vehicles on the A470. It has six fine masonry spans, with relatively small round cutwaters, which are fitted on the upstream side with stout steel fenders to provide protection from debris. The centre of the bridge has a pedestrian refuge on each side. The arches have been reinforced by a layer of concrete in the soffit. The bridge was built in 1775 and widened in 1925. The river here marks the boundary between the old counties of Breconshire and Radnorshire.
Education and recreation
Ysgol Calon Cymru is the main secondary school and is bilingual. It replaced Builth Wells High School in September 2018 and can draw on certain specialist teachers and facilities as is dual campus with its other site in Llandrindod Wells. In 2000 its predecessor was placed 67th in Wales (by percentage of its children, 59%, gaining 5 GCSEs at full pass grades A*-C). According to a 2010 report by Estyn its rate rose to 77%, making it 9th best performing (state secondary) in Wales and the only ranking in Powys after Llandiloes. A fall to two years of Special Measures was followed in 2017 by the closing report of the old school finding sufficient progress to remove it from those measures. Progress was ranked as strong as to six recommendations of 2015, in 2017, and sufficient progress as to the other.
The town features Wyeside Arts Centre, which has two cinemas and a live performance stage.
Builth Male Voice Choir has approximately fifty members and performs concerts to support local and national charities.
Builth Wells also has a cricket pitch, tennis courts, a sports centre with squash courts, a 25m swimming pool and a bowling green.
Buildings and landmarks
A plaque on the wall of the post office stakes its claim as the only in England and Wales to bear a contemporary inscription to less-than-one-year monarch Edward VIII. The claim can be qualified to active post offices as the former one in Bradford-on-Avon has a similar insignia.
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- "Unveiling of ancient prince mural". BBC News. 16 July 2003. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
- "Powys County Council Election Results 1995-2012" (PDF). The Elections Centre. Retrieved 7 September 2018.
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- "Builth Wells hospital replaced by £5m health centre". BBC. 27 September 2013. Retrieved 24 March 2020.