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Radnorshire ( ) is one of thirteen historic and former administrative counties of Walesmarker. It is represented by the Radnorshire area of Powysmarker, which according to the 2001 census, had a population of 24,805. The historic county is bounded to the north by Montgomeryshiremarker and Shropshiremarker, to the east by Herefordshiremarker, to the south by Brecknockshiremarker and to the west by Cardiganshire.

The county was formed from the cantrefs of Maelienydd and Elfael and the commotes of Gwrtheyrnion and Deuddwr (the area formerly known as Rhwng Gwy a Hafren) by the Laws in Wales Acts 1535-1542. New Radnormarker was considered the county town, although it historically shared administrative functions with Presteignemarker where the Assizes sat. Radnor County Council and later the District Council were based instead at Llandrindod Wellsmarker.

The county was abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 in 1974, with its area being transferred to the new county of Powysmarker. Powys was divided into three districts, one of which (Radnor) was coterminous with Radnorshire. The district was renamed Radnorshire in 1989. Since Powys became a unitary authority in 1996, Radnorshire has been one of three areas formed under a decentralisation scheme. A "shire committee" consisting of councillors elected for electoral divisions within the former district of Radnorshire exercises functions delegated by Powys County Council.


In the east and south are some comparatively level tracts, including the Vale of Radnor, but most of the county was mountainous, with the Cambrian Mountainsmarker running through the west of the county. The highest point is at Radnor Forestmarker, 2,166 ft (660 m). The Elan Valleymarker contains several huge man-made reservoirs supplying water to Birminghammarker. The main rivers are the Wye, The River Teme, the Elan and the Ithon.

The chief towns are Knightonmarker, Llandrindod Wellsmarker, Presteignemarker and Rhayadermarker. The main industries are tourism and hill farming, particularly sheep-raising.



On the creation of the county it was divided into six hundreds. The names of the hundreds, which were not always consistently spelt, were as follows:

  • Colwyn
  • Cefnllysmarker (Kevenlleece or Cevnllŷs)
  • Knighton
  • Painscastle
  • Radnor
  • Rhaiadr (or Rhayader)

Local government districts

Poor law unions

In the nineteenth century new structures of local administration were introduced. The Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 grouped parishes into poor law unions. While these were not themselves local authorities, their boundaries were to later be used to define local government districts. PLUs did not conform to county boundaries, but consisted of catchment areas for workhouses. Most of Radnorshire was included in the three unions of Knighton, Presteigne and Rhayader. Parishes on the edges of the county were included in unions based in other counties: Builth and Hay on Wye in Brecknockshire and Kington in Herefordshire.

Local boards of health

There were no town councils in the county until 1850, when a local board was formed at Knighton. Similar bodies were later formed at Llandrindod Wellsmarker (originally named Trefonen) and Presteignemarker in 1891.

Sanitary districts

The Public Health Act 1875 divided England and Wales into sanitary districts, each governed by a sanitary authority. Instead of creating new bodies, existing local board districts became urban sanitary districts (USDs) and the remaining areas of poor law unions became rural sanitary districts (RSDs). The existing local board or poor law guardians became the sanitary authority for their area. By 1891 therefore, Radnorshire was divided between the following sanitary districts:
  • Builth RSD (part)
  • Hay RSD (part)
  • Kington RSD (Part)
  • Knighton RSD
  • Knighton USD
  • Llandrindod Wells USD
  • Presteigne RSD (dissolved in 1877, with parishes redistributed to Kington and Knighton RSDs)
  • Presteigne USD
  • Rhayader RSD

Urban and rural districts

Urban and rural districts of Radnorshire 1894 - 1974:
a) Llandrindod Wells UD, b) Knighton UD, c) Presteigne UD, 1) Rhayader RD, 2) Knighton RD 3) New Radnor RD, 4) Colwyn RD, 5) Painscastle RD
Local Government Act 1894 created urban districts (UDs) and rural districts (RDs) in place of the sanitary districts.
Directly elected urban and rural district councils became the governing bodies.
The new districts were identical to the sanitary districts, with the exception that where a RSD was divided by a county boundary it was split into separate rural district in each county.
Radnorshire was divided into eight UDs and RDs, which were unchanged until their abolition in 1974:

Coat of arms

Until 1954 Radnorshire County Council used a version of the arms of the Mortimers, Earls of March: Barry of six or and azure on a chief of the last two pallets azure between as may gyrons of the first. The council received a grant of armorial bearings by the College of Armsmarker in 1954. The arms were made up of charges from local families. A gold reguardant lion on red was for Elystan Glodrhydd, Prince of Wales c.1000; black boars' heads on white for his son Cadwgan. Around these was placed a gold and blue compony bordure based on the Mortimer arms. The motto adopted by the county council was ( ) (Go Higher). In 1974 the arms were transferred to Radnor District Council.. In 1996 the arms were transferred a second time to Powys County Council, for use by the Radnorshire Shire Committee.

History and culture

The geographic territory of the historic county roughly corresponds with the Welsh territory of Rhwng Gwy a Hafren which fell under the control of the Marcher Lords at the end of the 11th Century. Radnorshire was a poor county and has been an historical backwater but occasionally has drifted to the forefront of history. The most notable historic events are the Battle of Bryn Glasmarker fought on June 22, 1402 during the rebellion of Owain Glyndŵr, and the founding of Cwmhir Abbeymarker.

The county's poverty was remarked upon thus in the 17th century by an anonymous visitor:

Apart from a handful of parishes along the English border the Welsh language remained the first language of the county well into the second half of the eighteenth century. By 1850 the language had retreated to the western parishes of Rhayadermarker, Llanyremarker, Cwmdauddwrmarker, St Harmon and Nantmel. By 1900 Welsh was still spoken by a sizeable minority west of the town of Rhayadermarker, the language disappearing as the century progressed. Of course there were Welsh speakers living in Radnorshire who had come from other parts of Wales and today their number has been swelled by children being educated through the medium of Welsh in school.

Until the Acts of Union, Radnor was outside the Principality of Wales. This peculiar Marcher status and its want of Welsh speakers gave weight to the traditional local expression, "Neither Wales nor England, just Radnorsheer"

Places of special interest

St Mary's Church, Pilleth

Principal towns and villages

No centre in Radnorshire exceeds a population of 6,000; only one (Llandrindod Wells) exceeds 5,000:

Radnorshire Diaspora

Poverty and agricultural change, decline and industrial progress elsewhere has always made Radnorshire a place of net emigration. Emigrants employed the name of the county in the USAmarker Others may have formed part of the Welsh community in Patagonia.

See also


  1. Local Government Act 1972 c.70 s.20 and 216
  2. Census of England and Wales 1901, County Report, Radnorshire
  3. A C Fox-Davies, The Book of Public Arms, 2nd edition, London 1915
  4. Mary O'Regan, Heraldry of the Old Welsh Counties, Part 2, in Aspects of Heraldry, Vol.9, Yorkshire Heraldry Society, 1995
  5. Geoffrey Briggs, Civic and Corporate Heraldry, London, 1971
  6. F G Payne, Crwydro Sir Faesyfed Vol I (1966) & Vol II (1968), Llandybïe

Further reading

The leading texts on Radnorshire history are:

External links

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