Siddhesh Joshi (Editor)


Updated on
Share on FacebookTweet on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Reddit
13,760 (2001)

Carmarthen in the past, History of Carmarthen

Colleges and Universities
University of Wales Trinity Saint David, Trinity University College

Points of interest
National Botanic Garden of Wales, Gwili Railway, Kidwelly Castle, Laugharne Castle

Map of Carmarthen

Carmarthen ( ; Welsh: Caerfyrddin [kɑːɨrˈvərðɪn], "Merlin's fort") is a community in, and the county town of, Carmarthenshire, Wales. It is on the River Towy 8 miles (13 km) north of its mouth at Carmarthen Bay. In 2001, the population was 15,854.



Carmarthen has a strong claim to being the oldest town in Wales, but the two settlements of Old and New Carmarthen were only united into a single borough in 1546. Carmarthen was the most populous borough in Wales between the 16th and 18th centuries and was described by William Camden as "the chief citie of the country". However, population growth stagnated by the mid-19th century as more dynamic economic centres developed in the South Wales coalfield. Carmarthen is the location of Dyfed-Powys Police headquarters, the Carmarthen campus of the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David and Glangwili General Hospital.

Holiday cottages in carmarthenshire

Gwili railway carmarthenshire getting up steam since 1961

Early history

When Britannia was a Roman province, Carmarthen was the civitas capital of the Demetae tribe, known as Moridunum ("Sea Fort"). Carmarthen is possibly the oldest town in Wales and was recorded by Ptolemy and the Antonine Itinerary. The Roman fort is believed to date from around AD 75. A Roman coin hoard was found nearby in 2006. Near the fort is one of seven surviving Roman amphitheatres in the United Kingdom and one of only two in Roman Wales (the other being at Isca Augusta, Roman Caerleon). It was excavated in 1968. The arena itself is 50 x 30 yards (about 46 by 27 metres); the cavea (seating area) is 100 x 73 yards (92 by 67 metres). Veprauskas has argued for its identification as the Cair Guorthigirn ("Fort Vortigern") listed by Nennius among the 28 cities of Britain in his History of the Britains.

In the Middle Ages, the settlement was known as Llanteulyddog ('St Teulyddog's) and accounted one of the seven principal sees in Dyfed. The strategic importance of Carmarthen was such that the Norman William fitz Baldwin built a castle there, probably around 1094. The current castle site is known to have been used since 1105. The castle was destroyed by Llywelyn the Great in 1215. In 1223, the castle was rebuilt and permission was received to wall and crenellate the town. Carmarthen was among the first medieval walled towns in Wales. In 1405, the town was taken and the castle was sacked by Owain Glyndŵr. The Black Book of Carmarthen, written around 1250, is associated with the town's Priory of SS John the Evangelist and Teulyddog.

During the Black Death of 1347–49, the plague was brought to Carmarthen by the thriving river trade. The Black Death "destroy'd and devastated" villages such as Llanllwch. Local historians place the plague pit, the site for mass burial of the dead, in the graveyard that adjoins the Maes-yr-Ysgol and Llys Model housing at the rear of St Catherine Street.


The ancient Clas church of Llandeulyddog was the pre-Norman independent religious community which became, in 1110, the Benedictine Priory of St Peter, only to be replaced 15 years later with the Augustianian Priory of St John the Evangelist and St Teulyddog. This was sited near the river, at what is now Priory Street (51.8601°N 4.2975°W / 51.8601; -4.2975 (St John's Priory), SN418204). The site is now a scheduled monument.

Grey Friars

During the 13th century, Franciscan Friars (also known as Grey Friars, or Friars minor) became established in the town, and by 1284 had their own Friary buildings on Lammas Street (51.855794°N 4.309076°W / 51.855794; -4.309076 (Carmarthen Greyfriars)), on a site now occupied by a shopping centre. The Franciscan emphasis on poverty and simplicity meant that the Church was smaller (reportedly '70 to 80 feet long and 30 feet broad') and more austere than the older foundations, but this did not prevent the accumulation of treasures, and it became a much sought after location for burial. In 1456 Edmund Tudor, 1st Earl of Richmond died of plague in Carmarthen, three months before the birth of his son, the future King Henry VII. Edmund was buried in a prominent tomb in the centre of the choir of the Grey Friars Church. Other notable burials were Rhys ap Thomas and Tudur Aled. The Friary was dissolved in 1538, and many unsuccessful plans were made for the building. Even before the friars had left, in 1536, William Barlow campaigned to have the cathedral moved into it, from St David's. After its deconsecration Edmund Tudor's tomb and remains were moved to St David's Cathedral. There were repeated attempts to turn the buildings into a grammar school, which all came to nought Gradually the buildings became ruins, but the church walls were still recognisable in the mid-eighteenth century. However, by 1900 all the stonework had been stripped away, and there were no traces above ground. The site remained un-built on until development works in the 1980s and 1990s. This required extensive archaeological excavations of first the monastic buildings and then the nave and chancel of the church. It confirmed that the original buildings had been a church, chapter-house and a large cloister. A smaller cloister and infirmary had been added subsequently. Over 200 burials were found in the churchyard, and 60 around the friars' choir.

Arthurian legend

According to some variations of the Arthurian legend, Merlin was born in a cave outside Carmarthen. Given that the town's Welsh name is Caerfyrddin, some say that Merlin may be an anglicised form of Myrddin. (See Merlin § Name and etymology.) Historians generally disagree with this interpretation of the name, preferring that Myrddin is a corruption of the Roman name but the story is popular. Further, many areas surrounding Carmarthen still allude to this, such as the nearby Bryn Myrddin (Merlin's Hill).

Legend also had it that, when a particular tree called Merlin's Oak fell, it would be the downfall of the town as well. Translated from Welsh, it reads: "When Merlin's Oak comes tumbling down, down shall fall Carmarthen Town". In order to stop this, the tree was dug up when it died and pieces are now in the museum.

The Black Book of Carmarthen includes poems with references to Myrddin (Ymddiddan Myrddin a Thaliesin, "Conversation of Merlin and Taliesin") and possibly to Arthur (Pa ŵr yw'r Porthor?, "What man is the porter?"). The interpretation of these is difficult because the Arthurian legend was already known by this time and many details of the modern form of the legend had been described by Geoffrey of Monmouth before the book was written.

Early modern

The 'Book of Ordinances', 1569-1606 is one of the earliest surviving minute books of a town in Wales. It gives a unique picture of an Elizabethan Welsh town.

Following the Acts of Union, Carmarthen became the judicial headquarters of the Court of Great Sessions for south-west Wales. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the town's dominant business was still agriculture and related trades, including woollen manufacture. Carmarthen was made a county corporate by charter of James I in 1604. The charter decreed that Carmarthen should be known as the 'Town of the County of Carmarthen' and should have two sheriffs. This was reduced to one sheriff in 1835 and the (now largely ceremonial) post continues to this day.

Both the Priory and the Friary were abandoned during the dissolution of the monasteries in the reign of Henry VIII, the land being returned to the monarchy. Likewise, the chapels of St Catherine and St Barbara were lost, the church of St Peter's being the main religious establishment to survive this era.

During the Marian persecutions of the 1550s, Bishop Ferrar of St David's was burnt at the stake in the market square – now Nott Square. A Protestant martyr, his life and death are recorded in John Foxe's famous book of martyrs.

In 1689, John Osborne, 1st Earl of Danby, was made 1st Marquess of Carmarthen by William III. Osborne was later created Duke of Leeds in 1694, and Marquess of Carmarthen became the Duke's heir apparent's courtesy title until the Dukedom became extinct upon the death of the 12th Duke in 1964.

18th century to present

In the mid-18th century the Morgan family founded an ironworks at the east end of the town, though it was on a small scale. And in 1786 a lead smeltery was established to process the lead ore carried from Lord Cawdor's lead mines at Nantyrmwyn, in the north east of the county. Neither of these enterprises were long lived - the lead smeltery was relocated to Llanelli in c.1811. The iron works evolved into a tinplate works, but had failed by around 1900.

Carmarthen gaol, designed by John Nash, was in use from c.1789 until its demolition in c.1922. County Hall, designed by Sir Percy Thomas, stands on the same site. The 'Felon's Register' of the gaol, 1843-71 contains some of the earliest 'mugshots' in Britain.

The revival of the eisteddfod took place in Carmarthen in 1819 and the town hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1867, 1911 and 1974 although, at least in 1974, the Maes was at Abergwili.

In 1843 the workhouse in Carmarthen was attacked by the Rebecca Rioters.

The origins of Chartism in Wales can be traced to the foundation in the autumn of 1836 of Carmarthen Working Men's Association.

The Boys' Grammar School was founded in 1587 on the site now occupied by the old hospital in Priory Street. This school moved in the 1840s to Priory Row before relocating to Richmond Terrace. At the turn of the twentieth century a local travelling circus buried one of their elephants after it fell sick and died. The grave is under what was the school rugby pitch.

During World War II, prisoner-of-war camps were situated in Johnstown (where the Davies Estate now stands) and at Glangwilli — the POW huts being used as part of the hospital at its inception. To the west of the town was the 'Carmarthen Stop Line', one of a network of defensive lines created in 1940–41 in case of invasion, with a series of ditches and pillboxes running north-south. Most of these structures have since been removed or filled in, but two remain.

The community is bordered by the communities of: Bronwydd; Abergwili; Llangunnor; Llandyfaelog; Llangain; Llangynog; and Newchurch and Merthyr, all being in Carmarthenshire.

Carmarthen was named one of the best places to live in Wales in 2017.

Twin towns

Carmarthen is twinned with:
Lesneven, Brittany, France
Santa Marinella, Italy
As Pontes, Galicia, Spain

Carmarthen Castle

Little remains of the original medieval castle at Carmarthen, but the old Gatehouse still dominates Nott Square. The motte is also accessible to the public. Castle House, within the old walls, is a museum and Tourist Information Centre.

St. Peter's Church

St Peter's Church is the largest parish church in the Diocese of St David's and also has the longest nave being 60 metres from west porch to east window and 15 metres wide across nave and south aisle. It consists of a west tower, nave, chancel, south aisle and a Consistory Court. It is built of local red sandstone and grey shale. The tower contains eight bells with the heaviest, tuned to the note E, weighing 15 cwt 1 qr 18 lbs (783 kg).

Carmarthen Bridge

Designed by well-known Welsh architect Clough Williams-Ellis, the A484 road bridge across the River Towy was completed in 1937, replacing a medieval bridge. The loss of the original bridge caused considerable controversy.

Picton's monument

In 1828 a monument was erected at the west end of the town to honour Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton, from Haverfordwest, who had died at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The pillar, which was about 75 ft (23 m), was designed to echo Trajan's column in Rome. A statue of Picton, wrapped in a cloak and supported by a baluster above emblems of spears surmounted the column. The entire structure stood on a square pedestal, access was ascended by a flight of steps to a small door on the east side facing the town.

A series of bas-reliefs sculpted by Edward Hodges Baily adorned the structure. Above the entrance door was the name, 'PICTON' and over this a relief showed the Lieutenant General falling mortally wounded from his horse part on the Waterloo battlefield. The name 'WATERLOO' was then written across the top. The west side had a relief beneath the title 'BADAJOS' showing Picton scaling the walls with his men during the Battle of Badajoz in 1812. On the south side of the pedestal was a description of Picton's life in English. A Welsh version of his exploits was inscribed on the North side. Each side of the square pedestal were adorned with trophies. The top of the square column was adorned with imitative cannons on each side.

However within a few years, the monument had fallen into a dilapidated state. The bas-reliefs which had been sculpted were 'unable to withstand Carmarthen's inclement weather' according to local antiquarians. Although Baily made replacements, they were never put up. The entire pillar was taken down in 1846. In the 1970s, the replacement sculptures were rediscovered in Johnstown. They are now on display at Carmarthenshire County Museum.

After the demolition of the first monument, a new structure honouring Picton was commissioned. It was designed by architect Frances Fowler. The foundation stone was laid on Monument Hill in 1847. In 1984, the top section was declared to be unsafe and was taken down. Four years later, the whole monument was rebuilt stone-by-stone on new stronger foundations.

General Nott statue and memorial plaque to Bishop Ferrar

A statue of General Nott was erected in Nott Square in 1851. According to the PMSA, "the bronze statue was cast from cannon captured at the battle of Maharajpur. Queen Victoria gave 200 guineas to the memorial fund. The statue occupies the site of the market cross which was dismantled when the market was resited and Nott Square created in 1846."

The Market Square was the location of the execution of Bishop Robert Ferrar of St Davids in March 1555. A small plaque below the statue of General Nott commemorates the site where the bishop was burned at the stake during the Marian Persecutions.

Listed buildings

There are many listed buildings in the town. These include The Guildhall, Capel Heol Awst, Capel Heol Dŵr, Carmarthen, Carmarthen Cemetery Chapel, Elim Independent Chapel, English Baptist Church, English Congregational Church, Penuel Baptist Chapel, Christ Church, Eglwys Dewi Sant, Church of St Mary and Eglwys Sant Ioan.

Pont King Morgan

To create a more direct pedestrian access across the Towy from the railway station to Carmarthen town centre (access was previously across the main road bridge some 200m to the east), a cable-stayed bridge was constructed in 2005 linking to the foot of Blue Street. The cost was £2.8 million. The bridge was commended in 2007 by the Structural steel Design Awards for its high quality detailing.


A cycling track was established in the town in c.1900; it is still used.

Speedway racing was staged in the early 2000s at a track built on the Showgrounds on the western outskirts of the town. The team raced in the Conference League.

The town has two rugby union teams – Carmarthen Quins and Carmarthen Athletic. The Quins currently play in the Welsh Premier Division league after their promotion to the Premiership in the 2008/2009 season.

CPC Bears are a rugby league club based in Carmarthen and are the regional side for Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. They play in the Welsh Premier Division of the Rugby League Conference.

The town has its own football team, Carmarthen Town F.C. who play in the Welsh Premier League. The club was founded in 1948 and have played at their current home ground, Richmond Park, since 1952.

The town has two golf courses, a leisure centre with 8-lane 25m swimming pool: home of Carmarthen district swimming club, a synthetic athletics track and an outdoor velodrome. Carmarthen has an athletics team, Carmarthen Harriers.


Carmarthen railway station is on the West Wales Line. It was opened in 1852. Carmarthen town is served by rail links through to Cardiff via Swansea to the east and Fishguard Harbour, Milford Haven, Tenby, Pembroke and Pembroke Dock to the west. Carmarthen town is served by daily direct intercity trains to London. Like many rural areas, it suffered a number of rail closures in the 1960s under the Beeching Axe. The line to Llandeilo was closed in 1963 and to Lampeter and Aberystwyth in 1965.

A number of major roads converge on Carmarthen town, including the A40, A48, A484 and A485.

Carmarthen is a stop on the Eurolines bus route 890, which links a number of cities and towns in Munster and South Leinster in Ireland to London. The service may be used to destinations in Ireland, but may not be used to other stops in Great Britain.

There is also a Park and Ride service running daily from Monday to Saturday from 7.00 to 19.00 between Nantyci, to the west of Carmarthen town, and the town centre.

Town regeneration and redevelopment

The former cattle market in the heart of the town has undergone regeneration. The new shopping centre opened on 30 April 2010. The development now includes a new Apollo Cinemas multi-screen cinema, Debenhams department store, market hall, restaurants and a multi-storey car park. The new market hall opened on 8 April 2009. There is an expanding range of restaurants in the new shopping centre, mainly national chains.

Notable people

See Category:People from CarmarthenSee Category:People from Carmarthenshire
  • Joe Allen, Wales and Stoke City FC midfielder
  • Dorothea Bate, archaeozoologist
  • Charles Brigstcke CB, British civil servant
  • Fflur Dafydd, writer and musician
  • Barry Davies, Ospreys full-back
  • Gareth Davies, Scarlets scrum-half
  • Mark Delaney, former Wales and Aston Villa defender
  • Wynne Evans, opera singer, broadcaster, presenter and actor
  • Rhod Gilbert, Perrier Award Best Newcomer-nominated comedian
  • Rhodri Gomer-Davies, Scarlets Centre
  • Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, band formed in Carmarthen
  • Geraint Griffiths, singer, songwriter and actor
  • Elis James, comedian
  • Stephen Jones, former Wales rugby captain
  • Kate McGill, singer/songwriter
  • Daniel Mulloy, screenwriter and director
  • John Nash, architect, living in Carmarthen from 1784 and working on several important buildings in the area
  • Daniel Newton, Scarlets full back
  • William Norton, former Wales international rugby union player
  • Ken Owens, Scarlets hooker
  • Rhys Priestland, Scarlets full-back, making his Wales senior team debut in 2011 Six Nations Championship against Scotland as a second-half replacement
  • Iwan Rheon, actor and singer/songwriter
  • Byron Rogers, writer
  • Matthew Stevens, snooker pro
  • Nicky Stevens, member of pop group Brotherhood of Man
  • Nik Turner, musician
  • Tudur Aled, poet, buried in the Franciscan Friars' graveyard, Carmarthen, in 1525
  • Philip Vaughan, ironmaster and inventor of the ball bearing
  • Mary Wynne Warner, mathematician
  • John Weathers, drummer
  • Barry Williams, former British and Irish Lions hooker
  • Scott Williams, Scarlets Centre was in the Wales senior team against the Barbarians on 4 June 2011 as a second-half replacement.
  • Professor Sir David Glyndwr Tudor Williams, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge from 1989 to 1996
  • West wales food festival 2010


    Carmarthen Wikipedia