A Topographical Dictionary of Wales. Originally published by S Lewis, London, 1849.

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Samuel Lewis, 'Preface', in A Topographical Dictionary of Wales, (London, 1849) pp. iii-vii. British History Online [accessed 18 May 2024].

Samuel Lewis. "Preface", in A Topographical Dictionary of Wales, (London, 1849) iii-vii. British History Online, accessed May 18, 2024,

Lewis, Samuel. "Preface", A Topographical Dictionary of Wales, (London, 1849). iii-vii. British History Online. Web. 18 May 2024,


It has been a subject of frequent regret, that the works on the history and topography of the Principality are exceedingly few in number, a circumstance which is the more remarkable when the interesting character of the country is considered. Mr. Gough, some time since, observed that "very little pains have been taken, by natives or neighbours, to illustrate the history or antiquities of this part of the island: yet antiquity is the glory of every Welshman; and the spirit of competition with the later inhabitants of England, one would have expected, should fire their breasts with a desire to be known and celebrated beyond them: if their ancestors could not spare time to write about a territory which they could hardly defend, their descendants, with secure tenure, have all the helps a living language and original records can afford." And although some works have been printed since the date of this extract, and those of a very excellent kind, yet it still remains strictly a fact, that while the adjacent districts of England have been depicted in detail over and over again with a zeal truly commendable, the Principality has received but little attention, notwithstanding the charm of its historical occurrences, and the peculiar traits of its people. The publication, therefore, of a work affording a comprehensive and faithful delineation of the country had become a desideratum.

The local histories being few, the Proprietors of the present Work determined on making a general survey of the Principality. In Wales, as in England, with a view to secure a well-condensed and accurate account of every important place possessing either civil or ecclesiastical jurisdiction, several gentlemen of competent talents were originally engaged to procure, by personal examination, the fullest information upon the different subjects contemplated in the plan of the Work; their inquiries being facilitated by printed questions, including every particular to which their attention was to be directed. Other gentlemen were entrusted with the task of selecting from general and local histories, and other sources, notices of the most remarkable historical occurrences, &c., connected with each place.

In preparing the later Editions of the Dictionary of Wales, the changes caused by the lapse of time since the publication of the first Edition have been recorded; the alterations effected by acts of parliament have been carefully inserted, and recent official returns have been consulted. Before printing the third Edition, nearly all the articles in the Work were forwarded by post, for the purpose of correction, to gentlemen resident in the different localities; and during the preparation of the present Edition, also, copies of numerous articles were sent into the Principality, for revision on the spot. By these means, the Dictionary has been rendered much more accurate and comprehensive. Of the works consulted for the improvement of this Edition, may be mentioned the "Archæologia Cambrensis, being a Record of the Antiquities of Wales and its Marches, and the Journal of the Cambrian Archæological Association:" the first number of this work appeared in January, 1846; and soon afterwards, through the well-directed exertions of its Editors, the Cambrian Archæological Association arose, since which the work has formed the journal of that society. Mr. Cliffe's excellent "Book of South Wales" may also be named, as having supplied some interesting particulars for the present Edition.

The arrangement of the places is strictly alphabetical, each being given under its proper name, and the epithet, if any, by which it is distinguished from another locality of the same designation, following after the chief heading. Thus, all such terms as Saint, East, West, North, and South, Great and Little, Upper and Lower, will be found to come after the real names; as George's, St.; Ishmael's, St.; Lavar, Above; Lavar, Below.

The ensuing order of subjects, when the topics are noticed in the Work, has been generally adopted:—1. Name of the place; situation; population, according to the census of 1841.—2. Origin, and etymology of name; summary of historical events, national or particular.—3. Local description; distinguishing features of surface; scientific and literary institutions; sources of amusement.—4. Commerce, trade, and manufactures; facilities afforded by rivers, railroads, canals, &c.; markets and fairs.—5. Municipal government; privileges and immunities; courts of justice, prisons, &c.; parliamentary representation.— 6. Ecclesiastical and religious establishments; particulars respecting livings, tithes, glebe, patronage; description of churches; dissenters' places of worship.—7. Schools, and charitable foundations and endowments; benevolent institutions; hospitals; almshouses.—8. Monastic institutions; antiquities; mineral springs; natural phenomena.—9. Eminent natives and residents; title which the place confers. It must be observed, that schools wholly supported by the parents of the scholars are seldom or never noticed.

It may be necessary to state that the Work, as expressed on the title-page, simply comprises separate articles upon the various counties, towns, parishes, townships, &c., having recognized boundaries and possessing legal jurisdiction; the seats, rivers, mountains, lakes, and such objects, being (unlike the manner of a general gazetteer) described under the heads of parishes, &c. Thus Golden Grove, a seat of Earl Cawdor's, is described in the article on Llanvihangel-Aberbythic; Havod, lately the property of the Duke of Newcastle, and now of Henry Hoghton, Esq., in the article on Eglwys-Newydd; Menai suspension and railway bridges, in that of Bangor; Parys and Mona mines, in that of Amlwch; Penrhyn Castle, in that of Llandegai; Picton Castle, in that of Slebech; Plinlimmon mountain, in that of Llanidloes; Powis Castle, in that of Welshpool; Snowdon, in that of Llanberis; Wynnstay, in that of Ruabon; and so on.

With regard to orthography, it is well known to the inhabitants of Wales that there exists a difference of opinion; and the Proprietors candidly confess their inability to decide upon a matter in which even those best informed on the subject do not agree; but, the Book being one of reference, it was considered desirable to adopt the modern prevailing style of spelling; and, in order to preserve the ancient and correct appellation, the same is given in the heading of the Article, as accurately as could be ascertained, in a parenthesis immediately after the modern name. In this department of their labours they were aided by a gentleman, a native and resident of the Principality, whose researches into Welsh literature have procured for him deserved celebrity, and who with great care and attention perused every page of the Work. By this precaution it is believed very much of the difficulty generally attendant upon a reference to works on the Principality has been removed for the English reader who possesses no acquaintance with the old British language, and for whom this explanation is, of course, mainly intended. It will be observed that the plan has been adopted of substituting V for F, in all words where the latter has the sound of the former, and, in consequence, F for Ff; so as the more readily to impart the true sound and property of those letters; and again, in like accordance with modern custom, K has been used instead of C, in names in which it is followed by the vowel I.

In describing the various features of ecclesiastical architecture, it has been deemed advisable in this Work, as in that on England, to lay aside the terms of designation which, till within a recent period, were almost universally employed; the term "Saxon" having been long improperly applied to a numerous set of buildings of which scarcely any specimens really existed in Great Britain till long after the Saxon heptarchy; and the term "Gothic," whatever may have been its origin, having neither reference to date nor to distinction of character. Of truly Saxon architecture there are very few well-authenticated examples. "Gothic" structures have, for the sake of precision and classification, been referred respectively to the Norman, the Early English, the Decorated English, and the Later (or Perpendicular) English styles; the first appropriately called Norman, as having been generally adopted by that people; and the three last defining clearly the successive stages of the English style, a style so designated, not only as having been brought to its highest state of perfection in Britain, but as displaying peculiar marks which distinguish it from the church architecture of any other country.

At the close of the second volume will be found an Appendix, containing: I. The Boundaries of the Parliamentary Boroughs;—II. A Glossary of Welsh words frequently used in the composition of names of places;—III. A Key to the pronunciation of Welsh letters;—IV. A Table of the Contents of the Articles on the twelve counties;—and V. An Index of the chief places incidentally described in the Work.

The Proprietors cannot entertain the hope, that in a Work compiled from so great a variety of sources, and containing notices so numerous and diversified, errors have not occurred. They have, however, used the most indefatigable exertions to attain correctness; and they trust that occasional inaccuracies and omissions will receive the indulgence of the Subscribers, for whose kind consideration they beg to transcribe a remark by Fuller:—"He showed himself as little ingenuous as ingenious who cavilled at the Map of Grecia for imperfect, because his father's house in Athens was not represented therein; and their expectation in effect is as unreasonable who look for every small observable, in a general work. Know also that any person may be more knowing within the limits of his private lands than any antiquary whatsoever."