A Topographical Dictionary of Wales. Originally published by S Lewis, London, 1849.
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Overton, or Overton-Madoc
OVERTON, or OVERTON-MADOC, a borough and parish, anciently a market-town, in the union of Ellesmere, hundred of Maelor, county of Flint, South Wales, 5 miles (N. N. W.) from the town of Ellesmere; containing 1662 inhabitants. This place, which is divided into two portions, called the Ville and the Foreign, derives the adjunct to its second name from Madoc ab Meredydd, Prince of Powys and lord of Overton, who is said to have erected a castle here, of which the only vestige now remaining is the site, still designated Castle Field. At the time of the Conquest, the place, termed in Domesday-book "Ovretone," was in the possession of a Saxon chieftain, but was granted by the Conqueror to Robert Fitz-Hugh, one of his followers. Edward I., in the 14th year of his reign, gave the lordship to his queen Eleanor, who bestowed it upon Robert de Crevecœur, with the privilege of a weekly market and a fair; and in the 20th of his reign, Edward made it a free borough by charter. The same monarch, in the following year, commanded Reginald de Grey, chief justice of Chester, to go personally to Overton, and assign to the burgesses, and such others as might be induced to become inhabitants, competent lands within the demesne of Overton Castle, and wood to build them burgages; and in the 28th year of his reign, Edward conferred upon the burgesses exemption from toll for seven years, and various other immunities. Edward II. gave the borough and lordship to his queen Isabel; and in the 14th of the reign of Edward III. they were granted, together with other lands in Maelor, to Eubule le Strange, baron of Knockyn, with a confirmation of the preceding charter, which was also enlarged, with additional privileges, in the reign of Richard II.
The parish comprises about 6000 acres; the soil of two-thirds is stiff clay, and that of the rest, gravelly loam. The village is beautifully situated on elevated ground on the banks of the Dee, over which river, a little lower down, is a handsome stone bridge of two lofty arches, connecting the counties of Denbigh and Flint, and forming part of the turnpike-road leading from Ellesmere to Wrexham, upon which the village stands. The surrounding scenery is beautifully picturesque, being composed of a great diversity of features in pleasing combination and agreeable contrast. From a ridge near the village is seen, on one side, an extensive plain of verdant meadows, enlivened by the windings of the river Dee, skirted in front by fertile and richly-wooded slopes, and bounded in the distance by the summits of lofty mountains: on the other side, the Vale Royal of Cheshire, with its diversified scenery, and the fertile and open plains of Salop, in luxuriant cultivation, are seen in all their beauty. The village is prepossessing in its appearance, and, with its venerable church, as regarded from almost every point of view, forms a highly interesting feature in the landscape. At the bridge, which is about a mile from the village, the river, after spreading through the adjacent plains, becomes contracted in its channel, and flows rapidly between lofty and precipitous banks, crowned with wood.
There is neither trade nor manufacture of any kind carried on; but upon the banks of the Dee, between Overton and the contiguous village of Bangor-Iscoed, exists a considerable quantity of a species of ductile clay, adapted for the use of potters. The market has long been discontinued; fairs are held on the Monday before Holy-Thursday, on June 11th, August 9th, and October 8th. Overton is one of the contributory boroughs within the county which are united in the return of a member to parliament: the limits of the borough, which are co-extensive with those of the parish, and comprise an area nine miles in circumference, were not altered by the Boundary Act of 1832. This is also one of the polling-places in the election of a knight for the shire. The parish is within the jurisdiction of the county magistrates, who hold petty-sessions here for the hundred; and a house of correction for the hundred was erected here in 1824, at the expense of the county.
The living is a a perpetual curacy, united to the rectory of Bangor-Iscoed: the tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £551. 8. 2. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, and originally a spacious cruciform structure, consists at present only of a nave, aisles, and chancel, with a lofty square tower surmounted by an embattled circular turret, commanding a very extensive view. The prevailing character is the early English style of architecture; the tower, which appears to be of later date, is supposed to have been built when the church was reduced in dimensions by the removal of the transepts and the original tower at the intersection, which had probably fallen into decay. In the chancel is a pew that appears to have been granted to the Kynaston family, and on which is the inscription "Protectoris Auctoritate," 1649. The north aisle has been enlarged, and 281 additional sittings formed, of which 166 are free, in consideration of a gift of £200 by the Incorporated Society for building and enlarging churches and chapels. The churchyard is large, and remarkable for the great number of yew-trees of extraordinary growth which it contains. There is a place of worship for Wesleyan Methodists, erected in 1816; and one or two schools for the poor are supported.
A small estate belongs to the poor of the parish, said to have been a grant by a person named John Lloyd, but whether by will or deed does not appear; it is situated in the township of Maes Lewis, and contains nine acres, one acre of which is coppice: about forty years since, timber to the value of £80 was cut from the land, and the sum was applied towards the erection of a poor-house, £4 interest, in lieu, being now paid out of the rates. Another property, consisting of about ten acres, and yielding a rent of £15, was purchased in 1732 at Penly with some consolidated charities amounting to £100; and about seventy years ago, a rood of land was added under an inclosure act. The produce of the whole, including Lloyd's estate, is £29. 1., which is expended in clothing, and distributed at Christmas among the poor; who also receive bread on Sundays to the amount of £5. 4. a year, arising from a rentcharge on land in the township of Cloy, the grant of Thomas and Margaret Eyton. A sum of £48, arising from a sale of timber off the poor's land, was spent by an order of vestry in 1781, but no interest has ever been paid, and therefore it must be regarded as lost.
The site of the ancient castle occupies the brow of a lofty promontory overlooking the river Dee; and in the park of Gwernhailed, in the parish, are the remains of a large circular camp surrounded by a rampart of earth, called the Castle Yard. It commands the whole of the district to the west of the river, and near it is a tumulus, twenty-two yards in length and twelve yards broad, raised to a considerable height; this is designated the Giant's Grave, but nothing is recorded of its origin or history. The mansion of Maesgwaelod, for several centuries the residence of the Hanmer family, and from which the township took its name, is now the property of Major Fletcher, who commanded the rear of the British army at the battle of Corunna, on the 16th of January, 1809: it contains the keys of that city, which were brought away by the major, and deposited here; they are held together by a ring, from which is suspended a steel plate, with the legend "Portigo de Puerta de Abigo."
OXWICH, a parish, in the union and hundred of Swansea, county of Glamorgan, South Wales, 14 miles by way of Penrice, and 13 miles across the sands, (W. S. W.) from Swansea; containing 345 inhabitants. This parish is situated on the Bristol Channel, on the western shore of the small but fine bay to which it gives name, and which has a considerable depth of water at all times of the tide, as well as good anchorage. It comprises a moderate tract of arable and pasture land, inclosed and in a profitable state of cultivation. The scenery is finely varied, and enlivened with luxuriant woods, and the views over the Channel and the adjacent country possess much interest. On the north, the bay has some firm and smooth sands, well adapted for seabathing; on the east it is bounded by lofty and precipitous cliffs, affording shelter from the winds, and on the west by gently sloping hills richly covered with wood from the margin of the water to their summits. A few of the inhabitants are employed in blasting the contiguous limestone rocks, and in digging on the shore for stones of a similar quality, with which small vessels are occasionally freighted for the opposite coast of Devonshire. Lobsters and crabs, with two or three species of edible sea-plants, are procured here.
The living is a discharged rectory, united to that of Nicholaston, and rated in the king's books at £9. 9. 2. The church, dedicated to St. Illtyd, is romantically situated at the base of a hill on the western side of the bay, and, as seen from the sands, has a very picturesque appearance; it contains an ancient altar-tomb, on which are the effigies of a knight and his lady, in a recumbent position. There is a National school, supported by a lady in the neighbourhood, and attended by forty children daily, and by seventy on Sundays. Thomas Bevan, in 1708, bequeathed £10 to the poor of the parish; but after the interest had been paid for some years, the principal was lost by the personal representative of the testator becoming insolvent. On the hill above the village are the ruins of Oxwich Castle, which appears to have been intended rather as a residence than as a place of strength. They are of considerable extent, and great interest, consisting chiefly of a tower of large size, the adjoining state apartments, which externally are in tolerable preservation, and a range of ancient buildings now occupied as a farmhouse. The tower, of which an engraving is given in Mr. Cliffe's wellwritten "Book of South Wales," is divided into six stories, and lighted on three sides by numerous round-headed windows irregularly placed.
OYSTERMOUTH, a parish, in the union and hundred of Swansea, county of Glamorgan, South Wales, 5 miles (S. W.) from Swansea; containing 1482 inhabitants. This place was anciently called by the Welsh Caer Tawy, and probably derived that name from the erection of its castle, the foundation of which is by some historians ascribed to Henry de Beaumont, who wrested from Caradoc ab lestyn extensive territories in the province of Gower, for the security of which he built several castles; and by others to Richard de Granville, one of the Norman knights that attended Robert Fitz-Hamon, and who materially contributed to his conquest of Glamorgan. The parish, situated in the peninsula of Gower, and bounded on the east by the bay of Swansea, comprises a very large portion of arable and pasture, inclosed and in good cultivation, and a tract of common, which is uninclosed and open to the proprietors and tenants of land. The village is much resorted to by visiters during the summer; but, from its peculiar situation under a high limestone rock, which deprives it of the sun for several months in the winter, is a very dreary residence during the latter season. Lodgings may also be obtained at moderate rates at the adjacent and very healthy hamlet of Norton, and at houses, surrounded by gardens, close to the shore, along the Swansea road. The surrounding scenery is bold and striking, and the high grounds command noble views over the bays of Swansea and Carmarthen, the peninsula of Gower, which separates them, and the Bristol Channel. Woodlands Castle, the seat of the late General Warde, is a handsome modern mansion, situated about a mile and a half to the north of Oystermouth Castle.
There are some quarries of limestone of an excellent quality, which, from its being susceptible of a fine polish, is substituted for marble in the manufacture of mantel-pieces, monumental tablets, and other articles. A considerable number of the inhabitants find employment in these quarries, which are wrought upon an extensive scale, and in the mills that have been erected for sawing and polishing the blocks of stone, which are here manufactured into the various articles above noticed. In working the quarries, human bones have been discovered in immense quantities. A tramroad, constructed from this place to Swansea, along the sea-coast, affords a facility of conveying the limestone from the quarries, and of bringing back coal and manure. In 1845 a valuable vein of iron-ore was discovered, which is worked.
The Mumbles Point, an insulated rock at high water, forms the western extremity of Swansea bay; and the trustees of the harbour have erected a lighthouse upon it, which has been productive of the greatest benefit to vessels navigating this coast, and is supported by a small toll payable by each vessel passing within a certain distance. The Mumbles Roads provide excellent shelter, with good anchorage, for ships navigating the Channel, which frequently put in here during the prevalence of westerly gales; to the number, occasionally, of 400 or 500 sail. In these roads, also, are moored the boats employed in the oyster-fishery off the Gower coast; the beds extend from near the Mumbles Point almost to Worm's Head, at the other extremity of the peninsula of Gower, and in the height of the season about 400 men are engaged in dredging. Immense quantities of the oysters are sent, through factors at Swansea, to London, Liverpool, Bristol, and other markets.
The living is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £200 royal bounty, and £1000 parliamentary grant; net income, £85; patron and impropriator, Colonel Perrott. The tithes have been commuted for a rentcharge of £225. The church, dedicated to All Saints, is a neat and appropriate edifice, though not remarkable for any architectural details of importance; it contains a monument to the memory of Thomas Bowdler, Esq., of Rhydings, in this county, editor of the Family Shakspeare, and of a purified edition of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. There are places of worship for Independents, and Calvinistic and Wesleyan Methodists; some day schools, in connexion with the Established Church; and three Sunday schools, one of them conducted on Church principles. Mrs. Benbow beqeathed a rentcharge of £2 per annum to the poor, to be distributed in bread on Easter and Christmas days; but the late Rev. Thomas Fryer, who possessed a moiety of the lands so charged, made a will in 1834, empowering his executor to transfer to the curate £100 three per cent. consols., to relieve the property, and the dividend to be expended in bread, according to the will of the original donor. The poor also receive benefit from two other gifts of an ancient date, amounting to £4, the interest of which is paid out of the parish rates.
Upon the summit of a picturesque knoll, surrounded by broken cliffs, a little north-westward of the church, and commanding a fine marine prospect, are the majestic remains of Oystermouth Castle, erected by the Normans, and forming one of the most interesting specimens of ancient military architecture now remaining in the principality. Latterly, the ruins were so much overgrown with ivy, and filled up with rubbish, that their outlines could scarcely be distinguished; but in the year 1843, the Duke of Beaufort, to whom the castle belongs, had it restored, and although a larger sum might have been judiciously laid out, still the work of dilapidation has been arrested, and a fine example of Norman architecture has been disclosed. The stately hall, the immense kitchen, and the guard-room, have been rendered accessible; the windows of the chapel have been restored, and a piscina and some frescoes have been brought to light in its interior. The chapel stands at the north-east end, and, though the walls are of great thickness, forms the most elegant feature in the structure; it is of later date than any of the other parts. The restorations were effected at the suggestion of Mr. Francis, of Swansea.