Historic Landscape Characterisation

Caernarfon/Nantlle – Area 1 Caernarfon PRN 15700


Aerial view of the town looking south, with the Victoria Dock in the foreground, the medieval castle and walled town to the right and the nineteenth and twentieth century expansion extending into the distance.



Historical background

The Roman fort site ( Segontium ), near the south-eastern limits of the present town, may have provided the earliest focus for civilian settlement, a possibility strengthened by the situation of the parish church of St Peblig immediately adjacent. The llys and a native settlement were established on the spur of rock between the confluence of the Seiont and the Cadnant with the Menai Straits before the Edwardian conquest; these were demolished to make way for a walled and castled borough at the end of the thirteenth-century.

Caernarfon's extra-mural growth was still limited by the time of Speed's survey of 1612, though the area which now corresponds to Penrallt had been colonised, and it is only with the growth of the slate industry, and to some extent copper exports, from the late eighteenth century that the town begins to grow, with the establishment of a new quay (below the castle) in the early nineteenth century, the Nantlle railway in 1812 and the Uxbridge Arms (Royal, Celtic Royal) Hotel. The town's growth was controlled, and to some extent quarrelled over, by the major landowning families – the Pagets of Plas Newydd, the Lords Newborough of Glynllifon, Assheton Smith of Vaynol, Thomas of Coed Helen and Garnons. Its growing importance is apparent in the provision of civic buildings such as the county hall, law courts, gaol, post office in the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries, and its significance as a regional centre of dissent by the construction of a number of substantial chapels. The twentieth-century saw the construction of social housing on a significant scale and attempts to develop its tourist base.

Key historic landscape characteristics

Roman fort, castle, walled medieval town, slate quay, sequence of housing stock

The castle and the walls form a World Heritage Site, and the intra-mural settlement preserves the medieval street-plan. At least one medieval building, which has recently been renovated, survives within the walls as well as a number of eighteenth-century town-houses, which are in poor condition. Nineteenth-century civic institutions, including the law courts and the former prison dominate the north-western part of the old town, as does Gwynedd County Council's modern Pencadlys complex, built in the 1980s. Nineteenth-century shops within the walls have recently been sympathetically renovated by Cwmni Tref Caernarfon.

The area immediately to the south-east of the Castle Square (‘y maes') is dominated by early nineteenth century terraced housing (SH48106258C). Declining congregations mean that most of the town's large chapels will shortly probably be forced to close. Engedi (an imposing Calvanist Methodist building) is currently for sale.

The construction of a large faux-medieval multi-storey car-park on the site of the medieval mill-pool has had a significant impact on the townscape (SH48066273).

The two main arteries out of the area of the medieval town, the Bangor Road (to the north) and the Porthmadog road (to the south), are distinguished by a sequence of Regency villas (SH48206249 and SH48216309), substantial nineteenth century houses, often making use of brick, and suburban villas the further one moves away from the centre (SH48246325C and SH48336130C). The Regency buildings in particular have been allowed to decline and have become shabby. Those adjacent to the Royal Hotel and the former Christ Church preserve some attractive wrought-iron work verandas. The row of three- or four-storey houses along the Bangor Road are built in a striking yellow brick; many are now B&Bs or old people's homes. Further along this road is a run of very attractive 1930s houses, most of which have unfortunately had modern windows inserted over years. Plas Coch (SH 4900 6432), at the limit of the area on the Bangor road, is a substantial late nineteenth century industrialist's dwelling, and is proposed for refurbishment along with the adjacent Plas Brereton (area 26).

There is extensive provision of social housing to the east of the town, mainly dating from the 1950s. On the southern periphery of the town is a hospital complex, built around a substantial workhouse, adjacent to the Morfa Common park, established between 1866 and 1889. This is included in the Cadw/ICOMOS Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens.

The outstanding dock-landscape along the Seiont remains largely neglected (SH 4796 6257 C). This includes the operational Brunswick Ironworks and the buildings of DeWinton's Union Ironworks, in re-use for light industry. This area has now become the northern terminus of the revived Welsh Highland Railway, a development which may introduce new pressures and opportunities.



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