Wales Family History Guide

Counties of Wales

Read about the history of the counties of Wales and their towns and villages.

Map of Wales after the laws in Wales Act
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  • Anglesey
  • Breconshire
  • Caernarfonshire
  • Cardiganshire
  • Carmarthenshire
  • Denbighshire
  • Flintshire
  • Glamorgan
  • Merionethshire
  • Monmouthshire
  • Montgomeryshire
  • Pembrokeshire
  • Radnorshire  

Historical Descriptions of Wales

Leonard’s Gazetteer of England and Wales 1850

Wales is a mountainous tract of land on the western coast of England; bounded, West by the Atlantic, North by the Irish Channel, South by the British Channel, and East by the counties of Monmouth, Shropshire, Hereford, and Chester; being in length about 155 miles, and in breadth about 65. It contains 7,425 square miles, or 4,762,000 acres; and has 68 Market-Towns. It contains the four Bishoprics of St. David's, Llandaff, Bangor, and St. Asaph, the greater part being in the Province or Canterbury, and with Chester forms two Circuits, called the Northern Circuit and the Southern Circuit.

Source: Leonard's Gazetteer of England and Wales; Second Edition; C. W. Leonard, London; 1850

Beeton’s British Gazetteer 1870

WALES, THE PRINCIPALITY of, forms nearly a peninsula, on the W. side of Great Britain, washed on the N. and W. by the Irish Sea, on the S. and S.E. by the Bristol Channel, and bounded on the E. by the counties of Monmouth, Hereford, Shropshire, and Chester. Llewellyn ap Gryffith was the last prince who fought for the independence of Wales. In 1282 he was subdued by Edward I., and fell on the field of battle. From that time Wales has been annexed to the English Crown; but the union was not complete till the reign of Henry VIII., when the government and laws were formed agreeably to those of England. It gives the title of prince of Wales to the heir-apparent of the British throne. Political Divisions. The principality is divided into North and South Wales, each containing six counties; North Wales comprising Anglesey, Carnarvon, Denbigh, Flint, Merioneth, and Montgomery; and South Wales the counties of Brecknock, Cardigan, Carmarthen, Glamorgan, Pembroke, and Radnor. Desc. Generally mountainous, especially in the N., which is traversed by continuous mountain ranges, intersected by deep ravines and extensive valleys, and affording a constant succession of views of mountain scenery of a wild and picturesque character. Of these chains it may be generally observed that they extend in a direction from S. E. to N.W., having their most abrupt declivity facing the latter quarter. The principal range in N. Wales is that which is called the Snowdon range, from Snowdon mountain, which occupies the centre of the chain, and rises to the height of 3571 feet above the level of the sea. Commencing at Bardsey Island, in the S.W. extremity of Carnarvonshire, the line, varied at irregular intervals by conical peaks, extends in a N.E. direction to the promontory of Penmaenbach, in the Bay of Conway. The intermediate parts contain the loftiest mountains in Wales. The Berwyn or Ferwyn range occupies the E. part of Merionethshire, and branches out into Denbighshire. Its length is about 16 miles, and the breadth varies from 5 to 10 miles. Another line branches off into Montgomeryshire, and joins the Breidden Hills, which extend into Shropshire. Another chain, or rather a continuance of the same, extends in a S.W. direction from Pennant, near the vale of Tanad, in Montgomeryshire, to the sea coast near Llangelynin, in Merionethshire. In this extensive ridge are several lofty mountains, known as the Arrans and the Arrenigs, the most eminent of which are Arran-ben-llyn and Arran-fowddy; and the extremity of the line is formed by the triple head of Cader Idris or Arthur’s Seat, which attains a height of 2014 feet above the level of the sea. The celebrated Plinlimmon, 2500 feet in height, rears its lofty crest above a range of table lands, which extend from the vicinity of Llanvair, in the N.E., till they decline in the S. W., and end in the abrupt cliffs which bound part of the Bay of Cardigan, near Aberystwith. An extensive chain stretches from Radnor Forest to the N.E. of Llandrindod Wells, in Radnorshire, across the N. part of Brecknockshire, and continues in a S.W. direction through Carmarthenshire, until it terminates in the conspicuous ridge of the Preseley Mountain, in the county of Pembroke. The Black Forest, on the eastern side of Brecknockshire, commences another range which stretches from E. to W. towards Carmarthen, generally known as the Black Mountains, from the sombre appearance given to them by their dark vegetable covering of heath and ling. Numerous lakes are scattered among these mountains, and, according to some accounts, they are between fifty and sixty in number. Rivers. The principal are the Severn, the Wye, the Conway, the Towy, and the Dee. Zoology. Of the feathered tribes, many species are found in Wales which are not common to other parts of Great Britain. The goat is here found in its wild state. Roebucks were formerly numerous; but it is very seldom that wild deer are now seen in any part of the principality. Pro. Barley and oats are the principal crops, with potatoes and turnips. Large numbers of cattle are reared. The implements employed are rude and ill-constructed, and agriculture in Wales is not carried on in such a scientific manner as it is in England and Scotland. Until the commencement of the present century roads throughout Wales were in a rough and very imperfect state. A great improvement, however, has taken place in this point. Many have been widened, shortened, and otherwise ameliorated by the addition of drains, arches, bridges, and cuttings, to the geat accommodation of travellers, and genera benefit of the inhabitants. Great improvements have also been made in the internal system of navigation. The junction of the navigation on the rivers Severn and Dee was effected by cutting a canal from the former river, near Shrewsbury, to the Dee in the vicinity of Chester, through the counties of Denbigh and Flint, with various ramifications into the mining and manufacturing districts in the adjacent counties. Minerals. Valuable and abundant. They are found in great profusion throughout the mountainous districts. Silver is found in Cardiganshire, and iron, copper, and lead are also plentiful in that county. Coal abounds in the S., and limestone is abundant in all parts of Wales. Lead is found in a variety of places, but particularly in the counties of Flint, Carnarvon, Montgomery, Carmarthen, and Cardigan. The principal iron-works are at Merthyr Tydvil, Aberdare, Tredegar, and Ruabon. It has generally been remarked that wherever iron is discovered coal is not far distant, either lying below it or in collateral strata. Coal is found in every county of Wales except Cardiganshire, Merionethshire, and Camarvonshire. Manf. Flannels, for which Wales has long been celebrated, with stockings, gloves, and socks. Very considerable manufactures of cotton fabrics and cotton twist have also been established in the counties of Flint and Denbigh. Numerous manufactures of copper, iron, lead, and tin plates have been set up both in North and South Wales. The chief trade of the principality, however, consists in the exportation of woollen goods, mineral produce, and cattle. Inhabitants. The Welsh have many strange customs and peculiar superstitions. They are remarkably fond of poetry and music, and their language is said to be peculiarly adapted to poetical effusions. Their ancient language is, however, falling fast into disuse through the whole country, more especially the southern part. The gentry of Wales are educated for the most part in England, and consequently few of them speak it. Family distinction is held in great estimation. The aboriginal Celtic race stiIl inhabit some parts of the country. Lat. between 51° 23’ and 53° 26′ N. Lon. between 2° 41’ and 5 17’ W. Area, 4,734,846 acres, or 7398 square miles. Pop. 1,111,780.

Source: Beeton’s British Gazetteer 1870. Ward, Lock & Tyler, Paternoster Row, London.