Caerleon: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

For the Champion racehorse, see Caerleon II

Coordinates: 51°36′54″N 2°57′32″W / 51.615°N 2.959°W / 51.615; -2.959

Welsh: Caerllion
Caerleon vue.jpg
A view of Caerleon from Beechwood.
Caerleon is located in Wales2

 Caerleon shown within Wales
Population 8,708 (2001 census)
OS grid reference ST336909
Principal area Newport
Ceremonial county Gwent
Country Wales
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Post town NEWPORT
Postcode district NP18
Dialling code 01633
Police Gwent
Fire South Wales
Ambulance Welsh
EU Parliament Wales
UK Parliament Newport West
List of places: UK • Wales • Newport

Caerleon (Welsh: Caerllion) is a suburban village and community, situated on the River Usk [1] in the northern outskirts of the city of Newport, South Wales.

It is a site of archaeological importance, being the site of a notable Roman legionary fortress and an Iron Age hill fort. The Wales National Roman Legion Museum is in Caerleon. It also has strong literary associations as Geoffrey of Monmouth makes Caerleon one of the most important cities in Britain in his Historia Regum Britanniæ, and Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote Idylls of the King while staying in Caerleon.




Roman fortress

Remains of the Roman amphitheatre
A map of all Roman Fortresses in Europe with Caerleon noted.

Caerleon is a site of considerable archaeological importance, being the location of a Roman legionary fortress or Castra (it was the headquarters for Legio II Augusta from about 75 to 300 AD) and an Iron Age hill fort. The name Caerleon is derived from the Welsh for "fortress of the legion"; the Romans themselves called it Isca. Substantial excavated Roman remains can be seen, including the military amphitheatre, thermae (baths) and barracks occupied by the Roman Legion. According to Gildas (followed by Bede), Roman Caerleon was the site of two early Christian martyrdoms, those of Julius and Aaron. Recent finds suggest Roman occupation of some kind as late as AD 380 [1]. Roman remains have also been discovered at The Mynde, itself a distinctive historical site [2]

Middle Ages

The parish church of St Cadoc was founded on the site of the legionary headquarters building probably sometime in the 6th century. A Norman-style motte and bailey castle was built outside the eastern corner of the old Roman fort, probably by the Welsh Lord of Caerleon, Caradog ap Gruffydd. Caerleon was an important market and port and presumably became a borough by 1171, although no independent charters exist. Both castle and borough were seized by William Marshal in 1217 and the castle was rebuilt in stone. The remains of many of the old Roman buildings stood to some height until this time and were probably demolished for their building materials.

Caerleon in 1800, from the south and showing the bridge

Georgian and Victorian times

The old wooden bridge at Caerleon was destroyed in a storm in 1779 and the present stone version was erected in the early 19th century. Until the Victorian development of the downstream docks at Newport Docks, Caerleon acted as the major port on the Usk river. The wharf was located on the right bank, to the west of today's river bridge which marked the limit of navigability for masted ships. A tinplate works was established on the outskirts of the town around this time and Caerleon expanded to become almost joined to Newport.


Caerleon is an electoral ward of Newport City Council alongside Allt-yr-yn, Alway, Beechwood, Bettws, Langstone, and many notable others.


The centre of Caerleon sits in the Usk valley and the river forms part of the community's southern boundary. In the northern part of the village, across the railway, the land rises sharply up to Lodge Wood and its hill fort. The community's western boundary is formed by the A4042 road and the northern one partly by the Malthouse Road and partly by the River Llwyd which flows southwards along the village's eastern side. Across the river, in the region of Penrhos Farm, are two Civil War forts. Across the Usk, St Julian's Park, the village of Christchurch and the upland region around Christchurch Hill as far as the M4 motorway and the A449 road are also within the community. It is also home to a large campus of the University of Wales, Newport.

Arthurian legend

Geoffrey of Monmouth makes Caerleon one of the most important cities in Britain in his Historia Regum Britanniæ. He gives it a long glorious history from its founding by King Belinus then making it the location of a metropolitan see, an Archbishopric superior to Canterbury and York under Saint Dubricius. He was followed by St David who moved the archbishopric to St David's Cathedral. This builds up to its use by Geoffrey as a Court for King Arthur.

There was no Camelot mentioned in the early Arthurian traditions recorded by Geoffrey of Monmouth, Wace, and Layamon. These early Arthurian authors say that Arthur's capital was in Caerleon, and even the later recaster of Arthurian material, Sir Thomas Malory, has Arthur re-crowned at "Carlion". It has been suggested that the still-visible Roman amphitheatre at Caerleon is the source of the 'Round-Table' element of the tales, and was used for discussion and entertainment. (The "Camelot" reference originates with the French writer of courtly romance, Chrétien de Troyes.)

Geoffrey of Monmouth writes of Caerleon in the mid 12th century:

"For it was located in a delightful spot in Glamorgan, on the River Usk, not far from the Severn Sea. Abounding in wealth more than other cities, it was suited for such a ceremony. For the noble river I have named flows along it on one side, upon which the kings and princes who would be coming from overseas could be carried by ship. But on the other side, protected by meadow and woods, it was remarkable for royal palaces, so that it imitated Rome in the golden roofs of its buildings... Famous for so many pleasant features, Caerleon was made ready for the announced feast." (Historia Regum Britanniae "History of the Kings of Britain")

This is only a short part of a description which emphasises the power and wealth of Arthur's court, a description transferred later to Camelot. The huge scale of the ruins along with Caerleon's importance as a urban centre in early mediæval Gwent would have inspired stories which Geoffrey expanded on.

Caerleon also has later Arthurian literary associations, as the birthplace of the writer Arthur Machen who often used it as a location in his work. Alfred Lord Tennyson also wrote his Idylls of the King overlooking the Usk in a bay window of what is now the saloon bar of the "Hanbury Arms" public house. Today Caerleon has a modern statue of a knight, "The Hanbury Knight", in reflecting inox by Belgian sculptor Thierry Lauwers.[3], its name echoing that of the pub.

In Michael Morpurgo's novel Arthur, High King of Britain, Caerleon is the castle where Arthur unknowingly commits incest with his half-sister Margause, resulting in the conception of his son Mordred, who will later bring about his downfall.


Caerleon has a large number of pubs for its size. The Hanbury Arms is located on Castle Street at the side of the River Usk, near the field in which the annual Arts Festival takes place. In 1856 the poet Tennyson lodged at the inn while he wrote his "Morte D'Arthur" (later incorporated into his "Idylls of the King)".[4]

The name of the Drovers Arms, located on Goldcroft Common, bears witness to the ancient drovers road on the old road from Malpas. It is thought that the common itself was once the site of a cattle market.[5]


The Caerleon ward is home to the Celtic Manor Resort, location of the 2010 Ryder Cup.[6] Caerleon also has a good quality 9-hole municipal golf course and driving range, however, during winter months the golf course is prone to flooding due to its situation next to the River Usk.

The association football club Caerleon A.F.C. are based in Caerleon along with two rugby union clubs; Newport High School Old Boys RFC and Caerleon RFC[7] whose grounds are less than a mile apart and are known for their fierce rivalry.

Caerleon is also home to one chapter of the Academy of Historical Fencing, a western martial arts group who study and practice the weapons and styles of medieval and renaissance Europe. The club trains on the University Campus and also has two Chapters in Bristol.

Culture and community

Caerleon has hosted an arts festival in July each year since 2002, which includes tree sculptors from around the world [8]. Many of the sizeable sculptures are retained around Caerleon as a Sculpture park and local landmarks. Visual arts are also staged at various venues throughout the village including the Roman Amphitheatre.

The arts festival coincides with the Roman military re-enactment in the amphitheatre which demonstrates Roman military armour, infantry tactics, cavalry tactics, equipment and siege engines such as ballista.

Plays are held in the open-air Amphitheatre each summer.

Future plans

It had been proposed that the site of the former petrol station near Caerleon bridge will be used for residential development.[9]

See also




  • Chris Barber, Arthurian Caerleon: In Literature and Legend, Blorenge Books (Jun 1996), ISBN 1872730108
  • Richard J. Brewer, Caerleon and the Roman Army, Llyfrau Amgueddfa Cymru/ National Museum Wales Books; 2Rev Ed edition (Sep 2000), ISBN 0720004888

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CAERLEON, an ancient village in the southern parliamentary division of Monmouthshire, England, on the right (west) bank of the Usk, 3 m. N.E. of Newport. Pop. (1901) 1411. Its claim to notice rests on its Roman and British associations. As Isca Silurum, it was one of the three great legionary fortresses of Roman Britain, established either about A.D. 50 (Tacitus, Annals, xii. 32), or perhaps, as coin-finds suggest, about A.D. 74-7 8 in the governorship of Julius Frontinus, and in either case intended to coerce the wild Silures. It was garrisoned by the Legio II. Augusta from its foundation till near the end of the Roman rule in Britain. Though never seriously excavated, it contains plentiful visible traces of its Roman period - part of the ramparts, the site of an amphitheatre, and many inscriptions, sculptured stones, &c., in the local museum. No civil life or municipality seems, however, to have grown up outside its walls, as at York (Eburacum). Like Chester (see DEVA), it remained purely military, and the common notion that it was the seat of a Christian bishopric in the 4th century is unproved and improbable. Its later history is obscure. We do not know when the legion was finally withdrawn, nor what succeeded, But Welsh legend has made the site very famous with tales of Arthur (revived by Tennyson in his Idylls), of Christian martyrs, Aaron and Julius, and of an archbishopric held by St Dubric and shifted to St David's in the 6th century. Most of these traditions date from Geoffrey of Monmouth (about 1130-1140), and must not be taken for history. The ruins of Caerleon attracted notice in the 12th and following centuries, and gave plain cause for legend-making. There is better, but still slender, reason for the belief that it was here, and not at Chester, that five kings of the Cymry rowed Edgar in a barge as a sign of his sovereignty (A.D. 973). The name Caerleon seems to be derived from the Latin Castra legionum, but it is not peculiar to Caerleon-on-Usk, being often used of Chester and occasionally of Leicester and one or two other places. (F. H.)

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