Caerleon is a suburban town and community on the River Usk in the northern outskirts of the city of Newport, Wales. Caerleon is of archaeological importance, being the site of a notable Roman legionary fortress, Isca Augusta, and an Iron Age hillfort. Close to the remains of Isca Augusta are the National Roman Legion Museum and the Roman Baths Museum. The town also has strong historical and literary associations: Geoffrey of Monmouth elevated the significance of Caerleon as a major centre of British history in his Historia Regum Britanniae, and Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote Idylls of the King while staying in Caerleon.
Roman fortressCaerleon is a site of considerable archaeological importance as the location of a Roman legionary fortress or castra. It was the headquarters for Legio II Augusta from about 75 to 300 AD, and on the hill above was the site of an Iron Age hillfort.
The Romans called the site Isca after the River Usk. The name Caerleon may derive from the Welsh for "fortress of the legion"; around 800 AD it was referred to as Cair Legeion guar Uisc.
Substantial excavated Roman remains can be seen, including the military amphitheatre, thermae and barracks occupied by the Roman Legion. In August 2011 the remains of a Roman harbour were discovered in Caerleon. 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. Roman remains have also been discovered at The Mynde, itself a distinctive historical site.Venta Silurum was the administrative centre of the Kingdom of Gwent. The parish church, St Cadoc's 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, possibly by the Welsh Lord of Caerleon, Caradog ap Gruffydd. The Domesday Book of 1086 recorded that a small colony of eight carucates of land in the jurisdiction of Caerleon, seemingly just within the Welsh Lordship of Gwynllwg, was held by Turstin FitzRolf, standard bearer to William the Conqueror at Hastings, subject to William d'Ecouis, a magnate of unknown antecedents with lands in Hereford, Norfolk and other counties. Also listed on the manor were three Welshmen with as many ploughs and carucates, who continued their Welsh customs. Caerleon itself may have remained in Welsh hands, or may have changed hands frequently.
From the apparent banishment of Turstin by William II, Turstin's lands were transferred in 1088 by Wynebald de Ballon, brother of Hamelin de Ballon who held Abergavenny further up the River Usk. At about the same time as Wynebald's lands may have passed via his daughter to Henry Newmarch, possible illegitimate son of Bernard de Newmarch, c. 1155 the Welsh Lord of Caerleon, Morgan ab Owain, grandson of King Caradog ap Gruffudd, was recognized by Henry II. Subsequently, Caerleon continued in Welsh hands, subject to occasional battles with the Normans. Caerleon was an important market and port and possibly became a borough by 1171, although no independent charters exist. In 1171 Iorwerth ab Owain and his two sons destroyed the town of Caerleon and burned the Castle. Both castle and borough were seized by William Marshal from Morgan ap Hywel in 1217 and Caerleon 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.Rhys Gethin, General for Owain Glyndŵr, took Caerleon Castle together with those of Newport, Cardiff, Llandaff, Abergavenny, Caerphilly and Usk by force. This was probably the last time Caerleon castle was ruined, though the walls were still standing in 1537 and the castle ruins only finally collapsed in 1739 - their most obvious remnant is the Round Tower at the Hanbury Arms public house. The Tower is a Grade II* listed building.
English Civil WarAcross the Afon Lwyd from Caerleon, in the region of Penrhos Farm, are two Civil War forts. In 1648 Oliver Cromwell's troops camped overnight on Christchurch Hill, overlooking Newport, before their attack on Newport Castle the next day.
18th and 19th centuriesThe old wooden bridge was destroyed in a storm in 1779 and the present stone bridge 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 River Usk. 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 and mills were established on the outskirts of the town, in Ponthir, around this time, and Caerleon expanded to become almost joined to Newport.
A plaque on the Mynde wall in High Street references the Newport Rising of 1839 in which John Frost of Newport was a prominent figure in the Chartist movement. John Jenkins, owner of Mynde House and owner of Ponthir Tinplate Works, built the wall to keep demonstrators out.
The name of the former Drovers' Arms on Goldcroft Common bore 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.
Mari LwydWriting in 1951, local historian and folklorist Fred Hando described the traditional journey through Caerleon of the Mari Lwyd or "Venerable Mary", a tradition similar to that of Hoodening found in Kent, Padstow and Cheshire, and involving a man dressed with a horse's skull. The jaw of the skull could be made to move, with the aid of rods. Hando's informant, Gus Sergeant of Bulmoor, reported that the Mari Lwyd had not been seen in the town for at least 20 years, but he was still able to describe it:
"We filled the eye-holes with wadding and 'pop alleys' and fixed great ears made of wadding stiffened with cardboard; then we stuck rosettes on the sides of the skull and strung long coloured ribbons as reins."
One man acted as leader of the Mari, holding the ribbons, and then came the Mari itself draped in a white sheet. It was followed by three singers, who sang in Welsh although "they didn't understand the words". On occasion, the procession of the Mari Lwyd would start as far north as Newbridge-on-Usk and proceed through the town, ending as far south as Goldcliff. The party would be invited into houses along the way and given "money and home-made cakes and gallons of beer". Another of Hando's informants provides a description, dated 1841, of the Yuletide tradition:
"The custom of chaunting at their neighbours' doors on the twelfth night... on which occasion they are fantastically dressed with ribbons of various colours. One of the party carries a horse's head decorated in the same manner. Representations of trees, to which are appended apples and oranges, are also carried about, and on one of the branches an artificial bird, called "Aderyn Pica Llwyd" is placed."
Arthurian legendIn his 1191 Itinerarium Cambriae, written about a tour of Wales in 1188 to recruit for the Third Crusade, the author Gerald of Wales says of Caerleon, "the Roman ambassadors here received their audience at the court of the great king Arthur."
Geoffrey of Monmouth, the first author to write at length of King Arthur, makes Caerleon one of the most important cities in Britain in his Historia Regum Britanniæ. He gives it a long, glorious history from its foundation by King Belinus to when it becomes a metropolitan see, the location of an Archbishopric superior to Canterbury and York, under Saint Dubricius, followed by St David who moved the archbishopric to St David's Cathedral.
Geoffrey makes Arthur's capital Caerleon and even Thomas Malory has Arthur re-crowned there. The still-visible Roman amphitheatre at Caerleon has been associated with Arthur's 'Round-Table' element of the tales; and has been suggested as a possible source for the legend.
Though the huge scale of the ruins along with Caerleon's importance as an urban centre in early medieval Kingdom of Gwent may have inspired Geoffrey, the main historical source for Arthur's link with "the camp of the legion" is the list of the twelve battles of Arthur in the 9th-century Historia Brittonum. However the "urbs legionis" mentioned there may rather more probably be Chester - or even York. "Camelot" first appears in Chrétien de Troyes' Lancelot, though Chretien also mentions Caerleon.
Caerleon also has associations with later Arthurian literature as the birthplace of the writer Arthur Machen who often used it as a location in his work. The Hanbury Arms was visited by Tennyson who lodged there while he wrote his Morte d'Arthur. Today Caerleon has a modern statue of a knight, "The Hanbury Knight", in reflecting stainless steel by Belgian sculptor Thierry Lauwers. In Michael Morpurgo's novel Arthur, High King of Britain, Caerleon is the castle where Arthur unknowingly commits incest with his half-sister Morgaine, resulting in the conception of his son Mordred who will later bring about his downfall. Mary Stewart's account of the Arthurian legends also mentions Caerleon as a place where Arthur held court. In that telling, the incest took place at Luguvalium.
OverviewCaerleon is centred around a small common. Goldcroft Common is the only remaining of the seven commons of Caerleon. Most of the small businesses of Caerleon are near the common as is the Town Hall which has a World War I and World War II memorial garden. Caerleon library is located within the Town Hall and is associated with Newport Central Library. The intersection of High Street and Cross Street is known as The Square.
Buildings of note are Saint Cadoc's Church, the National Roman Legion Museum, the Roman Baths Museum, The Mynde, The Priory Hotel, Caerleon Catholic Church and Rectory, Caerleon Endowed School, the Round Tower, the Toll House at Caerleon Bridge, The Malt House hotel, former University of South Wales Caerleon Campus and St Cadoc's Hospital. There are 86 listed buildings in Caerleon.
The historic remains of the Roman Legionary Fortress Isca Augusta is popular with tourists and school parties and there is a marked heritage trail in the town. The Millennium Wildlife Garden is a small nature garden on the banks of the River Usk. The hilltop vantage point at Christchurch provides panoramic views of the Vale of Usk and Bristol Channel.
The municipal playing fields are at Caerleon Broadway and a children's playground is in Cold Bath Road. Private sport and leisure facilities are available at the Celtic Manor. Caerleon has a few restaurants, cafés and take-away food outlets and many public houses that have restaurant facilities. The Ffwrrwm is a small specialist shopping courtyard with an eclectic display of sculpture.
GovernanceCaerleon is an electoral ward of Newport City Council. The ward includes Christchurch and Bulmore. Caerleon is within the UK Parliamentary constituency of Newport West, the National Assembly for Wales constituency of Newport West. Until January 2020 it was within the Wales European Parliament Constituency.
The community includes Christchurch and the Afon Gardens area of Ponthir.
GeographyThe centre of Caerleon sits in the Vale of Usk and the River Usk forms part of the community's southern boundary. In the north-west part of the town, across the railway bridges, 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 boundary partly by the Malthouse Road and partly by the Afon Llwyd river which flows southwards to the River Usk along the town's eastern side. Across the River Usk from Caerleon, to the south-east and east, 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.
Caerleon is from Newport city centre and from Cwmbran. Caerleon is north of the M4 motorway. The B4596 links Newport city centre to Caerleon via M4 Junction 25, crossing Caerleon Bridge into Caerleon High Street. The B4236 links Caerleon to Cwmbran. The Usk Road links Caerleon to Usk.
A regular bus service links Caerleon to Newport city centre and Cwmbran. There is a limited City Sightseeing open-top bus service in summer months. A cycle and pedestrian walkway alongside the River Usk links Caerleon to Malpas and Newport city centre at Crindau, route 88 of the National Cycle Network.
Trains pass through Caerleon on the Welsh Marches Line, but do not stop at the closed Caerleon railway station. The nearest passenger stations are Newport railway station, and Cwmbran railway station.
Transport for Wales have announced that Caerleon is a potential future station as part of the South Wales Metro project.
EducationEducation is generally conducted in the English language in schools but at least a mandatory Welsh language content must be provided under the Welsh education curriculum. There are no Welsh-medium schools in Caerleon but there are three primary schools elsewhere in Newport; Ysgol Gymraeg Bro Teyrnon in Brynglas, Ysgol Gymraeg Casnewydd in Ringland and Ysgol Gymraeg Ifor Hael in Bettws. The nearest Welsh-medium secondary school is Ysgol Gyfun Gwynllyw in Trevethin, Pontypool.
The primary schools are Charles Williams Church in Wales Primary School and Lodge Hill Primary School.
Secondary educationHigher education
A former campus of the University of South Wales is located in Caerleon. The campus closed on 31 July 2016. The campus was the main campus of the University of Wales, Newport and the second largest campus of the University of South Wales after the merger of universities in 2013. It hosted a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, including education, sports and photography. The campus had extensive sports facilities, library, students' union shop, students' union bar and accommodation blocks.
During September 2014, It was announced by the University of South Wales that the Caerleon campus would close in 2016 with courses being integrated into the remaining campuses. The University intends to sell the campus for housing development but there is strong opposition to the proposed re-development from local residents. The Caerleon Civic Society has asked Cadw, the body that looks after historic monuments and buildings in Wales, to give the Edwardian main building Grade II Listed building status to save it from demolition. In August 2016, the Welsh Government announced that they would recommend that the main building, gatehouses and gate-piers be listed as ‘buildings of special architectural and historic interest’. The University of South Wales expressed their continued opposition to the proposed listing but the announcement was welcomed by local politicians and the Caerleon Civic Society. Grade II listing of the Main Building, the Principal's Residence, Gate Piers and Caretaker's / Gardener's Lodge was confirmed on the 3 March 2017.
HousingHistorically housing was largely located on the west bank of the River Usk between Caerleon Bridge and Caerleon Common with a small number of houses on the east bank. A number of substantial housing developments have been created to the West of Caerleon: Lodge Hill, Home Farm, Roman Reach, Trinity View, Brooklea and The Brades as well as smaller cluster developments near the centre of the town. Substantial housing developments in nearby Ponthir and Cwmbran have increased traffic congestion in Caerleon.
Pubs and restaurantsThe town has long been a well-known spot for nightlife and eateries, with a number of coaching inns opening in the early 19th century. Today there are thirteen pubs, bars or restaurants, including:
- The Priory
- Olde Bull Inn
- The Hanbury Arms
- The Bell
- The White Hart
In 2019 it was announced the Velothon Wales would not resume. Instead, the Tour de Gwent will be the main cycling event for South Wales each year, with a 93-mile route and other distances for different ability levels on offer. It will again start in Caerleon and head to Abergavenny, returning to Caerleon via the Wye Valley.
Tour of Britain 2017-2018Caerleon has twice hosted the British national cycling tournament, in 2017 and 2018. It has welcomed international riders including Julian Alaphilippe, André Greipel, Tony Martin, and Geraint Thomas to the popular cycle routes in the area. It includes a Category 2 climb at Belmont Hill which has proven popular with organisers.
On 10 September 2017 the Tour of Britain came to Caerleon along the 180.2 km western route from Worcester to the competition's finish in Cardiff city centre. The peak of the British domestic cycling calendar, it saw a dramatic breakaway over Belmont Hill by riders Gorka Izagirre and Mark Stewart which is a Category 2 climb and has been a feature of the Tour with a 9% average gradient. The riders were only eventually caught by the peloton near Cardiff at the close of the stage. The stage was won by Edvald Boasson Hagen of Team Dimension Data.
On 2 September 2018 Caerleon again hosted the Tour of Britain route as it headed east from Pembrey to Newport, a flat stage of 175 km. The event was Welsh Tour de France champion Geraint Thomas' first competition following his success in France, with the route following near his birthplace in Cardiff. The stage was won by André Greipel of Lotto–Soudal. The event organisers sent riders from Newport city centre to Caerleon via Sustrans National Cycle Route 88, which was mostly flat along the Usk riverside. The route passed the Roman fortress towards the countryside around the Celtic Manor Resort, and then into Usk. The King of the Mountains stage was again set at nearby Belmont Hill, with Tour de France winner Thomas famously describing the climb as 'too steep' after he lost lead position in the peloton to climber Alaphilippe.
Caerleon Golf Club is owned by the Celtic Manor Resort, and is a 9-hole municipal golf course, driving range and golf clubhouse. During winter months the golf course is prone to flooding due to its location alongside the River Usk.
Other sportsCaerleon Bowls Club has a good quality outdoor green and recently became home of the city's Newport Athletic Bowls Club which moved from Rodney Parade.
The association football club Caerleon A.F.C. is based in Caerleon along with two rugby union clubs; Newport High School Old Boys RFC and Caerleon RFC whose grounds are less than a mile apart. Both rugby clubs have large junior sections and Caerleon Junior Youth Football Club is a substantial junior football club.
Bulmore Lido was opened in Caerleon in July 1934 land with an open-air swimming pool, cafe and restaurant, closing in the 1980s.
Newport Racecourse staged the Welsh Grand National at Easter in 1948 the only time the race was held at the course. Following the closure of the course the race was transferred to Chepstow.
Culture and community
Caerleon Arts FestivalCaerleon has hosted an arts festival in July each year since 2003, established initially to welcome participants and sculptors from around the world. Many of the sizeable sculptures are retained around Caerleon as a Sculpture park and local landmarks. 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 ballistae.
Recent developments with the festival have seen expansion, with the inclusion of a literary festival, food and drink offerings, and a 'Big Free Weekend' of entertainment and visual arts staged at venues including the open-air Roman amphitheatre, which hosts plays in the summer.
- An informative and wide-ranging history of Caerleon was published in 1970 by local amateur historian Primrose Hockey MBE, who was a founder member of Caerleon Local History Society. An archive of her local history collection is kept by the Gwent Record Office.
- St Cadoc's Hospital in Caerleon has been featured as a location of episodes in the BBC television programmes Doctor Who and Being Human.
- The former campus of the University of South Wales located in Caerleon was one of the filming sites of the Netflix series Sex Education.
- The Darling Buds, alternative rock band, formed in Caerleon
- John Byrne, Victoria Cross recipient
- Roger Freestone, Wales international footballer
- Len Hill, footballer and cricketer
- Gary Hocking, motorcycle racer
- Arthur Machen, author
- James May, television presenter
- Lyndon Mustoe, Wales international rugby union player
- Tyler Morgan, Welsh international rugby player
- Banita Sandhu, actress
- Carl Sargent, author
- Caroline Sheen, actress
- Ashton Hewitt, Newport Gwent Dragons player
- James Sommerin, chef
- Wendy van der Plank, actress
- Nigel Vaughan, Wales international footballer
- Nick Walne, Wales international rugby union player
- Violet Lawrence, in 2010 became Britain's oldest surviving police widow.