Anglesey Heritage and History

Anglesey is steeped in history boasting a wealth of heritage sites, museums and galleries. Historians will love the mediaval wonders of Beaumaris Castle and the stately home of the Marquess of Anglesey,at Plas Newydd on the Menai Straits.

The isle of Anglesey, once called the Mother of Wales, has lots of character, the islanders have an independent spirit but are very welcoming to everyone visiting. Our unique island has lots to offer, fabulous coastline, varied beaches, music, culture, festivals and the great outdoors! No wonder Royals, Will and Kate chose to make their first home here. Anglesey has something for everyone to enjoy; and we look forward to sharing all these memorable experiences with you.

Human habitation on Anglesey

The first evidence of human habitation on Anglesey dates back to the Mesolithic period in about 7000BC. Throughout the following millennia, the tribes which occupied the island erected numerous stone burial chambers, standing stones and hill forts, many of which survived through the ages in good condition. Archaeologists have uncovered and excavated many sites, rich in artefacts such as pottery and stone tools from the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods through to the Bronze and Iron Ages.

Prehistoric sites on Anglesey

Holy Island, in the north west, is a prolific area in which to view the remains of  prehistoric settlements such as Caer y Twr hillfort, Holyhead Mountain hut group, Penrhos Feilw standing stones, Ty Mawr standing stone and the Trefignath burial chamber. Indeed, a series of prehistoric burial chambers is to be found all along the west coast of the island. The Bryn Celli Ddu burial chamber near Llanfairpwll is especially worth a visit.

Anglesey – stronghold of the Celts

During the Roman occupation of Wales in the first century AD, Anglesey was one of the last strongholds of the Celts and their Druid priests. The Romans were determined to invade Anglesey and destroy the Druids who were maintaining strong resistance against them. The Roman historian Tacitus gave a famous account of the fierce battle on the shores of the Menai Strait, at which the Romans were victorious and the Celtic period came to an end. Remains of the Caer Gybi Roman fort are to be found near Holyhead.

Monasteries on Anglesey

The early medieval period saw the Celtic Christian Church flourish throughout Britain and Ireland. Two main monasteries were founded on Anglesey – St Cybi’s at Caer Gybi (Holyhead) and St Seiriol’s at Penmon. Viking raids subsequently caused great destruction at these settlements, as well as the Royal Court in Aberffraw. However at the end of Viking activity in the 12th Century, Anglesey flourished once again and many of the Island’s churches originated at this time and several are well preserved and still in use today. Penmon, to the extreme east of the island, offers a Priory, St Seiriol’s Well, Penmon Cross and Dovecote as well as impressive views of the coastline.

Castles in Anglesey and Snowdonia

The 13th Century brought conflict between Wales and England. Edward I launched two successful campaigns against Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last native Prince of Wales. After the second defeat, Edward built his “iron ring” of castles around the coast of Wales to “subdue the natives”.

The castle at Beaumaris is virtually the ultimate development in medieval castle technology, whilst Caernarfon is a magnificent fortress palace. Both, along with Conwy, are part of the Castles and Town Walls of Edward I in Gwnedd World Heritage Site. Dolwyddelan Castle in the heart of Snowdonia, by contrast, represents the mountain stronghold of the Welsh princes.

Anglesey – royal connections

Current interest focuses on the royal connection with Anglesey via Prince William and his posting to RAF Valley (near Rhosneigr)  amid speculation that the royal couple will live on the island after their marriage. However, the Tudor dynasty from Henry VII through Henry VIII to Elizabeth I can be traced back to the 13th century at Plas Penmynydd, near Ceint just 5km north west of Menai Bridge. Owain Tudur married Catherine, the widow of Henry V, and their grandson claimed the English throne in 1485.

Anglesey – industrial archaeology

From the 18th Century onwards, Anglesey became prominent for two main reasons: firstly, copper and secondly, sea access to Ireland.

Parys Mountain was a site of copper mining during the Roman period and possibly much earlier. In the 1760s full scale mining began, to satisfy demand for copper for the production of guns, metal plating for ships and coinage. At its peak, it was the largest copper mine in the world. The end of the Napoleonic wars brought with it a reduction in the demand for copper and a subsequent decline in the mine’s fortunes.

The Sail Loft Visitor Centre at historic Amlwch Port displays exhibits dating back to the shipbuilding and copper mining heritage alongside a gift shop and cafe. The mines at Parys Mountain offer a stunning palette of colours with the exposed rocks stained by the mineral deposits within.

Thomas Telford – Anglesey

The union of Britain with Ireland in 1800 increased the need to improve the road route from London to Dublin and by this time, Holyhead had emerged as the primary port for sea access, mainly due to the fact that it is the closest point on the British coast to Ireland. In 1810, Thomas Telford was commissioned to build a new road through North Wales and across Anglesey. This included the first major suspension bridge in the world, the Menai Bridge, across the Menai Strait. The coming of the railways lead to a requirement for a rail route to link London with Dublin, hence a rail bridge was commissioned and the Britannia Bridge was built by Robert Stephenson in 1850. Anglesey today is still the primary gateway from Europe to Ireland.

Menai Heritage Experience

The bridges of Telford and Stephenson are the central focus of the artefacts, films, models and drawings on display each Easter and from July to September.

Holyhead Maritime Museum

You can step back in time at the oldest lifeboat station in Wales to enjoy the fascinating displays of the maritime history of Holyhead and Anglesey, the Land Train tour of the harbourfront, the Bistro and gift shop.

Oriel Hanes History Gallery

The history gallery at Oriel Ynys Mon, Llangefni, provides an enthralling introduction to the history of the island from the prehistoric hunters who settled to become farmers, through the industrial developments and tragic shipwrecks to the present day. Winner of a Tourism Award in 2010, and free admission, the gallery is well worth a visit.

 

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