The History of Tintern
As a fordable spot on the Wye, the place where the village of Tintern developed is surely one that would have attracted settlers well before our recorded history begins, and indeed evidence of Bronze Age habitation has been found in the area. The Celts certainly settled on the spot, and when they were conquered by the Romans the site became a mixed one, perhaps a military camp of some sort to guard the ford.
Through the Dark Ages Tintern was part of the Kingdom of Gwent, resisting Saxon incursions – the Battle of Pont y Saison possibly fought by King Tewdric, a hermit for a time in Tintern, against the invading Saxons . It has been suggested that the name of the village - though it should be pointed out that in fact two separate villages existed until relatively modern times - may be derived from the Welsh din and teyrn, meaning ‘rocks of the king,’
The Norman Conquest meant a change of overlord for the settlement. But more significantly in local terms it eventually brought the religious foundation that dominated the place for four centuries. On May 9 1131 Walter de Clare established a Cistercian Abbey at Tintern, bringing monks from Cîteaux in France.
The arrival of a richly endowed Abbey brought a degree of prosperity for Tintern: firstly in providing much of the labour to build the place; but also though the Cistercians believed in providing for themselves they would have been a ready market for local produce and some services; and an abbey drew visitors, again an economic opportunity for local people. For the next four centuries this work continued, as buildings were added, repaired or altered: for example from 1270 to 1301 the Abbey was expanded, eventually housing 400 monks; and the great church constructed.
Tintern happily avoided most of the seemingly interminable conflict for control of Wales in the early medieval period, but it did host Edward II in 1326.
Henry VIII ’s Dissolution of the Monasteries affected Tintern hugely: the loss of such an institution, though at the end it held far fewer monks than in its glory days, was a blow to the local economy. Abbot Wyche gave up the Abbey on September 3 1536, leaving with the remaining 12 monks.
Three decades after the Abbey closed a new chapter began for Tintern: a wire works opened in 1568, the spot chosen for its natural resources, namely abundant forests providing fuel; the navigable Wye an arterial transport route; the Angiddy stream easily harnessed to give water power; and iron ore available in the district. It is also thought that the first brass made in this country could have been produced here.
In the 17th century forges were built nearby, but subsequently the Industrial Revolution was not kind to Tintern, water-power no match for the steam-power developed elsewhere, and the last of the wire works closed eventually in the 19th century.
As industry declined, however, tourism – and artistic links – grew. Henry Fielding is thought to have written Tom Jones while living at the Manor House; when the French Revolution made foreign travel difficult such relatively wild places became fashionable for the wealthy and the romantic to visit: Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy spent time there in 1798; Southey was another poetic visitor; and J.M.W. Turner painted there.
Tourism was facilitated by the opening of a toll-pike in 1822; and finally by the arrival of the railway (long gone now) in 1875. Today tourism – visitors of course particularly attracted to the abbey ruins – remains strong in this beautiful spot in the marches .
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