Abergavenny Flannel and the Hen and Chick(en)s

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Abergavenny was once famous for its flannel, valued in particular for its delicacy. According to Archdeacon Coxe, who toured Monmouthshire in the summer of 1798 and wrote down all his findings and encounters in a fascinating account, this was partly due to the especially fine species of wool provided by the local sheep. Also the water in the vicinity was well adapted to making the cloth “soft and delicate.”

Yet the profitable trade in this material was transferred to Longtown (other accounts say Newtown) where they produced a tissue “inferior in silkiness and softness”. The reason for this puzzling change was explained by William Coxe as the fault of the Abergavenny merchants who rolled their pieces so that inspection was made difficult because these rolls concealed defects whereas the Longtown folk folded theirs so that the whole could be examined.

It would seem that our natives undermined their own prosperity and yet the street at the top of town is still called Flannel Street and a plaque commemorates the manufacture in the mill which stood where Boots is now. In the first volume of the St Mary’s parish registers of 1558 and also 1650, the street is called Butchers’ Row: in medieval towns streets containing one trade only were common.

According to the Abergavenny Local History Society Street Survey, Flannel Street once linked Cross Street (the main thoroughfare of the walled town) to Castle Street. From archaeological evidence, this was the area of prehistoric settlement and later, in the 11th and 12th centuries, it was the main street of the Norman town. During excavations in the 1960’s the Abergavenny Archaeology Group found pottery and a flint arrowhead from the Bronze Age and, finally, the north west gateway and ditch of the Roman Fort of Gobannium were discovered.  The line of Flannel Street follows almost exactly the path of the Roman ditch.

A little way along Flannel Street you will find the Hen and Chicks pub: it is a test of whether or not you are a local that you know you must use the familiar nickname for your local! It is a real pub (and it serves an excellent Mocha and lunches) which acts as a community centre, hosting poetry evenings, live music, a book club, coffee mornings and other events. It is dog and family friendly and I spent many hours here as a fledgling poet having my work analysed by members of the then Scriveners group led by artist, poet, writer and jazz musician, Abergavenny and nationwide celebrity, Jeff Nuttall. The pub has a welcoming atmosphere and it feels great to sit and sip on the site of a Roman ditch!

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About Author

Poet with six published collections, the most recent being "The Cartographer Sleeps" (Shoestring Press) launched at the Ledbury Poetry Festival.

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