Welcome to our video about King Edward’s planted towns in North Wales!
Planted towns, which in modern words might be called planned towns or planned communities, have been in existence for millenia. The Romans were well known for establishing grid patterns in any new settlement they built, and their street system remains in many British towns. The Anglo-Saxons established planned towns, and as the middle ages progressed, lords and kings at times wanted to establish a town where there hadn’t been one before.
The Normans called these bastides. They were usually created for economic purposes, and were designed for the mutual benefit of the king, the landowner, and the new townsfolk to provide an efficient way of marketing surplus food and other goods and supplying a newly established castle. The landowner would charge a rent for a building plot (a burgage), on which the settler (a burgess), would erect his house and shop, which were often combined. A weekly market could be granted for at least one fair a year. The town often had a wall that was defensible.
What happened in North Wales, primarily Gwynedd after the Edwardian conquest of 1282, however, is another kind of “planted town” entirely. King Edward not only built his iron ring of castles to militarily control the country, he also established English towns within Wales in order to control it economically. Still extant today are the town walls of Caernarfon and Conwy, both world heritage sites, and built by King Edward with the express purpose of suppressing the Welsh in those localities and exerting English influence in the heart of Gwynedd. He planted other towns at Harlech, Denbigh, and Beaumaris, as well as at the formerly Welsh castles of Castell y Bere and Criccieth. Each English town was thus associated with a castle, and in the process of building or rebuilding these castles, he brought English settlers to Wales from England in order to inhabit the newly established towns.
As part of the process, the native Welsh who in many cases already lived in the locations were evicted and their settlements destroyed. Subsequently, all commercial activity in Gwynedd passed through the town and only the town. In most regions, one member of every Welsh family was required to attend a weekly market in the town, and if they failed to do so, were fined or imprisoned. In some cases, if a Welshman was found within the town walls after sundown, he could be taken to the castle and hanged.
Even Criccieth, which began as a Welsh castle built by Llywelyn Fawr, became a new township in 1284; Its charter was intended to create a plantation of English burgesses who would provide food for the soldiers from the arable land behind the castle. Weekly markets were held on Thursdays and there were annual fairs in April and October. The purely English nature of the town continued at least through 1337, when three Welshmen who had settled in the borough were expelled as it was meant to be reserved only for Englishmen.