To many people, Tintern means the Abbey, and for many visitors that is all they see when they visit the village. What a pity! They are missing so much as the 400 year period when the Abbey was operational is just a small part of the history of the community
It is very easy to dismiss the relevance of our parish. It doesn't feature widely in the history books and is understandably overlooked. Perhaps this belittles the efforts of our forefathers who struggled to make a living in this valley, ultimately making the community what it is today.
There is evidence of Bronze Age activity, and then a Celtic tribe ruled the area until the coming of the Romans. On the site of the Abbey, there was a Romano-Celtic settlement. The Romans forded the Wye at Tintern before they built a bridge downstream at Chepstow. Perhaps there was a tavern here even then to serve the Romans as they waited for the tide to drop to make their crossing.
After the withdrawal of the Romans from Wales, the Kingdom of Gwent emerged, and in the 6th century one of their great kings, Tewdric, came out of retirement as a Tintern hermit, to defeat the invading Saxons at a mighty battle at a site still known today as Pont y Saison (Bridge of the Saxons).
By 765 AD, Christianity was well established in the Valley, and in Tintern the church of St. Michael was functioning. By the end of the 7th century, Offa had built his dyke and Tintern was well and truly on the Welsh side of the border in the Cantref of Is Coed. The Viking longship was no stranger to the Wye as they rowed as far as Monmouth. On an autumn morning it is not difficult to imagine longships emerging from the mists that cling close to the river.
In the 11th century the Normans arrived, eventually bringing with them the builders of the Abbey. For the next four centuries this dominated the village and stamped on the area the geographical structure still evident today. Their lands were divided into agricultural units or granges, and these are easily recognisable in the farms today. Local labour provided workers on these granges and gave the services required by the Abbey and its many illustrious visitors, such as taverns, smithies etc.
During this period the battles between Welsh Princes and English Kings had some effect, the closest battle being won in 1404 by the Welsh Prince, Owain Glyndwr, at Craig y Dorth about seven miles away on the southern outskirts of Monmouth. The area also had to contend with the Black Death and it is suspected that the neighbouring village of Penterry disappeared at that time.
The closure of the Abbey in 1536 must have devasted the local economy, but matters improved again in the 1560s with the arrival of the wireworks. Engineers looking for a site for the manufacture of iron and brass for ordnance purposes chanced upon Tintern. It offered all that was required. The Wye for transportation, the Angiddy stream for water power, trees for fuel and charcoal and a ready supply of minerals in the locality.
Although the first brass in Britain was produced at Tintern, the brass works soon became the wire works and the wire produced employed some 100 men in Tintern at the site now known as the Forestry Yard. Throughout the county, upwards of 5000 people were manufacturing goods from the wire. Hooks, eyes, needles, wire combs, farthingales, bird cages etc were among the final products.
For the next 300 years the numerous wire works and forges along the Angiddy valley dominated the village and surrounding communities. The managers even paid for preachers and schoolmasters. The Industrial Revolution finally put paid to it all and by the end of the 19th century all the works had closed.
Fortune smiled on the village however. Tourism had started towards the end of the 18th century but the arrival of the Wye Valley Railway in the 1870s greatly increased the number of visitors. Apart from the forest surrounding the village, tourism became the main stay of Tintern's economy.
The opening of the A466 road between Chepstow and Monmouth also brought modern visitors to Tintern. An amusing note from the 1930s in the parish minutes refers to a charabanc of visitors driving through the village, hurling empty pop bottles at the inhabitants.
The railway has now sadly gone, and what was considered a financial drag in the sixties could have been a superb asset for locals and visitors to use and enjoy today. The A466 has to suffice to bring us visitors. On sunny weekends the road is very busy with coaches and cars and their occupants admiring the valley, the woods and the river. Motor cyclists also love the road as its curves and bends give them an exciting ride between Chepstow and Monmouth. On other days the A466 becomes just a quiet thoroughfare not living up to its "A" road status at all.
These notes were based on a talk given by Judith Russill to the Brockweir ladies Group.