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  • Writer's pictureVictoria Davies

The History of Criccieth in a Nutshell

"Pearl of Wales on the Shores of Snowdonia".

Criccieth is a popular seaside town on the Llyn peninsula in the Eifionydd area of Gwynedd in Wales. The town lies 5 miles west of Porthmadog, 9 miles east of Pwllheli and 3.5 miles south of Ysgubor Degwm. Criccieth has a population of around 1,753 people.

Criccieth is noted for its fairs, held around the 23 May and 29 June every year. Large numbers of people visit the fairground and the market which spreads through many of the streets.

Famous people associated with the town include the British prime minister, David Lloyd George, who grew up in the nearby village of Llanystumdwy, and poet William George. Group Captain Leslie Bonnet, RAF officer, writer and originator of the Welsh Harlequin Duck and his wife Joan Hutt, artist, both lived at Ymwlch just outside Criccieth from 1949 until they died in 1985.

The earliest recorded form of the place name Criccieth in Welsh is found in Brut y Tywysogion where reference is made to the imprisonment of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn in the 'castle of Cruceith'. The form Cruciaith was used by Iolo Goch in a famous 14th-century poem addressed to Sir Hywel y Fwyall, custodian of the castle. There are several theories as to the meaning. Still, the most popular is that it comes from Crug Caeth: caeth may mean 'prisoner' and thus the name could mean prisoner's rock, a reference to the imprisonment of one of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth's sons in the castle by his brother. In later medieval times the settlement was also known as Treferthyr (martyr's town), probably a reference to Saint Catherine, after whom the parish church is named.

The area around Criccieth was settled during the Bronze Age, and a chambered tomb, Cae Dyni, survives on the coast to the east of the town; it consists of seven upright stones, and there are 13 cup marks, arranged in several groups. Evidence from other sites on the Llŷn Peninsula suggests that the area was colonised by a wave of Celtic settlers, who explored the Irish Sea, probably around the 4th century BC.

Although it is thought that Criccieth Castle was built around 1230 by Llywelyn ab Iorwerth, who had controlled the area since 1202, the first record of t

he building was in 1239, when the administrative centre of Eifionydd was moved from Dolbenmaen.

In the later years of his life, Llywelyn turned his attention to his successor. Welsh law stipulated that illegitimate sons had equal rights with legitimate sons; Llywelyn sought to ensure that Dafydd ap Llywelyn, his legitimate offspring, would inherit Gwynedd in place of his eldest, but illegitimate, son Gruffydd. On Llywelyn's death in 1240, Dafydd sought to secure his position. Dafydd was half English and feared that his pure Welsh half-brother would be able to gather support to overthrow him. Gruffydd was held prisoner in Criccieth Castle, until he was handed over to Henry III of England in 1241, and moved to the Tower of London.

Dafydd ap Llywelyn died in 1246, without leaving an heir, and was succeeded by Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, his nephew. Edward I, had inherited the English throne in 1272, and in 1276 declared Llywelyn a rebel. By 1277, Edward's armies had captured the Isle of Anglesey, and were encamped at Deganwy; the settlement, the Treaty of Aberconwy, forced Llywelyn to acknowledge Edward as his sovereign and stripped him of much of his territory. Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Llywelyn's younger brother, attacked the English forces at Hawarden in 1282, setting off a widespread rebellion throughout Wales; Edward responded with a further invasion of Gwynedd, during which Llywelyn was killed on the battlefield at Cilmeri.

In 1282 Criccieth Castle became part of a ring of castles surrounding Edward I's newly conquered territories in Wales. With the final defeat of Gwynedd, Edward set about consolidating his rule in Wales. Criccieth Castle was extended and reshaped, becoming one of a ring of castles surrounding Edward's newly conquered territories. A township developed to support the garrison, and a charter was granted in 1284. The charter was intended to create a plantation of English freemen. They would provide food for the soldiers from the arable land and the grazings on the slopes beyond. Weekly markets were held on Thursdays, and there were annual fairs on 25 April and 18 October, the evangelical feasts of Saint Mark and Saint Luke.

The new administration soon proved unpopular among the native Welsh, and in 1294, Madog ap Llywelyn led a national revolt against English rule. Criccieth was besieged for several months over the winter; 41 residents sought refuge within its walls, joining the garrison of 29 men under William de Leybourne until supplies were brought in from Ireland the following April. The next year, the castle was again used as a prison, housing captives taken in Edward's wars against Scotland.

Hywel ap Gruffydd was appointed constable of the castle in 1359, the first Welshman to hold the post. The following year came mayor of the town, holding the office for twenty years; in a poem of praise, Iolo Goch described him as "a puissant knight, head of a garrison guarding the land". By 1374 eight jurymen from the borough had Welsh names.

Richard II was deposed and imprisoned in 1399 and died in mysterious circumstances the following year. Opposition to the new king, Henry IV, was particularly strong in Wales and Cheshire, and in 1400 serious civil unrest broke out in Chester. Henry had already declared Owain Glyndŵr, a descendant of the Princes of Powys, a traitor, and on 16 September 1400, Owain launched a revolt. He was proclaimed Prince of Wales, and within days several towns in the northeast of Wales had been attacked. By 1401 the whole of northern and central Wales had rallied to Owain's cause, and by 1403 villages throughout the country were rising in support. English castles and manor houses fell and were occupied by Owain's supporters. Although the garrison at Criccieth Castle had been reinforced, a French fleet in the Irish Sea stopped supplies getting through, and the castle fell in the spring of 1404. The castle was sacked; its walls were torn down; and both the castle and borough were burned. The castle was never to be reoccupied.

The town expanded in the 19th century with the coming of new transportation links. In 1807 a turnpike road was built from Tremadog to Porthdinllaen, which was intended to be the main port for traffic to Ireland. With the construction of the Aberystwith and Welsh Coast Railway in 1868, the town began to develop as a Victorian seaside resort.

Criccieth solicitor David Lloyd George was elected as Liberal Member of Parliament for the Caernarfon Boroughs in 1890. He was to hold the seat for 55 years, during which he was Prime Minister from 1916 to 1922, winning the First World War ('the man who won the war') through brilliant administration, leadership skills and personal energy, and negotiating the ill-fated Versailles peace treaty.

Before that he was one of the leading welfare reformers of the 20th century, starting pensions and unemployment payments. His position as a leading statesman brought Criccieth national and international prominence that it had never previously enjoyed; the town still has many locations connected with Lloyd George and his family.

Disaster struck Criccieth in October 1927; a great storm in the Irish Sea stopped the tidal flow, causing a double high tide. High seas and strong on-shore winds destroyed houses at Abermarchnad, the pressure of the waves punching holes through the back walls; the buildings subsequently had to be demolished, and the occupants rehoused.

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