The area in Brecon Beacons National Park nearby Talgarth, our Welsh homeland.
Our Watkins Family were Welsh, from South Wales more specifically. At this time, we do not have more information on the family in Wales (it is probably available).
Our earliest Watkins American immigrant, James Watkins, was born in 1555 in Talgarth Brecknockshire, Wales. He was the son of Francis Watkins and his wife Elizabeth Lee of Shotten, England.
Records are very unclear about Francis' homeland. Some state that the Welsh family had lived in England for several generations before James emigrated to the New World. Others say that James was born in Talgarth, South Wales.
According to Brythonic Gaelic, the name 'Watkins' means 'little Walt or Walter'. The suffix 'kin' is a diminutive of Walter.
A check of the map in South Wales shows us that Talgarth is right on the north eastern border of Brecon Beacon National Park (UK), near the center and interior of South Wales.
BRECON BEACONS NATIONAL PARK
The Brecon Beacons is a north-facing mountain range in South Wales, near the town of Brecon. The range includes the highest point in southern Britain—Pen y fan, which climbs 2,907 feet (886 meters) high.
The rolling fields of Brecon Beacons National Park are filled with evidence of many years of human history, including single standing stones, or menhirs, from the Bronze Age. Long grass-covered mounds, called cairns, mark stone-chambered Neolithic tombs. The remains of ancient stone circles and Iron Age Celtic hill forts can also be found here.
The Norman Conquest of 1066 sparked a wave of castle construction across Wales. Hundreds were thrown up to consolidate Norman holds on new lands. Today the park is home to the ruins of many such fortresses; the best example is Carreg Cennen, a crumbling walled and towered enclosure that remains perched on the sheer cliffs of a craggy hilltop.
The Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal was once an industrial artery through the center of the modern park. Today its 35 miles (56 kilometers) of towpath wander through picturesque farmland and traditional villages of the Usk Valley from Brecon to Five Locks, Cwmbran. Cyclists can ride on two shorter sections of towpath, and public boat trips or canoe hires allow visitors to take to the water.
Waterfall Country is a realm of steep, wooded gorges where the Mellte, Hepste, and Nedd Fechan Rivers roar over cataracts such as Sgwd yr Eira (Fall of Snow). The entire area between Pontneddfechan and Ystradfellte is open for exploration; some falls are easily accessible, but others take some work to get to them.
Sgwd Clun Gwyn Waterfall, Brecon Beacons National Park, United Kingdom.
Nearly half of the World Heritage site of Blaenavon—dedicated to landmarks of the Industrial Revolution—lies in the national park. The site was home to an enormous iron foundry, the Big Pit coal mine, and surrounding limestone quarries that once fed the iron industry.
Llangorse Lake offers an appealing abode for geese, warblers, starlings, ducks, and other birds, which can be seen from the lakeside hide. The lake also features the remains of an Iron Age crannog, or human-made rock island, on the northern shore. Historians believe the ninth-century King of Brycheiniog may have sheltered here from marauding Vikings.
THE VILLAGE OF TALGARTH
Talgarth is a small market town and community in southern Powys (Breconshire), Mid Wales, with a population of 1,645. Notable buildings in the town include its 14th-century parish church and 13th century Pele Tower, located in the town centre, now home to the Tourist Information and Resource Centre. According to traditional accounts Talgarth was the capital of the early medieval Welsh Kingdom of Brycheiniog.
HISTORY OF THE NAME OF THE TOWN
Earliest names on record: Talgar c. 1163–74, Talgard c.100, 1204–14, Talgarth c1100, kwmwd talgarth [note: printed as shown in reference book in lower case letters]c.1566, Talgarth Ughporthe 1569, Talgarth hewchporth 1541-3, English Talgarthe 1575, Englysshe Talgarth 1331. Inglisshe Talgarth 1520 The meaning of the name is in the Welsh for tal-forehead or brow of a hill and garth – mountain ridge or promontory. The church of Talgarth in 1488 was dedicated to Sce Wenne Virginis, explained as Gwen (granddaughter of Brychan, and have said to have been murdered by Saxons.
The Talgarth Town Hall.
ABOUT THE TOWN
In August, the Talgarth Festival of the Black Mountains is held, a popular event attracting thousands of people each year. The town also has a Christmas lights display each year, organized by Talgarth Town Council and a team of volunteers.
Talgarth War Memorial
Talgarth held important links with healthcare for many years as the home of the large psychiatric hospital, the Mid Wales Hospital and the Mid and West Wales College of Nursing and Midwifery. The town was extremely prosperous until the 1980s when changes in health legislation saw the need for such hospitals to be closed. The Mid Wales closed for good in the 1990s with the loss of hundreds of jobs. Since then the town has suffered socially and economically and as a result lost businesses and shops and confidence among residents, similar to the effects of the South Wales Valleys mining towns.
The Strand is a café and bookshop at the jnuction of Regent Street and Penbont Road to the south of the centre of the Black Mountains market town of Talgarth.
The town, however, is in the early stages of regeneration and its popularity and thriving nature is hoped to be brought back. This is very much a result of the completion of the Talgarth Relief Road and Bronllys bypass completed in 2007. The existing derelict Mill in the centre of the town is currently being renovated to make space for a community/tourism hub which will be sustainably powered by the working wheel, renovations are now complete on the Medieval Tower Bridge, after damage over the years by heavy traffic, and help for new businesses is emerging, amongst many other initiatives.
The Bethlehem Presbyterian Church on Back Lane in Talgarth
Talgarth is also becoming a place for artists and writers. Richard Livsey, who was brought up in the town and lived nearby, took the title of Lord Livsey of Talgarth when raised to the peerage on resigning his seat in the House of Commons.
Evidence exists that settlement and cultivation of the area occurred at least the last 5,000 years and possibly since 5000 BCE. There are a large number of chambered long cairns, including the oldest known in Southern Britain. Megalithic standing stone, round cairns and the British Iron Age hill fort at Castell Dinas show that there was a large and stable population and settlement here. The Romans were in this area and there was a Roman camp at "Y Gaer" near Pendre, 1 km from Talgarth.
THE DARK AGES
Talgarth was the royal residence of Brychan King of Brycheiniog in the 5th century AD. With three wives, 24 daughters and 22 sons the family was an important force in Wales at that time. Responsible for the spread of Christianity throughout Brecknock, the daughters of Brychan and their descendants account for almost all of the Saints of South Wales and include the grandmother of Saint David. According to legend they also evangelised north Cornwall.
According to legend Talgarth was raided by King Gwynllyw in search of a bride. St. Gwendoline is believed to have bathed in the pool at Pwll-y-Wrach waterfall and is buried at the site of the present church, in Talgarth. This site was a Celtic monastery in the 5th century with the church being established in the 11th century.
The town was seized by the Norman Bernard of Neufmarché before 1088 when a charter was made concerning the district. Castell Dinas was the initial site where a Norman castle was established by the Normans to control the passes on both sides.
The town was in the manor of English Talgarth, there being also a manor of Welsh Talgarth, in which Welsh laws prevailed.
THE METHODIST REVIVAL
In 1735 Talgarth saw the birth of the Welsh Methodist revival when Hywel Harris, probably the most influential person to come from Talgarth, was converted in Talgarth church while listening to a sermon by the Rev. Pryce Davies. The revival would sweep across Wales leading to the development of one of the most influential Welsh denominations that of the Calvinistic Methodists. It was at Talgarth William Williams Pantycelyn converted leading him to become one of Wales's most important hymn writers. Nearby is Trevecca the location of the famous college that Harris established.
BUILDINGS AND OTHER SITES OF NOTE
- Talgarth Mill
- Talgarth's Victorian Town Hall with its memorial clock tower overlooks the Square.
- The Medieval Tower House, also overlooking the Square.
- The Tower Hotel was built in 1873 for the gentleman farmers to attend the livestock market, which still exists.
- St. Gwendoline's Church. (Saint Wenna (born ca. 463) was a princess and a daughter of Brychan who founded the church of Talgarth and then evangelised parts of north Cornwall. She founded the church of St Wenn and chapels at St Kew and Cheristowe (in Stoke-by-Hartland, Devon). She died on 18 October, year unknown. Saint Gwendoline is a saint from the 8th century.)
- Nearby Bronllys Castle.
CHAMBERED TOMBS – Penywyrlod
A Neolithic chambered tomb at Penywyrlod, Talgarth (c. 4000 BC) was discovered in June 1972 by a farmer when clearing a stone mound from a field for use as hard-standing in the farmyard. The discovery led to archaeological excavation of the site by Dr. Savory of the National Museum of Wales. During the excavation a number of human remains were found along with a bone flute, a human rib and some worked flints and stone. The bone flute was made from a sheep metapodial bone. It has three holes and may either have been a simple flute or whistle. The larger hole may have been the blow-hole. This is the oldest dated musical instrument found from Wales.
Talgarth also has a nearby gliding club (Sailplanes) called the Black Mountains Gliding Club, which attracts many visitors from all of the UK, due to the year round ability to remain airborne; by means of mountain lift, both ridge lift and wave lift.
There are a number of riding operators in the area who hire out horses for both experienced and novice riders. The mountains and moorland are very suitable for relaxed ascents with some opportunities to canter and gallop on the commons near the town.
The Black Mountains, Wales above the town are very good for upland hiking and hill-walking. The mountain ridges are around 2000 feet high with the highest point called Waun Fach at 811 metres ( 2,660 feet).
LANDSCAPE AND NATURAL HISTORY
Pwll-y-Wrach waterfall, near Talgarth
There is an ancient woodland along the banks of the River Ennig just 1 km from the town centre. There are a series of waterfalls within the wood. The largest is called Pwll-y-wrach, which means 'Witches Pool'. Local legend suggests that witches may have been ducked in this pool in medieval times. There is a geology trail, explaining the environment of 400 million years ago. A large part of Pwllwrach wood is a nature reserve, owned and managed by the Brecknock Wildlife Trust.
SITE OF SPECIAL SCIENTIFIC INTEREST
Pwll-y-wrach wood is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) because of its special habitat values and the existence of some quite rare plants, including the small leaved Lime tree and the Lesser butterfly-orchid. These are regarded as indicator plants of Ancient Woodland. That is an area that has retained a continuous cover of trees for thousands of years.
In the local little valleys have been found the remains of ancient armoured fossil fishes within the (Red )Upper Silurian and Lower Devonian rocks, sometimes referred to as the Lower Old Red Sandstone. Microscopic analysis has found fish scales and fin spines of these ancient fish some 410 million years old. The research carried out by a local man, Roderick Williams. The remains were then sent to Australia to a fossil fish expert Dr Sue Turner for photographing and finally a scientific paper was published on these findings. Within the area of Talgarth the geology requires more long term research as a rare spider like fossil was found at Tredomen quarry and remains of very ancient plants from the same age rocks. There is evidence of volcanic activity in the formation of air fall 'Tuffs' in the layers of rocks, blown out from a distant volcano. The nature of these tuffs infer an explosive type of eruption from volcanoes sited on the edge of a continental subuction zone. The whole area was probably tectonically unstable at the time. We have to realise that the area was once part of a greater landmass situated just south of the equator aome 400 million years ago. Such is the power of extremely slow continental drift northwards on a liquified mantle beneath the Earth's crust.
There are no known sources of metallic minerals in the immediate locality, there is some barytes in Pwll-y-Wrach which is intrusive from rocks below. There is a small source of lead ore at the Gospel Pass in the upper reaches of the Honddu where strings of galena were found circa 1800. There was also a trial mine for copper at Felin Fach nearer Brecon in the 17th century. Some rather interesting ore mixture was found but as for copper there appears none. There was further exploration in the 19th century when speculation was running high, a fallen in shaft and tunnel still exists. Copper in the form of small malachite green patches has been found in rocks at the base of a large mountain gulley above Velindre. It is not known if this was exploited but the area has been referred to as the 'copper works' in a manuscript on beating the boundary of Llanigon parish. Limestone in the form of 'calcrete' within the local sandstone rocks has been burnt for lime in many places across the Black Mountains for both mortar and agricultural uses. Limekilns were once very common before the coming of the railways, some now ruins but many more have been dismantled.
FLORA AND FAUNA
In spring the wood is carpeted with a succession of wildflowers leading to a mass display of bluebells in mid-spring followed by ramsons in late spring. Animals found in the wood include Tawny owls, badgers, foxes and otters with some uncommon birds such as dippers and Pied Flycatchers.
The wood is also home to the most important colony of dormouse in the region and some uncommon bats, including the lesser horseshoe bat.