Trellech United is not the name of a football team but the title given to the community just south of Monmouth.
It contains several small hamlets but the village of Trellech is the central and most important part of the whole community – and one that has a fascinating historical past.
The name Trellech derives from three standing stones or slabs of pudding stone in the village, known as Harold's Stones – which is something of a misnomer as they date from the Bronze Age and precede King Harold by thousands of years. There was originally a fourth stone but it was destroyed in the 18th century.
The town of Trellech – and it was, originally, a town – owes its origin to the De Clare family. It was founded with the specific intention of developing and mining the supplies of iron ore and charcoal in the region.
In effect, this small community was the main arsenal of the De Clare's, providing the base metal for their armour and weapons. These were essential ingredients for the Norman advance into Wales, which eventually led the De Clare family to establish and build the massive castle at Caerphilly.
This was not, however, a small community. There is every possibility that in the 19th century Trellech was the most populous town in Wales. Certainly by 1288 it contained 378 burgage plots, making the community larger than nearby places such as Cardiff and Chepstow. It must have been a bustling and lively place with numerous iron workings and all of the small businesses associated with such a prosperous town.
Death and decline
However, after the death of Gilbert De Clare at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, Trellech fell into a slow but steady decline. Many of the buildings - most of which would have been made just out of wattle and daub - had already been partially destroyed in a skirmish or raid in 1291 after a dispute over deer poaching. In 1340 the Black Death hit the town. Hundreds of townspeople died, just as they did in other communities across Britain.
The plague returned once more in 1350 and after the chaos and destruction caused by the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr at the beginning of the 15th century Trellech abdicated its previous position in both importance and prosperity.
It wasn't all a backward step as in the 17th century there were iron and wire works established at nearby Llandogo. Later, between the end of the 18th century and 1880, a number of paper making mills were also created. Llandogo Quay on the River Wye became, for a few short years, a significant trading port but, sadly, it was not to last and the area soon subsided into rural peace and quiet solemnity.
Towards the end of the 20th century, archaeological work by Stuart Wilson - a student who bought a field and went looking for the remains of the old medieval community – revealed that, in all probability, the original town stretched out along the road to Catbrook. It has now long disappeared but the ruins of ancient walls have been enough to convince most historians and archaeologists.
Sites of note
There are five churches of medieval origin in the community of Trellech United. The Church of St Nicholas in Trellech itself is undoubtedly the grandest with its wonderful spire and spacious interior that make it one of the most impressive churches in the whole county of Monmouthshire. It remains the focal point for the village and while the present building is at least 600 years old there has been a place of worship on the site for much longer than that.
The Tump is now all that remains of an old Norman motte and bailey castle in the community, in one of the fields of a local farm. Standing 40 feet high this motte has a sinister reputation. Total calamity, it is claimed, will befall anyone who ever tries to excavate the mound - Trellech's own version of the curse of the Pharaohs!
At St Anne's Well, alongside the road to Tintern on the east of Trellech, is another ancient site of note. It was once believed that the waters from this well, impregnated with the iron that had brought the De Clares here in the first place, had curative powers. Sadly, these properties were not exploited as they were at places such as Bath and Cheltenham.
The game of “What if?” is a dangerous one but, who knows, if someone had thought to make use of these magical waters, the history of the village could have been very different.
The philosopher and writer Bertrand Russell was born at Trellech and in the 1970s the drug smuggler turned writer Howard Marks lived in the village. Richard Potter, father of the children's writer Beatrix Potter also came from the area.
Trellech United is a quiet and peaceful community. The residents probably wouldn't want it any other way but for anyone with a sense of history or enjoyment of the past, it was once a place of real significance. And there is always that simple phrase - “What if?”