Wales

The modern city of St Asaph sits on the River Elwy (the place is called Llanelwy in Welsh) in Denbighshire. At various times the city has been recorded as being in Flintshire and Clwyd but is now clearly rooted in Denbighshire.

There is a prehistoric site at nearby Pontnewydd where the jawbone of a Neanderthal man, some quarter of a million years old, was discovered in 1981. It is also possible that the Romans built a fort in the area that now boasts St Asaph Cathedral.

Tradition states that St Asaph was originally the site of a monastery founded by Saint Kentigern in the late sixth century. However, it is far more likely that the diocese was founded by the Normans in around about the year 1143. The present cathedral dates from the 14th century, the Norman structure being burned by Edward I and his troops in 1282.

The rebuilt church suffered burning again, this time at the hands of Owain Glyndwr in 1402 although the stone nave and transepts, as well as the tower, survived this second burning. During the period of the Commonwealth the cathedral, like many others across Britain, was despoiled and used to house cows, pigs, sheep and horses.

Following the Restoration of Charles II, the cathedral was again brought into use as a place of worship. The building underwent major refurbishment and re-building in the 1870s and still contains the only medieval canopied stalls in Wales.

For many years St Asaph was always listed and written about as a city but this honour was largely forgotten - despite the town having a cathedral - for most of the 20th century. Restoration of city status was applied for in 2000 and again on the occasion of the Queen's Golden Jubilee in 2002, but both times it was refused. Finally, the requests were successful and letters patent, granting St Asaph city status, were received on 1 July 2012.

Prince Charles in St Asaph, 9 July 2012

The city itself is small, a population figure of just over 3,000 being recorded in the 2001 census. But the people with St Asaph connections are many and varied, from footballer Ian Rush to golfer Becky Brewerton, from poet Felicia Dorothea Hemans to composer William Mathias.

Mathias was the first director of the North Wales Music Festival, held each year in the city. He died in 1992 and is buried in the churchyard. Henry Morton Stanley, the explorer and discoverer of the lost Dr Livingstone, spent part of his childhood in the St Asaph workhouse, while in 1920 AG Edwards was enthroned as the first Archbishop of Wales at the cathedral.

Perhaps the most famous person with St Asaph connections, however, is Bishop William Morgan. In 1558 he translated and published the first Bible in Welsh. Morgan lived a life of great austerity and was buried in the churchyard, but the exact location of his grave is unknown.

The cathedral at St Asaph has the distinction of being the smallest Anglican Cathedral in Britain. Like the city itself, it may be small but it has a huge history.

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  • Comment number 3. Posted by Deb Fisher

    on 14 Apr 2013 12:44

    My memory of St Asaph is of staying at a "hotel and restaurant" there, finding that the restaurant was closed because of Bank Holiday, and fruitlessly searching the main street for a sit-down meal for four tired, hungry people who had just walked a large section of the Offa's Dyke Path. In desperation we entered a small, worn-looking pub and asked "I don't suppose you're doing any food". The landlord gave us a suspicious look and said, "It's up to my wife". The lady in question, who was sitting having a drink in the bar, said that she would cook for us as long as we were prepared to take whatever she gave us. It was, without doubt, one of the best meals I've ever had - great, thick Cumberland sausage, cooked to perfection, with chips and peas - and what's more, it was a fraction of the price other places were charging!

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  • Comment number 2. Posted by Phil

    on 5 Apr 2013 07:52

    As far as I am aware St David's is the smallest city in Britain. Ely in Cambridgeshire is small but St David's is smaller. It has a population of about 1800, I think - half the size of St Asaph. In Pembrokeshire, when I was growing up, we always called it a city but it didn't actually receive formal acknowledgement of city status until 1994 - a bit like St Asaph.

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  • Comment number 1. Posted by Noreen

    on 4 Apr 2013 21:03

    St Asaph is a beautiful little place, like many similar towns (sorry, the place is now a city) across the North wales coast. But am I correct in thinking it's not the smallest city in Britain? I was always told that was St David's in Pembrokeshire. Is that correct?

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