Aberystwyth (English: Mouth of the River Ystwyth) is a historic market town, administrative centre and holiday resort within Ceredigion, Wales. It is often colloquially known as Aber, and is located at the confluence of the River Ystwyth and Rheidol.
In modern times Aberystwyth has become a major Welsh educational centre. The permanent population is around 12,000, but for nine months of the year the 7,000 resident students associated with Aberystwyth University take this total to about 19,500 people.
The town is situated near the confluence of the rivers Ystwyth and Rheidol, about midway down the length of Cardigan Bay. Although the name may seem to suggest otherwise, only the River Rheidol actually passes through the town – the River Ystwyth only just skirts the town, following the reconstruction of the harbour.
Aberystwyth has a pier and a fine seafront which stretches from Constitution Hill at the north end of the Promenade to the mouth of the harbour at the south, taking in two separate beach stretches divided by the castle. Today it is essentially made up of four different areas: Aberystwyth town, Llanbadarn Fawr, Waunfaur and Penparcau, with Penparcau being the most populous.
Aberystwyth is an extremely isolated town, considering the population density of the United Kingdom. The nearest substantial settlements are located at least 1 hour 45 minutes drive away: Swansea, to the south, is 70 miles (110 km) away; Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, England, to the east, is 75 miles (120 km) away; and Wrexham, to the north-east, is approximately 80 miles (130 km) away. The capital, Cardiff, is over 100 miles (160 km) away.
Aberystwyth is a major tourist centre and a cultural link between North Wales and South Wales. Constitution Hill is scaled by the Aberystwyth Electric Cliff Railway giving access to fine views and other attractions at the top, while much of the finest scenery in Mid Wales lies within easy reach of the town. This includes the wilderness of the Cambrian Mountains, whose valleys contain forests and meadows which have changed little in centuries. A convenient way of reaching the interior is by the preserved narrow gauge Vale of Rheidol Railway.
Although the town is relatively modern, it contains a number of historic buildings, including the remains of the castle and the old buildings of the University College of Wales nearby. The Old College was originally intended to be a hotel, but due to a lack of funds the shell of the building was sold to the university. The new university campus overlooks Aberystwyth from Penglais Hill to the east of the town centre. The terminus for the standard gauge railway is also very impressive being built in 1924 in typical style of the period.
The architecture is a mix of Gothic, Classical Revival and Victorian, and the town is sometimes referred to as “the Oxbridge of Wales”.
The town is generally regarded as the capital of Mid Wales, and several institutions have regional or national offices there. Perhaps the most important of the public bodies located in Aberystwyth is the National Library of Wales. The library also incorporates the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales, one of six British regional film archives. The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, which maintains and curates the National Monuments Record of Wales (NMRW), provides the public with information about the built heritage of Wales. Aberystwyth is also the home to the national offices of UCAC and Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, and the site of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research. The Welsh Books Council and the offices of the standard historical dictionary of Welsh, Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, are also located in Aberystwyth.
Schools and University
Aberystwyth has two comprehensive schools serving the town and a wide rural area, Ysgol Gyfun Gymunedol Penweddig, the only entirely Welsh-medium secondary school in Ceredigion, and Ysgol Penglais, the only entirely English-medium secondary school in Ceredigion. It is also home to Aberystwyth University which was founded in 1872 and was the first university institution to be established in Wales.
There is evidence that during the Mesolithic Age the area of Tan-y-Bwlch at the foot of Pen Dinas (Penparcau) was used as a flint knapping floor for hunter gatherers making weapons from flint that was deposited as the ice retreated.
The remains of a Celtic fortress on Pen Dinas (or more correctly ”Dinas Maelor”), a hill in Penparcau overlooking Aberystwyth, indicates that the site was inhabited before 700 BC. On a hill south of the present town, across the River Ystwyth, are the remains of a medieval ringfort believed to be the castle from which Princess Nest was abducted. This rare survival is now on private land and can only be accessed by arrangement.
The recorded history of Aberystwyth, however, may be said to date from the building of a fortress by Richard de Clare, also known as Strongbow, in 1109. This was located about a mile and a half south of today”s town, on a hill over the south bank of the Ystwyth River. Edward I replaced Strongbow”s castle in 1277, after its destruction by the Welsh. His castle was however built in a different location, at the current Castle Hill, the high point of the town. Between the years 1404 and 1408 Aberystwyth Castle was in the hands of Owain Glyndŵr, but finally surrendered to Prince Harry (the future King Henry V of England). Shortly after this the town was incorporated under the title of Ville de Lampadarn (the ancient name of the place being Llanbadarn Gaerog, or the fortified Llanbadarn, to distinguish it from Llanbadarn Fawr, the village one mile (1.6 km) inland). It is thus styled in a Royal charter granted by Henry VIII, but by Elizabeth I”s time the town was invariably termed Aberystwyth in all documents. In 1649 the Parliamentarian troops razed the castle, so that its remains are now inconsiderable, though portions of three towers still exist. Excavations in the 1970s within the castle, in what is believed to be a stables area, revealed a complete male skeleton, deliberately buried. Rarely surviving in Wales” acidic soil, this skeleton was probably preserved by the addition of lime from the collapsed building. Affectionately known as “Charlie”, he probably dates from the English Civil War period, probably dying during the Parliamentarian siege and is now housed in the Ceredigion Museum in the town.
The Cambrian Railway line from Machynlleth reached Aberystwyth in the 1860s closely followed by rail links to Carmarthen which resulted in the construction of the town”s impressive station. The railway”s arrival gave rise to something of a Victorian tourist boom and the town was once even billed as the “Biarritz of Wales”. During this time a number of hotels and fine townhouses were built including the Queens Hotel. One of the largest of these hotels “The Castle Hotel” was never completed as a hotel but following bankruptcy was sold cheaply to the Welsh National University Committee, a group of people dedicated to the creation of a Welsh University. The University College of Wales (later to become Aberystwyth University) was founded in 1872 in this building.
Aberystwyth was a contributory parliamentary borough until the Third Reform Act, which caused its representation to be merged into that of the county in 1885.
The Vale of Rheidol Railway narrow gauge line from Devil”s Bridge was constructed between 1901 and 1902, intended to ship mineral traffic, primarily lead, from Devil”s Bridge down to Aberystwyth for trans-shipment. By the time it was finished the lead mines were in a deep downturn and it therefore came to rely largely on the tourist industry. The railway opened for passengers in December 1902. It is still open for the summer season today.
On the night of Friday 14 January 1938 a storm with estimated wind speeds of up to 90 mph (140 km/h) struck the town. Most of the promenade was destroyed, along with 200 feet (61 m) of the pier. Most properties on the seafront were damaged, most severely on Victoria Terrace.
Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg held their historic first protest on Trefechan Bridge in Aberystwyth, on 2 February 1963, and here also the first ever independent Welsh Evangelical Church was established (see Evangelical Movement of Wales).
Merched y Wawr have their national headquarters in Aberystwyth.
Aberystwyth hosted the National Eisteddfod in 1865, 1916, 1952 and 1992.
On March 1st, 2005, Aberystwyth was granted Fairtrade Town status.
Aberystwyth is served by Aberystwyth station, situated in the town centre. The station is the terminus of a service provided by Arriva Trains Wales, on a roughly two-hourly basis, over the scenic Cambrian Line to Shrewsbury and Birmingham via Machynlleth and Mid Wales. Connecting services from Machynlleth also provide a link to Gwynedd”s west coast.
Aberystwyth station is also the terminus of the Vale of Rheidol Railway, a steam operated narrow gauge heritage railway. This provides a convenient and scenic transport link during the summer months to Devil”s Bridge, a tourist attraction about 12 miles (19 km) east of the town.
Two of Wales”s important trunk roads, the A487 and A44 meet in the town, with much traffic between north and south-west Wales passing through.
Aberystwyth is also a hub for Wales”s TrawsCambria bus network, with regular direct services to Bangor, Cardigan, Carmarthen and Cardiff. A daily National Express coach to London and Birmingham also exists.
Aberystwyth (albeit an alternative universe version) is the setting for the cult Louie Knight series by Malcolm Pryce which transfers Chandleresque “noir” stories and dialogue to this small seaside town. This alternative reality features many landmarks of Aberystwyth such as the University and the National Library of Wales, but the social situation is radically altered to more closely resemble the pulp/noir stereotypical “Dirty Town” that the narrative plays off. Most of the humour in the books is derived from the almost seamless juxtaposition of the real Aberystwyth and the fictional, noir Aberystwyth. Various aspects of Welsh culture are reflections of what you might expect to see in reality, but with a pulp twist – for example, prostitutes wear Welsh stovepipe hats.
In the setting for Classic Battletech, a star system in the Timbuktu Theatre of Alarion Province of the Lyran Commonwealth / Lyran Alliance is named Aberystwyth.
The local writer Niall Griffiths has set many of his novels here and reflects local slang, settings and even individuals. Grits and Sheepshagger are set wholly in Aberystwyth, which also features prominently in his other novels such as Kelly and Victor and Stump. He portrays a more gritty side of Aberystwyth.
Nancy Bond”s A String in the Harp is set in the small coastal town of Borth, near Aberystwyth. The main characters” father is on sabbatical leave from Amherst University and working at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.
The town name provides the key rhyme in the classic limerick attributed to Algernon Charles Swinburne:
But the miller”s son Jack
Laid her flat on her back
And united the organs they pissed with.
Aberystwyth is twinned with:
- Kronberg im Taunus in Hesse, Germany.
- St-Brieuc in Brittany, France.