The Neolithic era saw the beginning of farming on Anglesey and therefore settlements, though evidence of this is rare: occassionally post holes, created by the historic presence of wooden house posts are discovered by archeologists. Other evidence from this period includes stone axe-heads, arrow-tips and spear-points: and on a much larger scale, the cromlechs (burial chambers), individual standing stones and henges (rings of stones).
You can visit Bryn Celli Ddu and Barclodiad y Gawres which are important examples of tombs which are still covered with earth mounds and can be entered through their tunnel openings. Both tombs contain carved stones in their interiors. The museum section of Oriel Ynys Mon contains a case of stone inmpements dating from this period.
Around 4,200 years ago, during the Bronze Age, our ancestors were already mining copper from Parys Mountain and using the metal to produce bronze tools and weapons. There are examples in Oriel Ynys Mon. Mynydd Parys (Parys Mountain) is a fascinating place to walk and to view the remains of mining through the centuries. There are other minerals to be found on the site and together they colour the landscape in different hues. (In the late C18th, under Thomas Williams, Parys Mountain became the greatest copper mine in the world.)
The Bronze Age also saw the development of defensive enclosures.
During the Iron Age, around 2,600 years ago, circular buildings of wattle and daub with long thatched roofs left sufficient archeologcal information for replicas to be built. You can see two ’round houses’ at Llandeusant close to LLynon windmill.
As time went by, low stone walls were built with similar conical thatched roofs: there are the remains of an evocative farming settlement with this type of buildings, Din Lligwy, at Llanallgo, near Moelfre – well worth visiting.
This is the time of the Celts and Druids, and Anglesey was the centre for Druidism in Britain, it was therefore a central focus for the many tribes around Britain, the means by which rebellion might flourish, and thus a threat to the Romans who were intent on adding Britain to their empire. Being an island, Anglesey felt protected from invasion, but against the military might of the Roman Empire it could not hold out.
One of the bloodiest massacres committed by the Romans occured on the south western shore between Moel y Don and Tal y Foel.
Under Seutonius Paulinus, the highly trained and battle hardened Roman army, with seige engines, cavalry, boats and better weapons and armour, set up camp, probably at Llanfairisgaer. At slack water, they used boats to cross the Menai Strait to attack the chanting, sheild clashing Celts. What followed was a rout and no prisoners were taken. Those who didn’t die in battle were put to the sword or burned to death.
Soon after his ‘victory’, Paullinus was called away to fight Boudicca and it wasn’t until 15 years later that Agricola crossed the Lavan Sands to Beaumaris to quell and settle Anglesey.
There are remains of a Roman fort in Holyhead – the parish church now stands within its walls – and a lookout tower, Mymydd Twr, on top of Holyhead Mountain.
The Celts remained on Anglesey after the Romans had left at the start of C5th AD and from this point Wales began to develop a seperate identity.
Christianity and the Vikings
Christianity arrived around C4th AD and there are still Celtic crosses at Penmon Priory, which with Holyhead and Llaneilian were considered ‘mother churches’. There are also many smaller churches which may date from this period. Anglesey also had an abundance of saints and many place names begin with Llan (parish) followed by a saint’s name eg Llandegfan is the parish of St Tegfan.
The Vikings made raids on Anglesey, as they did around much of the northern coasts of the UK and Ireland. It’s likely that some Vikings settled on the fertile island: indeed, the name Anglesey is derived from Old Norse and was in use from the C10th AD.
The Normans also used the name when they attacked North Wales after conquering England. A Norman motte and bailey fort remains from this period at Aberlleniog near Llangoed.
The Welsh Princes
Then followed the era of the Welsh Princes. Llewelyn Ap Iorwerth (Llewelyn the Great 1173 – 1240) was the most successful of the Welsh Princes, ruling not only Gwynedd but all Wales. He was married to Siwan (Joan), daughter of King John of England. Her carved stone coffin can be seen in the porch of the parish church in Beaumaris.
However, during the reign of the English King Edward I, Wales lost its independence with the death, in fighting, of Llewelyn Ap Gruffudd (the Last Prince).
Edward built several magnificent castles around North Wales to keep the people under control – they are open to the public now, looked after by CADW. Beaumaris Castle stands in the town, on the shore of the Menai Strait and is the magnificant, but unfinished last of Edward’s castles.
Although Owain Glyndwr’s Welsh rebels held the Castle from 1403 – 1405, in 1406 the English King Henry IV regained control of Anglesey.
One of the most famous families to come from Anglesey (Penmynydd) was the Tudors. Owain Tudor (c1400 – 1461) became a squire at the court of Henry V and on the king’s death Owain secretly married his French widow, Catherine de Valois. Their grandson became Henry VII after defeating the Yorkist King Richard III at Bosworth Field.
Both the Tudor and Stuart dynasties sprang from this root. Plas Penmynedd was built in 1576 for a later generation of the Tudors, probably in the same location as the earlier Tudor house. It still exists but is in private ownership.
In 1603, David Hughes, born locally but having left to ‘make his fortune’, founded a free grammar school for boys: the original building remains in Beaumaris and his name continues attached to Ysgol David Hughes, the comprehensive school in Menai Bridge, where it educates all children from the locality.
Beaumaris Court and Goal
The Court (1614) and Gaol (1828/9) dealt with miscreants over the centuries: both buildings are open to the public in the centre of Beaumaris.
The Island’s main sources of income for centuries were fishing, farming, coastal shipping and ship building (and smuggling!). The Industrial Revolution brought larger ships and longer journeys and January 1826 saw the opening of Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge, replacing ferries and the hazardous crossing from Abergwyngregyn to Beaumaris, and carrying the A5 (from London) to Holyhead, from whose port ships sailed for Dublin.
The railway followed when the Britannia Tubular Bridge opened in 1850. It was designed by William Fairbairn and George Stephenson and was the prototype of box girder construction.
In 1970 fire destroyed many of the tubular sections of the bridge. Turning disadvantage to advantage, the bridge was redesigned, with arches and an upper road level which was opened to traffic in 1980: it now carries the A55. Trains still run on the lower level, as previously.
Both bridges opened Anglesey up to more visitors and made travelling in both directions easier.
Throughout the C20th and up to the present we have welcomed visitors and enjoyed sharing the amazing features of our island with holiday-makers from all round the world. There is a warm Welsh welcome waiting here. Croeso i Ynys Mon (welcome to Anglesey)