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Builth Wells – ex-spa town and now home to the Royal Welsh Show

Crucial Information:

Welsh name: Llanfair ym Mault – referring to a Norman Church dedicated to St Mary.

The name Builth derives from the Welsh Buallt or Buellt and refers to the administrative area around the town, and actually pre-dates it. Buallt is thought to mean ‘The Wild Ox of the Wooded Slope’.

Wells was added when Builth became a spa town – details below.

Population 2 352 (2001 Census)


 

A Castle was built at Builth Wells in Norman times by the Marcher Lords. But it was in 1277 that a stone castle was built under King Edward 1. Owain Glyndwr attacked the castle. When it was later repaired in 1409 the cost came to £400. No stone from this castle remains, but the castle mound can be visited and provides great views of Builth Wells the River Wye and the surrounding countryside.

Builth had been built around a ford over the River Wye. In 1779 the current stone bridge was built. This immediately improved communications with the town. Then later in the 1860s the railways arrived at the town – with a station in the town on the Mid Wales railway.

This allowed Builth to develop as a spa town. Certainly by 1740 the existence of mineral springs at Builth
was known of. But it was only in the 1830s that the two wells in the town – Park Wells with saline waters and Glanne Wells with sulphurous waters became well known. Although it was well known as a spa town, Builth Wells as it became was not as popular as Llandrindod Wells a few miles to the north.

Today, as well as a market town, Builth Wells (or more accurately Llanelwedd, just over the bridge from the town centre) is home to the Royal Welsh Show. This is an agricultural show with typically 8000 entries of livestock. It takes place over four days each year.

The show started at Aberystwyth in 1904 and moved to Builth Wells in 1963. When it moved there an audience of 42 427 was recorded. By 2006 this had grown to 227 360.

Around the same time that the Royal Welsh Show moved here, the railway through Builth Wells closed as part of Beeching’s Axe. The nearest railway station is now Builth Road, about two miles out of the town, which is on the Heart of Wales railway line.

 

Alan Williams Turret

Although not in its original location, in the small green surrounding the war memorial at Builth Wells is preserved a rare Alan Williams turret.

When, around 1940 there was a perceived threat of invasion of the UK mainland by German forces, this was one of the many hardened defences that were installed around the UK

An Alan Williams Turret could be described as a two man pillbox allowing use of one machine gun. These would be situated over a brick lined pit, over which the metal dome provided protection. There were two slots for firing from the turret – one at ground level for attacking approaching forces, and an elevated one for anti aircraft fire.

The Turret allowed full 360 degree firing ability, as the dome was able to rotate (in much the same way as the dome at the top of a Dalek does).

The Alan Williams Turret is rare for two reasons. Firstly only about 200 were built. Then later in the war – when a land invasion was no longer expected and metal was required for the war effort – they were taken for scrap.

 

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The River Wye at Builth WellsThe River Wye at Builth Wells
The bridge over the Wye at Builth Wells © Star Video 2011

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Castle Mound at Builth WellsCastle Mound at Builth Wells
The castle mound at Builth Wells © Star Video 2011

Alan Williams Turret at Builth WellsAlan Williams Turret at Builth Wells
Rare Alan Williams turret preserved at Builth Wells © Star Video 2011
 
© 2011 Star Video