The history of ALhs


In the 1950s, a small group were determined to save the crumbling Castle House, built in the early 1800s on the castle keep, and establish a museum there. Gwyn Jones, who had recently moved to join King Henry VIII Grammar School as head of history, joined them and brought working parties of senior pupils at weekends. They raised funds and the Museum opened in 1959 with Duggan Thacker as its first curator, and in 1971 the Museum was taken over by Abergavenny Council. The Friends of the Museum missed the activity and two of the group, Freda Key and Ruth White, suggested forming a history society and at the inaugural meeting on 30th November 1977 Gwyn Jones became the first chair of Abergavenny Local History Society with the lectures programme starting on 19th January 1978. Initially the group met at Harold Road Girls School (as it was then) before moving to the Scout Hut in Fairfield Car Park. The society grew and moved to the ballroom in the Angel Hotel and then to the Borough Theatre.


An associated group, Abergavenny Archaeological Society, tackled the medieval town, finding the site of the Roman Fort and other remains and helped with excavations at the Iron Age Fort, Twyn-y-Gaer. The society raised £159,000 towards restoring the famous monuments in St Mary’s Priory Church, erected Blue Plaques at sites of historic interest in the town and installed floodlighting at the castle.


Wintertime lectures in the Borough Theatre were alternated in the summer with visits to places of historic interest. During the 1980s, members of the society researched more than 200 premises in Abergavenny town centre. The survey is available for study in Abergavenny Library, the Museum and Gwent Archives. Other books were researched and published. In 1985, the society received the award ‘History Society of Britain’ from the Association of Local History Societies, and they celebrated at the castle. The annual newsletter (see Newsletters) was started in 1985 by Freda Key and, following Freda’s untimely death in 1989, continued by Ken Key until his 94th birthday in 2019.


The Victorian Garden next to the Museum was created and is still maintained by Paddy Beynon and her helpers. The Street Survey has been updated and digitised and can now be found at  The Ceramic Plaques Trail around the town was researched by the society with local schools who proposed many of the themes illustrated on the plaques, which are placed at a lower level for easy viewing, as well as on the information stones to mark the 1913 Eisteddfod Circle in Swan Meadows.


Other booklet on trails around the town, Parks & Garden and Chapels & Churches, followed. The society offered Historical Tours of Abergavenny and still provides these on request. Several more books (see Books & Leaflets) were published. Many aspects of research continued (see Research Group) and articles accepted for journals. The website was revised, relocated, and is continuing to be updated. Lectures moved to Zoom during Covid restrictions and then to hybrid meetings hosted at the Melville Theatre while the Borough Theatre is being refurbished. Current membership is over 200 having lost members during these difficult Covid years. The society depends on its members for its activities and always welcomes new enthusiasts!