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  3. Life in the mountains; Monmouthshire in 1939
A black-and-white photograph showing a woman hiker pausing beneath a tree and looking down upon a small town in a low valley.

Life in the mountains; Monmouthshire in 1939

Home of the Black Mountains, Monmouthshire is a county of Roman castles, Victorian mines and the setting for the charming town of Abergavenny

Discover 1930s Monmouthshire in the 1939 Register

Monmouthshire is a Welsh county famed for its countryside and for being home to the Black Mountains. It’s studded with countless castles, abbeys and priories; Chepstow Castle, the oldest surviving post-Roman stone fortification in Britain, is the jewel in its crown.

In the 1930s, Monmouthshire had a population of 434,958, and many citizens worked in mining, transport, commerce and finance. As with many counties in Wales, the borders have since changed and the county is now a smaller version of its historical counterpart. The authorities of Blaenau Gwent, Torfaen, Caerphilly, and Newport now administer two-fifths of the historic county of Monmouthshire, but the new county still has a population of 398,300 today.

In the 1930s, Monmouthshire had a population of 434,958, and many citizens worked in mining, transport, commerce and finance

As the transport industry employed much of the population at the time, the railway was of great significance in the growth of Monmouthshire in the late 19th and early 20th century. By 1939 the Severn Tunnel Junction, the main station link between Newport and Gloucester, housed over 70 engines.

The largest town in Monmouthshire is the market town of Abergavenny, known as the 'Gateway to Wales' because of its close proximity to the English border. The Maindiff Court Hospital near Abergavenny acted as a prisoner of war facility from 1939–1945 in order to ease the pressure on prisons. At the end of the War, Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess fled Germany and was held at the hospital.

The Maindiff Court Hospital near Abergavenny acted as a prisoner of war facility from 1939–1945 in order to ease the pressure on prisons

A black-and-white photograph showing a small lane leading up to a small cottage.
A lovely unspoilt cottage on a quiet country lane near Cwmyoy, in the Vale of Ewias, which is situated in the Black Mountains, Monmouthshire, South Wales. Image: Mary Evans Picture Library

In 1939, Aneurin Bevin sat for MP in Ebbw Vale. This was not only a tipping point in the history of Wales, but also for the rest of the UK—Bevin later presided over the development of the NHS and became Minister of Health under Clement Atlee’s post-war government.

Monmouthshire’ss Territorial Army doubled in size in the run up to 1939, and by June of that year it had grown to three battalions. At the outbreak of the War in September 1939, the second of these battalions was mobilised and was among the first to serve at the front.  

Main image: A hiker pauses to gaze across to Raglan, Monmouth, Wales. Image: Mary Evans Picture Library

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