Just like Rome, Abergavenny is surrounded by seven hills, and although any similarity between the ‘Eternal City’ and the Gateway to Wales’ may end there, there’s a lot more to this sleepy market town than meets the eye.
Adolph Hitler’s deputy Rudolph Hess was kept here under lock and key during the Second World War, Abergavenny was declared its own nation in 1404 by Ieuan ab Owain Glyndwr, and in 1942 the town was home to a scandal which rattled the nation.
A bewildered John Lennon once landed at Pen-y-Pound by helicopter and sixties songbird Marty Wilde was so infatuated with Aber he wrote a top 40 hit about it.
Potato Creek Johnny, credited with finding the largest gold nugget in the Wild West hails from the town, as does ‘Abergavenny Alice’ who personally beheaded 70 Irishmen in revenge for killing her Norman lover.
And lest we forget, the world famous strong woman Vulcana was the daughter of an Abergavenny preacher.
All this and more is revealed in a new book by Chronicle journalist Tim Butters called Secret Abergavenny.
Tim explained, “The book is called Secret Abergavenny, but there’s a few things in there that may not be much of a secret to those well versed in the town’s history. It’s more like an alternative history of Abergavenny which concentrates on the more quirky and less savory aspects of the town’s history, which other books have tended to gloss over.
“Besides which, the title ‘Lesser Well Known facts About Abergavenny’s History’ doesn’t really roll off the tongue in the same way.”
The phrase ‘gone to Abergavenny’ was once a metaphor for going insane. Secret Abergavenny promises to reveal why, as it takes the reader on a trip down through the ages and on a tour of the tales that time may not have forgot, but has at least brushed under the carpet.
The book has already been described as “not so much an official history of Abergavenny but more a work of dubious fact based on questionable fiction.”
An accusation Tim is quick to defend.
“Everyone’s a critic!” He snapped. “The book mainly came about because people kept stopping me in the street and said I saw your feature on so and so in the Chronicle, please whatever you do, don’t ever write a book!’ So I did, mainly out of spite.”
Tim added, “In all seriousness though. Like most small towns in Britain, when you condense all the weird, wonderful, and occasionally worrying stuff that has happened down the decades and through the centuries, it’s a real eye-opener. And Abergavenny’s no different.
“Hopefully the natives will read it and stumble across something they never knew before, and for visitors and newcomers to Abergavenny, the book can act as a tourist’s guide to the dark underbelly of the town. It’s full of a lot of great pictures too. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this time next year there wasn’t a copy on every shelf in every household throughout Monmouthshire and beyond,” said an optimistic Tim.
Originally scheduled for a release prior to last year’s Eisteddfod, the deadline was missed after Tim decided to spend the Summer binge drinking and reading the complete works of Proust in splendid isolation.
Yet with all the terrible things which happened in 2016, let us be grateful Secret Abergavenny wasn’t one of them.
Breathe deep and rest assured. It’s here now. So ring the bells, sound the alarms, and grab your copy today.
Secret Abergavenny will be available in all good bookshops and on Amazon from Saturday, April 15.