Until 1974, Caernarfonshire (/kərˈnɑːrvənʃər/; Welsh: Sir Gaernarfon, Welsh pronunciation: [ˈsir gaɨ̯rˈnarvɔn]), sometimes spelled Caernarvonshire or Carnarvonshire, was an administrative county in the north-west of Wales, later classed as one of the thirteen historic counties of Wales.

Sir Gaernarfon (Welsh)
Historic county
Flag of Caernarfonshire
Caernarfonshire shown within Wales
Caernarfonshire shown within England and Wales
Caernarfonshire shown within the United Kingdom

 • 1831370,273 acres (1,498.44 km2)
 • 1911365,986 acres (1,481.09 km2)
 • 1961364,108 acres (1,473.49 km2)
 • 183166,448[1]
 • 1911125,043
 • 1961121,767
 • 18310.2/acre
 • 19110.3/acre
 • 19610.3/acre
Chapman codeCAE
GovernmentCarnarvonshire County Council (1889–1926)
Caernarvonshire County Council (1926–1974)
 • HQCounty Hall, Caernarfon
 • MottoCadernid Gwynedd (The strength of Gwynedd)

Coat of arms of Caernarvonshire County Council
• Established
1284; 740 years ago (1284)



The county was bounded to the north by the Irish Sea, to the east by Denbighshire, to the south by Cardigan Bay and Merionethshire, and to the west by Caernarfon Bay and the Menai Strait, which had separated it from Anglesey.

The county had a largely mountainous terrain. A large part of the Snowdonian Range lay in the centre and south-east of the former county, which included Snowdon itself, the highest mountain in Wales at 1,085 m (3,560 ft). The south-west of the county was formed by the Llŷn peninsula, with Bardsey Island lying off its western end. The north of the county, between the mountains and Menai Strait, had much more subdued relief. The east of the county was part of Vale of Conwy, with the River Conwy forming much of the eastern boundary. Llandudno and Creuddyn formed a small peninsula to the north-east across the Conwy estuary.[2]

The counties included the city of Bangor and the towns and villages of Betws-y-Coed, Caernarfon, Conwy, Llandudno, Porthmadog and Pwllheli.





The county was originally created under the terms of the Statute of Rhuddlan in 1284 following Edward I of England's conquest of the Principality of Wales and included the cantrefi of: Llŷn, Arfon, Arllechwedd and the commote of Eifionydd (the northern portion of Dunoding).[3]

The county was divided into ten hundreds based on the existing Welsh commotes: Cymydmaen (anglicised as Commitmaen), Creuddyn, Dinllaen, Eifionydd (Evionydd), Cafflogion (Gaflogion), Llechwedd Isaf (...Isav), Llechwedd Uchaf (...Uchav), Nant Conwy (Nant-Conway), Is Gwyrfai (Isgorvai) and Uwch Gwyrfai (Uchgorvai).[2][4]

19th and 20th centuries


During the 19th century the population increased steadily, from 46,000 in the 1801 census, to 81,093 in 1841, and up to 137,000 in the 1901 census (figures given for the registration county).[5]


County Hall, Caernarfon

Under the Local Government Act 1888, an elected Carnarvonshire County Council took over functions from the county's quarter sessions. The administrative county covered by the county council had identical borders to the geographic county.

The county and the town after which it was named were officially spelled "Carnarvon" until 1926. At a meeting on 10 November 1925 the borough council resolved to ask the county council to change the spelling to "Caernarvon".[6] The county council gave permission for the change of spelling for the name of the borough with effect from 14 January 1926, and at the same time decided to ask the government to also change the spelling of the county's name to Caernarvon.[7] The government confirmed the change in the spelling of the county's name with effect from 1 July 1926.[8]

The county council was based at County Hall, Caernarfon.[9]

The county contained five ancient boroughs. Two of these (Caernarfon and Pwllheli) were reformed in 1835 by the Municipal Corporations Act. Criccieth established a special body of commissioners in 1873.[10][11] Conwy (then called Conway in English) was reformed to become a municipal borough in 1877.[12] The remaining borough, the City of Bangor was not reformed until 1883.[13]

Under the Public Health Act 1848 and the Local Government Act 1858 a number of towns were created local board districts or local government districts respectively, with local boards to govern their areas. Other towns became improvement commissioners' districts by private act of parliament. In 1872 these, along with the municipal boroughs, became urban sanitary districts. At the same time the remainder of the county was divided into rural sanitary districts, some of which crossed county boundaries. The Local Government Act 1894 redesignated these as urban and rural districts. A county review order in 1934 made changes to the county's districts.[14]

Sanitary district 1872–1894 County district 1894–1934 Changes 1934–1974
City of Bangor (municipal borough) City of Bangor (municipal borough) Absorbed part of Ogwen RD 1934[14]
Bangor RSD (part) Ogwen RD Lost territory to Bangor MB, Nant Conway RD 1934[14]
Bethesda ICD (1854), LGD (1863)[15] Bethesda UD None
Carnarvon municipal borough Renamed Caernarvon in 1926[16] None
Carnarvon RSD (part) Gwyrfai RD Absorbed part of Glaslyn RD 1934[14]
Conway municipal borough Conway municipal borough Municipal borough created 1877. Absorbed part of Conway RD.[14]
Conway RSD Conway RD Abolished 1934[14]
Criccieth ICD (1873) Criccieth UD Absorbed part of Glaslyn RD 1934[14]
Festiniog RSD Glaslyn RD Abolished 1934[14]
Llandudno ICD (1874)[17] Llandudno UD Absorbed part of Conway RD 1934[14]
Llanfairfechan LGD (1872)[18] Llanfairfechan UD None
Llanrwst RSD (part) Geirionydd RD Formed Nant Conway RD by amalgamation with parts of Conway RD, Ogwen RD[14]
1898: Bettws-y-Coed UD[19] None
Penmaenmawr LGD (1866)[20] Penmaenmawr UD None
Pwllheli municipal borough Pwllheli municipal borough None
Pwllheli RSD Lleyn RD Absorbed part of Glaslyn RD 1934[14]
Ynyscynhaiarn LBD (1858)[21] Ynyscynhaiarn UD

renamed Porthmadog UD 1915[22]

Absorbed part of Glaslyn RD 1934[14]

The civil parish of Llysfaen was a detached exclave of the county. On 1 April 1923 Llysfaen was transferred to the county of Denbighshire.

Under the Local Government Act 1972 the administrative county of Caernarvonshire was abolished on 1 April 1974. It was largely split between the three districts of Aberconwy, Arfon and Dwyfor of Gwynedd (along with Merionethshire and Anglesey). The name Caernarfonshire (this time spelled with an f not a v, following the change of spelling of the town's name from Caernarvon to Caernarfon in 1975)[23] was very briefly revived as part of the name of an administrative area in 1996, when the county of Caernarfonshire and Merionethshire was created. It was, however, renamed Gwynedd almost immediately.[24][25] Since then Caernarfonshire has been divided between the unitary authorities of Gwynedd to the west and Conwy to the east.

Coat of arms


Caernarvonshire County Council received a grant of armorial bearings from the College of Arms in 1949. The shield was a combination of the arms of two great native Princes of Wales. The gold and red quarters bearing lions were the arms of Llewelyn the Last – now used as the arms of the Principality of Wales. Across this was placed a green fess or horizontal band, on which were three gold eagles, from the arms of Owain Gwynedd. According to the poet Michael Drayton, the eagles formed the device on the banner of the Caernarvonshire soldiers at the Battle of Agincourt. The crest above the shield was a generic castle, representing Caernarfon, Conwy and Criccieth Castles. Behind the castle was the badge of the heir apparent: three ostrich feathers. The supporters were Welsh dragons with fish tails to show that Caernarvonshire was a Welsh maritime county. The supporter stood on a compartment of rocks for the rugged coast and mountains of the county. The motto Cadernid Gwynedd was adopted by the county council. This was derived from the Mabinogion, and can be translated as "The Strength of Gwynedd".[26]





The Flag of Caernarfonshire was registered with the Flag Institute in March 2012. The pattern of three gold eagles on a green background is a design with a long association with the county, having reputedly been flown by Caernarfonshire soldiers at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.

Places of interest


See also



  1. ^ Vision of Britain – 1831 census
  2. ^ a b Samuel Lewis, ed. (1849). "Carnarvonshire". A Topographical Dictionary of Wales. British History Online. Retrieved 27 July 2008.
  3. ^ Waters, W. H., The Making of Caernarvonshire, Caernarvonshire Historical Society Transactions, 1942–43
  4. ^ John Bartholomew (1887). "Carnarvonshire". Gazeteer of the British Isles. Vision of Britain. Retrieved 27 July 2008.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ "Caernarfonshire". Vision of Britain. Retrieved 27 July 2008.
  6. ^ "Caernarvon". Lancashire Evening Post. Preston. 11 November 1925. p. 4. Retrieved 7 March 2024.
  7. ^ "Caernarvon". Holyhead Mail. 15 January 1926. p. 5. Retrieved 7 March 2024.
  8. ^ Census of England and Wales, 1931: Counties of Anglesey and Caernarvon. Census Office. 1932. p. 8. Retrieved 7 March 2024.
  9. ^ Cadw. "County Hall, Caernarfon (3828)". National Historic Assets of Wales. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  10. ^ "No. 23923". The London Gazette. 26 November 1872. p. 5706.
  11. ^ "Criccieth Urban District Council, records". Access to Archives. The National Archives. Retrieved 27 July 2008.
  12. ^ "Conway: Its charter and corporation". North Wales Chronicle. Bangor. 17 March 1877. p. 4. Retrieved 9 November 2022.
  13. ^ "Bangor Borough Council records". Access to Archives. The National Archives. Retrieved 27 July 2008.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Census of Wales 1931, part 2
  15. ^ "No. 22768". The London Gazette. 4 September 1863. p. 4328.
  16. ^ Census of England and Wales 1931, County Report, Caernarvonshire
  17. ^ "Llandudno Urban District Council records". Access to Archives. The National Archives. Retrieved 27 July 2008.[permanent dead link]
  18. ^ "Llanfairfechan Urban District Council records". Access to Archives. The National Archives. Retrieved 27 July 2008.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ Census of England and Wales 1901, County Report, Carnarvonshire
  20. ^ "Penmaenmawr Urban District Council records". Access to Archives. The National Archives. Retrieved 27 July 2008.[permanent dead link]
  21. ^ "No. 22092". The London Gazette. 4 February 1858. p. 550.
  22. ^ Census of England and Wales 1921, County Report, Carnarvonshire
  23. ^ "Historical information from 1973 onwards". Boundary-Line support. Ordnance Survey. Retrieved 7 March 2024.
  24. ^ "The Porthmadog Harbour Revision Order 1998 Statutory Instrument 1998 No. 683". Office of Public Sector Information. 1998. Retrieved 27 July 2008.
  25. ^ "The County of Gwynedd (Electoral Changes) Order 2002, Welsh Statutory Instrument 2002 No. 3274 (W.312)". Office of Public Sector Information. 2002. Retrieved 27 July 2008.
  26. ^ C Wilfrid Scott-Giles, Civic Heraldry of England and Wales, 2nd edition, London, 1953


  • A.H. Dodd, The History of Caernarvonshire (Caernarfonshire Historical Society, 1968).
  • John Jones, Enwau Lleoedd Sir Gaernarfon (Caernarfon, 1913). Origin and meanings of place names in the county.