Llanrhystyd – Extract from “Transactions Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society”
by William Edwards 1939
By William Edwards, University College of Wales, Aberystwyth.
LLANRHYSTYD is named after St. Rhystyd, to whom the Parish Church is dedicated. St. Rhystyd, the son of Hywel Vychan ab Emyr Llydaw, was one of the missionaries who accompanied the celebrated Cadvan and Sulien from Armorica in the sixth Century. He chose this spot to found a religious settlement. It is recorded that he was also some-time bishop of Haminiog, and that on the north side as Mefenydd. Haminiog and Mefenydd were the names of two cwmwds in the cantref of Mabwnion. Meyrick states that Mefenydd means the mountainous cwmwd, while Haminiog means the unobscured cwmwd.
About the year 1148 a castle was built here by Cadwaladr ap Gruffydd ap Cynan. As the Gaer, now called Gaer Penrhos, was known to the old inhabitants as Castell Cadwaladr, it is probable that this was the castle which was built. In 1150 it was besieged by the sons of Arglwydd Rhys. The siege proved so difficult that the young lords of South Wales lost a large part of their troops, which infuriated them so much that on gaining possession of the castle they put the garrison to the sword. Seven years later the Castle of Llanrhystyd was held by Roger de Clare, with the Castle of Dinerth. The Castle of Dinerth is mentioned in the Brut under 1135 when it was destroyed by Owen Gwynedd and his brother. Towards the end of the same century Dinerth was occupied by Maelgwn, son of Lord Rhys, who undertook extensive reparations which were completed in 1203. Four years later Maelgwn, fearing lest his stronghold should become the home of his adversary, Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, fired his castle. After this, all historic references to it cease. Dinerth may have been situated on the spot now know as Castell Mawr, below Pencastell Farm. Another castle, or fort, was situated a few hundred yards distant. It is known as Castell Bach, or Castell Gwarfelin, Gwarfelin being the name of the farm. Between these two castles there is a narrow ravine known as Pantglas. According to tradition, its correct name is Pant-galanas, “the dell of slaughter”. In the field below this fort there used to be a mound, where, tradition has it, the dead were buried. Strangely enough, the field in which the mound was situated is called Cae y Cleifion “the field of the sick or wounded” and the lane leading from it is known as Lôn Gleifion. It has been suggested by Mr. S. M. Powell, M.A., Tregaron, that Lôn Gleifion may have had some connection with a nunnery in the neighbourhood. According to local tradition this nunnary stood on the site of the Memorial Hall. Other camps or castles are Caer Gilfach Hywel, where Hywel ab Gwynedd was stationed; Caerdeni or Caercodeni; Caer Argoed and Caer Penygaer. Concerning the early history of these caers, Mr. I. T. Hughes states “They are situated so as to defend inland routes. The distribution suggests that Llanrhystyd was a port of considerable importance. It is probable that this route has some connection with the south coast of England. A bronze age route has been conjectured from Southampton to Newbury, Evesham, Hereford and then aiming probably to Aberystwyth”.
Cae y Cleifion may have had assocciations with another building, apart from the nunnery. The site of this building – there are no traces of it now – is at the extreme end of the village near the National School and is called “Spitty Hall”, or “Ysbyty Hal”. Some authorities assert that it is the Welsh form of the English word “hospital”, the “hal” being the final syllable “al” in hospital. Others claim that “hal” is a corruption of “hael”, as the Knights Hospitallers gave their services to the sick without charge. The late Archdeacon Evans wrote: “Gelwid yr hen dai lle saif yr ysgoldy Genedlaethol, yn Ysbyty Hal. Barnai y diweddar Gynghorwr Morgan mai Knights Templars a’u hadeilasant fel gwestai a noddfeydd I drafaelwyr yn amser y Croesgadau. Y mae’n anodd iawn penderfynu beth yw gwir darddiad y gair ‘ysbyty’ sydd yn gyffredin iawn yng Nghymru. Y farn fwyaf gyffredin yw ei fod yn deilliaw o air Lladin hospitium.” Dr. J. E. Lloyd informs us in his “History of Wales” that Rhys ap Gruffydd of Dinefwr made gifts to the commandery of the Knights Hospitallers at Slebech, which was founded by Walter Fitz Wizo on the river Cleddau in Pembrokeshire. According to Fenton, he also gave them the churches and villages of Llanrhystyd and Llansantffread in Ceredigion, with land at Ystrad Meurig. If we accept this statement it is probable that they founded a similar institution on their property in Llanrhystud, situated in the vicinity of the National School.
When the Knights Hospitallers came to Llanrhystud it is also probable that they were given some land by Rhys ap Gruffydd in addition to the gift of the church and village. At any rate, there is strong evidence that they received the valley known as Wyre Fach, now called Cwm Mabws, and it is natural to conclude that the valley was named after the founder of their establishment. Meyrick believes that the word Mabws is a corruption of Maybush, while the explanation of Archdeacon Evans is thst “ma” means “place” and “bws” means “pwys” – a resting place. Personally, I am partial to the theory which derives the word Mabws from Fitz Wizo, the son of Wiz – mab Gwys, – mab Wys, – mab Ws. It is pertinent in this connection to compare it with Castell Gwys. The name was first applied to the valley (Cwm Mab Gwys – Cwm Mabws) and later to the mansion which was built in the seventeeth century. There is a farm called Cefn Mabws within half a mile of Mabws Mansion. “Cefn” is the word generally applied to a ridge, or high land, at the top of a valley. The farmhouse of Cefn Mabws was probably in existence before the mansion. It is known that the Mabws family lived at Ystrad Teilo before Mabws Mansion was built. Cefn Mabws, therefore, means the farmhouse at the top of Mabws valley. If this is correct it confirms the suggestion that the name Mabws was at first applied to the valley of the Wyre Fach and not to the mansion. In Cwm Mabws, on the left side of the valley, there is a field called Fron Capel. Here stood a chapel-at-ease dedicated to St. Cynddilyg and built by Cynfrig, son of Owen Gwynedd. Human bones and gravestones have been dug up in this field from time to time. Below Fron Capel, hollowed out in the rock on the left side of the road, there is a tiny well said to have been connected with the chapel. A statue, or image supposed to be that of St. Cynnddylig, was moved from this chapel after its dissolution to the village church. I was told that about eighty years ago an elderly woman, named Nannie Fach, bowed her head to this effigy every time she passed into her pew. The effigy was fixed in the wall opposite to the present front.
Of the Wyre Fawr, Turner in his “Wanderings in Cardiganshire”, writes. “The Wyre Valley is marked by earthworks along its whole extent, and some consider this the ancient line of cleavage between Goidel and Brython. No one who knows Cardiganshire will hesitate to accept a boundary between north and south of the county here; different speech, different habits and different racial distinctions are still somewhat noticeable”. My personal observations confirm this statement. There is a definate difference between the customs and speech of the people in districts north and south of the river. It has been asserted that the Wyre is a linguistic boundary, as it were, dividing the coastal regions of Wales into two lingual entities. This may be an exaggeration; but I have not come across any evidence which disputes the theory. There are two place-names in the Wyre valley with Irish affinities – Craig Gwyddel and Ty Gwyddel, the latter being the site of a house, or enclosure. It is possible, however, to explain the name Gwyddel here as Gwyddyl, the Welsh term for thick brushwood, or wooded parts, which well describes the locality. In close proximity to these ruins there are remains of a leat, or water-way, for turning the river to a mill or factory.
“The mile of alluvial tract,” to quote Turner again, “stretching down from the village to the shore is unintresting, unless we imagine its appearance under the Danish invasion of Godfrey in pre-Norman times, when wild-looking galleys with fierce figured prows looked horror upon the primitive village, and the stalwart sea-king harassed the shore. These Vikings showed at this time their animosity to religious institutions by the destruction of Llanrhystyd Church as well as the churches of St. David’s, St. Dogmell’s and Llanbadarn”.
As history mentions little of importance about the village during the Later Middle Ages, we come to more recent times. A thriving industry was carried on at Craiglas between Llanrhystyd and Llanon, where there are remains of a four large lime kilns. A century ago they were in full use. As many as twelve vessels were engaged in carrying limestone, coal and culm to this place. A large coal yard was to be seen there a few years ago. Farmeres from Mynydd Bach and even Tregaron came for lime and coal, travelling through the night and sleeping under their carts if they arrived too early in the morning. A few hundred yards to the north of Craiglas stood a shipbuilding yard. The lane leading from the main road is still called Lôn Yard. Ships of from 100 to 150 tons were built there, timber for their building being produced from as far as Llandovery. This industry flourished until about 1860. The last vessel built was the “Gladys”, which traded extensively with foreign parts under Capt. Jones. “Another episode was related to me by a friend. About 1840, when he was seven years of age, he was taken to Craiglas to see the departure of Simon Teilwr and his wife with their two children for America. They went aboard a small coaster to Liverpool where they joined a larger vessel. The activities of Craiglas were ended in the summer of 1902, when the barque “Martha Jane” was wrecked through being unable to gain the open sea in the teeth of a rising gale. Smuggling was indulged in by villagers in olden times. Tynporth, a house on the right side of the church entrance, was traditionally associated with smuggling, and was said to have been connected with the shore by an underground tunnel. A noted landing place was the pathway leading to the rocky coast under Tregynan Isaf which goes under the name of Portis.
Ffosybleiddiaid, a farmhouse near Ystrad Meurig, was at one time the residence of the Lloyds of Mabws. The Lloyds moved from Ffosybleiddiaid to Ystrad Teilo mansion. Richard Lloyd, who resided here, died on May 16, 1734 and was buried in the family vault as recorded in the church register. Ystrad Teilo mansion was demolished ehen Mabws was built. No trace of the old building remains, but I was told that it stood to the right of the present farmhouse and near to the river. The Lloyd family was descended from Cadifor ap Dynfnwal. Cadifor was ninth in descent from Rhodri Mawr, A.D. 834, king of Wales. Moelivor was formerly the residence of two ancient families. The first family were the Gwyns, who came from Carrog, a short distance higher up the valley. They also claimed descent from Cadifor and Rhodri Mawr. Moelifor stood formerly opposite the present framhouse on the other side of the valley. Tradition places its site in the field beyond the knoll known as “Cnwc Llwyn Wli”. This old mansion was demolished in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, about the year 1665, by Jenkins Gwyn when he served in the office of High Sheriff for Cardiganshire, and a larger mansion was erected near the present farmhouse. John Gwyn of Moelifor was M.P. for Cardigan in 1553 and 1563-7 and for Caernarvon from 1572-83. The Saunders Davies of Pentre Boncath are the only descendants of the Gwyns of Moelifor.
There was formerly one woollen factory in the village. The machinery in use here is being preserved at the National Museum of Wales. This factory was built late in the eighteenth century by David Jones, of Penllyn Factory, who, according to the church registers, died in 1824 aged 79 years. In the Court Rolls, cloth-men are mentioned as being here in 1744 and toward the end of the nineteeth century there were at least eleven weavers in the neighbourhood. Llanrhystyd also had its Pandy, or fulling mill. There are three corn mills, Felin Rhiwbwys, Felin Ganol and Felin Fawr. Felin Ganol, as its name implies, is situated in a central position between the other two mills. “Ganol” may, however, be a corruption of “gan”, as in old title deeds the name given is “Felin Gan”.
I wish to acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. James, Llgwyryfon, and Mr. E. T. Price, Haverfordwest, for friendly assistance and helpful criticism.