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A History of Carmarthenshire

Lloyd, Sir John E., (Ed.). 2 vols., Cardiff, London Carmarthenshire Society (1935, 1939).

With the kind permission of the publishers sundry extracts from this book have been extracted by Gareth Hicks, these snippets below are in random order and generally relate to the county as a whole. There has been selective editing of some of the longer sections.

Here is a list of the book's contents and contributors.


Historic divisions of  Carmarthenshire

The limits of Carmarthenshire, as one of the counties of Wales, were fixed in 1536 by Henry VIII's Act of Union (27 Hen. VIII, .cap. 26, section 16) and, save for a modification in 1542 (34 &. 35 Henry VIII, cap. 26, section 117), have not been altered since. They enclose the largest county area in the Principality, its extent being computed at 588,472 acres. In a great measure, the boundaries are natural; the Teifi on the north, the Cuch on the north-west, and the Loughor on the south-east are well defined barriers, and, though the line from Lampeter to Ammanford has not the same simplicity, it re-presents very ancient tribal limits. The south-western border, on the other hand, is highly artificial; its eccentricities are not to be explained by physical conditions, nor yet by deep-rooted tribal habits, but by feudal arrangements entered into at the close of the middle ages.

The old Welsh name for the district was Ystrad Tywi (The Vale of Towy), a description of it which appears as early as the end of the ninth century. But Ystrad Tywi differed from Carmarthenshire in two important respects. It included Gower, which was closely associated with Kidwelly in the early middle ages and was not finally divorced from it until they were separated by the Act of 1536. In the ecclesiastical sphere, where the lead of the State was not always obsequiously followed, Gower retained its ancient affinities, continuing to be a part of the diocese of St. David's. The county differs, again, from the ancient kingdom of Ystrad Tywi in that it includes a substantial part of the adjoining realm of Dyfed, namely, half of the cantref of Emlyn and nearly the whole of Cantref Gwarthaf. This was bound to result from any attempt to make the town of Carmarthen the centre of a local area, for the town stands on the border of the two kingdoms, being actually within the bounds of Dyfed, but only separated by the river from Ystrad Tywi.

Reckoned in early medieval terms, therefore, Carmarthenshire includes (i) Ystrad Tywi, but without Gower; (ii) Emlyn Uch Cuch, i.e. above the river Cuch; and (iii] Y Cantref Gwarthaf, i.e. the upper-most cantref of Dyfed, but without Efelffre. Of these, the second, being itself a commote, underwent no sub-division, but the other two were divided into a number of smaller units.

At some period previous to the Norman Conquest, Ystrad Tywi properly so called was separated into Y Cantref Mawr and Y Cantref Bychan, i.e. the Great and the Little Cantref, two names which point clearly to an original unity broken up for convenience of administration The course of the river Towy, from Ystrad Ffin to Abergwili, was adopted as the dividing line, a boundary which could cause no confusion or dispute, save for the vagaries of a stream which, flowing over alluvial flats, was liable without warning to change its bed in time of flood. Cantref Mawr (the article was usually dropped) answered well to its name; it stood high among the cantrefs of Wales, both in its area and in the number of its commotes; Cantref Bychan was only small by comparison with its neighbour, and stretched along the south bank of the Towy for some forty miles.. Both names appear in the oldest portions of the Liber Landavensis and the evidence is that both were well established and generally known in the reign of Henry 1.

In addition to these two cantrefs, Ystrad Tywi was generally assigned a third. Had we only the testimony of the lists upon which to depend, we might suspect an artificial arrangement, made by the compilers for their convenience. But, in two passages in the oldest portion of the Mabinogion, Ystrad Tywi is said to contain three cantrefs, so that the association of a third district with the Great and the Little Cantref must be regarded as of long standing. Suspicion, however, rests upon its name, as given in two of the lists, viz., Cantref Eginog. This form is nowhere else to be found, and certainly had no popular currency. The names of the commotes into which this cantref was divided were undoubtedly well known, as will be shown later, from very early times; hence it would appear as if Cydweli, Carnwyllion, and Gower had been, at some time or another, combined to make up a cantref which was not an ancient and recognised division of the country. Examples of this process can be seen in Powys, where the commote is often the true local unit, while the cantref is but a geographer's convention.

About the time of the Norman Conquest, Cantref Mawr was divided into the seven commotes of Mallaen, Caeo, Maenor Deilo, Cetheiniog, Widigada, Mabelfyw, and Mabudrud.
Cantref Bychan was divided into three commotes, viz., Hirfryn, Perfedd, and Is Cennen. Clear evidence is afforded by the second and the third of these names that the commote was in this area a new unit, formed by the breaking up of the old.

The western limb of Carmarthenshire belonged to the ancient kingdom of Dyfed.
One of the seven cantrefs of Dyfed was Emlyn , this was split into two lordships by Henry VIII and the Carmarthenshire part [ as opposed to Pembrokeshire ] comprised Emlyn Uch Cuch made up of the parishes of Penboyr, Llangeler and Cenarth, plus the hamlet of Cwm Morgan in the parish of Cilrhedyn.
A much larger cantref of Dyfed was Y Cantref Gwarthaf which contained eight commotes viz Elfed, Derllys, Penrhyn, Ystlwyf, Talacharn, Amgoed, Peulininiog and Elfelffre, all of which except the last are now in Carmarthenshire .

Although the present Carmarthenshire only came into existence in the reign of Henry VIII, in 1536, a county of Carmarthen had long been known . It was an area controlled by the royal castle of Carmarthen and dates in this respect from the early C12.
The 1536 Act also divided the newly formed shire into the hundreds of Kidwelly, Perfedd, Caeo, Cetheiniog, Elfed and Derllys which hundreds remained the effective divisions of the county until superseded by the poor law unions and other local areas of the C19.

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Dialects

South Wales may be treated as three broad dialect areas in matters of vocabulary and phonology.

The dialects may conveniently be called Demetian, Central Southern, and Gwentian , extending roughly over the ancient divisions of 1. Dyfed 2.Ystrad Tywi and Ceredigion and 3. Gwent and Morganwg. Sub dialects developed along the lines of contact between these broad divisions.


Stone axe [New Stone age]

From about 3000 BC onwards elements of civilisation began to percolate into Western Europe from Egypt and Mesopotamia, signalling the beginning of the Neolithic or Stone Age.
With the westward spread of new ideas came ways of making tools, first in stone and later in metal.
Some 9 or 10 examples of the polished stone axe are known from Carmarthenshire
One was found on an allotment in Llandeilo Fawr in 1917.


Standing stones [New Stone Age]

Standing Stones, or meini hirion, are numerically the more relevant megalithic remains in Carmarthenshire .

Examples are found in the parishes of Cilcwm, Llanybydder, Talley, Llansadswrn, Llandeilo, Llangadog, Llanddeusant, Betws, Llannon , and many others


The Bronze Age

The transition from the Stone Age to the Age of metal was not a sudden one.

At first copper was used, but gradually bronze[ an alloy of copper and tin] replaced pure copper as the metal of primary economic importance. Since copper and tin were only found in well defined areas, their use resulted in the development of long distance trade and the exploitation of the regions of mineral wealth which also resulted in large scale movements of people. These social, cultural and racial changes in Europe affected these islands through the medium of the " Beaker Peoples[ or Folk]" who are thus known for their distinctive type of pottery--- " the beaker ", or " drinking cup ".[They knew how to make weapons and tools from bronze, hence the period name Bronze Age ]

It is probable that these folk movements began to reach Britain c 2000-1900 BC, they were mainly confined to lowland regions. Wales has some 30 beaker examples, mainly concentrated on the southern and northern coastal plains.

Two pottery beakers have been found in the county, one of these at Cors y Dre, Llannon, found in a cist of stone slabs.

In fact only 2 metal objects have been found in the county which could relate to the early bronze age, one in Gors Las and the other in Llanarthney.

It is thought that Welsh superstitious customs , against the use of metals, hindered the replacement of pottery with metal, some evidence for this is a flint axe, imitative of a metal axe, found in 1930 on the cricket pitch of the Amman Valley County school.

The second phase of the bronze age commenced in Wales about 1500-1400 BC.

In this phase cremation burial completely replaced burial by inhumation and the cinerary urn and incense cup replace the beaker and food vessel.. few such relics have been recovered intact from Carmarthenshire burial mounds though fragments have been recorded from many sites. The high ground of Carmarthenshire is dotted with such " carneddau ", two sites in Cross Hands, Llanboidy are typical.


The Roman Influence

The Roman occupation of Britain lasted nearly 400 years, to c 410 AD

The evidence bearing on the Roman occupation of Carmarthenshire , which began in 47 AD, is meagre in the extreme. One of few documentary references to Roman Carmarthenshire are in Ptolomy's " Geography " of c 150 AD. According to him, south west Wales was at the time of the Roman conquest occupied by the tribe of Demetae whose territory covered the three modern counties of Pembroke, Cardigan and Carmarthen. The name Dyfed is a derivative of that ancient tribal name. Ptolemy mentions two stations in this region, Muridinium [Carmarthen] and the other variously identified with either Llandovery , or Llanio in Cards.

Whilst there is no specific record of Roman and Demetae battles in Carmarthenshire , a silent witness to such fighting or processes of consolidation which followed , may be seen on the lonely summit of Trecastle mountain . At 1350 ft two large Roman earthwork camps are found , lightly constructed , and carved carefully to the Roman pattern, for occupation by considerable bodies of troops. Called Y Pigwn, the site is where the Roman road from Brecon Gaer to Llandovery crosses the mountain.

Following the completion of the military conquest, Wales was integrated into the imperial frontier system , covering the country with military defences linked by a network of Roman roads. There was probably a Roman fortress at Carmarthen, and a fort at Llandovery.

From c 75 AD onwards the history of Roman Carmarthenshire may be supposed to be that of an advanced frontier district with a predominately military occupation.

Within this military framework, three factors demand notice.

The first was the institution or development of gold mining operations at Dolau Cothi near Pumsaint,in the parish of Cynwyl Gaeo .

The second was the hesitant development of civil life of a Romanised kind the traces of which in Carmarthenshire are few. Traces of Romanised settlements have been found at Abercyfar, south of Carmarthen, and at Cwmbrwyn, near Laugharne.

The third is that of the native peasantry who, otherwise having little to do with the Roman world, were brought uncomprehendingly into contact with Roman things, and , without undergoing any significant cultural change, learned to make use of Roman pottery, coins and trinkets.

[The profound influence of Latin on the English language has no parallel in Welsh, modern Welsh has fewer than 600 words that were derived from Latin]

Roman coins or ornaments have been found at Carreg Cennen, Cynwyl Gaeo, Dinefwr, Llandeilo Fawr, Llandybie, Llansadwrn, Llanybydder, Llangadog, Trecastle Hill, amongst other places.


Towns and boroughs

The towns and boroughs of Carmarthenshire fall naturally into two groups- those that have sprung up round castles and others that owe their origin to churches and abbeys.  

In the first group belong the New Town of Carmarthen, Newtown[Dinefwr], Dryslwyn, Kidwelly, Laugharne, Llandovery, Llanelly, Llanstephan, Newcastle Emlyn and St Clears.

To the second belong Abergwili, Llandilo, Llanegwad, Llangadock[though it also has a castle],  and the Old Town of Carmarthen, the last differing because it was a monastic foundation.

None of these towns date back earlier than the Norman conquest of South Wales, although Carmarthen and Llandovery stand near Roman sites, military rather than civil.There was but one town in Roman Wales- Caerwent.


Physiographical Background

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Carmarthenshire is a coastal county of South Wales, consisting of the plain of the Towy and its surrounding hill lands. The river valley itself crosses the county in a gentle curve, running first of all from north-east to south-west, and then, between Llandilo and Carmarthen, almost east to west. The river at the latter point turns sharply south-south-west to the sea, but the lowland area of the middle Towy is continued west-south-west of Carmarthen town towards St. Clears and the middle Taf valley. The line of lowland is a much eroded anticline, which is composed mainly of lower Palaeozoic rocks: sandstones, shales, and conglomerates. The general trend seems to suggest folding in Caledonian times, while the whole scheme is parallel to that of the Teifi valley to the westward and ultimately to the general direction of the southern half of Cardigan Bay.

To the north of this lowland, the high ground is formed of Ordo-vician and Silurian shales and mudstones, and may be said to form two roughly-parallel ridges, separated from each other by a lowland divide, which follows the upper Cothi valley as far as Brechfa, and then passes through Llanllawddog, Llanpumsaint, Cynwyl Elfed, and Trelech a'r Betws. These upland ridges are south-westward extensions of the great mountain massif of Central Wales, which culminates in Plinlimon Fawr (2,468 feet), far to the north of the county border. The long extended fingers of this massif stretch through Carmarthenshire into the Presely Mountains of Pembrokeshire on the west . In their Carmarthenshire sections, both highland belts decrease in height from the north-east, the northern upland being broader than the southern. Among the crests of the former are Mynydd Pencarreg, Mynydd Llanybydder, and Mynydd Llanllwni, all rising over 1,200 feet, while those of the latter include Mynydd Mallaen (1,515 feet), and Mynydd Figyn (I,068 feet). Though the highest crest is at the east end of the southern belt, this ridge is, on the whole, lower than the northern. Both ridges are much dissected by numerous streams, flowing generally at right angles to the main trend of the country. Such are the Dulais, Twrch, Gorlech, Gwill, Cywyn, Cynin, and others.

To the south and south-east of the Towy lowland, the foothills are formed of Silurian rocks, mainly sandstones and mudstones, while to the east are extensive and mountainous outcrops of Old Red Sandstone, which form some of the highest ground in the county (the Black Mountain is over 2,500 feet), though in the main the massif lies outside the boundaries of Carmarthenshire. This Old Red Sandstone outcrop sweeps from the north-east in a rough curve following the outcrop of the older rocks , the north, but the high ground decreases rapidly southward and westward; the hills of south Carmarthenshire are of gentle contour. Near the county town, this Old Red Sandstone band is breached by the Towy, on its way to Carmarthen Bay. The Bay, as a whole, was formed by extensive subsidence, which seems to have proceeded intermittently throughout later geological times. Around the present shore, regions of coastal uplift and subsidence alternate with one another.

Where the beach has been raised above high tidal water,the old sea cliffs have been fronted with burrows of blown sand, which are well marked on both flanks of the Towy estuary.

The sand is known to be shifting, though many dunes have become fixed and covered by a vegetation of sparse, spiny grass.

The continuity of structural pattern in Carmarthenshire is broken only in the extreme south-east. Here the Carboniferous limestone and Millstone grit outcrop, and represent the north-western edge of the South Wales coalfield. Within this outer rim of high ground are the coal measures, which have made the human history of the Gwendraeth, Lliedi, and Loughor valleys so different from that of the rest of the county in modern times.

It will thus be seen that the newer rocks, Secondary and Tertiary in age, are almost entirely absent in the county; nevertheless, the sculpturing of the Pleistocene Ice Age left us with rounded hill-tops and with large and extensive deposits of boulder clay on the valley sides. It is thought that the lowland extension of the middle Towy, west-south-west of Carmarthen town, represents the floor of a glacial lake, whose waters vanished with the establishment of the present drainage system ,This large, well-shaped valley way, with its rail and road routes , is unusual for Wales, in being devoid of permanent stream for much of its length; it is now drained in two directions by insignificant brooks, to the Towy on the east and to the Cywyn on the west.

The cold and impervious soils, generally associated in West Britain with regions of lower Palaeozoic rocks, have resulted in the bareness and bleakness of the hills of north Carmarthen-shire. Bare and bleak also is the high Old Red Sandstone country of the Black Mountain.

The hills of gentler contour in the south of the county, however, do not present such a forbidding and sterile appear-ance. Both the moorland and the lower hill country stand out in great contrast to the fertile lowland of the Vale of Towy, with its river meandering slowly through wide flood plains of deep alluvium. These contrasts between moorland, hill-land, and vale are associated with differences in rainfall and vegetation. Rain falls throughout the year in Carmarthenshire, but chiefly during the autumn and winter months. .

The county of Carmarthen, though not a true geographical unit, is much more so than many counties. Its artificiality mainly lies in that it shares with Cardiganshire the middle valley of the Teifi: this may be found to offer no difficulty in periods of human history when the uplands were the lines of transport and the zones of habitation, but, after the valleys had usurped these functions, the limitations imposed by county treatment become in this area somewhat inconvenient


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Gareth Hicks  

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