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Pembrokeshire Farming circa 1580-1620

B E Howells, National Library of Wales journal, 1956, Summer Volume IX/3 pp 313-333

Extracted onto the pages of GENUKI with the kind permission of the National Library of Wales

This is the second part of three (including the Appendix styled TWELFTH-CENTURY SETTLEMENTS IN PEMBROKESHIRE) extracted by Gareth Hicks, Dec 2002.


Settlement and Landscape Evolution

In the first article of this series an attempt was made to indicate the general balance of farming within the shire. It is now necessary to consider the appearance of the countryside as it appeared to the men of Elizabethan and Jacobean Pembrokeshire and their forebears, to note some of the ways in which they left their imprint upon the land, and to see what use was made of opportunities presented by the physical environment in both Welsh and English parts of the shire.

It may be necessary to remind some readers of the major physical features of the region. It is dominated by the Presely mountains, which taper off from east-north-east to west-south-west across tbe northern parts of the shire, ending in a chain of low but impressive monadnocks in the vicinity of St. David's. On both sides of Presely the land around the 800-foot contour sinks rapidly to an undulating peneplain---the 600-foot plateau of Professor Austin Miller   1 ---, this in turn descending to a broken coastal plateau varying from 150 to 450 feet in height which survives in the interfluvial eminences of south Pembrokeshire and Dewsland. 2  To put it another way, one can say that in Cemais and Cilgerran most of the land is over 400 feet above sea level and that it rises in Presely top to 1,760 feet, whereas Dewsland lies mainly between 200 and 400 feet and to the south at least half of the Englishry is a lowland of less than 200 feet. It is worth noting too that the northern half of the shire is underlain by Cambrian, Ordovician, and Silurian rocks which tend to give rise to acid though open-textured and quite fertile soils, though the Carboniferous Limestone and Old Red Sandstone areas of the south find much greater favour with farmers. Investigation carried out over a considerable period of time by research botanists have made it abundantly clear that the primaeval vegetation of this area, as of most parts of Wales lying below roughly 1,500 feet, consisted of deciduous forest, with oak swamp common on low-lying land and the birch becoming increasingly prominent with increased altitude,   2  and there is every likelihood that much of this virgin woodland still covered the face of Pembrokeshire at the outset of the twelfth century, when large-scale Anglo-Flemish colonisation greatly accelerated the economic exploitation of the land.

Five centuries later, by the end of the sixteenth century, the virgin forest had been cleared: there was instead a shortage of timber in the sbire. Except for the copses and spinneys which marked tbe lines of rivers and streams, the wastelands........

.......... of Pembrokeshire were clothed mainly by bracken, fern, and, above all, gorse, the principal fuel of the lower orders of society. 1  An ecological, no less than an agrarian, revolution had taken place. What had happened in the interval is betrayed to the historian by the large-scale topographical maps issued by the Ordnance Survey, and by the equally valuable cadastral maps of the eighteenth century estate surveyors and the Tithe Commissioners of the 1830's and 1840's. Throughout almost the whole lowland area of Pembrokeshire, both in the south and in the north, one encounters survivals of the open fields which once surrounded almost every village and hamlet, the long, frequently-sinuous, strip-shaped fields which fossilise something of the ground patterns produced by a system of ploughing common to extensive areas of northern Europe in medieval times. 2  Outside them frequently lie  groups of small, irregularly-shaped fields carved piecemeal from the natural woodland---there always existed steep-sided valleys and rocky or mossy lands which could only be cultivated in small units---, and the more rectangular, compact fields of ancient freeholds. The ancient forests had given way before the ploughs and the livestock of the colonists.

Long before George Owen's day, the open fields which had been carved out of the waste had started falling into decline, though they were still a familiar part of his landscape, as is clear from the observations he makes about them. Among the rural customs he described was one called Rudwall custome 'wch was that no action of trespasse laye for pasture in open fieldes out of enclosures, wch custome I my selfe remember to be much spoken of (though mightilie crack't) in my yong yeares, this custome seemed somewhat reasonable among the gavelkinde men, for that at every descent the landes were shared, and so the whole land of the countrey grewe into small peeces, so that of necessitie the owners must grase in comon, and therefore some reason there was at the first for induceing the same custome, as allso in townredds, whose landes laye parted in comon fieldes ... And this custome allthoughe yt be allmost abolished yet remayneth the name, and terme thereof very usuall among the comon people, for that time of the yeare after harvest, when all the neighbours cattle, ronne together in the comon fieldes they called Rudwall tyme . . .'   3

Owen had a ready explanation for the survival of open fields in north Pembrokeshire, attributing it to 'the use of gavelkinde used amonge most of these Welshmen to parte all the fathers patrymonie amonge all his sonnes, so that in proces of tyme the whole countrie was brought into smale peeces of ground and intermingled upp and downe one with another so as in every five or sixe acres you shall have ten or twelve owners; this made the countrie to remayne champion, and without enclosures or hedging, and wynter corne if it weare sowen amonge them should be grased all the winter and eaten by sheepe and other cattell ...for all the wynter....................

................. longe the sheepe, horses, mares, coltes and so many cattell as are not housed doe grase all the fieldes without restraine over all the countrie ... but as nowe sythence the use of gavelkinde is abolished for these threescore yeares past in many partes the grounde is brought together by purchase & exchanges and hedging & enclosures much encreased, and now they fall to the tillinge of this wynter corne in greater aboundance then before.'   1

Despite the progress of enclosure, much of the north Pembrokeshire countryside remained unhedged, for elsewhere he laments that 'this Country of Pembrokeshere beinge almost envyroned with sea, bare, champion and naked of wood and shelter, is more subiecte to extreamitie of storms and suddaine tempestes and sea slawes of wynde, & hayle, then other the inland countreys are, and therefore there are fewe hedges or enclosures to be founde, by reason whereof the husbandmen are forced to heepe heardes for theire cattle and that in greater nombers then other countreyes in England doe ... for I have by good accompte nombred three thowsand yonge people to be brought upp contynvallye in hearding of cattle, within this shere, whoe are putt to this idell education, when they are first come to be ten or twelfe yeeres of age, and turned to the open fieldes to followe theire cattle ...'   2

Clearly therefore, open fields with intermixed holdings---the type of land described as being in rodvallo in Latin documents of the period---were, despite the rapid progress of enclosure, still prevalent in Cemais at the end of the sixteenth century. The same was probably true of Dewsland, for as late as 1794 Charles Hassall was to write in his General view of the agriculture of the county of Pembroke that considerable tracts of land still lay in open fields in the neighbourhood of St. David's.   3   Llanfair Nant-y-Gof was not enclosed until 1712,   4  and a map book of the estates of the Bishop of St. David's compiled in 1815 reveals that even at that date open fields were common in the north-west of the shire.   5

They also survived until late in the Englishry. A surveyor of Crown lands in Roose recommended in 1624-5 that 'whereas the lands of these tenants do be divided among the tenant in small parcels lying intermixedly whereby the tenants cannot make full profit of their tenements and hereby they are much less valuable in the letting, it were very convenient ... that ... the land were viewed and by exchange made entire as near as may be, or sorted in such parts as the tenants may enclose and thereby make their best profit'.   6   Open-field agriculture persisted in Roose outside the Crown manors well after this date, for Fenton wrote of Nolton that 'the only large enclosure in the parish was called Grant's Park before the whole parish was enclosed, 1750, that and Roch being then a common field',   7  while part of Langwm parish still lay in open field in 1769. 8

That open fields were to be found elsewhere in the Englishry during the sixteenth century is clear from Gilbert Thacker's fine surveys of St. Florence 1  and Robeston Wathen,   2  both of which were drawn up in 1609, though by this date most of the farmland of Narberth itself had been hedged apart from three small parcels of  'arable not enclosed'. Some sixteen years previously a survey   3  of Sir John Perrot's estates had recorded the existence of an open field on the eastern side of the hamlet of Sageston, while the furlongs of Pembroke, the common fields of the burgesses, are alluded to a number of times in sixteenth-century documents.   4

It can safely be said, therefore, that over large parts of Pembrokeshire, open-field farming was still in existence in the years 1580-1620, though it must be stressed that no evidence exists to indicate that the open fields of the county were farmed in common as those of midland England were . 5  It is likely that in the majority of cases, the open-field farmer regarded his tenement, divided into scattered strips though it might be, as a separate enterprise, and not simply as an integral part of a large public farm which was the joint concern of all the husbandmen living in his village or hamlet. Communal farming almost certainly existed in medieval Pembrokeshire, but by the late sixteenth century it had broken down, possibly as a result of the great change to pastoral farming which had been going on since the passing of the Acts of Union. 6   Before proceeding further, however, with an examination of the changes which were going on in the open fields of the shire during the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, it will be profitable to consider something of their earlier history and characteristics.

In those parts of the shire subject to Anglo-Flemish penetration and colonisation in force, open township fields were created around the nucleated villages and hamlets. The latter were established, for the most part, in the first few decades of the twelfth century, many of them being named after the knights who had founded them. Wiston, for instance, was the foundation and caput of Wizo, a Flemish leader who was dead by 1130, while Letterston was the settlement of the significantly nicknamed Letard Litelking, who terrorised Bishop Wilfrid into conceding him a substantial tract of land in the south-east of Pebidiog: after his death his son Ivo was to present Letterston church to the Knights of St. John. 7  Here, as elsewhere in Pembrokeshire, military leaders surrounded by bands of followers settled in suitable spots, threw up motte and bailey castles, and apportioned the land between themselves and their dependents. Some seven miles to the south lay Rudbaxton,........

........................ the feodum of Alexander Rudepac, whose descendants were active in Irish affairs,   1  while the Slebech cartulary reveals that the village of Walton East was given to the Knights of St. John towards the end of the twelfth century by Walter son of Walter and grandson of Wale, the original founder of the settlement. 2  Throughout the whole of the south and a good deal of north Pembrokeshire, new English and Flemish settlements, which in many cases were named by adding the suffix ton to the names of the founders, now came into existence. 3

It is interesting to note how frequently motte and bailey castles, which were rapidly becoming obsolete during the twelfth century, were erected close to these new village settlements, though it is impossible to establish in detail the correlation between them at present because insufficient data are available. It is likely though that a thorough documentary investigation, coupled with extensive field surveys making use of Tithe Map data, will reveal the existence of a large number of motte and bailey castles which have not been recorded in the Pembrokeshire inventory issued by the Royal Commission for Ancient Monuments. 4   Evidence from the latter source alone, however, could suggest that a large number of twelfth-century villages in Pembrokeshire were protected by adjacent castles of this type, the residences of the feudal lords, the capita of the manors which were emerging out of the social and argrarian revolution which had swept along the coastlands of South Wales. Almost every important settlement in English Pembrokeshire was founded directly under the aegis of a feudal lord of the knightly class who, from the first, exerted a close control over village affairs, and it is noticeable that in many cases the village containing a parish church was also the main population centre of a manor which was essentially the knight's fee in its economic aspect. 5  To be more specific, the knight's fee, the manor, and the parish were frequently coextensive, a fact of some significance to the historian when it is remembered that where the caput of a knight's fee lies in a village, the latter is almost certain to have been founded in the twelfth century   5.

Over a hundred nucleated villages and hamlets which appear on the Ordnance Survey maps of the county were in existence by the end of the twelfth century, and a small number of them appear to represent pre-Norman settlements which were remodelled during the process of Anglo-Norman colonisation. 6   Where precise dating has been possible, the new villages have been found to originate mostly during the first few decades of the century, and after the initial large-scale creation of village settlements, new villages and hamlets were established at a slower rate throughout the thirteenth century, so that by 1300 there is hardly a nucleated settlement of importance in Pembrokeshire which has not been mentioned in contemporary documents.

The morphology of these new settlements varied infinitely in detail but one can detect a tendency to build them as Augerdorfer, or settlements with open, generally rectangular spaces in the middle, such as those existing at Waterston, Langum, Castle Morris, and Wolfscastle. The ground patterns of individual villages varied with the possibilities offered by their sites, and were likely to be affected by military and agricultural considerations as well as by physical factors. In some cases the boundaries of the open fields which were cleared around these settlements can be traced with a high degree of accuracy, as in the cases of Houghton and Dreenhill in Roose, and the three nucleated settlements within the parish of Manorbier, though in most cases their peripheries have been obscured greatly by the agrarian developments of some eight hundred years.

Lying in the township fields were the tenements or bovates of the village peasants, which were usually made up of a number of scattered strips. Within each manor the bovate would contain a fixed number of customary acres. Customary measurements of land were in everyday use throughout the whole of Pembrokeshire until the end of the eighteenth century, 1  and in some cases they retained their significance until the first half of the last century, when they were swept away together with many other features of local life which had their roots in a remote and misunderstood past. Fortunately, enough details of these measurements have been preserved in sixteenth and early seventeenth century documents to make possible the computation of their exact modern equivalents, thus opening up the possibility of a new approach to the study of medieval agrarian institutions in South Wales, for these time-honoured units of measurement appear to have been in constant use ever since the beginning of the great colonisation movement of the twelfth century.

In all parts of Pembrokeshire, the yardland consisted of an area two poles in length by two poles in breadth, forty yardlands comprising a stang or quarter of a customary acre. 2  Four distinct customary acres were used in the shire. Throughout Castlemartin, the most fertile part of Pembrokeshire and the region which was earliest brought under effective rule by the Anglo-Norman invaders, the pole of nine feet gave a customary acre equal in size to 1.19 statute acres. Roose and Deugleddy Anglicana, the areas in which Flemish settlement was most intensive, together formed the second zone to be colonised effectively in the twelfth century, and there the customary acre of 1.77 statute acres was based upon a pole of eleven feet. A customary acre intermediate in size between the two was used in Narberth Anglicana, an area of late English colonisation where the pole of ten feet was general, so that the customary acre equalled 1.46 statute acres, while throughout the whole of the area to the north, roughly equivalent to the Welshry of modern Pembrokeshire and containing a number of distinct feudal subdivisions, employed the large customary acre of 2.11 statute acres derived from a pole twelve feet in length.

The fact that one customary acre was used in the area of Flemish settlement, while another was general throughout the whole of the Welshry, suggests a sociological explanation for the existence of these four different land measurements based on their emergence at an early date in the Anglo-Flemish colonisation of western Dyfed, for the areas in which the three distinct customary acres of the south were employed may be correlated broadly with successive stages in the colonisation of the Englishry. As the bovate was based in the last resort upon the customary acre, these measurements must have been fixed during the early days of Anglo-Flemish settlement when the process of parcelling out the land among the newcomers was effected. The number of customary acres to the bovate varied from district to district. In many instances the bovate did not consist exclusively of arable land, though the first bovates to be measured out around the newly-erected vills must have consisted mainly of land on which crops could be raised. It is apparent that in course of time the term bovate lost something of its original significance as a tenement from which one ox was sent to a common team of eight oxen. Later, as new holdings were carved out of the waste they were sometimes measured in terms of comparison with the standard holdings of the township fields, so that instances occur of bovates being measured out which consisted solely of rough pasture land. Moreover, the artificial equality in the size of holdings which characterised the early days of these new settlements gave way to an ever-increasing complexity in the size of tenements, for the original bovates were frequently broken up into smaller units or treated as the nuclei of expanding peasant farms.

Generally speaking, therefore, the type of settlement which came into existence during the initial phase of colonisation is represented today by the village which is also a parochial centre or the larger hamlet such as Rinaston. The close connection between these nucleated settlements and adjoining motte and bailey castles suggest that the military position may have made the establishment of isolated farmhouses impracticable during the first few years of settlement, though it seems that soon after the need for collective security had passed, the first farmsteads held in severalty were established, consisting of compact areas of land held in return for military service---the nuclei of many considerable freehold farms of the Tudor period. In the old parish of Monkton, near Pembroke, there were four such tenements---Castleton, Moreston, Orielton, and Yerbeston, while in St. Florence parish there were another four---Flemington, Jordeston, Minerton, and Tarr. Farmsteads of this sort are often found tucked away near the boundaries of parishes, some distance from the main settlement centres : they were carved out of the undeveloped lands beyond the township fields. In many cases these estates were marked off from the intermixed lands, meadows, and commons of the village and hamlet communities by great ditches and dykes, some of which are still in existence today. Thus in treating of a grant of lands to Gilbert de Valle in the manor of St. Ishmael's between the years 1234 and 1242, a charter of Gilbert Marshall 1   refers to the existence of such boundaries between the land of Little......

..................Hoaten and the land of the township of St. Ismael's, and a later charter from Walter Marshal to the same knight makes allusion to similar landskers delimiting the lands of Mullock, Great Hoaten, and Bicton, all of which were compact, isolated farms. 1  It must be stressed, however, that artificial boundaries of this sort were created only where natural meers such as watercourses were non-existent.

Dr. W. G. Hoskins has drawn attention to the fact that the waste in Devon was cleared largely by individual colonists who had been granted clearly-defined tracts of land to be held in socage tenure, 2  but no comparable development can be traced in medieval Pembrokeshire. Instead the small freehold estates of English Pembrokeshire were almost invariably held in return for military service. This important difference was, no doubt, related directly to the military situation in Pembrokeshire, an area which was, during the first two centuries of its existence as an Anglo-Norman colony, always a frontier region likely to be attacked mercilessly whenever the Crown seemed ineffective or weak, unable to lend a supporting hand to these most outlying villages of the long, vulnerable, southern march. The fact that the farmers occupying these holdings in severalty were termed knights need deceive no one. Just as a Pembrokeshire baron, who might hold lands in only two modern parishes in return for five knights' service, was a much smaller figure than his English counterpart---would not Elizabethans have compared them to Calais or Irish knights?---so the Pembrokeshire knight was correspondingly less wealthy and cut a less impressive figure than the average English knight.

Only a small proportion of holdings in severalty within parishes were whole knights' fees. Often a freehold tenement would be held as a tenth of a knight's fee, and there was in medieval Pembrokeshire a general belief that a tenth of a fee should have a specifically fixed area, that it should be a carucate in size. 3  George Owen stresses this point on several occasions, and an examination of medieval evidence indicates that this regularity was not merely the figment of an Elizabethan lawyer with a passion for regularity and definition. Often these tenements are described as being a carucate in extent long after the quantity of knights' service due from them had been forgotten.

During the century which followed the invasion of western Dyfed there was a great extension of cultivated land, and a diversified landscape was created with substantial freeholders often occupying isolated farmsteads beyond the township fields surrounding the villages and hamlets. Here and there in south Pembrokeshire, apart from these early settlements, one may observe on steeply-sloping hillsides and tracts of difficult terrain the tell-tale irregularity of small, ponderously hedged fields surrounding farmsteads which were regarded as customary tenements : these represent assarts taken in from the woodland and the furze-ridden scrub of the waste. Probably much later in origin then the open-field communities and ........

............... the several freeholds, they appear to represent a stage when the village populations grew too great for the open fields, thus necessitating further intakes from the waste. About this stage of colonisation one cannot be dogmatic : all that can be stated with any certainty is that a considerable number of farmsteads in severalty held by customary tenants had been set up outside the township fields before the coming of the Black Death. There is a general absence of written evidence to indicate the progress of this waste-clearance, and much has to be inferred from comparison with similar developments in parts of Britain where the attack on the wilderness in medieval times was recorded in contemporary documents. So far as the final result goes there is a strong resemblance between the individually-colonised landscape of parts of Devon, with small, irregular fields enclosed by massive hedgebanks, and isolated farmsteads tucked away at the ends of deeply-carved lanes, and tracts of south Pembrokeshire countryside which lay beyond the metes and bounds of the open fields. One frequently finds in the case of these early compact farms that the fields nearest to the huddle of farm buildings were smaller and more intensively cultivated than those lying further from the farmstead : beyond the nucleus of small fields frequently extended wide stretches of waste which were not divided into fields of manageable size until the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. l

Pembrokeshire farms are not well documented until the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, but it is evident that at that time, two or three centuries after their initial establishment in many cases, much of the farmland consisted of rough pasture, even in the fertile south. A survey of the manor of Carew compiled in 1592 may help to illustrate this fact   2. In that year the farmer of Hays had forty acres of arable and sixty acres of rocky ground, while his neighbour at Houghton had twenty-eight acres of arable and thirty acres of rough land. The tenement of Frogton was in better shape, for it contained eighteen acres of arable to six of rough ground, though at Landigwinnet again there were thirty-two acres of arable and one hundred and seven acres of rough pasture. The general conclusion is inescapable: these farmers in a manor situated in one of the richest parts of Pembrokeshire had to walk but a short distance from their thresholds to be on waste land, and this despite the fact that they occupied ancient farmsteads. Both Hays and Houghton, for example, are mentioned in a deed of 1382: the very name of the latter means the ton or farmstead in the holt. 3  Farmstead names, like field patterns, often bring home to us the fact that large areas which today are fertile farmland had to be won piecemeal from the heath and the wood. Woodstock (1224) in Ambleston parish, Moor (1307) and Headborough (1307) in Walwyn's Castle, and Wood (1383) in Roch provide examples of this process, and names of this sort become more numerous during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, when the .....

................ colonisation of the waste lands of the shire, checked for a time by the still imperfectly-understood recession of the fourteenth century, went ahead once more.

The general rise in population which took place between the early twelfth century and the outbreak of the Black Death is reflected not only in expanding township fields and the creation of new farmsteads carved out of the waste, but also in the creation of hamlets which were offshoots from the old parochial centres. In Carew, the old village of Carew Cheriton was left by a number of settlers who established a Newton a mile away: it is noticeable, as late as the end of the sixteenth century, that the tenements of Carew Newton have a higher proportion of rough land than those of the old parochial centre. 1  Here, as elsewhere, the primary settlement occupied the best site. Within the lordship of Manorbier a Newton was founded some two miles from the parochial centre on an inferior site, while the hamlet of Jameston represents a second offshoot. 2 On the demesne land of the Bishop of St. David's a new settlement was established at New Moat in the foothills of the Presely mountains, though without marked success, for despite the liberality of tenure offered to newcomers, its eighty-nine burgages were occupied only by forty-six tenants in 1326. 3    In 1282 the only settlement centres in the Englishry of Narberth lordship were the towns of Narberth and Templeton and the village of Robeston Wathen, 4  but by 1356 two new vills had come into existence at Canaston, with twelve burgages and three half-burgages, and New House, with fourteen burgages. 5  Moreover, apart from the founding of new settlements, the old centres continued to expand until the onset of the Black Death. 6  So intense was the whole process of colonisation that by the mid-fourteenth century the basic settlement pattern of the Englishry had been laid down: henceforth no new settlement of any size would come into existence until the late eighteenth century.

Outside the wide area subject to intensive Anglo-Flemish colonisation in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries lay the Welshries of the shire---Coedrath; Molleston and the commote of Wilfrey, which together made up the Welshry of Narberth lordship; and all parts of Pebidiog, Cemais, and Cilgerran lordships which lay outside the boroughs. Throughout these lands men held their land per antiquam tenuram, 7  in accordance with cyfraith Hywel Dda, the body of laws which was used in the courts of the Welshry throughout the fourteenth century. In 1253 Bishop Thomas Wallensis denounced and prohibited the 'form of succession which is.....................

...................... commonly called Esta' so far as the prebends of the see, most of which were situated in north Pembrokeshire, were concerned. 1   Gobr estyn or cynhasedd 2  was paid to the lord When an individual was formally invested with land he had acquired as it was unnecessary for the individual's son to make further payment when he in turn entered into the land, and as it was impossible to rescind investiture, this alienation of prebendal lands was a matter of prime consequence to the ecclesiastical authorities. It indicates clearly the strength of Welsh legal and social practices in thirteenth-century Dewsland.

Throughout the Welsh areas of the shire, the ancient practice of gavelkind lasted until the Act of Union, though it seems to have died out in Pembrokeshire by Owen's day. Apart from the currency of Welsh land law in these areas throughout the middle ages one notes the survival of ancient renders such as the payment of comorthau of cattle, 3  triennial comorthau of sheep, 4  and the rendering of gwestfa   5  or 'Kilth corn.'  It all points vividly to the survival of the old way of life: the English conquest of the Welshries saw the imposition of feudal and manorial superstructures which seem to have had little effect upon the life of the residents.

The truth of this comes out forcibly when one surveys the social structure and settlement patterns characteristic of the Welshmen of medieval Pembrokeshire, the vast majority of whom were free clansmen. The gwely, a social institution which was of prime importance in so many other parts of Wales, barely features in the life of Welsh Pembrokeshire. The sole reference in primary sources to the existence of gwelyau in the county occurs in the second book of Owen's Penbrokeshire, where it is written that the parish of Llanfyrnach or Dyffryn Taf, one of the twenty knights' fees of Cemais, 'was devyded into three Trayrns that is into three thirde partes and ech of them in auncient tyme was a severall manor. Yt is also devided into three gwelyes that is into three beddes or famylies of people, for into such were many partes of Wales devyded; the names of them were gwely Henry, gwely Cadogan, & gwely Howell ap Ievan Duy'.   7   Llanfyrnach, it will be noted, lies in the north-east corner of modern Pembrokeshire, and it was always particularly exposed to the repercussions of political developments in Pura Wallia. The gwely may well have existed in other peripheral sectors of Welsh Pembrokeshire, such as the commote of Wilfrey, which in 1282 was divided between the heirs of Gorgany Fawr and the heirs of Elydir ap Rathlan, 8  but there is no evidence to indicate that it flourished in Welsh Pembrokeshire proper. This, it will be noted,.......

............ accords fully with the thesis propounded by Professor Jones Pierce that the gwely came into existence at a comparatively late stage in many parts of Wales   1  :  the English conquest of most of Welsh Pembrokeshire early in the twelfth century prevented the introduction of the gwely and preserved the social sub-stratum upon which it was imposed in other areas.

In the main, Welsh Pembrokeshire in the central middle ages was a land of small, scattered hamlets, each of which had an open field system operating on the arable land appurtenant to it. Here one does not find, 'a  "girdle system" of settlements with an open cluster of cottages surrounding one or more nuclear tracts of open-field arable',  2  for the Pembrokeshire hamlets were nucleated, being sited in most cases close to a good spring. These hamlets, to which were generally appurtenant a few hundred acres of farmland, were termed trefi by the medieval Welshmen of Pebidiog and townships or townreds by lawyers of the Elizabethan and Jacobean periods, and most of them were occupied exclusively by freemen belonging to one or two clans. 3

The clansmen held their scattered strips or lleiniau in coparceny, 4 and it is noticeable that in a number of cases the lands of one clan were scattered throughout several townships. The clan of which Cadifor ap Eignon was henaf  held lands, for instance, in a number of townships in the parish of St. Nicholas by 1326, including Ffynnon Pendridion, Trefelgarn, and the unidentified 'Trefwys Vechan'. 5  Agriculture was practised on a communal basis, and each freeman cultivated a number of lleiniau scattered throughout the township in which he lived and in some cases throughout one or more other townships as well. The intermixture of strip-shaped holdings was common in many parts of north Pembrokeshire in the eighteenth century, and continued well into the nineteenth. That in Pembrokeshire the individual clansmen, as elsewhere in Wales, had probably no right of permanent alienation is indicated by the existence of a number of defeasances relating to grants of land, the condition of the defeasance usually being that if the grantor or any of his heirs paid a stipulated sum (which was probably equivalent to the purchase fee), he or his heirs could resume possession of the land. 6  The land thus alienated was, to all intents and purposes, tir prid.  7

Little is known about actual methods of farming in medieval Pembrokeshire, the evidence relating to them being sparse and difficult to interpret. Both the .......................

..................infield-outfield and three-field systems appear to have existed within the shire and to have evolved alongside one another. Only two definite allusions to three field farming in medieval Pembrokeshire have been found, and they both relate to baronies within the Englishry. In the case of Carew we are told that three carucates of land were held in demesne by John de Carew, who died in 1362, of which two parts were sown. 1  Similar information is offered by the inquisition post mortem of John de la Roche, who died in 1376, where it is stated that two thirds of two carucates of land at Langum when sown were worth 13s. 4d. yearly, the remaining third part being worth nothing because it lay waste and in common. 2 Evidently in the latter case the demesne consisted of strips interspersed with those of the villagers. Apart from these definite instances there are slight suggestions of the existence of farming methods which were similar to the two or three field systems---both fundamentally the same thing---on the estates of the Bishop of St. David's. At Castle Morris, for example, the arable land of the demesne, apart from a small field of sixteen acres, consisted of two fields each of which were exactly eighty acres in extent. 3  When this scanty evidence is collated with the general prevalence of open fields throughout south Pembrokeshire in medieval times, and it is borne in mind that both spring and winter crops were grown there, 4  one is led to the tentative opinion that throughout the Englishry some sort of three-field system of farming was in general use. One can be even less certain about the manner in which the open fields of the Welsh townships were farmed, for the Welsh reluctance to sow winter corn   5  makes it difficult to postulate the existence of a three-field system in north Pembrokeshire. It looks very much as if the Welsh were in the habit of raising crops for years on end from the same land, operating some sort of infield-outfield system.

The operation of an infield-outfield system in Pembrokeshire, more especially in the north, need occasion no surprise, for this mode of farming was common throughout the whole highland zone of Britain. 6  A tract of land, usually adjacent to the farmstead or hamlet, would be manured heavily and cropped continuously, while beyond this infield would extend a much larger stretch of land generally used for grazing purposes, though parts of it would be ploughed occasionally. These patches on which crops could be raised now and again were termed 'arable and pasture land' in sixteenth and early seventeenth century surveys relating to the shire, the term 'arable' being reserved for infield land which could bear crops for many years without a break. 7   Obviously this method of farming was best suited........................

........................ to an economy which hinged largely on pastoral activities, and it was perhaps the most effective way of exploiting the land in highland regions where fertile ploughland was very restricted in extent.

The infield could consist either of the enclosed arable land closely associated with a consolidated farmstead, or else of a township field worked in common by a number of farmers. Possibly most of the township fields of Welsh Pembrokeshire were exploited like this until the early seventeenth century, if not later. The outfield was broken up by the process known in Pembrokeshire as 'beating and burning', and throughout most of England as 'Devonshiring', the two main methods of effecting the process being described in some detail by George Owen. 1  One type of clearance produced 'beat-land'. The turf would be pared in May, June and July and turned grass downwards until it had dried : then it would be piled in heaps and burned, the ashes being spread in October and November, and rye or another cereal grown. This method may not have been used in north Pembrokeshire during medieval times, for rye is a winter corn. An alternative method produced 'pied beat-land'. Half of the turf only would be cut and burned, and in March the ashes would be spread and oats sown on the land. 'This pied beatland is found to endure longer in strength and to yield more crops of corn than the clean beat land', remarked Owen, 'for this will continue to bear oats well five or six years'. He also relates how in his day some landlords found it more profitable to keep waste land in their own hands than to let it out at the customary rent of 1s. an acre, for by tilling the land at the end of twenty years they could get 3 an acre de claro from the crops besides the profits of pasturage in the intervening period. Yet another method of preparing the land was to fold cattle upon the area to be tilled every night from mid-March until mid-November, when the land would be ploughed in preparation for the sowing of oats in the following March : this method, however, limited the amount of manure available for fertilising the infield, and it was heavily criticised by Owen for its wastefulness. 2

Unless the terrain limited narrowly the quantity of land which could be ploughed, the system was capable of some flexibility, for parts of the outfield could be brought under cultivation for a number of years or enclosed to create a belt of land intermediate in character between the infield and outfield. In this way the variety of the landscape was still further increased, this organic development of the countryside clouding the earlier clarity of the rural scene as change became superimposed upon change.

Demesne lands and the freehold lands of socage and military tenants could be farmed under whatever system the freeholder chose to adopt. Hence it is not surprising that it was on the freehold lands of Pembrokeshire that the earliest large-scale enclosures seem to have been effected. Usually such lands were compact, and changes in the method of exploiting the land did not run counter to the interests of the rural communities and the deep-rooted peasant hostility to changes and innovations. As late as 1794 Charles Hassall was to write that 'the inhabitants of ......................

...............this county are not forward in receiving improvements in agriculture. I mean the middling and lower orders of them. A general prejudice seems to pervade the people against everything new or differing in any respect from the old and beaten track in which they and their forefathers have trod ...' 1  This innate conservatism probably goes far towards explaining why most of the customary lands of Pembrokeshire lay in open field in the early sixteenth century, while by that time most of the demesne lands seem to have been enclosed. Certainly when George Owen wrote in his Description of Wales that 'the shire [having] little good land, [is] meanely inhabited champion and not inclosed', 2  he must have been thinking mainly of the township fields.

Hassall asserted that 'it seems to be a generally received opinion throughout this district that dividing and enclosing open-field land renders it immediately of double the value it bore when open and unenclosed. The fences alone benefit the land by giving shelter to it. The husbandman manures with a certainty of reaping the fruits of his labour, and the produce and stock are consequently improved in at least a two-fold degree.' 3  It is doubtful, however, whether the majority of Pembrokeshire villages would have agreed with him two centuries earlier. To them the old adage that 'time makes ancient good uncouth' was barely applicable. The purely agricultural merits of farming in severalty must have been closely associated in their minds with the rapacity of estate-building landlords, who enclosed arable land which had formerly supported large numbers of peasants and frequently converted it into sheep or cattle pastures, as the Act for the maintenance of husbandry of 1598 makes clear.

What might happen when rampant landlordism was at its worst is well illustrated by a bill of complaint submitted on behalf of divers 'poor tenantes' of Rosemarket to the Court of Exchequer in 1581-2. The interest of this document 4  warrants extensive quotation.

'Whereas one Morys Walter of the towne and countie of Haverfordwest hath for many yeres nowe past ben underfarmor lessee and understeward unto suche as before had the farme and lease of the premises, so yt is, right honorable, that the saide Moris Walter, being greedelie mynded, hath by collor and countenaunce of being steward and underfarmor to her Ma'tie of the premises as aforesaid before the demise thereof made unto .... Richard Owen, so conioyned, united, and inclosed divers peces and parcells of Her Mat's grounde situated lying and being in the feilds and parishe of Rosemarket aforesaid, being parcel of her Mat's said maner or lordshipp of Rosemarket, wth his own lands by hedging, ditching and fensing the same (wch hedging and ditching are made alltogether on her Mat'ies grounde and not upon the grounds of the said Morys Walter, and that by collor thereof the boundaries and meares of her Mat's grounde shall be utterlie become unknowen and the same newe.....................

................... hedging and ditching ... be deemed as unknowen boundaries and meares, whereby her Ma'tie shalbe disinherited of a great part and portion of her Mat's most auncient possessions unless it may please your Lordship with some expedicion to restore the same by commission of survey or otherwise.

'And the said Morys Walter not therwth contented hath utterlie taken awaie and caused to be taken away diverse hedges wch were the knowen meares and auncient boundaries between her highnes' lands and the lands of the said Morys Walter in the towne of Rosemarket (by reason he as underfarmor occupied and enioyed the one grounde and lands and enioyed the other as in his own right) and were the knowen meares and marks betwene burgags there, and hath brought the same to one pece, being before devided in sev'all peces, so that in these tyme her Highness is like to loose the lands.

'And therewth not satisfied, the saide Morys Walter hath allso intruded upon a tucking mill, parcel of her Mat's possessions wthin the saide maner and parcell of the said maner, clayming the same to be in his own freeholde, and hath in like maner hedged, ditched, sowed and inclosed not onlie the lands, meadows and pastures of her Mat's adioyning to the said tucking or fulling mill as part and parcell of his owne, but allso hath inclosed and incroched part of the comons and waste of the towne of Rosemarkett and the same useth as his own proper lands and inheritance, so that not onlie her Mat's tenants there resiant and dwelling could not have the use of theire lawefull benefitt of comons therein to their greate impoverishment and utter undoinge, being in nomber thirtie or fortie pore householders, but also her Majestie ... is like to be disinherited.

'And whereas not long since there have lived in the said towne and lordshippe of Rosemarkett about fiftie or threescore honest householders wch have kepte good husbanding and tylling of their land, some wth hole ploweghes, some with halfe ploughes, and some more or less, now the said Morris Walter very gredelie hath gotten into his owne lands and possession the most part of the lands and tenements in the said towne, the houses . . . whereof he hath for the most part suffered to falle into utter ruyne and decaie ... and the errable lande hath converted into pasture contrarie to the lawes and statutes .... and dayley threateneth to convert all the reste of the errable grounde into pasture, to the utter spoyle and impoverishment of the pore [residents] of the said towne'.

Another complainant strengthened the case against Walter by relating how he had transported corn and grain overseas without licence 'to the enhansing of the pryse of corne in the countrey', thus causing a great dearth and want locally. 'And allso he hath used comonly to lende corne in the countrey to her Mat's tenants ... by ... excessive usery vidz halfe a bushell for the lone of one bushell for a yeare and lesse tyme so that thereby he hath impoverished and dryven awaye allmost all the Queenes Mat's tenants of the said lordshippe'. 1    The last point must have touched the pulse of a government which was largely preoccupied with the interrelated problems of pauperism and vagabondage---a shrewd, sly dig.

The struggle which took place over the activities of Moris Walter at Rosemarket was probably rather exceptional, though as late as 1639 Roger Lort of Stackpool admitted that he had caused depopulation in north Pembrokeshire. 1  Cases of this nature generally came to light only when a political opponent of some standing in the county decided to make capital out of the offender's actions, as in this case. Walter was associated with the Perrot faction in the county, so it is not without significance that one of the complainants on behalf of the 'poor inhabitants of Rosemarket' was Alban Stepney, a bitter enemy of Perrot and a close friend of George Owen. Consequently a storm was raised in high quarters, and this particular case, which was very protracted, may well have been responsible for the inclusion of Pembrokeshire among the counties named in the Act for the maintenance of tillage (1598) as being depopulated through the conversion of arable land into pastures. Certainly there is little evidence, apart from this particular instance, to indicate that the enclosure of township fields was causing depopulation in Pembrokeshire in the sixteenth century.

On the other hand, a good deal of peaceful exchanging and enclosing of lands within the open township fields seems to have been going on, especially in south Pembrokeshire, though references to this process in contemporary court rolls are negligible. Often enclosure occurred in the following manner. A number of occupiers of strips would agree to enclose a certain area of land, and they would erect a hedge around it without necessarily interchanging their strips to produce consolidated blocks. Often a large landowner, such as George Owen, whose activities are better documented than those of most of his contemporaries, seems to have initiated the process, and the gentry frequently took advantage of the situation to buy out the other tenants of the closes in order to create consolidated holdings for themselves. This was one of several ways in which landowners who were intent on building up a compact demesne could extend the area of land under their direct control.

With the advance of the enclosure movement, George Owen could write that 'since the use of gavelkind is abolished for these three score years past in many parts the ground is brought together by purchase and exchanges and hedging, and enclosures much increased'. 2  Yet he was still able to declare that, apart from certain high places, the land was 'playne and champion' and to condemn the general want of enclosures.

Tbe countryside of his day seems to have presented a most intricate pattern. Apart from the waste, most demesne lands were enclosed and held in severalty, and the open fields of the townships were in various stages of dissolution. In a number of areas, and especially perhaps in Dewsland, they had changed very little in physical appearance throughout the sixteenth century, but in most cases they were subdivided by large enclosures which merely hedged off portions of open field but left the strips intact within them. Gradually, over years of exchange and purchase, consolidated farms began to emerge from the chaos of intermingled.................

....................... quillets, and as they became compact they would be hedged off from surrounding holdings. Thus the familiar modern landscape with its chequered fields grew slowly and naturally out of the open fields, a slow process of evolution often fostered by landlords with an eye to the main chance.

Often quillet-shaped fields survive today in numbers as a reminder that there was no uniformity or inevitability about this process of building up consolidated farms from the old township fields: it was a haphazard business, happening so quickly in some places that most of the modern fields had emerged by the end of the sixteenth century, as in Minwear and Slebech parishes, 1  while elsewhere the change was not completed at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The earliest estate   2 maps of Pembrokeshire illustrate all phases in this evolution---the open fields of Llanycefn, St. David's, and Lambston; the intermingled strips occupied by a number of owners within single inclosures as at Llawhaden, Letterston, Llanwnda, St. Mary's (Pembroke), Freystrop, Maenclochog, and probably most other eighteenth-century parishes of Pembrokeshire; and a few others where change had been rapid and completed at an early date. The process of evolution from open field to consolidated farms lasted for something like two centuries so far as most parishes were concerned, and during this time they lacked both the symmetry of the medieval pattern of open fields, surrounded by the waste with a few holdings in severalty along the township periphery, and the chequerboard variety of the modern landscape.

It is not surprising, therefore, that field shapes should assume such a variety of forms, even though they have evolved in many cases from the same type of open-field land. There appears to have been a close relationship between the shapes of fields which were formerly part of township open fields, and questions of land ownership and occupancy. Where a landlord adopted a definite policy of building up an estate from parts of the former open fields, he would often buy out enough tenants to build up a fairly compact holding in which he could create large, rectangular fields. Where this did not occur, and the number of tenants with holdings within the partially-enclosed township fields remained high, there was a tendency, for long thin fields to emerge, fossilised strips or quillets. The strips would be hedged, and the strip system of an early age imprinted upon the modern landscape. Fields on the demesnes tended, as a rule, to be larger and more rectangular in shape than any others. The most irregularly-shaped fields, on the other hand, often belong to farmsteads sited on ground which was originally unsuitable for open-field farming---the steeper, wooded hillsides and marshy bottoms, or the moory lands which were rejected by early settlers and only colonised as pressure on the township fields grew to a high pitch. In considering the farmers of Elizabethan and Stuart Pembrokeshire it is necessary to remember, therefore, that they lived ..........

......................against this background of constant change in the shapes and sizes of fields, and that in many parishes their age saw a quickening of the rate of enclosure which brought into existence most of the recognisable man-made features of the modern rural landscape.



Throughout this article stress has been laid both on the argument that the landscape of Pembrokeshire can be studied effectively only in the light of its medieval evolution, and on the significance of the twelfth century as a formative period in the establishment of the Tudor and Stuart agrarian pattern. In order to substantiate some generalisations which have been made concerning the intensity of this early colonisation, and to provide a point of departure for future research in the field of Pembrokeshire settlement chronology, the following list has been appended.


If documentary evidence proves the existence of a settlement in the twelfth century, it is given in italics. Marks of parenthesis are employed when the place mentioned was the largest village or hamlet within a knight's fee, while the use of square brackets indicates that a settlement was the headquarters of a barony. The symbol # is used when the settlement referred to had a church with a Celtic dedication.



Amroth #







Brimaston, Hayscastle, 1/2  fee


Camrose #



Castle Cenlas, Mathry, 1/2 fee


[Castle Morris]

Cilgerran  #

Cilrhedyn  #


Coedcanlas, 1/2 fee

(Cosheston), 2 fees

Crickmarren, Hundleton, 1/2  fee

Crunwear #


Eweston, Brawdy, 1/2  fee

Fishguard, 1/2 fee

(Fletherhill), Rudbaxton

Flimston, Castlemartin, 1/2 fee

Ford, Hayscastle, 1/2 fee

(Gumfreston), 2 fees

(Haroldston St. Issells) #

Haroldston West, #  1/2  fee




(Henry's Moat)

Hodgeston,  3/4 fee

(Honeyborough), Llanstadwell, 1 1/2 fees

Hubberston #




Jordeston, St. Florence, 1/2 fee

(Keeston), Camrose

Lambston #

Lampeter Velfrey

Lamphey #

(Landygwynnet), Carew


(Lawrenny) #


(Llanfair Nantgwyn)

( Llanfair nant y gof ), 2 or 3 fees


Llanrian, # 1/2 fee


(Llanychaer) #

Llawhaden #

Ludchurch #



Martletwy, 1/2 fee


Meline #

(Milton), Carew

Minerton, St. Florence,  1/2 fee



Moreston, Hundleton, 1/2 fee


Nash, 1/2 fee

Nevern #

(Newcastle) #


(Nolton) #





(Pontfaen) #

Popton, Pwllcrochan,  1/2 fee

Prendergast #



Rhoscrowther #

Rinaston, Ambleston

Robeston West,  1/2 fee




St. Brides, 1/2 fee

St. David's #

St. Dogmael's #

St. Florence

St. Ishmaels #

(St. Issells)

St. Lawrence

St. Petrox #

St. Twinnels #




Steynton #


(Tankredston), Brawdy, 2 fees


(Trecadwgan), Whitchurch, Dewsland

Treddiog, St. Edrens, 1/2 fee

Treffgarne, 1/2 fee


Upton, 1/2 fee

Uzmaston  #

Walton East 

Walton West, 1/2 fee 

[Walwyn's Castle] 

Whitchurch), Cemais

(Williamston East)


Woodstock, Ambleston


(to be concluded)


Extractor's note;

Knight's Fee or Knight Service was a feudal obligation to provide military service to the Crown in the form of a fully armed and equipped knight, together with his retainers, for 40 days each year ( The Local History Companion by Stephen Friar, 2001)

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