Myddfai: Its Land and Peoples


By David B James, 1991
Published by the author

Mr David James, the author, has very kindly agreed that Genuki might extract material from the book
(Gareth Hicks, Jan/Feb 2005).

The Contents headings below act as links to each section of data.
The selective extraction is intended to include  material which is likely to be of  interest to genealogists and also those with a general  interest in the history of this parish.
Photographs may be referred to in the text but these have not been copied here although there is a listing of these on the name index pages

Overview from the book's dust cover

"This book is the story of a parish; that of Myddfai which is situated in what was formerly ( and is now again) the county of Carmarthenshire.
Many parishes in Wales have their written histories and those published in the decades at the end of the last century and the beginning of this century were often dominated by accounts of parish worthies.
This book attempts to redress that kind of imbalance and deals with aspects of community life and affairs in a much wider context and touches on contemporary problems.
The approach is essentially anecdotal but is illustrative of issues and affairs that dominated the majority of communities in rural Wales and is thus of more than merely parochial interest. "


Page 1  (current page)

Page 2

  • Farms, Farmers and Farming
  • Church and Chapel

Page 3

  • Schools and Schooling
  • Parish Administration
  • Recreation and Celebration
  • Village and Community
  • Three Men of the Cloth
  • Natural History
  • A Contemporary Dilemma
  • Epilogue
  • Miscellanea

By Way of Introduction

(This section is complete apart from the several photographs not copied)

In moments of reflection it is not uncommon for one to speculate on what a place or locality was like in past ages. How did its inhabitants view moments of joy, tribulation and the daily round and was their attitude in essence any different from that of present-day inhabitants? Such speculations are of perennial interest and are possibly of greater poignancy today than they have been in the past since most people now seem to have an awareness of immense changes having taken place in their environment and society. In today's seemingly more mobile and less settled communities, the past seems to be of increasing rather than diminishing interest. Many it seems feel the need to know something of the rock of which they were hewn and more interestingly perhaps those who are new to a locality can feel a greater sense of identity and participation in the local community when they know more of its past. This book represents an attempt to meet some of these aspirations with respect to the community of peoples having an interest in the parish of Myddfai.

There is nothing that obviously and uniquely distinguishes the parish of Myddfai from the many other rural parishes in what was recognised as the county of Carmarthenshire. The casual visitor will find that its topography and landscape are in general indistinguishable from that of the many other parishes of the region where farming has been the principal and traditional occupation of the majority of its inhabitants. A descriptlon of the parish given by Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of 1833, although somewhat flamboyant still holds true in general. He writes -

"The scenery, which is strongly diversified, is characterised by features of picturesque beauty and of romantic grandeur. The luxuriant richness of the vales is finely contrasted with the rugged barenness of the mountains; and the numerous rivers that flow through the lower groves add greatly to the beauty of the scenery, which is further enlivened by the several gentlemen's seats scattered over the parish."

The parish is set against the eastern border of the county and is adjacent to the old parish of Llywel in what was Breconshire. Geographically it forms a link between the rivers Towy and Usk. Whilst the sources of these two rivers are approximately 25 miles (40km) apart as the crow flies, they come to within five miles of each other within the parish before subsequently taking their separate and divergent directions to the sea. Yet Myddfai is far from being a land of broad river valleys but rather of the many small and secluded valleys separated by broad banks or low hills. One is conscious usually of looking down into, or across some valley or other over much of the area. Its most evocative sounds of today are that of the farm tractor but also that of the mewing buzzard.

Two aerial photographs are presented and these convey the nature of the greater part of the parish landscape with its characteristic patchwork of fields and well scattered farmsteads. These photographs were taken in high summer and the rather stark differences in field colours reflect primarily the after effect of cutting grass for conservation as hay or silage. Aerial photographs have however the disadvantage of giving a flattened perspective to the landscape and the more familiar and human viewpoint is revealed in some representative views taken from eye level.

The local government act of 1972 permitted changes to be made in the areas and hence the boundaries of local authorities. As a result of this act, Myddfai formally ceased to be a parish and became recognised as the community of Myddfai. Furthermore in 1986 the Dinefwr (Communities) Order was approved which meant that changes could be made and were indeed made in the boundaries of what was the parish. The parish and community boundaries are shown on the map presented.
(Here is a map/diagram (86kb) of the parish)
The principal changes stemmed from the inclusion within the community of Myddfai of part of the hamlet of Telych which was formerly within the parish of Llandingat-without and also an extra part of the open hill or mountain land. The other changes were relatively minor and represent mainly a regularisation of the boundary so as to make it coincide more with features such as roads, streams and rivers. This book deals primarily with the parish of Myddfai as distinct from the community of that name.

The whole area of the parish extends to an estimated 11,871 acres (4801ha.) and includes the upland or open mountain area which occupies some 2100 acres and is known as Mynydd Bach or Mynydd Myddfai. This upland part is essentially an extension of the Black Mountain of Carmarthenshire. It is open common land which reaches 1443 feet (440m) at its highest point, and in a westerly direction one gets a panoramic view of most of the parish.

Traditionally the Black Mountain common land, of which Mynydd Bach is part, has been owned by the lord of the manor. All occupiers of lands within the parish had rights of pasturage on this common land but very few make use of this now, apart in the main from certain farmers having land adjacent to the common. In March 1988 the whole of the common land was formally purchased by Powys County Council on behalf of the Brecon Beacons National Park Committee and it is now vested in that body.

Extending across Mynydd Bach is a somewhat unusual geological feature. This is a narrow tile-stone deposit which runs very close and parallel with the old red sandstone rock formation of which it is part. This feature is known locally as 'Y Wythien Deils' or the tile-vein. It has been extensively quarried as a source of roofing tiles. The parish church was at one time roofed with these heavy tiles and one can still see occasionally on unoccupied or abandoned farm houses or out-buildings roofs which still carry some of these old tiles. Occasionally one also finds walls made out of these tiles.

The outline and form of the parish is sufficiently eccentric and irregular so as to beg the question of how such a territorial or administrative unit could have come into existence. What or whom for example, determined that the parish boundary should run along tiny rivulets such as the Mydan and the Rhyddan. This raises the more general question of how and by what processes did parishes in West Wales take on their form. Parishes were essentially units of ecclesiastical administration. They were probably first formed when Norman bishops started forming dioceses in the twelfth century. It is doubtful however if the Norman bishops started with a clean slate as it were and their new parishes were probably based on earlier and older land holding systems. One presumes that the parish was essentially that area of land deemed sufficient to support a clergyman by virtue of tithes or other emoluments.

The village of Myddfai lies as a planner or bureaucrat might have wished; rather idyllically situated at the centre of the parish in so far as one can have a central point to such an area. The village 'square' is at an elevation of approximately 364 feet (111m) above sea level. The village is dominated by the parish church set and raised up somewhat at its centre. Until the beginning of this century the exterior of the church was regularly white-washed as was the church-yard wall. The sight of the church in its pristine whiteness must have made an indelible impression on all parishioners. All the great yew and sycamore trees in the churchyard have now gone but in the middle of the last century there is a record of there being one yew tree with a trunk diameter of just over seventeen feet and a sycamore tree of eight feet.

The village as it stands today is at the main focus of a system of six metalled roads which radiate from it and provide ready access to all parts of the parish. What has very largely disappeared is a subsidiary road system interlinking the principal roadways as they exist today. This system finally fell into disuse within the first quarter of this century. These subsidiary roads were more than mere trackways but roadways capable of taking wheeled vehicles. They are now largely overgrown and impassable although a few are still used to provide access for farm implements and the like.

The modern traveller visiting the village has only one inn to call at, the Plough. There is record of at least another two, the Kings Head which closed around 1925 and the Myddfai Arms which seems to have ceased functioning as a public house around 1880; its site is now occupied by The Manse. The demise of the two inns was probably accelerated by the substantial decrease which had taken place in the population of the parish but allied no doubt to changing social conditions and attitudes. These changes were reflected and represented by the two nonconformist chapels, Seion and Bethania which had been built at the edge of the village but within sight of the old church - Llanfihangel ym Myddfai.

Most visitors to the parish and the inhabitants for that matter, sooner or later bring up the question of the meaning and significance of the name Myddfai itself. There is no emotionally satisfying explanation nor a realistic one which can be unreservedly accepted. Prior to the period 1920-30, legal and official documents mostly used the form MOTHVEY and it was also used in private correspondence. One presumes that this form represents an anglicisation of MYDDFAI. Native born and Welsh speaking inhabitants invariably render the name as MYDDFE. The formal adoption of the name in the form Myddfai was made at a meeting of the parish council held on January 27th 1895 when Thomas Jones of Llwynmeredydd proposed that from henceforth the Welsh form should be used on all official council documents and correspondence.

It is very probable that the word, Myddfai, has some specific meaning and possibly with a physical significance. This is suggested by the fact that the word is not unique to the one locality but is also seen as the name of a hamlet rendered Blaenmyddfai or Mothvey, which is within the parish of Llanarthne. There is also in the parish of Aberystruth in Monmouthshire a small stream called Myddfai with an associated Cwm Myddfai and an Abermyddfai.

There are a number of instances where the element 'mai' or 'fai' appears in the Welsh name of places. It has been suggested that this could signify - of the field or of the plain. The element - mydd could refer to a hollow or depression in some form, thus the entire word may signify a hollow or depression in a field or landscape. This very tentative explanation has much to commend it; not only because it comes from the late Sir Ifor Williams one of the most eminent of Welsh linguistic scholars but more importantly perhaps his explanation does correspond with the physical form and shape of the area in question. Certainly the village has the appearance of lying at the base and centre of a saucer-shaped area of land. Ascribing meanings however to place names whose significance is not immediately obvious, as is the case with Myddfai, may be more of an exercise for the imagination than a true historical quest.

Many Welsh parishes have their written histories and some were fortunate enough to have been on the itinerary of nineteenth or eighteenth century travellers who kept diaries describing their journeys. The parish has figured in Fenton's tours and a very brief account of his journey through the parish in 1809 records his passing the mansions of Llwynwormwood, Cilgwyn and Glansevin. He also comments on the very bad state of the road from Myddfai to Llanddeusant. There is no written account specifically for the parish although a relatively recent and fairly comprehensive historical 'scrapbook' was compiled for the parish by the then vicar, the Rev. W. Emlyn Davies in 1952 at the behest of the local women's institute.

An anonymous traveller describing his journey from Brecon to Carmarthen in 1858 and more particularly that part which traversed Myddfai parish, noted how the fields were white with heaps of lime and that virtually every house and outbuilding had been whitewashed. The account book of Harry Powell of Abermydan covering the period 1760 - 1766 gives some revealing glimpses of contemporary problems; how for example the yield of honey seemed to matter greatly to him as was also the way in which the pig after being slaughtered, should be divided prior to salting.

There is an obvious dearth of material which directly and specifically describes aspects of parish life and history. There is however a substantial body of private and official documentation which deals with legal, religious, administrative and personal matter relating to the parish. It is this that forms the principal sources of information used in the compilation of this book. The parish is not however without its share of material artefacts which speak of life prior to the advent of any kind of available written record and this forms the subject of the next chapter.


The Unwritten Record

(This section is not a complete extract)

~One of the most exciting archaeological discoveries to have been made within the parish of Myddfai in recent times is that of a hoard of eight bronze axes. Some of these were in a remarkably good state of preservation. They were found on the land of Gellyfelen farm at a site alongside an old road leading to Troedrhiw.These axes are dated 500-700B.C. and are recognised as being of the triple-ribbed South Wales type. They were probably cast at different times since X-ray examination has revealed that some of the axes are of slightly different densities due to variation in the percentage lead content and the distribution of air bubbles.

~There are other strong pointers to there being bronze-age people living within the confines of the parish and perhaps many such people. These pointers take the form of a number of stone cairns on Mynydd Bach. All of these cairns are now represented at best by rather low mounds of loose stones since the original cairns have been despoiled in some way or other. There are nine or ten of these so called cairns on Mynydd Bach. Two of these being larger than the others, have been named respectively as Tomen y Rhos and Carn Pant Meddygon....................

~On land adjacent to Mynydd Bach, to be precise, on what used to be land of Blaenddol farm, are what is usually described as three standing stones. Two of these are very close to each other and they have been postulated to have been part of a cromlech, although they could just as easily have been part of a stone circle. The third stone which is some 150 yards to the west has been described as a pointer stone to the postulated cromlech.

~There can be little doubt that Roman soldiers and their auxilliaries once marched and stayed, even if temporarily, within the confines of the parish. One wonders what effect the sight of the Roman standards had on its then denizens. Roman presence is testified by the existence of a number of earthworks. The most well known are at Y Pigwn where there is a pair of superimposed marching camps. Close by, there are two other earthworks of Roman origin but very much smaller. These four structures lie essentially alongside the Roman road leading from Llandovery to the Brecon Gaer. There is a fifth and very small oval earthwork at Penybylchau which may be of Roman origin..............

~In addition to the three standing stones which have already been referred to, there is another which has been a great focus of interest and speculation. This is sometimes referred to as St Paul's marble because of the inscription now on it but it has also been known as Y Sythfaen which signifies the erect stone. It is alleged that the apostle Paul preached from this stone and presumably did so during an itinerary to Wales which goes unrecorded in the New Testament.
The facts are, that a stone which stands some eight feet out of the ground was sited in a field approximately 180 yards north of what is now recognised as Pentwyn farm. The stone then being surrounded by a hedge or bank of some kind. It is of interest that the alternative and older name for Pentwyn is Gellymaen which signifies the grove or wood of the stone. This farm formed part of the estate of Major J.J. Holford of Cilgwyn, Myddfai.

~Not far from the camps at Y Pigwn and close by the old inn of Black Cock which lies alongside the old coach road from Llandovery to Trecastle, a Roman milestone or milliary is alleged to have been found. There is no doubt that a Roman milestone, inscribed on one face with Postumus and on the other with Victorinus was found in 1769 about two feet below ground when making a turnpike road on the top of a Trecastle Hill near a house called the Heath Cock. The stone so it is stated was taken to Llandeilo but is now apparently lost. What has been called into question is the site at which the discovery was made. It had been argued by J.F. Jones,' one time curator of Carmarthen Museum, that the milestone was actually found within one of the hamlets of Llandilo Fawr parish by the name of Trecastle. Thus the site of discovery may have been wrongly attributed to the vicinity of the Black Cock also known as Heath Cock, in Myddfai, which is on the old route to Trecastle in Breconshire. The matter remains an open question.

The Physicians of Myddfai

(This section is not a complete extract)

One would not normally expect a native born Welshman or woman to have heard of a seemingly undistinguished and somewhat isolated country parish in Carmarthenshire, yet there is every chance that this would be so in the case of Myddfai. The reason for this is that it is the place always associated with a national folk tale relating the life and exploits of a mythical lady who came to live in the parish, and of her descendants who became known and famous as the Physicians of Myddfai.

The first written, if very brief, reference to the tale is to be found in the diary kept by Richard Fenton for the time he visited Myddfai in 1809. A more comprehensive version appeared as a letter printed in a short-lived periodical called the Cambro-Briton which was published in London in 1821. The fullest version of the legend is to be found under the title 'The legend of Llyn-y-Van-Vach or the origin of The Meddygon Myddfai'. This version is found as a preface in a book called Meddygon Myddvai which was published at Llandovery in 1861 under the auspices of the Society for the Publication of Ancient Welsh Manuscripts.

The version of the tale given in this chapter is a direct copy of that found in the above book which was based on, and derived from the oral recollection of three elderly persons who had lived in Myddfai for much of their lives. The version was taken down in 1841 having been compiled by William Rees of Tonn, Llandovery and reads as follows: - - - - -

(there are several pages in the book under this heading but these are not copied here)

For further online reading;

My Brother's Keeper

(This section is complete)

One has heard it stated that the degree to which a society or community can be considered civilized may be gauged by the provision it makes for its poorest and deprived members. The aim of this chapter is primarily to consider the extent to which care and concern for the needy and unfortunate was manifest in the parish of Myddfai. In 1835 Thomas Bowen landlord of the Plough Inn was ordered to provide bread and broth for 23 people at a total cost of six shillings. In 1821 the parish expended the sum of 3½ pence for the purchase of snuff to be supplied to Ester Pedler, one of the parish paupers. Did such provision express a magnanimity of concern or a grudging response, such are the questions one can ask and assess.

Historically the parish church and its officers have played the dominant role in organising for the care and relief of the needy in the parish. The year 1601 is usually considered a land-mark in the matter of parish welfare, for it was then made compulsory for each parish to provide for the poor by levying a rate on all occupiers of property within the parish. Furthermore an unpaid parish officer, the overseer of the poor was to be appointed whose duty was to levy and collect the rate and oversee its expenditure in the relief of those who could not provide for their own livelihood. Prior to 1601 the relief of need and distress was in the hands of the churchwardens acting on behalf of the church vestry.

For the parish of Myddfai two overseers of the poor were appointed annually by the Church Vestry, one for the upper division of the parish and similarly for the lower division. These overseers almost invariably also acted as churchwardens, thus in their capacity as overseers they were responsible for setting and collecting the Poor Rate whilst in their capacity as churchwardens they were primarily responsible for setting and collecting the Church rate. The Church Rate strictly speaking was to be used for 'the repair of the nave of the parish church and for furnishing the utensils for divine service' but in practice it extended much beyond this for money was raised to finance a host of other functions under the jurisdiction of the churchwardens such as the destruction of vermin to give but one example.

The accounts of the Churchwardens of Myddfai are set out in two books, the first of which commences in 1805. They do however contain a list of the annual assessments raised, as well as the names of the churchwardens as far back as 1703. One can probably best convey the flavour of what was happening by considering in some detail the events for one particular year and chosen as a reasonably typical case year. The year selected is for the period April 6th 1818 to April 5th 1819. The respective churchwardens and overseers of the poor were one Morgan Jones for the upper division and David Williams for the lower. The combined church and poor rate for the year was levied at forty shillings in the pound. The total receipts for the parish amounted to £667-9s-10½d representing £404-12s-5'/2d from the lower division and £262-17s-5d for the upper. An abridged extract of the account giving the expenditure incurred by Morgan Jones is given overleaf (below).

The principal item of expenditure was payment to the registered paupers of the parish. For the year in question, these were 38 in number and received a total of £202-5s. Payment is recorded as an annual contribution which apparently differred according to individual circumstances. The average weekly payment was just over two shillings (10 pence). The total number of paupers varied from year to year and in 1836 for example they amounted to 82 in number but by that year the system of relief had been changed which may account for the much higher figure. One gets a strong impression that widows usually dominated the list of paupers.

A housing subsidy or payment is no new invention of the so called welfare state. In the year 1818-19 the rent for 27 separate households in Myddfai was paid out of the poor rate. The rent on average was between one and two pounds per annum. Those having their rents paid were not always amongst the list of recorded paupers although many were as might be expected. There is one instance of furniture being provided, but the churchwardens saw to it that this was marked with distinguishing letters burnt into the wood.

In addition to the regular payments to the parish paupers whose names were entered in a book kept for the purpose, were in the region of seventy individual payments. These are mainly recorded as charity payments. These payments usually varied between one to ten shillings at most and were only paid by order of the Church Vestry or a justice of the peace and usually for the year in question by order of J. R. Bishop of Dolgarreg.


Part of the Account of Morgan Jones Churchwarden and Overseer of the poor for
the upper division of Mothvey from April 6th 1818 to April 6th 1819

Received by 3 assessments of 40s in the Pound  ............................................................................. £262-17s-5d


Jane Thomas for Nursing the child of Morgan Jones£2-12s-0d
Thomas Jones for maintaining Rees William Smith 8 wks at 3s-6d per week£1-  8s-0d
Morgan Jones for maintaining the above 5 weeks at 3s-6d per week     17s-6d
Paid for new shoes to above       6s-0d
David Bowen for maintaining the above 8 weeks at 3s per week£1- 4s-0d
Morgan Jones 2 weeks at 3s 6d per week       7s-0d
For mending of the cloths of above and a pare of wooden shoes       5s-0d
Ester Pedler for one year£4-  0s-0d
Charity to above     15s-0d
Lewis Lewis for maintaining Christmas Price from April to Jan 19th at 2s per week£4-  2s-0d
Thos Jenkin for Nursing the child of Morgan Jones, a Bastard£4-  0s-0d
For Lodging of Elinor Davies£3-  5s-0d
Charity of the above        2s-0d
For Bringing the Furniture of Elinor Davies from Langadock to Mothvey        6s-0d
Paid my part of County Stock£26-14s-0d
Two Instalments towards Towey Bridge£35-4s-0d
widow Thomas Richard 1s-6d per week£3-18s-0d
widow Timothy Powell 1s 6d per week£3-18s-0d
widow David Mosses 1s 6d per week£3-18s-0d
widow Thomas Jones 5s per week£13-0s-0d
Jenkin G. Howell 2s-3d per week£5-17s-0d
House rent for Morgan Jenkin £1-  1s-0d
Charity to Benjamin Jones, vestry order     10s-0d

One presumes that such payments were to tide over some unexpected crisis or misfortune. Also listed are a few direct payments for food to named persons, examples are, victuals for two days to Ester David, two shillings: another to William Butcher's three children, victuals costing one shilling. In some years there were many more payments for food and they must surely indicate that the situation was indeed desperate for some of the parishioners at such times.

A feature of many of the payments for food was the brevity of time over which they were paid, usually for just a few days or even for just one or two meals. It paints a picture of some individuals or children literally not knowing where the next meal would come from. There is no reason to suppose that the churchwardens were in any way magnanimous and liberal with their payments, if anything the reverse. For the year in question approximately 120 individuals were in receipt of charity or relief at some stage or other. One can surmise that if 120 persons were poverty stricken at some stage, there were probably at least an equal number just above the level of seeking parish assistance. The population of the parish at this time was approximately one thousand; thus in the region of a quarter of its members must have found their lives to be a hard struggle for existence.

Another regular item of expenditure of the overseers was payments for the nursing and maintenance of children. The going rate of payment for this was in the region of three to four pounds per annum. Bastard children figure predominantly in this group, thus for the year in question there were twelve such payments. We read, paid Thomas Jones for nursing the child of Lewis Griffith, a bastard £4-4s-0d. Another instance was payment to Lewis Lewis for maintaining Christmas Price (aged 10) from April 6th to Jan 19th at two shillings per week - £4-2s-0d. The churchwardens made valiant efforts to reduce bastardy payments, this they did by getting the putative father or his family to enter and make a bond to take care of the child so that it would not become a charge on the parish. In fact one of the first entries in the 'Churchwardens and Overseers' account book is a list of forty two such bonds which had been found in the parish chest in 1796 and covering the period from 1753. The entry almost invariably reads, for example, June 2d 1760, bond from David Rhydderch and others for a bastard child.

The parish charged the overseer however with many more responsibilities than simply to collect and distribute the poor rate income. Their work entailed looking after the welfare of the paupers and their families literally from the cradle to the grave. This, however, was to be done as cheaply as possible and furthermore only bona fide parishioners were to be catered for. Destitute children of paupers and sometimes others had to be clothed and shod. Thus we find as a typical example

For a new coat and making to Morgan William's son       12s
New shurt (i.e. shirt)                                  "                      5s
For Briches, wascoat and taping shoes      "                    10s

The children of paupers had also to be apprenticed so that one reads; towards the apprenticeship of Rowland Jones £2s-5s and for the associated indenture seven shillings. Apprenticeship was established by a legal contract and indenture and was not an ad hoc casual arrangement. The rate book for the parish in 1830 lists the places that received payments for taking apprentices. Fifty places, mainly farms are listed and it does seem that the majority of farms took on apprentices at some stage or other. It is difficult to view this arrangement as other than one of cheap labour for the farmer, but one must not judge the arrangement too harshly since it was probably the best under the circumstances and in any case what better alternative was there.

After apprenticeship to a craftsman there was then the need to be set up, at least in some cases as an independent journeyman or craftsman. In the case of John Charles in the year 1807 who was a white smith i.e. a tin smith, the following expenditure was incurred

For a box of Tyn for John Charles       £3-16s-0d
For carriage of above          2s-6d
To Joseph Evans for tools to John Charles       £1-11s-9d

Things however did not go well for John Charles since we read shortly afterwards

To John Charles as relief       £1-  0-0d
To relief and funeral expense of John Charles   £1-16-0d

There is little doubt that the overseers were under constant surveillance and pressure from the majority of their fellow parishioners to reduce the level and burden of the poor rate. One way of cutting down on expenditure gave rise to one of the most disagreeable practices associated with poor law administration, or so it seems to us today. The Act of Settlement of 1662 had given legal powers to the overseers to expel or remove from their own parish certain persons who were not born within the parish or who had no right of settlement there. In practice this meant the removal of those who were or likely to become a charge on the poor rate of the parish. After 1846 the act was ameliorated a little in that persons who had been resident for five years were deemed to be legally settled and therefore not liable to eviction or removal as it was termed. The whole ethos of the poor law was that the parish looked after its own and no one else if it could help it. The accounts for 1818-19 thus record costs

For removal and suspension of William Morgan   7s 0d
My journey to Cwmdy with William Morgan 10s 6d
Journey with Richard Bowen to Llandovery to prove settlement  1s 6d
For removing Richard Bowen to Llangadog   3s 6d

When one reads of the overseers having to travel and visit one of the paupers, it was normally a very ominous sign; incidentally it is noticeable that the overseer would not move a step without claiming what today would be termed travelling and subsistence expenses. An example taken from 1812 illustrates what usually happened and refers to the case of Howell Rees Powell, a pauper who was born in Myddfai but went to live in Llangadog. His case history as revealed in the account book is as follows -

Howell Rees Powell 2s 6d per week till February 29th£5-17s-6d
House rent for above£2-  0-0
Paid the above by order of J.R. Bishop Esq    10s0d
To the above, relief per vestry order    10s0d
Paid the above by order of J.R. Bishop      5s0d
Paid relief to the above      6s0d
For my journey to visit the above      1s0d
Paid the above by Vestry Order      7s0d
Paid for coffin to the above     13s0d
Paid for shroud and making       8s1d
Clerk's fee      2s6d
Paid man with two horses and wheels to bring the corps from Llangadog at Mothvey      6s0d
My journey with the above       1s0d
Paid relief to the widow of Howell Rees Powell       3s6d

Thus is the life of Howell Rees Powell recorded on the pages of the churchwardens account book for Myddfai.

Provision was made in the case of illness amongst paupers or their families for a doctor to attend them. One of the local doctors in Llangadog or Llandovery was paid an annual retainer of around three or four guineas to undertake the work. In cases of illness or debility, the care afforded and given could verge on the compassionate and seemed to extend to more than the minimal degree of care and attention. Treatments were sometimes commissioned that involved considerable expense. In 1817 the overseers paid one pound so as to enable Richard Price to go to saltwater and similarly in 1823 Mary Charles was paid to take John Lewis to saltwater. Saltwater in these cases probably meant going to Aberaeron. Ester Pedler a pauper of longstanding who became more or less blind was taken to Swansea for which the overseers paid Ann David John six shillings for leading her. They also provided snuff for Ester and one of the overseers had also to go and buy clothes for her. The cost of the clothes is not declared but the expense claimed and paid to the overseer for his journey to buy her clothes was 1s 6d. In 1821 a pauper suffering from some kind of mental illness was taken to see a Doctor Rowlands at Devil's Bridge in Cardiganshire, presumably a specialist in such matters, but unfortunately to no avail.

In 1834 the system of parish relief was modified by the Poor Law Amendment Act, sometimes termed the New Poor Law. This meant that parishes were grouped together into unions for the purpose of poor law administration. Boards of guardians were set up with representatives from all the parishes making up the union in order to supervise and administer relief. Nevertheless the charge for relieving the poor still remained on a parochial basis as did the problems of the removal and settlement of paupers.

The first notice for the election of guardians to represent Myddfai on the Llandovery Union was put up on the church door in 1836; those elected for Myddfai were Thomas Thomas of Trallwm and John Walters, Llwynricket. At this stage a workhouse for the Llandovery Union was established and one consequence of this was that two categories of paupers were recognised. Those that were resident in the workhouse and received 'indoor relief' and then those resident in their own places of abode who received 'outdoor relief'. The annual report for the Llandovery Union in 1863 shows those resident in the workhouse and from Myddfai, included 2 females under 16, 1 illegitimate child under 16, 6 other children, one non-able bodied man and one male under 16 years of age. Those receiving outdoor relief in Myddfai were 8 males, 38 females and 22 children under 16.

Concern and assistance for the poor of the parish was not entirely dependent on the local administration of the poor law. There were instances of what could be termed private charity in the form of bequests of various kinds. Out of 450 wills made by parishioners since 1600 and available for examination, six record bequests to the poor of the parish or more usually to the 'deserving poor' of the parish. They were -

i.   Rees ap Ieuan Rees in 1606 who bequeathed to the pooreman's box of my parish church, sixpence
ii.  Rees Lewis, clerk, in 1692 bequeathed forty shillings.
iii. John David in 1722 gave unto the poor of the parish the sum of eight pounds
iv. John Lewis Powell gent. in 1727 gave thirty shillings
v.  Rees Price of Glantowy in 1747 bequeathed to ten poor labouring persons of the parish, nominated and chosen by his executors, the sum of ten pounds.
vi. Blanch Price 1777. £20 to the poor of Myddfai.

Such bequests were far too few and small to have any significant effect on the overall and long term relief of poverty, although the bequest of a pound each to ten labourers by Rees Price must have seemed an unreal bonanza to the recipients. Of greater significance and impact were bequests which entailed the regular and annual payment of monies to the poor of the parish. Three such arrangements are recorded.

The oldest of the charities is known as the Bishop of Llandaff or Bishop Owen's Charity. Morgan Owen was born at Glasallt Fawr, Myddfai in 1595. In his will dated 1644 it is written

"I give ten pounds to the poore of the parish of Mothvey where I was borne to be distributed by my executors during their lives and after by the church-wardens of the parish and to be paid upon the first Sunday in October and the first Sunday in January for ever"

This bequest represented a large amount of money at the time it was made, the money emanating out of the tithes of the Rectory of Llanegwad. The monies issuing out of this charity have with one interruption been distributed at the church up to the present day. The income does not now come from the rectory of Llanegwad but is the interest from monies controlled by the Church Commissioners.

The second charity was established by the will of Josiah Holford of Cilgwyn dated 20 February 1835 in which he bequeathed £200 whose interest was to be used for the benefit of the parish poor. This was known as the Holford Charity. The third bequest is known as the Lewis Charity and was established by the will of Lewis Lewis and is dated 29 Feb 1876. He directed that £250 of 3% consolidated annuities be purchased in the name of the rector or incumbent of the parish and the proceeds divided on Good Friday in each year between the most deserving poor of the parish of Myddfai. Lewis Lewis was born in 1799 at Myddfai, the son of Lewis Lewis Esq of Cefnrhyddan. He greatly prospered as a spirit merchant in Merthyr Tydfil; perhaps he had a qualm of conscience.

During the last century there emerged and developed throughout Wales what were termed friendly societies. At the local or parish level they took the form of groups of labourers and craftsmen who contributed a weekly sum of money to a common fund. Should members be then unable to earn a livelihood due to illness or some misfortune, they could then expect to receive a weekly contribution out of the fund. These societies were represented by local clubs or lodges which were very often centred on the local or principal public house. The Order of Ivorites formed a club in Myddfai in 1841. This was called St Michaels and held its proceedings at the Kings Head Inn. We know very little about this club other than a contemporary comment that it had many members. Clubs belonging to the order of Ivorites encouraged and carried out its proceedings in Welsh and all officers bar the treasurer were expected to be able to speak Welsh. A club was in existence in Myddfai around the 1890's and met at the Kings Head. Miss May Durance Davies, the infants teacher at the village school, recalled the annual club feast being held in front of the Kings Head.

An earlier friendly society club had been established at Myddfai, probably around the period 1810 but this had become bankrupt by 1818. All we know for certain about this club is that one James Hughes sued the club in Myddfai for £8-7s being due to him whilst unable to work because of illness. The justices of the peace upheld his claim and decreed accordingly. The stewards of the club were David Lewis of Lletyifanddu and Daniel Thomas farmer. A parish constable, William Jones was ordered to confiscate the assets of the club and make a levy out of the assets in order to pay James Hughes. The constable was quite unable however to find any goods or assets belonging to the club which could be taken in distraint. In view of this it was ordered that assets of the two stewards of the club be sold in order to raise the money required. What happened afterwards is not made clear and all we know comes from a letter written by Daniel Thomas, one of the stewards, to the constable asking that his 'clock and case' which had been taken in distraint on Sept 4th 1818 be not valued and put up for sale until Sept 16. The presumption is that James Hughes was ultimately paid his benefit, but it was obvious that the club was bankrupt.

The quarter session records for 1809 show a somewhat unusual entry in that it was ordered that the Articles of a Female Friendly Society at Myddfai be kept at some unspecified house in the village. No further details were given. Nevertheless this instance together with the other two referred to, reveal that amongst labourers and craftsmen of the parish there had begun the development of a certain degree of self-confidence that living conditions might be ameliorated and changed by their own efforts.

What official documents and records do not reveal is the degree of private and personal help and care exercised amongst parishioners. Conversations with those who could recall the first quarter of this century and also of those who heard the recollections from older generations show a community of greater interdependence than is apparent now. Cottagers and in particular widows living adjacent to farms supplemented their meagre resources by carrying out odd jobs for which they were paid in farm produce. Cottagers were often permitted to grow a few rows of potatoes as part of a larger crop in return for assistance at harvest or some special occasion in the farming calendar. Such social involvements between parishioners have by now largely disappeared and presumably because there is no need or role for them.

Births, Marriages and Death

(This section is not a complete extract)

An inscription on one of the gravestones in the cemetery of the parish church records the following somewhat sardonic and forceful reminder.

Meddwl ddyn wrth fynd heibio
Fel r'wyt tithau finnau fuo
Fel yr wyf finnau, tithau ddeu
Cofia ddyn mai marw fyddu.

This rather literally translated means; think man as you pass, as you are, I was. As I am you will be, remember man that you will die. Other inscriptions reflect an attitude of resignation to the transience of life and especially so on those tombstones which record the death of many children or young people within a family. The parish church registers give the names of just over four thousand persons who have been buried within the compass of the cemetery in the period 1653 - 1851. Reflection on such matters naturally raise many questions and issues concerning for example life expectancy within the parish, changes in population and its causes, such are the issues touched on in this chapter.

The principal sources of relevant information are the church parish registers. These are ten in number and commence in the year 1653 and they give a more or less unbroken record of baptisms, marriages and burials. The earliest decipherable pair of entries reads

Thomas Jenkin Bevan was buried the 6 of October 1653
Howell Thomas ap Jenkin was buried the 9 of October 1653

Up until about 1830 and more specifically 1837 in the case of marriages, the registers are a reasonably accurate account of the total number of baptisms, marriages and burials within the parish. After the above dates however and following the establishment of non-conformist chapels within and adjacent to the parish, the data presented in the registers can no longer be taken as comprehensive for the parish. The non-parochial i.e. non-conformist chapel registers or records for Myddfai are apparently very few, at least they cannot be traced and they may never have existed as such. The population of the parish is not normally recorded in the registers although they may be used to estimate it........................................

~The changes in parish population have been rather dramatic, showing a peak of 1192 persons in 1831 and since that time but more especially since 1861 there has been a steady decline to a figure of 338 in 1981. Such has been the decline, that the population of the present decade is about a third of that in the period 1831 - 1861. This change conjures up all manner of intriguing questions; what was the parish like with three times its current population and how did such changes come about. Such changes in population were not however unique to Myddfai but a feature of rural parishes in much of Wales; it is just that they are shown up rather clearly in the case of Myddfai.

~ ............. One of the most noticeable features of the data is the existence of four years, 1674, 1684, 1729 and 1833 when the numbers of deaths were exceptionally high and double the average figures.................

~Unfortunately we have no records giving the cause of death for any of the high mortality years in Myddfai. What is available however is a record in the parish register for the period 1792 - 1796 giving causes of death. A photograph of the entries as shown in the parish register for the year 1796 is presented. (not copied).
The entries for 1792 and 1793 are set out ... (below)

   YEAR 1792 

Name     Cause of Death Age
Rowland.Small Pox22
Margaret William Thomas Small Pox 4
Mary Daniel PaulOld Age63
Mary.Small Pox13
William David.Old Age82
William Williams.Old Age92
William Bishop--
Gwenllian.Old Age 73
William Morgan Jenkin.Consumptive18
Thomas Thomas John. Died Suddenly13
Mary.Old Age 75
Ann. Small Pox2
Mary.Small Pox4
Catherine.Small Pox1
Charles.Small Pox1
Jane Rees Morgan.Old Age70


     YEAR 1793

NameCause of DeathAge
David,  Died Suddenly-
Elinor,Cancer of her breast60
Rees David Evan.Consumptive32
David.Died suddenly1
Elinor.Died in child bed31
David.Died suddenly1
Mary.Worm fever-
Gwenllian.Died in Child bed27
John.  Worm fever-
David.  Convulsion fits-
Morgan Prydderch.A fever 42
Thomas Beynon.Old Age 82
David Thomas.Worm fever-
David.A fever-
Rachel. Died in child bed22

The entries taken for the three years illustrate the importance of small pox and its role presumably in accounting for much of the variation in mortality. It is also apparent that small pox may be widespread in one year but absent in the next. It is children in the main who seen to succumb to it. One somewhat unfamiliar feature of the tables is the reference to worm fever. The tables are taken from a time which predates the germ theory of disease and at such time, disease which could not be attributed to some specifically recognized cause was sometimes categorized as worm fever, since worms were believed to be general causative agents of disease. We cannot say whether small pox accounted for the four crisis years for mortality in Myddfai but what little evidence there is suggests that increased mortality was right across the age spectrum and thus is less likely to be due to small pox.

Mortality amongst children of five years and under and especially within the first two years was extraordinarily high. The parish registers of Myddfai for a period of 59 years between 1792 and 1850 give the age of those buried. The number of those dying at different ages for 5 years intervals over the period specified is shown overleaf (not copied) as a percentage of the total number who died within that 59 year period.

Almost a quarter of all those born died within the first two years of life and very near a third of all births by the fifth birthday. A walk through the churchyard shows a number of instances where three or four children of the one family have died in childhood. We are probably already too far removed from the world of our ancestors to be able to appreciate fully how they reacted in terms of attitude and belief to such a high rate of infant mortality. Gravestone inscriptions usually express hope for some future and after-life devoid of the traumas of the material world.

The average expected length of life over the period in question was 37.6 years. Life expectancy figures are often quoted and while arithmetically accurate, give a somewhat misleading picture of life expectancy. For those that survived the first five years of life, then the prospects of a long life were rather good, at least within the period that we have data for Myddfai. Octogenarians were rather common in this period. We can surely discount a report published in 'Yr Haul' for 1843 which records that the age of death given on the coffin of a person in Myddfai village was 804 years.

The parish registers usually show the date when a person was buried and thus one can look to see whether there is any seasonal change in mortality rates. When this is done for Myddfai a clear pattern emerges; the data are expressed as a percentage for the month which shows the highest mortality figure and the data have also been adjusted to allow for the different number of days in the months of the year.

The data presented in the graph (not copied) amply confirms the very well known Welsh proverb or saying-

'Mawrth a ladd, ond Ebrill a fling'

which may be translated as 'March kills but April flays' signifying that April is an even harsher month than March. One normally imagines this saying as applying to farm animals, but seemingly the parishioners of Myddfai as probably of every other parish were not outside its remit. The number of deaths builds up from December to reach a peak in April and then in the summer we have the good months of July, August and September. One can only surmise that the standard and level of nutrition was in some way responsible for the pattern shown. There is no evidence to suggest that the pattern seen was in any way related to an absolute shortage of food, what was probably more important was the poor quality and nature of the food eaten, leading to progressively lower resistance to illness and disease. Food eaten in the winter months was probably unbalanced or deficient with respect to vitamins and minerals.

~Mortality rates were not the only things which varied with the seasons. The parish registers give the dates for close on one thousand weddings between 1654 and 1886. When these are sorted out according to the month in which they took place, the above (graph not copied) pattern emerges.
The peak months for marriages are November and December having between two and three times the monthly marriages in the period January to October. The lowest values are for April and September and which correspond with especially busy times in the farming calendar. The church did not favour marriages during Lent and this may also contribute to a lower value for April. The November peak is almost certainly a reflection of the fact that Myddfai represents a farming community where November is usually considered to be the slack month of the year and thus a more opportune time for marriage to take place. A remnant of this influence was still manifest up until the middle of this century since farm servants usually took their 'holidays' during the month of November, at least those that did or were able to have a break in their regular employment.

~In the period 1810 - 1860 the parish accommodated about three times more people than it does currently. A larger population can be sustained by there being more families or households within the parish or else families were very much larger, but it is also possible to have combinations of both. The change in the number of inhabited houses since 1840 is shown below.

1840       261
1880       199
1920       150
1960       127
1985       140

~In the period 1840 to 1920 about 120 houses or cottages became uninhabited and thus mostly derelict. There is evidence however that many houses were disappearing prior to 1840 and probably since 1800. The names or locality of at least eighteen of these are known, places such as Cwm Clyn Cafan, Lletty'n garreg. In additon hamlets consisting of three or four houses have also disappeared such as Penrallt, Briscoed, Pentretryswel, Pwlldefaid. There were no doubt many more houses of which there is no record. One is left with a strong impression that houses or cottages were abundantly scattered throughout the parish and in far greater numbers than anything like today.

~The disappearance and abandonment of houses representing usually cottages and small holdings has certainly coincided with the fall in the population since around 1860.

~The economic conditions were such that there were substantial numbers of paupers in the parish. In 1836 there were 82 registered paupers and the probability is that there was an equal number if not more, who were just above the level of being a registered pauper. One gets an occasional glimpse of conditions: the agent of Lord Cawdor describes conditions on Pwllygerwen (now submerged by the Usk Reservoir) as one of 'grim poverty'. Rents were high and incomes low but food costs remained high following the 'good' times of the Napoleonic Wars. Such had been the 'hunger' for land that high rents could only be tolerated in 'good' times and an economic squeeze could lead to penury. Conditions of hopelessness and despair are not of themselves sufficient to make persons leave; there has to be some prospect, real or imagined, of some betterment or an Eldorado beyond the parish boundary. For many in Myddfai there was such an escape and figuratively speaking on their door-step. The burgeoning iron and later coal industries were in many instances only an easy day's walking distance away over the Black Mountain or a little further if they had to cross the Brecon Beacons. Here was hope for a better life.

~The census of 1851 was the first to show the parish of birth of individuals. If one examines the above census returns for parishes surrounding and in the hinterland of Myddfai one can get an estimate of the numbers of persons who left the parish and were then resident outside. The data obtained for a range of parishes is shown in the following table; the numbers given include both adults and children.

PARISH DISTRICTNumber Resident but born in Myddfai
Llangadog 40
Llandingat (includes Llandovery)95
Llanfairarybryn 33
Cilycwm 12
Conwil Gaio2
Ystradgynlais 73
Merthyr Tydfil106
Llansantfraed, Brecs 3
Llanhamlach, Brecs4
Penpont, Brecs2
Abertridwr and Bedwellty 8

The numbers listed represent persons who were born in Myddfai but had left within the period 1780 to 1850 and mostly after 1800. This does not of course represent the total migration out of the parish since it does not include other parishes in Wales and also emigration to England and America. Neither does it include persons who had left for the parishes listed but had died before the census was taken in 1851.

Neighbouring parishes such as Llandingat and Llywel have relatively high numbers of Myddfai born and mainly as domestic servants or farm labourers. Other parishes also adjacent, such as Llanwrda, Llansadwrn and Caio are notable for their low numbers, presumably because there was no employment there for incomers. The places with star attraction were Merthyr Tydfil and Ystradgynlais having respectively 106 and 73 persons from Myddfai. In the latter case the Myddfai born must have been a not insignificant fraction of the total population.

The case of Rhys Richards must have been quite typical. He was born in Tredegar cottage on Caegwyn in 1824 and walked to Merthyr Tydfil when he was twelve years old. In 1851 he is recorded as being an 'engine tender' having married a Barbara who was Merthyr born. John Walters was born at Mount Pleasant, Myddfai in 1814; by 1851 he was an ostler at the Bush Hotel, Merthyr Tydfil. The following is a list showing the kind of work obtained by the those who went from Myddfai to Merthyr.

  • James Jones, 45. Collier
  • David Beynon, 27. Pudler
  • Margaret George, widow, 39. Unloading coal for furnace
  • Evan Rees, 48. Ironstone miner
  • John Morris, 23. Assistant draper
  • William Pritchard, 39. Moulder
  • John Lewis, 22. Blacksmith
  • John Jenkins, 45. Proprietor of houses
  • Morgan Thomas, 79. Blocklayer. Married Anna born Athlone, Eire
  • William Jones, 36. Mason
  • William Jenkins, 31. Shoemaker. Married Charlott, born Devon
  • Margaret Evans, 47, widow. Supported herself by knitting

These are but twelve examples out of the very many who sought a better life beyond the parish of their birth.

~One can illustrate the extent and importance of migration out by comparing it with the total numbers born within the parish. In the period 1780 - 1850 there were 2265 baptisms or births recorded for the parish. About a quarter at least would have died in their infancy leaving approximately 1600 potential emigrants. Within this period just over 500 of those Myddfai born have actually been shown to have left. This figure represents a lower bound and the actual numbers who had left were probably very much greater.

~The decline in the population of the parish became a significant phenomenon from 1860 onwards. The underlying causes of the decline are difficult to ascertain. Data for the level of emigration are not to hand for this period and neither are there reliable data for the total number of births within the parish since baptisms by this time were carried out in chapels for which there are few records available. One can surmize that the level of emigration increased rather than decreased, but there is no proof of this. In the final analysis what really brought about depopulation was the non-quantifiable attitude of the local craftsmen, cottagers and small farmers. What made them decide that it was just not worth carrying on the struggle to try and earn a livelihood in the parish? The farms and especially the small ones had become uneconomic due to high rents and rates allied to reduced income arising from low prices for farm produce. Wages for the 'labouring classes' were low relative to prices and the opportunity for employment was getting less. It is little wonder that many decided to 'pack it in' and look for an Eldorado principally in the land of the coal and iron industry where a months wage could be comparable to what was earned during a whole year by working on the land, assuming such work was available. One gets the clear impression that at the beginning of this century nearly every family within the parish had close relatives who had gone, as the local phrase put it - 'i'r gweithe', in other words to industrial South Wales. One has to conclude that the most significant export from the parish has probably been its people.

Owners and Occupiers

(This section is not a complete extract)

The map (77kb) presented overleaf  shows the distribution of all the individual land holdings within the parish of Myddfai as they existed in 1839; their names are also listed (below). Relatively few of these holdings were owner-occupied, the majority were part of some estate or other. The whole area was dominanted by four estates they being known as the estates of Cilgwyn (2437ac), Glasallt (1078ac), Williamsfield (850ac) and Llwynwormwood (1399ac). A second map shows the extent of these estates and also some more minor ones. The more minor estates were usually designated as those of Dolgarreg, Ystrad, Velindre, Glansevin, Lletyifanddu and Llwynybrain. The owners of these more minor estates, except for Lletyifanddu possessed however extensive lands outside the parish. The lands belonging to all these estates occupied nearly 80% of the enclosed land of the parish. The consequence of this is that most parishioners were tenants of some estate or other and they, whether they liked it or not had to play a part in the dialogue between landlord and tenant. The only places which were owner-occupied at this stage were Abermydan, Blaencwm (Sardis), Blaendynfich, Cwmgwyn, Cwmydw, Gribin, Greenhill, Llwynrhydd, Llwynricket, Pentwynuchaf and Troedrhiw (by Gellyfelen). There were also four freehold cottages.

Key to place names on the 1839 Tithe Map of the parish

  • 1       PENTRE MEURIG (PART)
  • 2       TYLE HOWEL
  • 3       CNWC
  • 4       CYNILL UCHAF
  • 5       CYNILL GANOL
  • 6       CYNILL ISAF
  • 7       BANC Y FEDWEN
  • 8       CAE LlAN
  • 9       CAE SHENKIN (PART)
  • 10     GLANTOWY
  • 11     CWMCOWDDU
  • 12      COLLEGE
  • 13      GODRE'R WAUN or FOREST
  • 14      CYNILL GANOL (PART) see 5
  • 15      WAUN GYD
  • 16      BANC YR YWEN
  • 17      WERNFRENA (PART)
  • 18      DOLGARREG
  • 18a     SPREAD EAGLE
  • 19      COEDLASALLT
  • 20      GLASALLT FAWR
  • 22      CWM or CWMYDW ISAF
  • 23      GLANSEVIN (PART)
  • 24      MANDINAM (PART)
  • 25      PENYBANC
  • 26      TAN HOUSE or TANNERDY
  • 27      RHANDIR EGLWYS
  • 28      CAEGWYN
  • 29      TYNGWTTER
  • 30      BLAENDYNFICH (PART) see 44
  • 31      PENLASALLT
  • 32      LLWYN IFAN FEDDlG
  • 33      CWRT
  • 34      DYFFRIN
  • 35      LLETYRHYDDOD
  • 36      CWM or TYRYCWM
  • 37      CWMGWYN
  • 38      DDERWEN FAWR
  • 39      GlMLET HALL
  • 40      TROEDRHUE
  • 41      TYNCOED
  • 42      PENYCARE
  • 43      CERRIGCWNWD
  • 44      BLAENDYNFICH
  • 45      LLETY IFAN DDU
  • 46      PISTILL GWYN
  • 47      CILGWYN
  • 48      BEILIRYN
  • 49      BLAENCWM
  • 50      CWMBRAN (PART)
  • 51      GELLYBANT
  • 51a     GWERNMES
  • 52      GLANTYWI
  • 53      TIRCOED
  • 54      PENTREFENTY
  • 55      TREFENTY
  • 56      GOLEUGOED
  • 57      GORLLWYN FAWR
  • 58      TROEDRHIW
  • 59      PENRHOCK
  • 59a    CORNEL GWYN
  • 60      COEDCAEBACH
  • 61      CASTELL MADOG
  • 63      PWLL DEFAID
  • 64      PWLL DEFAID
  • 65      GARREG LEFAIN
  • 66      GOLEUGOED FACH
  • 67      GORLLWYN FACH
  • 68      CEFNRHYDDAN
  • 69      PANTYGASEG
  • 72      TYRBACH
  • 73      GELLYFELEN
  • 76      CNWC LLWYD
  • 78      CWM
  • 79      TRALLWM see 82
  • 81      GOLLEN WEN
  • 82      TRALLWM (PART)
  • 83      RHANDIR EGLWYS
  • 84      VICARAGE
  • 85      LLWYNRHICET
  • 87      PEN BWLCH GWYN
  • 88      CAE TRAP
  • 90      COL and GREEN HILL
  • 91      CEFNGWRYCH
  • 92      RHOCK
  • 93      MOUNT PLEASANT
  • 94      CEFNCERRIG
  • 95      CWMCOY
  • 97      TYNLLWYN
  • 98      MERDY BACH
  • 99      RHANDIR FACH   (part TYNLLWYN)
  • 101   BLAEN NANT
  • 102   CAE TRI LLIPA
  • 103   RHANDIR FAWR
  • 104   LLAIN part MERDY BACH
  • 106   TYNEWYDD
  • 107   CWMYDW
  • 108   BEILIGLAS
  • 109   CAE'R PANT (part)  CWMYDW
  • 110   PENTWYN
  • 112   PENTWYN MAWR
  • 113   TYNGARN
  • 114   RHYBLID
  • 115   BEILI CELYN
  • 117   GWERNYFED  (PART)
  • 118   FAN FACH
  • 119   TYR BACH
  • 120   GARN-LWYD
  • 122   CAENEWYDD
  • 125   TYRYGRAIG
  • 126   BLAENYDW
  • 127   PWLLE
  • 128   CEFN GOLEU
  • 129   CWMCLYD
  • 136   TYRYCWRT
  • 136a  BWLCHYRHIW
  • 137   GRIBIN
  • 138   TRICHWMWL
  • 139   BWLCH BRAN
  • 140   LLWYNPIOD
  • 141   DAGFA
  • 142   HAFOD FAWR
  • 143   TROEDYRHIW
  • 144   FERGWM
  • 147   BLACK COCK
  • 149   HAFOD FACH
  • 150   GOYALLT
  • 151   GRAIG
  • 152   DYLLES
  • 153   PWLL Y GERWN
  • 154   BLAENDDOL
  • 155   CWMENE
  • 156   TYRCYD
  • 159   PENCAE


 Diagram showing Extent of principal estates in 1839 (91kb)

  ~ One of the most notable changes in estate land-holding between 1742 and 1839 has been the great increase in the Cilgwyn estate; to the extent that approximatly a quarter of the enclosed land in the parish is so occupied. Estates fed off each other as it were and the increase in the Cilgwyn estate has resulted from a number of different processes. These have been principally the inheritance of lands from relations holding land within the parish; by marriage of the estate owner to a well endowed and sole heiress and finally by the purchase of lands of other estates forced to sell up and often as a result of bankruptcy. These three processes contributed to the increase in the Cilgwyn estate.

One hundred and fifty years on from 1840 and the situation has been completely reversed and transformed. Myddfai today is a land of individual family farms where all but three or four are owner-occupied or administered. These changes in land tenure have been extremely rapid in a historical perspective.

~The worth of an estate has traditionally been assessed in terms of the income it produced for its owner by the tenants. There was however much more to being part of an estate, whether it be as landlord or tenant, than the mere honouring of a financial agreement. There were many other obligations involved of varying importance and subtlety. The matter of the annual rent paid by the tenant was of course of paramount importance, in fact its payment was recognised as the first obligation of the tenant. Properties were usually let out either in terms of a lease at a fixed annual payment over a pre-determined number of years or else as rent fixed on an annual basis. Occasionally leases were made for lives and there is one example in Myddfai where Thomas Jones held the lease of Ysguborfawr for three lives at an annual rent of £44. During the eighteenth century 21 year leases were common and the following is a list for some farms.

Farm Year of Commencement
of 21 year lease  
Annual rent
Blackcock 1776 £2- 0-0
Caeshenkin1747£23- 0-0
Cefnlasallt1799£13- 0-0
Cwmbranissa 1761£7- 0-0
Cynill bach1774£10-10-0
Glasalltissa1768£35- 0-0
Tyngwtter1799£5- 0-0

Not all however had 21-year leases, Cynill Bach at an earlier date was under a 11-year lease, Caeshenkin a 31-year lease for one period and then a 7-year lease. All farm tenants holding land under leases had additional obligations. Some of these obligations were undoubtedly in the interest of good husbandry and the maintenance of soil fertility. One very common obligation was the application of so many teals of lime to the land. John Jones of Blackcock had to apply 10 teals of lime annually and the Caeshenkin lease stipulated that 100 teals of lime was to be applied for the first five years of the lease and an additional amount during the last three years of the lease. The planting of trees or hedges was sometimes in the conditions of a lease. For example, William Francis of Cynill Bach had to plant each year six saplings of oak or ash and fence around them. The tenant of Llwynifanfeddyg was under a similar obligation.

The landlords fully appreciated that the sale or removal of hay or straw and most certainly of farm yard manure represented in the long term, an impoverishment of a farm and some leases stipulated that such materials should be spent and employed solely on the farm.

The lease for Glasalltfawr and Llwynifanfeddyg in 1799 stipulated that all hay, straw, fodder, dung, muck, and soil should be spent and employed on the land. Thomas Jones of Ysguborfawr was prosecuted for allegedly carrying off 50 loads of farm yard manure from his farm; he was also prohibited from ploughing or breaking up any of the meadow ground.

The obligations involving matters of husbandry could be considered as beneficial to both landlord and tenant. Tenants had however a number of other obligations which were described as duties. All tenants were obliged to render their 'duties' but they could take on many forms. Until the beginning of this century all farming tenants of the Cilgwyn estate had to render at Michaelmas two fat turkeys or two fat geese for the use of the landlord. Sometimes it involved supplying fat chickens or pullets at Christmas, the number being required depending on the size of the farm. This obligation was termed 'fowl duty'. There was however, at least latterly, provision to pay money in lieu, and as an example the Cwmbran Issa lease stipulated two fat pullets at Christmas or three shillings in lieu. John Jones of the Blackcock had to provide a couple of fat fowls and 20 eggs. The duties were sometimes more exacting, the tenant of Caeshenkin had to provide yearly, one salmon weighing 16 pounds and to be delivered sweet and sound and good at the dwelling house of Thomas Davies in the town of Brecon and in the seasonable time of the year for such salmon to be taken. Procuring the salmon may have been relatively easy but its delivery to Brecon must have been quite onerous. In 1837 the tenant of Llwynjack had to keep a dog, provide a fat goose, fat turkey, four fat fowls and carry three waggon loads of coal to Llwynybrain. Tenants of the Cilgwyn and Glansevin estates had to keep a young fox hound or beagle for a season. A very ancient 'duty' but still stipulated in some leases was termed suit of mill. John Jones of Blackcock had to grind all his corn at Felin Gutto Mill, whilst Thomas Jones of Ysguborfawr was supposed to grind all his corn at Pwllcalch Mill, despite the fact that he lived within a stone's throw of Bran Mill. The fact that Thomas Jones had not done so was given as evidence in an action brought against him by his landlord in 1796.

~Landlords were not without obligations to their tenants. The condition and extent of the farm house and outbuildings was a matter for the landlord. One can safely predict that most of the houses in the parish prior to 1940 and in fact many of the ones currently occupied were originally built and maintained at the expense of the estate of which they were part. It is extremely difficult in general to date houses and cottages with any degree of precision in Myddfai. Most of the farm houses probably date some time after 1810 although many must have been altered since. There is a little information available; Hafod and Trichwmwl were built or at least extensively rebuilt around 1806. The barn at Rhyblid was constructed in 1853 and in all probability the house as well. One of the outbuildings at Llwynricket is dated 1798 and it may be inferred that Tynewydd was built as a new house in the period 1836-38.

The agent for the Paynter estate who was very familiar with the situation in Myddfai and Llanwrda comments in a letter dated 1848 that the improvement in farm buildings was astonishing within the past 20 years. 'The miserable mud hovels of former days are now giving way to neat farm houses all slated and with good glazed windows'. He was responsible for Cynill and describes how in 1848 when the old barn, which was made of mud walls was pulled down ready to be rebuilt, it was found impossible to keep up the attached stable house and thus all had to be rebuilt of stone.

~Many, and one may estimate that about 50% of farmhouses in Myddfai as seen today are of a fairly standard pattern, having a front facade with a central doorway and a window on either side and with three windows above. The whole house being box-like or rectangular in overall plan. Such a structure is usually dated to some period after 1780-1800. A house of such type may however have been arrived at by substantial modification of a house previously on the site or else by the building of a new house adjacent to an old one. In places such as Cwmcowddu, Esgairfeithgen, Ysguborfawr, Tyngarn and Rhyblid the position of an old house is known which was sited a short distance from the present one. The tithe map of 1839 gives about 10 instances of a field called Cae'r Hendy (field of the old house) which strongly suggests the existence at one time of an old house. Some houses such as Cefn Cilgwyn, Caeshenkin and Glasallt Fawr probably represent periodical modifications of a structure that goes back to the eighteenth or seventeenth century at least. Until quite recently one of the best examples in the parish of a pair of old houses that had remained since the 17th century without substantial major structural alteration were to be found at Garreglefain.

When farms were leased or rented the landlords rights to the use and sale of timber were always safeguarded most scrupulously. Just occasionally one finds that a tenant is permitted to cut down timber just sufficient for repairs and use on the farm. The principal reason for this was that timber represented about the only ready source of cash for the landlord. The Carmarthen Journal from its first publication in 1811 contains numerous advertisements for the sale of timber in Myddfai. On April 13th 1813 there was to be sold 151 oak trees on Ysguborfawr, 39 on Llettyrhyddod, 76 on Berllandywyll and 50 on Pwllcalch. The trees could be viewed by application to Mr William Morgan of Beiliglas, he being wood-ward for the Glasallt Estate. In 1835 at the Kings Head, Myddfai, three thousand oak and timber trees on Llwynwormood were put for sale and it was noted they were fit for naval and other purposes. They could be viewed on application to John Durance of the Kings Head. Sir George Griffies Williams of Llwynwormwood was in all probability financially embarrassed and was adopting the standard and well tried procedure in such circumstances; selling off the timber. Most of the advertisements state explicitly and firmly that the tenants will show the timber trees to prospective buyers. One must also not forget that oak bark was a valuable source of cash in addition to the timber.

~There were many prosecutions of parishioners and no doubt those that were caught were but a small proportion of those involved in poaching. There are many examples, in 1896 John Price of Tynewydd was charged by Thomas Hall, a game keeper in the employ of Mr Pritchard of Cilgwyn, with having caught a pheasant in a trap; he was fined ten shillings. George Greening a game keeper in the employment of Gwyn-Holford, Cilgwyn saw a David Davies kicking the bushes on Castell madock and he also had a gun with him. He ran off but the game keeper recognized him, as he declared 'I know him, his legs were quite enough for me'. The game keepers probably knew very well who were the regular poachers and the many artifices used in their trade. The sight of a pheasant regularly strutting about on some field of a tenanted farm must have been a temptation well nigh impossible to resist. One factor that may have assuaged the conscience of the tenant, assuming that was necessary, was the knowledge that the game was preserved as often as not for the use and pleasure not of the landlord but for another person who had rented or leased the shooting rights.

~The estate owners were expected and did distribute largesse at Christmas and to relieve at times the sharp edge of poverty within the parish. Mrs Gwyn-Holford over many years used regularly to send blankets and flannel at Christmas to be distributed among the deserving poor of the parish as well as 100 large buns for the school children. This generosity was normally followed by a rather unctious letter in the Carmarthen Journal written by the vicar or the schoolmaster thanking Gwyn-Holford for such munificence and 'that his life may be a long one is the earnest prayer of the recipients'. In 1864 Mrs Gwynne Holford paid £10 as the premium required to apprentice one Isaac Davies whose father was a labourer at Cilgwyn, to a builder at Newport, Mon.

~One of the highlights of estate life was the annual rent audit when the tenants came to pay their rents. They were then given a 'sumptuous' dinner usually at the Castle or Kings Head hotels in Llandovery. Tenants of the small Paynter estate were not given a rent audit dinner and one reads of the estate agent writing to the landlord recommending that a rent dinner be given as this would expedite the paying of rents on time. It was probably far better to be a tenant of a large estate than of a small one with a correspondingly lower total rent income but with a non-commensurate life style by the estate owner. Mrs Paynter declares 'every shilling is an object to me to say nothing of one's not liking to be tricked out of even a shilling as some of the Welsh attorneys are so fond of doing'. ..............................

~One can only give glimpses of that relation of landlord with tenant and there is no means now of assessing its full significance at the more personal level. Being a farm tenant meant more than just paying the rent. Tenants it seems were usually anxious to keep in the good books, as it were, of their landlord. The tenant of Tyllwyd on the Llwynybrain estate would, whenever a cow was slaughtered for home consumption, send its tongue to his landlord at Llwynybrain. Evans Davies in Aberdyfnant, Llanddeusant in the mid 1920's would try and send each autumn a pheasant to his landlord who lived in Ebbw Vale. These instances did not represent stipulated 'duties' but attempts to improve one's standing with the landlord. Thus hopefully giving greater security of tenure and perhaps lower increases in rent.

The relationship of landlord and tenant can hardly have always been a paragon of amicability; there is one example of a disagreement between landlord and tenant making the tenant of Ystradwalter and his family decide to leave enbloc and take on a farm in the vicinity of Lutterworth in Leicestershire. It used to be considered that it was expedient to address the landlord as Sir as frequently as possible; this was known locally as 'syro'.

~Estate duty was introduced in 1894 and its level progressively increased until 1930. This together with certain extra duties levied in Lloyd George's budget of 1909 were a blow to the survival of many estates which were very often already in a precarious financial predicament. Financial settlements for family relations which were beyond the financial resources of the estate owner were a great source of weakness. A greater financial return from investment other than in land was an attraction to sell off and invest the proceeds in industrial or financial institutions. Latterly the difficulty of imposing and raising rents in periods of agricultural depression were an added complication. All of these factors undoubtedly played a part but I suppose that ultimately it was a question of resolve, nerve and self assurance. Was it worth the trouble to be an owner of an estate generating a relatively low income from land, and perhaps just as importantly no longer guaranteed a social position and pre-eminence in the community. Was it worth all the trouble to have the men of the estate or parish doff their hats and say sir and the women to curtsy: probably not, or at least not any longer.

Law and Order

(This section is not a complete extract)

There have been three principal systems or institutions which have been empowered to impose sanctions and excercise control over the actions and behaviour of parishioners with respect to public conduct and administration. The three are or have been; the manorial establishment with its own system of courts and parish administration, secondly the church to the extent that it too had charge of certain facets of parish administration. It could also impose sanctions against what it considered unsuitable conduct or behaviour by means of its own consistory or bishop's court. The third category is represented by the purely secular legal system and represented by the Court of Great Sessions (later the assize court), the quarter sessions and then the more minor county and local magistrates courts. None of these institutions were solely concerned with what might be termed criminal breaches of law and conduct but were often also extensively involved in civil disputes and civil administration.

Predating however the system as listed above is that which was represented by the old and specifically Welsh legal system and practice. This may for convenience be described as that portrayed by the Laws of Hywel Dda, not that he had played a part in their formulation. This system at certain stages ran in parallel as it were with the more familiar systems referred to; that this was so emerges from the fact that there are two or three instances of persons from Myddfai, probably in the period around 1400, being involved in court cases conducted according to the old Welsh convention and custom. Beyond that we know very little about its implementation at the parochial level.

The Manorial system of law and order

The first inkling we have for the operation of the manorial system in Myddfai comes from an extent or inventory made of the manor in 1317 which declared that the parish had 94 free tenants who collectively paid £4-12-6d as 'gwestfa' otherwise known as chief-rent to the Lord. In addition ten tenants each held a parcel of land on condition they found a doctor to attend their Lord within Wales. A further two held their lands on condition they provided two foot-soldiers to follow their Lord in 'time of war in Wales'. This later obligation was valued at twelve pence. These twelve tenants were excused payment of chief rent and other dues to their Lord except for their obligation to attend the court of their Lord which was held in Llandovery at that time.

In order to appreciate the significance of the above information it is necessary to digress and outline the salient features of the political and administrative set up for an area centred on Llandovery and as it existed around the year 1300. The Normans came into the area under the leadership of one Richard Fitz Pons around the year 1100. The main political and administrative division of the area at that time is set forth on the accompanying map. (29kb)

The area was divided into two major political divisions separated by the River Towy. To the north and west of the river was Cantref Mawr and to the south and east was Cantref Bychan. Each cantref was sub-divided into commotes or in Welsh cymydau. Thus Cantref Bychan was divided into the commotes of Hirfryn, Perfedd and Is-cennen. Commotes were frequently sub-divided into maenorau, usually rendered if inappropriately, manors in English. The commote of Perfedd was divided into four manors which were usually designated Myddfai, Llanddeusant, Gwynfe and Fabon. In many respects the administrative and political unit was the commote rather than the manor, thus various taxes and levies were raised on the commote but which were apportioned according to the manor. Today the court leet represents the last vestige of the old system of commote administration.

The fundamental legal position with respect to the ownership of land was that it all belonged to the monarch who claimed sovereignty over England and Wales. The monarch could and would by various devices confer unto certain favoured subjects areas of land but subject of course to their ultimate allegiance to the monarch. Whilst the king might confer lands by right of his notional ownership of all lands, possession of such lands by the kings nominee need not entail a gentlemanly or civilised transfer of control. Often it meant, at least in Wales, possession by force of arms and retention by the same means, not that this was always successful. Such was the state of affairs in much of Cantref Bychan after the advent of the Normans into the area.

Within the period 1180 to 1280 much of Cantref Bychan which included Myddfai was held by an assortment of Welsh lords or princes. These were principally Meredydd ap Rhys Arglwydd and Rhys Grug with their respective descendants. The comment of the Rev. Gruffydd Evans on this period is telling. 'Cantref Bychan was bandied about from one Welsh prince to another until at last King Edward I got a firm grip on it and passed it to one of his barons'.

Persons of Norman descent were put in charge and came into posession of Llandovery, Hirfryn and Perfedd, which was collectively termed the Lordship of Llandovery. The Lordship of Llandovery was held by a sequence of barons Audley (their family name was Tuchet) until 1497. It was to one of these in 1317 that the free tenants of Myddfai were beholden unto. The person who held the Lordship of Llandovery or of Cantref Bychan as it was still sometimes referred to, was in effect the lord of the manor. He was however lord of the manor for the whole lordship and there was no such thing as a lord of the manor specifically and solely for the parish or manor of Myddfai. The general sequence of lords of the manor since 1282 is as follows -

  • 1. John Giffard and later his daughter Katherine de Audley.
  • 2. The Lords Audley, Lords of Llandovery until 1497. At this stage the Lordship of Llandovery reverted to the crown and was in the direct gift of the monarch from hence forth.
  • 3. Sir Rhys ap Thomas until 1531.
  • 4. John Tuchet, 5th Baron Audley who sub-let the lordship to Howell ap Rhydderch, then to Sir Thomas John (Jones) of Abermarlais followed by his son Sir Henry Johns (Jones).
  • 5. Queen Elizabeth leased the lordship in 1589 to George Tuchet 8th Baron Audley.
  • 6. James I gave the lease in 1614 to John Vaughan of Golden Grove and to descendants of his. Sir Francis Bacon held the lease for a time around 1617.
  • 7. The Earls of Cawdor from 1804 until the year 1922 when the law of property act stipulated that all lands held by a lord of the manor by customary tenure became freeholds and thereupon all dues and obligations to the lord of the manor were legally extinguished. This meant that free-holders within the parish of Myddfai and other parishes within the lordship and who were technically tenants of the lord of the manor were no longer legally and formally obliged to pay chief-rent and other ancient dues to the lord of the manor. Payment of such dues had in any case ceased for some time but it was only in 1926 that they were finally rescinded. The title and position of lord of the manor however remained; this passed out of the ownership of the Cawdor family in 1988 when the title of the lord of the manor, as applied to Myddfai and Llanddeusant, was acquired by purchase by Mr Michael Stammers of Sennybridge.

~The principal dues, taxes and customary obligations rendered by the inhabitants of Myddfai who were freeholders were set out and recorded at a meeting of the Grand Jury and Homage of the Lordship of Perfedd. This took the form of a court baron held at the dwelling house of Rachel Rogers, widow, in the village of Myddfai on Tuesday 10th May 1709 .........

..... The following is a summary of the customs and obligations rendered by the freeholders as set out in 1709.

  • 1. That the Lordship of Perfedd is composed of four manors, Fabon and Gwynfe, Mothvey and Telych, Llanddeusant and a fourth being Felindre Sawdde. Further that the freeholders are to appear at the two yearly Leet Courts of the lordship or else pay four pence in default.
  • 2. At the court baron of 1709 the freeholders agreed to amalgamate with the chief rent a number ofother customary dues which previously had been paid separately, thus making for Myddfai one composite rate which in total amounted to £13-14s-8d. These two other dues were called Kilrovath and Bowteulu. In addition a further sum of five shilling had been included in the composite rate, being formerly due upon the freeholders of Myddfai for the custom of allowing their swine to feed off areas of land called Kefen Cribin, Coed Lathe and at Gwaine y Croses.
  • 3. Chief-rents were to be paid twice a year, upon the feast day of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin (March 25th) and that of St Michael the Archangel (September 29th).
  • 4. There was to be but one Leet Court or Law Day for the commote whilst the Court Baron was to be held every fortnight, except in the months of March and August.
  • 5. The appointment of Beadles and Collectors for the said Lordship. The beadle of Myddfai was to have the sum of 16s 8d out of the chief-rents together with an additional sum of five shillings, which was formerly paid by the freeholders of Myddfai by the name of Tacho for Carw, otherwise pannage.
  • 6. It was reaffirmed that Her Majesty and grantees under the crown have two water corn grist-mills in the manor of Myddfai called Cilgwyn and Bran Mills and at an annual rent of four pounds. Furthermore it was declared that the freeholders and tenants of Myddfai that have their place beneath the brook called Rhyddan are bound to grind all corn and grain at Cilgwyn Mill and to carry as much fern and willow rods with thatch to cover the same and to clean and secure the water course and channel and pond as occasion shall require. Those freeholders and tenants as are and dwell above the said brook of Rhyddan are bound to grind and do the same services at Bran Mill.
  • 7. That all freeholders, resident tenants, and inhabitants of the Lordship were to be excused paying tolls for cattle sold in the fairs and markets held at Llandovery, except for the fair kept on Tuesday in White Sun week.
  • 8. There is due to the Lord on the death of a free holder and tenant for life, the sum of ten shillings.
  • 9. There is due on the marrying of every freeholders daughter the sum of ten shillings known by various terms such as amobr.
  • 10. There are 18 tenements in the manor of Myddfai which now are and for all time where-of the memory of man is not of the contrary, have been free of all chief-rents, rents, customs, duties and levies of any kind saving suite of court twice a year, but in default of appearance they have to pay twelve pence.

The record of the resolutions taken at the Court Baron is given at length since it is such a rich and important source of information concerning aspects of the life and work of parishioners, but in particular of the freeholders. One feature however which was not included, but which appears in the actual records of the court are cases involved in the recovery of debts and damages under forty shillings.

The court baron appointed a beadle and his prime responsibility was to collect the chief-rents from the free-holders within the parish, thus in the court records we have lists of the freeholders of the parish of Myddfai and their chief-rent payments. As with most courts, those that did not pay their dues are also named. In 1735 for example, we find that David Thomas owed 2s 9d for Cae Canvas, Rees Price for Coedlasallt 4 pence and Rees Price gent owed 4s 9d. The beadles would also present to the court the names of freeholders who had died since the previous court baron and for which a mortuary of ten shillings was payable. A typical example from 1760 reads 'we present the death of James Price gentleman being a freeholder in the said manor of Myddfai and due therby to the said Lordship the sum of ten shillings'. The last of the so called physicians of Myddfai appears on these lists since the beadle presented the death of John Jones surgeon in 1740 and thereby was due ten shillings.

Not only was the death of a freeholder a source of income to the lord of the manor but so was the marriage of the daughter of a freeholder. The amount charged was five shillings and known as leatherwit, in Welsh amobr. Three examples will suffice.

  • 1755 We present Rees David ap John of Mothvey for marrying his daughter to Jenkin David of Devynock - due leatherwit of ten shillings.
  • 1757 We present Owen Bowen (Cwmydw) gent for the marriage of his daughter to Mr William Jeffrey thereby due leatherwit of ten shillings.
  • 1761 We present David Lewis gentleman for marrying his daughter Magdalen to Mr William Bowen of Mothvey, leatherwit of ten shillings.

Church Law and Order

Most churches have at some stage in their history possessed the self-assurance to demand of their adherents certain standards of conduct and behaviour. When these were not forthcoming a church has often seen fit to impose certain sanctions against its weaker brethren, although whether as punishment or as an incentive to reform has rarely been made clear, probably both. The Welsh section of the Anglican church has been no exception and where it perceived certain lapses in action or behaviour by its members, then the matter was dealt with by what was termed the bishop's or the consistory court. In origin the bishop's court dealt with offences or contraventions committed by ordained persons against canon or church law. At a later date however it came to deal with lay persons in relation to certain matters of belief and conduct. As with most courts, the consistory court recorded its deliberations and in so doing provided an insight, if rather of an unusual kind, into the life and mores of the people who came within its jurisdiction. People from Myddfai featured in its deliberations and records.

The available court records cover mainly the period 1720 to 1820 and during that time some twenty five cases involving persons from Myddfai were dealt with. There may have been more since the records are by no means complete and comprehensive. As might be expected some of the cases involve the inability or unwillingness of landholders to pay the church rate. One example is that of the Rev. David Williams of Brecon town who refused to pay the church rate of two shillings for one half of Cilgwyn corn mill. He maintained that the mill was and had been in ruins for many years thus he was under no obligation to pay. The outcome, as is often the case is not revealed.

A rather unusual case for the time in 1816 came before the court and which must have been the basis of much gossip, comment and discussion. This was the divorce of John Rees Bishop of Dolgarreg from his wife Gwenllian by 'reason of divers acts of fornication and adultery committed by the said J.R. Bishop'. There was also the issue of alimony to be allotted Gwenllian Bishop out of the estate of her husband. The citation and warrant for the appearance of J.R. Bishop at the consistory court in St. Peters Church, Carmarthen was attached to the Church door at Myddfai but to make doubly sure a copy was delivered personally to Mr Bishop by the court apparitor.

A somewhat bizarre case to come before the court was the matter of so called violence within the parish church at Myddfai on a Sunday in September 1750. There is detailed documentation available for what does seem now a rather trivial matter. The action was brought by one Margaret the wife of David Phillip against a David Griffith. Briefly, it was that during divine service David Griffith had cornered or trapped the said Margaret at the end of a pew. He had then allegedly squeezed or pressed her against the end of the pew somewhat roughly. There was no evidence offered for any physical injury or violence. David Griffith did not turn up for the hearing at the consistory court in Carmarthen. He was thus declared in contempt of court which meant that he was considered guilty. His excommunication was published in the church at Myddfai on Sunday Sept. 30th 1750 by the then vicar, David Powell. The case however has a happy if conventional ending to the extent that David Griffith was later absolved from the sentence of excommunication.

The two cases which have been outlined represent the unusual or exceptional ones and must be set in that context. There was however another class of issues which seemed to dominate those put before the court; this was certainly true of Myddfai but was a fairly common feature. These were mainly cases of defamation in the form of slander. Of the twenty-two or so cases involving persons resident in Myddfai, fifteen were of this kind. Such is the frequency of defamation cases that it is difficult to keep the issue in proper perspective. Whilst for Myddfai there may only be one or two such cases in any one year one cannot gainsay that overall such cases were the dominant kind.

Most of these defamation cases involved one of two general themes; observations on the sexual morality of a person or a member of his or her family, or else the observation that some person was a thief of some kind. The records of the court show the words actually used in slander which are explicitly quoted and written in Welsh, but to make the matter quite clear an English translation was frequently provided.

These defamation cases were instigated by what one might term as ordinary parishioners; there is nothing to indicate that the cases involved the more affluent persons or of what may be called gentry. Today, actions for slander are rare occurrences in a parish such as Myddfai and it does seem strange that so many people should feel sufficiently strongly aggrieved to go the the expense of taking the matter to court. Could it be that the parish community was so close and socially integrated that the opinion and views of fellow parishioners mattered greatly to the individual. By today the situation seems totally different in so many ways. It is difficult in the first place to imagine anyone giving vent to defamatory statements in public concerning the behaviour of some fellow parishioner and still less taking legal proceedings over the issue. People now seem to have become much more private and independent such that an individual's behaviour and mores is of little matter or concern to others and thus merit no comment. One of the last defamatory cases involving people of the parish occurred in 1919 when one farmer accused another of having publically declared that a crock of farm butter presented for sale at Llandovery fair had in fact contained for the greater part a mixture of margarine and butter. The unadulterated butter was merely a cap at the top of the crock. A public retraction and apology had to be printed in the Carmarthen Journal. This was however a civil action and did not involve the consistory court.

A case came before the consistory court in 1745 in the matter of the restitution of conjugal rights between the husband Morgan Beynon and Elisabeth his wife, both of Myddfai. There is extensive documentation associated with the case and it is this which gives an unique and intriguing glimpse, if incidentally, of some aspects of life in the parish at the time.

The saga commences on Easter Sunday 1744 when the then Elizabeth Lewis and her future sister-in-law attended the morning service at the parish church. After the service and sermon were over they adjourned to an ale house in the village where they stayed until late in the evening. On Easter Monday both women together with Morgan Beynon went to a dance at Carreg Sawdde by Llangadog. Later that evening Morgan Beynon and Elizabeth Lewis decided to get married there and then. The curate of Llangadog, one Evan Griffiths was found and said he required a fee of ten shillings to marry them. Morgan Beynon could not afford to pay this fee, whereupon the curate agreed to marry them for half a crown, since in any case he was a friend of the bridegroom.

The marriage took place at the house of John Thomas Williams. The basic issue which came before the consistory court was whether the couple were in fact legally married or not. The principal point at issue was whether Elizabeth Morgan (nee Lewis) was sufficiently sober to comprehend the vows taken at the marriage ceremony. It was declared that she was sober and of sufficient understanding and thus the couple were properly and legally married. The matter of conjugal rights was a secondary issue and is not dealt with here. There is no reason to believe that the events of this case represent exceptional behaviour and its record does give us just a glimpse of what some aspects of parish life may have been like.

Law and order by civil systems

It is undoubtedly a strange thing to base a description, if only in part, of the life of a community in terms of the known contravention by some of its members of the law of the land. The records of court proceedings relating to members of the parish can of themselves only give a distorted overall picture but so long as the picture presented is not taken as characteristic of more general behaviour and attitudes it can be very useful and revealing. Civil courts however were not solely concerned with criminal and civil actions but were very much concerned with administration at the parish and county level.

Since the act of union in 1546 one can recognise four tiers of statutory court systems operative in Wales. At the very highest level, cases could be taken and heard before the House of Lords. Whilst this could hardly be considered as a regular occurrence it is listed here since there are records of at least two notable cases involving persons from Myddfai that came before their lordships. At a lower level one had the Court of Great Sessions which was the predecessor of the Assize Courts which were first formed in 1836. Next in line was the Court of Quarter Sessions and then more latterly a series of essentially more local courts variously named such as county and local magistrates courts, or petty sessions.

Matters dealt with or brought before the court of great sessions covered both criminal and civil matters, thus we find not only accounts of trials for murder, violence against the person, theft but wholly civil actions involving disputes over land ownership and tenure, wills and financial transaction to name but a few. Reports of inquests into the death of persons are also included in the records of this court. Matters involving persons and property in Myddfai are well represented but not disproportionately so. It is not the intention here to describe in detail the cases dealt with but rather to give one or two representative examples of the principal categories of issues dealt with; in particular those that incidentally give some insight into the life and actions of the people involved.

To commence with the most heinous; there are at least five recorded instances of actions involving murder or manslaughter. There were probably more but the available records only detail five such cases. Of these the one that seemed to have caused the widest local impact at the time was that of the murder in 1770 of William Powell Esq. of Glanareth which was a small mansion in the parish of Llangadock. Briefly one William Williams, landlord of the Lamb Inn in Llandovery organised a conspiracy to murder William Powell. Amongst the five parties to the conspiracy was a Dafydd Llewellyn (also named Lewis Dafydd Llewellyn) who lived in the parish of Myddfai as tenant of a farm owned by William Williams. The tenor of the evidence given suggests that Dafydd Llewellyn was a reluctant conspirator, nevertheless he and three others were found guilty at the Assize in Hereford. They were sentenced to hang, which sentence was carried out 1.30 p.m. on March 30th 1770 at Hereford. The body of David Llewellyn was handed over to the surgeons for dissection.

The instigator of the murder, the said William Williams escaped arrest and fled so it was believed to France. Tradition has it that William Williams came back to Llandovery, if transiently, as one of a contingent of French prisoners of war. He was related in some way to Miss Magdalen Price of Cilgwyn and such was the stigma attached to any relationship with William Williams that she had to try and dissociate herself from him by writing to the Herefordshire Journal thus drawing attention to a fact otherwise unknown to most readers of that paper.

There was a background of intrigue to this case for which there are certain hints. One of these was the sworn declaration of one Elinor Jones of Cilycwm that Mr Lloyd of Glansevin was concerned or knew of the intention to murder Mr Powell. Later in another sworn declaration she retracted the statement and stated that she had been offered twenty guineas by Edward Mainwaring Davies Howarth, who owned land in Myddfai, to declare that Lloyd of Glansevin knew of the plans to murder William Powell. No one now will ever know the full background to this rather bizarre and tragic conspiracy.

The documentation describing the criminal cases brought to the Great Sessions is often incomplete in some respect or other, but there are two instances where this is quite full and relate to charge of murder which occurred respectively at Blaendynfich in 1825 and at Cefnrhyddan in 1781. The Blaendynfich case describes how four farm servants met one evening on the yard of the said farm and there ensued a quarrel over a servant maid who worked at that place. One David Samuel struck Lewis Williams, a servant at Llettyfandde, with his knife and caused his immediate death. He also wounded Isaac Edward but he made a full recovery.

An inquest was held on the body of Lewis Williams and a verdict of wilful murder was recorded against David Samuel who absconded by hiding beneath a load of straw so local tradition had it. Thirty years later in 1858 a David Thomas Price was arrested at Fleur de Lys near Newport, Monmouthshire. He was brought for trial to the Assize Court at Carmarthen and charged with the murder in 1825 of Lewis Williams at Blaendynfich and the wounding of Isaac Edward. David Samuel alias David Thomas Price was by now 51 years old, married and with four children.

He was put in custody at Carmarthen Gaol on Nov. 15, 1858 but discharged twelve days later. There was insufficient evidence to proceed with his trial and this is hardly surprising after a lapse of over thirty years. The intriguing question is, how did he come to be arrested so long after the alleged crime took place. Could he have been recognised by some fellow parishioner who had come across him or was his secret betrayed by someone. We shall never know.

In February 1781 an inquest was held at Cefnrhyddan to view the body of Rees Powell of the parish of Myddfai, gentleman. The jurors declared

'That a person or persons, yet unknown, and not having the fear of God before his, her or their eyes but being moved and seduced by the instigation of the Devil on the 23 of February, did strangle and suffocate Rees Powell who then and there instantly died'.

Rees Powell was a bachelor and employed a maid cum house-keeper. The evidence of the house-keeper, Gwenllian John, gives one or two glimpses of domestic life. She declares how on the night in question that they had suppered together and went to their respective beds about eight o'clock. He, Rees Powell, took a candle in his hand and went upstairs towards his bed. The housekeeper then made up the fire and shut the door of the kitchen where they had supper. She then went to her own bed which was in the hayloft of the cowhouse adjoining the room where they had been sitting.

She got up the following morning and immediately came out of the cowhouse and lit a fire in the house. She then fed the cattle, returned to the house and noticed that a number of items were missing. These were two pieces of beef that hung by the fire place, five cheeses left on the table the night before, two loaves of bake-stone bread and a small bag of barley meal. She later found her master in bed, apparently dead. John Jones, surgeon, from the town of Llandovery was called and then the due process of law took over. A John Morgan who had worked for the deceased up until a fortnight before and lived nearby was charged with the murder but found not guilty.

Although the person or persons guilty of the murder of Rees Powell were never brought to justice there were certainly some who thought they knew who the perpertrator was. There is record that Lewis Lewis, gentleman of Llettyifanddu, brought an action for slander against John Evans farmer of Llanddeusant. Evans so it was alleged on April 1st 1787 at Llandovery in a loud voice and in the Welsh language declared by direct implication that the said Lewis Lewis was the person who had murdered Rees Powell. There are a number of pointers which suggests that Rees Powell was far more likely to make enemies than friends and there were probably a number of persons who would not unduly lament at his demise and thereby be possible suspects.

The records of the Great Sessions show as might be expected, that Myddfai was represented in its lists for cases of theft and the like. At least six cases of theft are recorded for such items as a watch, a silver spoon, six half-guineas and a sheep skin from the Dolgarreg tanyard. A burglary was committed at the house of Jonah Williams of Garreglefain by Thomas Jones, David Jones and Francis Davies. The former pair were sentenced to be transported for ten years whilst Francis Davies was imprisoned with hard labour for one year. There seems to be a tradition that sheep stealing was a particular failing of the Welsh countryside and five such cases are recorded involving people of the parish. In one such case a Jeremiah David was sentenced to death but as usually happened the sentence was commuted to one of transportation.

Records of the Great Sessions also contain details of at least fifty cases described as that of trespass, which involved persons from Myddfai as plaintiff or defendant. It should be born in mind however that trespass was then a more all-embracing term which included such things as injury to the person, entry on to land without lawful authority and the wrongful taking or damaging of property. One case which illustrates its various aspects is that which could be described as the 'flower pots' case in 1825. This involved John Williams, Mary his wife and daughter Jane as defendants. They lived and had a house in the village of Myddfai. The plaintiff was one David Thomas. The latter had entered the property of John Williams and there 'did break and dash to pieces' some flower pots belonging to John Williams; Jane the daughter had valiantly tried to defend these flower pots. Subsequent to this event John Williams and family had on two occasions attacked David Thomas causing damage to his clothing and also personal injury 'such that his life was greatly despaired of', to use the conventional term. The case was tried before a jury but its outcome is not recorded. This case, as happened frequently, was basically a dispute over the ownership of property.

The records of the court also contain inquest verdicts and fifteen are summarised below.


Name DateCause of Death
David Jeremiah1827 MarchDrunk and fell under wagon
Alice Williams1818 FebruaryWeakness
Thomas Powell1819 OctoberApoplexy whilst at church service
Howell Jones1813 OctoberNot shown
Anne Paul1790 AprilFatal blow to the head
David Edward1801 JuneDrowned in Towy
Mary Williams1789 June  Fell into river Bran
Esther Thomas1782 DecemberFatally injured whilst ploughing
Catherine Morgan1784 JanuaryDrowned in Towy
William Morgan1784 JanuaryKilled by falling tree
Timothy David 1777 NovemberDrowned in river Bran
Benjamin Morgan1779 SeptemberImpaled by a pitch-fork
Evan Morgan1774 August Drowned in Towy whilst washing and bathing cattle
Elen David1659 FebruaryNatural causes
Margaret Evan   1659 JanuaryDeath resulting from assault by Benjamin Lewis. gent.

~The records of the court of Quarter Sessions which remain and are available for Carmarthenshire commence with the year 1748 although the court system they represent goes back very much further. These sessions represented sittings of the county justices which occurred four times a year. They dealt with criminal matters such as theft, assault, poaching and such like but they did not deal with civil causes which were the perogative of the Great Sessions. In the period for which there are records, the work of the quarter sessions become increasingly dominated with the administration of the poor law such as the appointment of overseers, chief and petty constables, together with the care of roads and general civil administration. Many of these duties they fulfilled until they were transferred to the new County Councils by the Local Government Act of 1888.

Parishioners of Myddfai are featured in the quarter session records. About ten records of assault are noted. These normally merited a fine of around six pence which suggests that they were not of a particularly serious nature; they were in fact probably rather trivial matters. There are fewer records for theft but these were dealt with much more severely. Thomas William was transported for 14 years whilst two labourers Watkin Jones and Robert Heller were sentenced respectively to transportation for 7 years in the one case whilst Robert Heller was given six months hard labour and also to be once privately whipped. A William Lloyd was given two months hard labour for milking a cow belonging to Pentremeurig farm and thereby stealing four quarts of milk.

The problem of bastardy features rather prominently in the quarter session records. There are about 25 such cases involving persons who were residents of Myddfai, covering a period of 80 years or so. The basis for the action was almost invariably that the father of the child involved, had not or would not contribute towards the maintenance of his illegitimate offspring. Conviction meant imprisonment for a short time together with a sojourn in the treadmill, but after 1833 the latter punishment was done away with.

Disputes between parishes concerning 'removal cases' were also quite a prominent feature of quarter session work. In 1832 the churchwardens and overseers of the poor for Myddfai obtained a warrant from Walter Price, Llwynybrain and Sackville Gwyn for the removal of Jane Jones, Anne her daughter aged 7 years, Rees her son aged 5 years, John her son aged three years and Mary her daughter aged one year, from the parish of Myddfai to that of Llywel. The churchwardens and overseers of Llywel put in an objection but their appeal was overruled and the order for removal was confirmed.

A case similar to the above arose when Llangadock appealed against Myddfai in the case of Rees Rowland and family. They lost their appeal and had to pay to the churchwardens and overseers of Myddfai their costs in the case. The churchwardens of Myddfai were not always successful however in their appeals in settlement cases. They lost in the case of Mary Jones and her five children whom they had tried to send to Llandeilo, costs of £18-12s-6d were awarded against them.

The organisation of the care and repair of roads, other than the turnpike ones, came effectively under the jurisdiction of the Quarter Sessions within the period for which the records are available for Carmarthenshire. Road maintenance was arranged on a parish basis or even upon a sub-division of a parish. Myddfai features prominently in these records, and the upper or lower divisions of Myddfai were regularly indicated for not keeping specified lengths of road in good repair. The inhabitants of what was termed the hamlet of Dyffryn in Myddfai seem to have been particularly loath to carry out any kind of road repair. The following are examples of road stretches that were brought to the attention of the court as being in need of repair.

Main RouteSection
Brecon to LlangadockTrapp by Llwynricket to Col
Llandovery to NeathMyddfai village to Col
Llangadock to BreconBerllandywyll to Pentwyngarthen
Road to NeathBlackcock to Waunddu to the Usk
Llandovery to NeathMyddfai village to Troedrhiw
Llangadock to BreconMyddfai village to Bwlchbran mountain gate
Llangadock to BreconPentwyngarthen to Penwaungroes
Llangadock to BreconCapel Sion to River Ydw

Today one does not think of Myddfai as being on an important route to anywhere in particular, but prior to the establishment of the turnpike road from Llandovery to Brecon and that from Llangadock over the Black Mountain, it occupied a much more important and strategic place in the local road network than one might consider it does today.

The records of the lower tier courts in particular the Llandovery County Court tell us quite a lot about the more common and day to day problems and calamities that faced many parishioners. A very useful source of this information are the pliant books of Messrs D.T.M. Jones, a well-known firm of solicitors in Llandovery. His books cover the periods 1856 - 1860 and 1864 - 1867 and there are on average about 30 cases each year involving persons from Myddfai as plaintiff or defendant. For us today this number seems very large but one must bear in mind that the parish population was then at least twice what it is now. One can best give a flavour of the problems that confronted many parishioners by examining the nature of the cases that brought them to court.

Over the periods in question about 275 cases are recorded involving people from Myddfai. Out of these, very close on half or forty nine percent involved claims for payment of goods received. These were mainly debts of various kinds to shopkeepers at Myddfai or Llandovery and in general for relatively small sums of less than three pounds. Almost a quarter of the cases involved claims against employers for not paying wages which were due and in these instances the mine owners or agents were the predominant element. Failure to pay against promissory notes and the associated interest was another common feature.

A few bankruptcies are listed but many seem to have long standing debt problems. Those declared bankrupt could be dealt with rather severely. The case and fate of Daniel Jones of Hafod Fawr, who was probably a rather flagrant bankrupt, is rather salutory to say the least. In 1862 he was declared bankrupt and all his farming assets, which were considerable, together with all his household furniture was sold. The only things that were not auctioned were his wearing apparel and that of his wife and children. He had a family of eight children at that time.

The records of the Llandovery Petty Sessions around the beginning of this century illustrate the contemporary if rather local and minor conflicts with the law, but also the zeal of the local policeman. The carriage of timber by means of timber waggons was very much a feature of the parish up until about 1920. There were a number of regulations governing the use of these vehicles. They had to be fitted with lights and driven at all times under proper control. Joshua Powell of Pwllcalch at different times was fined for not having lights on his timber waggon, he was also accused of driving recklessly and of having used a timber waggon drawn by three horses without having any reins. Evan Davies of Goyallt also failed to have lights on his timber waggons.

Ordinary farm carts were required to have the name and address of the owner on them and Arthur Williams, Garreglefain and Thomas Williams, Vergwm were fined for contravening this regulation. Horses and carts could not be left unattended on the roadway and there are instances of prosecutions for so doing. A number of farmers were prosecuted for not complying with the South-West Wales (Muzzling and Control of Dogs) Order 1902, for dogs had to be kept muzzled whenever they were not working. The use of shot guns without a licence was an offence as it still is, but a prosecution for this in 1890 illustrates the apparent zeal with which the police force seemed to enforce law and order within the most rural of parishes. James Dyer and James Ingram were prosecuted for carrying on the fields of Tyngarn a gun without licence around mid-day on Christmas Day. The charge was brought by Police Sergeant Williams. They were fined sixpence each, but without costs.

The overall impression created by an examination of the pliant books and of the records of the Llandovery Petty Sessions is that Myddfai as a community was in general very law abiding with respect to what might be termed criminal offences. There was however considerable litigation concerning financial obligations and to a lesser extent in matters of slander or libel.

The author

David B. James was born at Tyngarn, one of the farms in the parish of Myddfai. He went to the village primary school and then to what was the County Intermediate School at Llandovery; later, after a short period at Pibwrlwyd Farm Institute, he studied Botany and Agricultural Botany at the University College of North Wales, Bangor and Christ's College, Cambridge.

He subsequently joined the staff of the Department of Agricultural Botany at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth where his main academic interests centred on the physiological control of plant and crop growth.

Of greater significance has been an upbringing in a community and environment which gave an awareness that each person, place and event could have a book written about them.