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Myddfai: Its Land and Peoples

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By David B James, 1991
Published by the author

Page 2

See introduction on Page 1

Contents

Page 1
  • By Way of Introduction
  • The Unwritten Record
  • The Physicians of Myddfai
  • My Brother's Keeper
  • Births, Marriages and Death
  • Owners and Occupiers
  • Law and Order
Page 2 (current page)

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

Farms, Farmers and Farming

(This section is not a complete extract)

 'In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread' and for most of the people who have ever lived in Myddfai this has meant the tillage and nurture of the land. The livelihood of the vicar depended directly on the produce of the land, and if more indirectly, the various craftsmen who served the farming community. Other, but rather minor means of earning a living have been associated with lead-mining, timber-felling and haulage, oak-barking but these were often of a part-time and transient nature.

The farming scene within the parish today is characterized by owner-occupied family farms in the range of 50-250 acres. It is often asked how far back can a particular farm or farm house be traced and what was it like in earlier times. The furthest back one can go in this quest, at least with any degree of confidence, is to around the beginning of the seventeenth century. Wills and indentures of those times sometimes refer to named lands and give associated dates. Some examples showing the name and associated date are as follows: Caegwyn 1617, Cefnrhyddan 1613, Dagfa 1600, Esgerfeithgen 1642, Y Waun Gyd 1606, Llwynrhicet 1615, Tylehowel 1589, Gellyfelen 1645, Tynycoed 1639.

There is no reason to doubt that the majority of places which are recognised today were in existence around 1600 and it is very probable that they extend back very much further and even to medieval times. Places such as Ferdre and Merdy-bach possess names which signify an origin in pre-Norman times and reflect an indigenous system of administration and land usage adopted in the times of the native Welsh princes. The names of places such as Fergwm, Gorllwyn, Waungyd represent archaic forms of Welsh usage which predate the fourteenth century.

Whilst places whose names are familiar today or at the beginning of this century probably go back a very long time, what is far from clear is the relationship in respect of the extent and boundaries of places as they are or have existed this century to that just before the seventeenth century or even much earlier. There can be no doubt that by the beginning of this century most, if not all, farms represented an amalgamation or unification of adjacent holdings or smaller farms. Within the past 150 years since 1840 some eighty one holdings of more than two acres in extent have ceased to be farmed independently and have been taken over and amalgamated with neighbouring and generally, but not always, with larger holdings or farms. Furthermore this amalgamation process seems to have been going on for at least three hundred years. To give but one example, that of Caegwyn farm, which in the period 1600 - 1650 consisted principally of independently tenanted lands called Tyr y waun hir, Waunbwll issa, Tir Rees Phillip William, Y Cae Gwyn and Tyr y Gwaunydd hiryon issa. An indenture of 1737 shows that there was uncertainty about what to call some of the lands but ultimately they all come to be recognized as, and called Caegwyn. Another but more recent example of amalgamation is that of Merdy bach which ceased to be independently tenanted around 1870 and has become an integral and indistinguishable part of what is today Tynllwyn farm. Cwm clyn cafan is now an indistinguishable part of Esgairllaethdy.

The kind of amalgamation which has been very common is that involvlng adjacent pairs of holdings distinguished from each other as being - bach (little) or mawr (large) or else ucha (upper) and isaf (lower). There are many such examples which are now recognized as a single farm. Instances are the farms of Hafod, Cefncerrig, Rhyblid, Pentregronw, Alltycarw, Goleugoed, Cefnrhyddan, Cefngwrych and Cynill which is an amalgamation of Cynill issa, ganol and ucha.

The existence of the above listed places does have the intriguing possibility and likelihood even, that at one time they represented single holdings with but one name. Following division or extension of the original holding, the new parts had to be distinguished in some way. It is conjectured that this type of development may have taken place in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.

Since amalgamation of land holdings has been such a common feature in the history of farms, it means that the extent and boundaries must have been subject to extensive change. Thus one cannot readily equate present day holdings with those at the beginning of the last century and still less before that time. A summary and example of the types of change that must have taken place is afforded by a lease of lands dated 1676 from Charles II to one Rice Owens of London. This lease lists a number of farms mainly in Myddfai and giving their acreage. The data is set out below and compared to data taken from the Tithe Map schedule of 1839.

(Only the names are shown here)

  • Pwllcalch 
  • Tynllwyn 
  • Pentregronw ucha
  • Pentregronw issa
  • Van fach
  • Park bach
  • Gwaun Myddfai
  • Pentwyngarthen
  • Tir fab Daniel 
  • Gwaun shan 

The above table illustrates how the extent of recognized land holdings or farms may change and also how they may disappear as separate units by incorporation into others. If one looks back over 300 years or so the distinct impression is given, for Myddfai at least, that land holdings were subject to flux and change and few if any represented unchanging units of land tenure. Not only did the extent and composition of holdings change but it seems that their occupiers exhibited transience to the extent that the one and the same family rarely stayed on the same farm for on average more than twenty five years, at least such has been the situation in Myddfai since 1800.

The process of farm amalgamation or extension is not something with a purely historical significance but is very much an on-going process. Many farms or holdings which were independently run, now form part of a much larger farming business and are run as a single enterprise. The land holdings or farms making up such an enterprise need not always be contiguous to each other. Individual holdings which make up the new enterprises are still, thus far, recognised as such but many of the farm houses have either become derelict or else are occupied by families not involved in farming the adjoining land.

Such has been the extent of these kinds of processes that there are now only an estimated forty three separate and independent farming enterprises within the parish, whilst in 1920 the corresponding figure was ninety.

Whilst the names of farms and of their occupiers are frequently known over the past two and a half centuries, we know relatively little of the actual practice of farming. There are very few if any records which directly describe the day to day practices and problems. One can however glean much, if rather indirectly, of what farming must have been like by examining the wills and associated inventories left by members of the farming community in Myddfai. It could be argued that what people declare and bequeath in their wills is probably an unambiguous testimony of what they did and considered to be important.

In order to show what a typical will of the seventeenth century was like and the kind of information it contained, an extract representing the first part of the will of David ap John of Cefnrhyddan, Myddfai is quoted. Then as now wills were rarely written by the testator but by some especially appointed person.

"In the name of God Amen the 12th day of May in the yeare of our Lord God 1613 I David ap John David of the parish of Mothvey in the County of Carmarthen within the dyosis of Sainte Davids being sicke in body butt wholle in mynd and in perfect rememberance lawd and praise be unto Allmighty God ferringe the cruell paynes of death to aperish doe make this my present testamente and last will in manner and forme followinge. First and principally I comend my soulle to the Allmighty God my maker and redeemer and my body to be buried in the parish church of Mothvey aforesaid. I give and bequeath to the Cathedral Church of Sainte Davids 4d. Item I give and bequeath towards the reparation of myne owne parish church 4d. Item I give devise and bequeath unto Catheringe verch Thomas my weded wife one cowe, ii mares one of iii yeare ould and one of 5 years ould, ten yewes to be delivered unto her imedintlye after my decease. Item I likewise give and bequeath unto the said Catheringe verch Thomas my said wife all the corne and graine which I the said testator nowe have and growinge upon the tenement of lands whereuppon I the said testator nowe dwelleth together with all other issues and commodities from and outt of the same to the said Catheringe verch Thomas my said wife and to her heirs ..."

When a person died, then in many instances an inventory or list was made very soon after death, of his or her assets and possessions. These were valued or appraised, but lands and houses were not included. Thus we have itemised and valued both the quick and dead stock of farms but also crops, household goods and personal possessions of the deceased.

The inventory of Rees ap Ieuan Sir Rees, dated 1606 is given as an example. He owned lands called Tir David ap Ieuan Gronow, Tir David ap Ieuan ap Rees ap Ieuan tew, Tir traharne Ddy and a portion of one meadow called Y waun Gyd. The whereabouts of the parcels of lands is unknown except for the last named. The inventory was made by Morris David ap Howell Bedowe and William Bowen Rees and is as follows.

ITEMS

VALUE

PRE-DECIMAL VALUE

xvi greate kyne (16)

xvi li  

£16-0

Foure oxen

iiii li

£4-0

Foure heyffers of iii years old

xxiiis 8d

£1-3s-8d

iiii bullocks of ii years old (4)

xls

£2-0-0

ii heyffers of one year ould (2)

xiiis 4d

13s-4d

ii yerelinge steares (2)

xiiis 4d

13s-4d

One horse, two mares with coults

iii li xiiis 4d

£3-13-4d

xlviii sheep (48)

iii li xvis

£4-16s

xxvii lambes (27)

xxxvi s

£1-16s-0d

Three pannes

xvii s 

17s-0d

One crock 

vis8d

6s-8d

vii platters (7)

vii s

7s-0d

iii harrowes (3)

vs  

5s-0d

Iron plow

ii s

2s-0d

Twoe coffers

vi s 8d

6s-8d

One whitch

iii s 4d

3s-4d

Twoe piggs

iii s 4d

3s-4d

Pultries

iii s 4d 

3s-4d

 

 

 

Sum     

XXXVII li XIIII s 4d

£37  14s 4d

                

 

 

x = 10: v = 5: li = pound sterling

 

 

 

 ................. There was just one or two instances where sheep seemed more important than cattle. David Williams the vicar had a sheep flock of 330 in 1637 but this was quite exceptional.

One feature of the inventories which may seem strange in modern eyes is the relative importance of oxen. These were primarily the beasts of burden and not horses as was the case at the beginning of this century. Oxen moved slowly and ponderously but were capable of sustained heavy work and this they could do on being fed with lower quality forage than horses. The ploughs used in the times covered by the inventories were incredibly cumbersome and awkward pieces of equipment. They were built mostly of wood but with certain key elements such as the share and coulter made of iron. The inventories usually classify ploughs and harrows under the term implements of husbandry but occasionally one gets a reference to 'one plough with iron' and there is for 1606 the mention of 'one iron plough' but it is most unlikely that it was made entirely of iron.

The oxen when ploughing were led and not guided from behind as was the more recent custom with horses. One of the tasks of Mary Williams as a young girl who lived at Rhyblid in the period 1810 was to lead the oxen. In the parish of Vaynor it is recorded that women who led the oxen would sing to them and probably the same thing happened in Myddfai as well. During the last century there is record for Myddfai of a number of instances where a combination of oxen and horses were used for ploughing and to draw waggons. ..................

As for the kind of breed of cattle kept, all that the inventories and more especially the wills indicate is that they were many coloured. The whole range of cattle colours is represented, that of black or red and more especially pied red or pied black or black with a white face. A sale carried out at Llwynjack farm in 1816 included the following livestock: 20 cows and heifers of the Herefordshire sort, 17 cows and heifers Pembrokeshire, 6 five year old oxen, 1 Herefordshire bull and 8 useful draught horses.......................

In the examination of wills one occasionally comes across a statement which shows that a cow was in the custody of some person other than its owner or the person who made the will. The full significance of this is not clear but it seems as if individual cattle were leased or rented out on some farms. There certainly was in existence in West Wales an ancient custom called 'dairy farm' or 'dairy bargain' whereby dairy cattle were leased, and the lessee paid one third of the profits annually by way of rent.  Another variant of the same system was called 'hafod' in which cows were hired out at so much per head in lieu of rent for land. All the implements and dairy utensils were let in with the land as part of the bargain. The tenant was obliged to return the cattle in their original estate, whatever that meant.

There is a lot of indirect evidence that the common land, Mynydd Bach and the Black Mountain, was used extensively for the grazing of cattle. This is in marked contrast to the situation as it is today where cattle are notable by their absence from the common land. It has been postulated that the high cattle population on the mountain generated a pasture very different from that found today which is a consequence of grazing mainly by sheep but also with some horses. The pasture arising from extensive cattle grazing was also believed to contain a lower proportion of less nutritious plant species such as moor mat-grass. An echo of this system of cattle grazing on the mountain appears in the tale of the lady of the lake.

Farm livestock cannot exist on fresh air and water and they must have at certain periods something more substantial in the form of fodder or grain of some kind. Inventories and wills generally tell us very little about the crops grown. There is however mention of corn in the majority of inventories but usually in the form of a general reference to the value of corn in the barn or in the ground. There are however sufficient entries which indicate that the four major grains, wheat, oats, barley and rye were grown. The inventory of Anne Owens of Glasallt - dated 8 January 1683 shows that wheat, barley and oats in the barn were valued at £16 whilst the wheat and rye which had been sown was valued at £3. This example incidentally shows that both winter wheat and rye were grown and this is confirmed by many other examples. There is at least one example of more exotic crops being grown such as beans and peas, also flax and indirect confirmation of this latter example by an inventory of 1729 which lists a flax spinning wheel. The tithe map shows three fields called Hopyard which probably signifies that some hops were grown. There is also mention of hemp being grown.

One fairly common feature of eighteenth century inventories is the regularity with which the 'dunghill' is listed, and which was usually valued at anything between 3d and 2s 6d; in 1718 the dunghill at Llannerchgoch was valued at 2s 6d, whilst that at Rhyblid in 1722 was valued at one shilling. It may be rather difficult today to fully appreciate the value and significance of the 'dunghill' or farmyard manure for farms in the eighteenth century and later even. There was, in general, no fertilizer that could or would be purchased, thus the farmer had to rely on farm yard manure. This was normally used for the wheat or barley crop............

Thomas Evans of Cwmcowddu wrote a letter to the Welsh periodical 'Yr Haul' in 1844 asking for an explanation for the virtues and benefits of using Guano, Bone Dust, Salt and Scruff Saltpetre. Prior to this period virtually the only purchased 'fertilizer' which was applied to the land was lime. The pedantic might dispute that lime should be classed as fertilizer since its effect is primarily to alter and improve the nature of the soil as distinct from directly supplying crop nutrients. On some poor pastures in upland farms mainly, soil fertility could be improved, albeit transiently, by the process of what was termed in Welsh beitingo or didoni; the local and familiar expression however for the process was 'plowo'. In this exercise the layer of turf at the top of the soil was pared off using a breast plough or betting instrument. The turf was then gathered into heaps to dry before being set alight and burnt. It took many days for these heaps to burn and afterwards the ash was spread over the land from which the turf had been taken. The land was then usually ploughed before seed was sown.

David Jones of Hafod recollects that beitingo took place on Troedrhiw farm, Halfway and that it was arduous work. Evan Davies of Nantllwyd, later Aberdyfnant Llanddeusant recalled that so arduous was the work that food was provided at three hourly intervals and beer was especailly brewed and supplied to those involved. William Morgan of Llechglawdd, Myddfai undertook the work of beitingo on a contract basis and was renowned for his strength. Some farm leases prohibited beitingo, for although it might enable a crop or two to be grown, the land so used was usually and ultimately left in a greatly impoverished state.

Turning from the more down to earth to the more sublime, a feature which appeared in about ten percent of inventories were bee-hives. In one instance a person was listed as having six bee-hives. Honey must have been quite a prized commodity, for although sugar from the West Indies had been coming into Bristol and London since around 1700 and before, it was expensive and something for the gentry. Harry Powell of Abermydan kept a meticulous record of the yield of honey he got from his hives, thus testifying to its importance for him at least.

When we come to consider what was inside a typical farm house one is on less sure ground than when dealing with the livestock on a farm. Household furniture and utensils were often only classified as such and not separately itemised. This was probably because they were considered of little value and therefore not worth listing. Nevertheless there are approximately 65 inventories that do itemise household goods to varying extents and precision. These inventories fall into two groups; fifteen or so of them represent detailed household inventories of those who described themselves as gentlemen. The remainder are those of yeomen or persons of no description. Data gleaned from forty inventories in the latter group are presented in terms of the number of households that posessed specified items.

(the items alone are shown here)

  • Coffers, chests
  • Cupboard
  • Table, Board
  • Beds
  • Boulsters
  • Dresser
  • Clock
  • Winnowing Sheet
  • Candlesticks, brass and pewter
  • Pewter plates, platters, dishes
  • Brass pans
  • Brass pots
  • Brewing pans
  • Skillets
  • Dripping pan
  • Iron pots
  • Spinning Wheel
  • Plank
  • Spitt
  • Brand iron

If one were to be invited into a farm house around the end of the seventeenth century then according to the inventories one would in all probability see one or two coffers or chests. There would be one or two beds, a table and possibly a cupboard. Clocks would be noticeable by their absence and it would only be the vicar, one or two of the gentry that would probably have one. There is only one instance of a dresser being listed and this can hardly be an oversight. Stools and chairs are not listed although one cannot imagine that they did not exist. In all probability they were rather crude home-made wooden structures of relatively little value and thus not included.

As for the domestic utensils, the things most in evidence would be the brass pans and two or three in number usually. At least one of these pans would be quite large holding from between four to twelve gallons. These would probably have been used in the cheese making process. Harry Powell in his diary for 1767 records having bought six milk brass pans at Llangadog for the sum of 16s 9d.

More immediately obvious perhaps than the brass pans would have been the half dozen or so pewter plates in various sizes and the occasional pewter platter or dish. There were probably crude wooden plates but these were not itemised, yet wooden plates were itemised in the inventories of 'gentry' houses. The pewter dishes were probably matters of prestige and value and thus regularly listed.

A number of items were recorded in only five or fewer of the houses out of the possible forty but they still speak eloquently of activities that went on. Brewing pans and spinning wheels are in evidence as are iron pots and dripping pans. Items not included in the list given are for example, a basket-measure containing 18 bushels by Llangadog measure, one tobacco box and knife. There were five instances of winnowing sheets being listed and these were probably of greater significance than their numbers might signify since they were also items which were specifically mentioned and bequeathed in wills. There is one record given as 'a great winnowing sheet containing 8 yards, called in Welsh, earthen'.

The inventories of craftsmen reflect their calling usually. In 1692 the inventory of Vincent Fullwood shows that he posessed two old guns, one trumpet, one diamond and other tools. These last items become explicable when we realise that he was a glazier. One also wonders whether he had also been a trumpeter in the army. David Lewis of Cilgwyn, gent, possessed a sword.

In many respects what is absent from the inventories is just as interesting and significant as what is included. Cutlery was never specifically included and neither were butter-churns although butter and butter-tubs may have been occasionally listed. What in general stands out most noticeably is the absence of any mention of books whether it be a bible or some other kind. It is unlikely that they were deliberately or accidentally excluded since they would have been items of financial value to say the least. The only persons who had books listed in their inventories are vicars of the parish and also four or five who style themselves as gentlemen. There is an inventory of the library of Morgan Williams, Vicar of Myddfai who died in 1732. It consisted of the following twelve books:

  • Burkitt upon the New Testament.
  • Whole duty of Man.
  • Practical observations upon our Saviour's Miracles by - Francis Bragge.
  • Saints Memorials.
  • Week's preparation for the Lord's Supper.
  • Exposition of the creed by Mr John Smith.
  • David's Repentance.
  • Vicar Prichard's divine poems.
  • Smith's pious breathings.
  • Welsh Common Prayer.
  • Christ's famous Titles.
  • Precious Remedies against Satan's Devices.

The extent and nature of the vicar's library stands out by its uniqueness amongst all the inventories and highlights in a startling fashion the apparent absence of books amongst the possessions of the more affluent farmers within the parish at that time. Rees William who died in 1763 was quite exceptional in that he possessed a bible, valued at half a crown, and furthermore he is described as a pauper.

The inventories which have been examined cover the period 1590 - 1780 in the main and one must consider to what extent they are representative of farms and houses within the parish and the extent to which they give a valid general picture. The inventories are normally associated with wills and it has been claimed that only about ten percent of people made wills. Those who made wills are usually considered to represent the more affluent section of society. Of the inventories examined only one was that of the possessions of what was described as a pauper. The number of livestock listed show clearly that one is dealing in general with the larger farm holdings. Many of the inventories list such things as pewter plates and candlesticks, coffers and chests and which speak of a certain degree of affluence. The majority of parishioners who were cottagers or possessed very small holdings probably never had and never could aspire to the possession of even one pewter plate let alone a brass candlestick.

What the inventories do not show or indicate is the kind of food used for daily consumption. Food items are never listed as such. The only glimmer we have, is that which comes from an inquest held into the death of Rees Powell at Cefnrhyddan in 1781. There it reveals that in the kitchen were five cheeses on the table, two pieces of beef were hung near the fire place, there were two loaves of bake-stone bread and a small bag of barley meal. The reference to beef hanging is of interest since it was a regular feature in the first half of the last century for a farmer to slaughter a cow in the autumn for salting.

Barley meal is referred to which was probably used to make bread for human consumption and not used for animal consumption as would be the case in this century. Bread made with barley flour - bara haidd - was used in the last century but was recognised to be inferior to wheaten bread. There were still living in the first quarter of this century some older residents who remember having barley bread; they also recalled that after a prolonged and wet corn harvest the bread might then be barely edible or at best very inferior.

Bake-stone loaves are listed as having been on the table in Cefnrhyddan, as distinct presumably from oven baked bread. In this context it is worth bearing in mind that many if not most cottages would not posess a stone built wall-oven. In such circumstances bread was baked either on a bakestone or else in a very heavy duty iron pot fitted with a lid. This in Welsh was called a 'ffwrn' or literally an oven. Hot ashes were piled around and over this in order to bake the bread.

After about 1800 far fewer inventories were made or have survived and even where available they do not usually itemise possessions but give bulk monetary values instead. Thus other sources have to be used to illustrate the farming scene. One such source is the acreage returns of 1801 for which the vicar was asked to provide estimates of the acreage of each crop grown within his parish. The person who provided the information for Myddfai was the Rev. John Price, vicar. He is described by an independent but not unfavourable witness as a poor farmer himself; he is likely however to have been an astute estimator of the acreage of crops grown since his tithe income would depend in large measure on knowing the extent of crops grown. In any case it is sometimes considered that poor farmers make the best scribes. John Price's estimates for the parish in 1801 are as follows:

  • Wheat       180 acres
  • Barley      220 "
  • Oats         700 "
  • Potatoes     50 "
  • Peas           20 "
  • Beans      None
  • Turnips      30 "
  • Rye            10 "
  • Total Acreage   1210

.............  At the beginning of the last century oxen would have been an important source of draught power, but soon to be largely replaced by horses around the middle of the century. The age of the horse as the premier draught animal only lasted about 100 years. Just prior to the First World War in 1914 the estimated total number of draught horses in Myddfai was 427 and the majority of farms would possess anything from two to six horses. In 1943 the total number of horses recorded was 209 but by 1960 the 'June returns' from which the information is taken, did not even include a category for draught horses thus marking the end of an era.

The first tractor to come to the parish did so during the 1914-18 war when there was a demonstration of tractor ploughing on Tynllwyn farm, but there is no evidence that tractors were either owned or used on any farm until about 1936 at the earliest. From 1940 onwards tractors were increasingly used and principally to meet the cultivation quotas imposed on all farms during the war. Horses however were still in use on the majority of farms throughout the war period.

The final demise of the horse as a working animal largely coincided with the advent and popularity of the Ferguson tractor or the Fergie as it was more popularly known, from about 1948 onwards..............

Animal production and numbers have in general changed in a reverse direction to cereals. Over the period examined there has been about a two fold increase in cattle and a four fold increase in sheep. The dramatic increase in the number of sheep illustrates the fact that in a historical perspective a large sheep population is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is likely that in earlier times the combination of relatively high cattle numbers added to much land used for arable crops, left fewer resources for sheep.....................

The end of the Second World War in 1945 proved to be a watershed in virtually every aspect of the farming scene. It marked the wholesale adoption of what may be described as modern farming methods which are characterized by very high inputs of purchased fertilizers, animal foodstuffs and energy derived from fossil fuels. The old constraint on the number of animals kept on a farm which was the amount of winter-keep made available, whilst not being eliminated, was altered out of all recognition. Thus cattle numbers by today have been commonly doubled, trebled or even quadrupled and the sheep flock on most farms greatly increased.

..........Thus mortality of farm animals in late spring could be quite high. It was not uncommon in 'bad' years to find cattle too weak to walk out to grass from the cowshed in late spring. They then had to be carried out on a hurdle. John Price of Esgairllaethdy in the first quarter of this century recognised one particular malady as 'clefyd y gwt' or tail-ill. His remedy was to make a small slit in the base of the tail of the animal and place garlic in it. There is a good reason for calling the condition 'tail ill' since it was often associated with very poor nutrition leading to a partial reabsorption of some of the bones at the base of the tail.

Another aspect of the same essential problem was shown by Rees Davies of Cefngarreg during the first decade of this century, who on returning home after having called at the Plough or the Kings Head in Myddfai, possibly both; whilst allowing his horse to drink when crossing the ford at Col was heard repeating to himself in a loud voice, Dead Ho! Dead Ho! On being asked by a passer-by what was wrong, all he could or would say was 'Prynu gwair, prynu gwair' that is Buying hay, buying hay. Thus signifying that having to purchase hay meant the demise of a farming enterprise. As late as the 1940's a farmer on one of the poorer if extensive farms in the parish, having prepared a pit wherein to bury dead animals in late spring, was asked by a neighbour why he did not fill up the pit with soil after having placed a dead calf in it. His ready answer was 'Oh more to come'.

Such anecdotes should not be taken as being necessarily representative of conditions in general on farms within the parish but they highlight and give a flavour to the problems that could and did occur and especially on the smaller farms on poorer soils in some seasons.

The constraint imposed by a shortage of winter-keep for farm livestock must have given rise to what was known as the 'tacking' of sheep. This practice was very much a feature of farms in the parish possessing flocks of hill-sheep. This traditionally entailed the sending of ewe lambs to be overwintered on farms in Cardiganshire for the period October to the beginning of April. Those with sheep flocks on Mynydd Bach traditionally sent their ewe lambs to within an area which lay very roughly between Talsarn and Llanrhystud, both in Cardiganshire. Up until about 1935 the ewe lambs were driven on foot, often as far as Cwmann near Lampeter and there met by the farmers taking the tack lambs although sometimes they went as far as Llanrhystud. ...................

Not only were ewe-lambs sent to tack but also the mountain ponies from the relatively few farms that kept them. One farm in particular, Rhyblid, possessed a relatively large herd of mountain ponies amounting to 120 at its maximum in the early 1920's. It was quite a spectacle to watch the ponies returning from tack, for the procession lasted about half an hour, some with foals. The ponies were released from their winter quarters and made their own way back in one long string without any guidance, there being just one person to bring up the rear. The ponies gave the distinct impression that they could hardly wait to get back to the mountain. Some would foal immediately they got beyond the mountain gate.

One must not forget the more domestic side of the farming scene which was principally in the charge of the women in a household. A very important aspect of this side of farmlife involved the making of butter and cheese. This was an essential feature of virtually every farm until around 1930 but then of progressively fewer farms until about 1945 when cheese and butter making had very largely ceased to be a farm enterprise within the parish.

One cannot end a review of the parish farming scene, however cursory, without referring to possibly the most notable change that took place in farm enterprises during this century. This was the introduction and adoption of the production and sale of liquid milk as one of the principal farming activities. This occurred on approximately three quarters of the farms in Myddfai. One of the first, if not the first, to adopt the new system was William Owens of Trallwm in 1930 who had then recently moved into the parish. He used to send his milk by train to Swansea. The system spread fairly rapidly and was given a great impetus with the establishment of a creamery at Ffairfach, Llandeilo. By 1960 most, but not all, farms in the parish were milk producers and the dairy herd was the pre-eminent farm enterprise. The predominantly Freisian milking herd and the milk-stand became the hall-mark of most farms.

The round of seasonal farming tasks associated with sowing and harvest, sheep shearing and corn threshing have usually involved considerable physical effort and toil and depended on muscle power by man or beast. Such was the situation until the advent and use of the internal combustion engine and electricity on the land. It would be misleading however to look upon many of these seasonal tasks merely and solely as exercises involving hard physical work, although they were undoubtedly that. Such tasks were often enlivened and made more tolerable by being as much a social occasion as an opportunity to work. They were also to be welcomed by being just different from the daily round. Such was the case when the sheep flock was sheared at Rhyblid, Myddfai. The events as they took place on that farm are described and they may be taken as typical of the farms in the parish that kept a flock of hill sheep. The events as described refer to the period 1925-40, but represent in essence what must have gone on over centuries.

Shearing of the sheep flock would usually take three of four days and occur normally within the fourth week of June or at least after Myddfai fair which was held on June 18th. Every farm had its traditional period for shearing and would attempt to adhere to it if possible. There were preparations to be carried out and in particular the sheep had to be washed two or three days before they were sheared. Washing entailed taking the sheep to a suitable deep pool and one traditionally used for the purpose, in some adjacent river or stream. There the sheep would be rather unceremoniously made to swim across but making sure that they were fully immersed at least once as they swam across. Washing took place usually in the cool of the evening since it was easier to gather and manage the sheep at that time of day.

There were many other preparations to be seen to; the wool sacks usually stamped with the name 'Bradford' had to be obtained from one of the local wool merchants. The barn or the building where shearing took place had to be made spotlessly clean and benches consisting of long stout wooden planks set up, on which the sheep were placed whilst being sheared.

There were also extensive domestic arrangements to be made, for anything up to 25 persons would have to be fed for a period of up to three days at least. At Rhyblid a fatted calf was slaughtered and there were also large quantities of nettle beer to be made and buttermilk kept for the occasion. David Davies the then proprietor was a staunch teetotaller and would not permit beer to be used. Such is the deterioration in standards that by today orange squash or the like is the drink on offer.

The people who came to shear and help could be divided into four categories. Firstly neighbouring farmers and also those with neighbouring sheep flocks on the open mountain, then there were farming relations. The next group included those who at some time had been working on Rhyblid farm but who had subsequently set up as farmers on their own; the fourth group was a rather miscellaneous category of friends and acquaintances of a mixed sort. The vicar usually turned up as well at some stage.

Apart from the actual shearers there were also the 'catchers'; those who caught and brought the sheep from the pen to the shearers at their benches. One or two had the job of looking after the fleeces after the sheep had been shorn. Each fleece was as the saying went 'turned', this meant rolling it up into a ball with the inside of the fleece showing outwards before it was put and pressed down into the wool sack. One of those looking after the fleeces had usually an extra task which was to provide the equivalent of 'first-aid' for sheep. Occasionally a shearer might cut the skin of his sheep and some were much more prone to do this than others. When this occurred the cut was liberally covered by Stockholm Tar since it was believed to be beneficial.

The shearers could be classified in a number of different ways. There were those who would tie together with a piece of strong string the feet of the sheep being sheared; some did not do this and they considered themselves somewhat superior to the tiers. There were those who used a straight shears as opposed to angled shears and finally there were the chewers and non-chewers. The chewers were those shearers who used to chew tobacco whilst at their work.

Amongst any group of shearers there was almost invariably one person who undertook the self appointed task of providing comic relief in terms of his observations and comments. Those at Rhyblid were no exception and this role within the decade referred to was invariably taken up by one Evan Davies of Penhill, otherwise known as Ianto Fullpelt. He was also the church sexton and he would as occasion demanded, provide the assembled company of shearers with risque stories and comments with usually very marked sexual overtones.

Shearing was not a noisy affair and people could and did converse against a background of steady clipping. Sheep can vary greatly in the ease with which they can be sheared. It was normally expedient to be in the good books of the catcher otherwise one might end up having to shear a succession of 'difficult' sheep. Halfway through the morning there was usually a break for a cup of tea or coffee, also an opportunity to have a smoke for cigarettes were always provided as well as chewing tobacco. At fairly regular intervals nettle beer or butter-milk would be brought round as refreshment. There was lunch time to look forward to and the more quietly astute would so pace their rate of shearing such that they did not end up having to shear the last sheep in the holding pen.

Lunch was a complicated affair in that there was a definite protocol to be followed. In the first place it was not considered seemly to appear to be overkeen to go for lunch. There was also a minor problem for the tobacco chewers or so it seemed to the uninitiated, but this was readily resolved by the use of a waistcoat pocket. After a good wash one entered the house with some feigned reluctance. Precedence was usually and ultimately given to the oldest farmer present.

Shearers were normally accommodated in the big kitchen (y gegin fawr) whilst catchers and lesser sorts were seated in the little kitchen (y gegin fach). Lunch was not a prolonged affair but there was a short respite after finishing lunch as an opportunity for a smoke, but perhaps more importantly as an opportunity to sharpen the shears and then to test its sharpness by cutting a tuft of wool or a leaf. Sooner rather than later someone would inevitably say that the sheep would not shear themselves and so the afternoon stint would commence.

After a batch of sheep had been sheared they had to be pitch-marked before they could return to the mountain. This involved heating and melting pitch in a small cauldron over a fire. At Rhyblid a special fire place had been built on the farmyard for the purpose but such an arrangement was not common. More often than not however the pitch was melted over the kitchen fire and there was then the hazard of it catching fire. Pitching the sheep using the marking iron and hot pitch was somewhat hazardous since sheep could readily rear up and cause some of the hot pitch to splash out onto the person involved, as did happen on more than one occasion. The more recent use of cold sheep-marking fluid has overcome this hazard.

At the end of the day there might be discussion as to the ownership of some stray sheep that had come in with the flock, but these would always remain unsheared. Later that evening there might be time for some family friends or relations to have a chat in the house but not for long since preparation had to be made for the following day.


Church and Chapel

(This section is not a complete extract)

The Established Church

It is very fitting that the church of Llanfihangel ym Myddfai should be situated at the centre of the village and of the parish as well. This does reflect the central role that it has played in the lives of parishioners over past generations in matters spiritual and temporal. Its greatly reduced role today in every aspect of parish life forms one of the most marked contrasts between this century and previous ones.

The church as it stands today has not been the only one within the parish. An inventory of lands belonging to Talley Abbey and made in 1324 shows that there was a church at Dol Hywell which is within the parish of Myddfai. This was named St. David's. Dol Hywel now represents mainly land which is covered by the waters of the Usk Reservoir and its immediate environs. There is no memory of there ever having been such a church nor the ruins of one but it was probably sited on what used to be the land of Tyrcyd farm. The tithe map for this farm shows a field called Waun Capel which probably marks the site of the church. There is also the tradition that a stoup which is kept in the parish church at Myddfai had been taken from the ruins of the church at Dol Hywel.

There are also some pointers to there having been another church of some description, possibly a chapel of ease, within the parish but in the region of Glansevin. The majority of old records show what is now termed Glansevin as Llansevin thus possibly signifying the existence of a church of some kind. Two fields now lying adjacent to the lands of Glansevin but now part of Greengrove farm are listed respectively as Cae Capel and Cae Capel Issa on the tithe schedule of 1839. These pieces of evidence point to the existence of some kind of religious foundation in that part of the parish.

The name of the church, Llanfihangel ym Myddfai, shows that it was not dedicated to a celtic saint but to St. Michael. This has been taken to show that it may have been established during the tenth or eleventh centuries when dedications to St. Michael the Archangel became very popular. The first written evidence which indicates there was a church in Myddfai is dated June 13th 1284 and describes how the right to appoint a clergyman to Myddfai had come into the hands of King Edward I. ...................  The King gave the right of appointment, known as the advowson, to the then bishop of St. Davids who was Thomas Beck. ................ At a slightly later date in 1299 the tithe of Myddfai was in part used for the benefit of the collegiate church established at Abergwili. The right to appoint a vicar to the parish of Myddfai has formally remained in the hands of the bishop of St. David's to this day. ............................

................. Much of what we know comes from what are termed the bishop's visitation returns. These returns were the answer to a lengthy series of questions, formally from the bishop, and which had to be completed by the vicar and churchwardens. The earliest complete return is dated 1684 but there is a record of one dated 15 April 1672 which declares that the 'glaze windows' are out of repair as was the communion cup. Also the book of Homilies in Welsh was wanting as was the table of Degrees. Bess Rees is presented for slandering and being a sower of sedition and discord amongst her neighbours.

In the 1684 return we find that the church possessed a Welsh and an English bible as well as two Welsh common prayer books. James Jones the then vicar also had charge of another parish but provided for the parish church in Myddfai to have a curate in his absence. There were no Roman Catholics in the parish but there was one person listed as schis-matic of the name James Price (Glantowy) who is described as 'a giddy brained quaker and a rail rag to the church'. It is further recorded that he did not attend church. ...............

.............. From 1804 onwards the churchwardens accounts itemise in detail the way the church-rate was used and thereby give a vivid picture of work done in maintaining church fabric and surround. The church was regularly white washed on the outside as also was the churchyard wall and the tombs in the cemetery. White washing of the church was carried on until about 1866 and may even have gone on later than that. ....................

The church underwent extensive repair and renovation in the first quarter of the last century. ............................. The flagging of the floor was completed and a new roof put on for we read, to give but one example, that Thomas Jones of Tyngarn was paid for hauling 6000 tiles at 10s 6d per thousand. These came from the tile-stone vein on Mynydd bach. The church-yard wall must have been largely rebuilt during this period with fresh stone which came mainly from Rhyblid.

The carriage of heating stoves for the church from Brecon to Myddfai is recorded for 1815. Thereafter the purchase and supply of coal for the stoves is regularly recorded. Fires however were lit in church before this date but is likely that at times in winter it must have been excruciatingly cold and especially so since the windows were not completely glazed.

The major structural changes brought about after 1850 were the fitting of a new pulpit window and also a new window in the west wall of the church in 1868. .......................  

A further major programme of repair and renovation took place in 1926 when the remaining tile-stone over the nave and vestry was removed and replaced by Caernarfon slates. Further, what was the old chancel on the north side was partitioned off by a wooden screen thus forming a new vestry. ......................... Whilst these renovations were taking place divine services were conducted in the nearby national schoolroom.

There are now in the church essentially four ranks of pews giving a total of 53 seats which provide seating for approximately 500 persons. ............................

A glimpse of the older seating arrangement is afforded by an account and list of the seats as 'divided and settled' at a vestry meeting held on Aug. 22 1809. There were then in the church four rows or blocks of pews each row containing about sixteen seats and giving a total of 66 seats. The overall arrangement must have been rather similar to what it is today. Each seat was assigned to a particular person thus we find that the first two seats in the first, second and third rows were assigned to J.J. Holford Esq of Cilgwyn. The first seat in the fourth row was assigned to George Griffies Williams Esq of Llwynwormwood. The seats were assigned solely to landowners who are all named.

It seems fairly clear that the tenants, who are not named, would have seats in one of their landlords pews. J.J. Holford for example had thirteen pews assigned to him for the use of his tenants whilst G. Griffies Williams of Llwynwormwood had eight pews assigned to him. Tenants however could not take their seat in any one of their landlord's pews but were assigned a specific pew or even part of a pew. Pew number 55, for example was called the Gorllwyn fach pew, one belonging to the Cilgwyn estate. The seating arrangements are a fine example of how the church was a faithful reflection and upholder of the division in social standing and status within the parish. Where the parish paupers sat is not shown; they may have had to go to the wall.

One tends to imagine that people when in church conduct themselves with a certain modicum of dignity and decorum. There are two instances which suggest that this was not always so in Myddfai. The churchwardens cited William David Richard for keeping and making during divine service, a disturbance within the parish church of Mothvey on Sunday Oct 8th 1732. This he did by climbing, treading and leaping over the bench of Rees Thomas into the seat of Griffith Jenkin and Rees Griffith. This record incidentally suggests that some sat on benches whilst others had seats. Another citation describes how one member of the congregation tried to squeeze another against the end of the pew. These are the only two recorded instances of such misdemeanours and one must not make too much of them. Nevertheless the fact that such things could and did occur is indicative of an attitude and atmosphere within church service which was rather different from that prevalent from the middle of the last century onwards.

Up until around 1850 there can be little doubt that the vicar was the most influential person within the parish. Virtually every activity was or could be subject to his influence in some way or other. The list of vicars for Myddfai is as comprehensive and full as that for most parishes in rural Wales. Vicars however often employed assistants or substitutes in the form of curates. The list of curates who served the parish is much less complete since the appointment of a curate was normally a private arrangement on the part of the vicar. The appointment of a vicar however was a matter for the bishop and for which due record was usually kept. The earliest names are just recorded as vicars of the parish but with no specific dates given. An occasional associated date may be given. The list of vicars and that of curates where known is presented.

Name of Vicar      

Dates

Remarks; also names of curates

Sir * Howell.   

1396

 

Sir Morgan.

-

 

Sir Rees ap leuan.

1492

Appointment on resignation of Sir Morgan the last vicar.

Reynold ap Rhys.

1535

 

Rhydderch ap Rhys -
Rhydderch ap Gwilym-
ap Griffith ab Hywel

-

Vicar of Myddfai

Rev Thomas Bayly 

1565

Rector of Weston-Super-Mare 1558-73

David Williams

1614
Died c. 1637 

Matriculated Jesus College Oxford 1600, aged 17, M.A. in 1607. In his will of 1637 he refers to his kinsmen, Rees Prichard, vicar of Llanymthovery and Morgan Owens, doctor of Diviniti.

Daniel Williams

Died 1643

Vicar of Myddfai and Llanspyddid.

Rees Griffith.

-

He was ejected for scandal and inefficiency

(John Powell Esq.)

1654 

He signed the marriage entries and may have officiated. There is nothing to prove that he was vicar of the parish.

Howell Price.

1657

Presented to Myddfai by the 'Triers'. After restoration of Charles II became rector of Llansantffraid; canon of Christ Church, Brecon.

Price Griffiths.

-1673

Buried 1673.

James Jones.

1673-1684

Son of John of Mothvey. Matriculated Jesus College, Oxford, 17th March 1664/5 aged 17. lnstituted 19 April 1673, buried 20 Dec. 1684.

Evan Jones

1685-1694

lnstituted 13 Feb 1685, died 9 March 1694. His mortuary ring was claimed by the Bishop

Thomas Lewis

1695-1717

Instituted 10 April 1695, buried 17 June 1717. During his time Benjamin Morgan (1713) and Thomas Thomas (1715) were curates.

Morgan Williams 

1717-1732

 

David Pruddero (Prothero)

Instituted 
1732/3

Previously curate of Llangenith. Resigned from Myddfai. Curate at this time, Joshua Thomas.

David Powell 

1746-1776

Lived at Llwynrhicet. A Howell Powell was curate in 1762.

Morgan Jones

1777-1801

An absentee vicar: lived at and was rector of Chalfont - St. Giles, Bucks. John Price was curate 1788-1800. Also a Rees Price curate for a short time and left in 1781. A Mr Morgan was curate around 1782/3, he was dismissed for scandalous behaviour.

John Price

1801-1818

A native of the parish, was previously curate. For a time incumbent and resident at Stocke Edith, Herefordshire. In Oct 1808 suspended by his bishop for 2 years for profaness and drunkeness. T.W. Rogers, a native of the parish, was appointed stipendiary curate of Myddfai in 1809, having previously been curate of Monknash, Glamorgan (1802) and priest at Windermere, Westmorland in 1803. A Daniel James was curate in 1806.

Thomas Francis

1818

Resided at Llandovery for a time whilst vicar of Myddfai. Resigned 1850. Thomas Thomas was curate of Myddfai and Llanddeusant 1846 went to be curate of Dowlais around 1851.

David Lewis Jones

1850-1870

Had been curate of Talley. Curate 1870 William Watkins.

David Griffiths

1871-1876

Went to Cwmamman 1876, then to Llanarthney 1891. Died 1899.Curates William Watkins and John Wesley Reese 1875.

David Williams

1876 -1898

Went to Clydey Rectory, Pembs resigned.
Curate 1877-80 Benjamin Williams (Gwynionydd),

Herbert Hughes

1898-1914

Was vicar of Llanfihangel Rhosycorn before Myddfai.

David Jonathan Evans 

1914-1921

Appointed vicar of St Paul's Manordeilo.

Ramsey Latimer- Phillips Lewis

1921-1937

Went to Llangathen. Died 1940.

Walter Emlyn Davies

1938-1958

Went to be vicar of Ammanford then of Llanbadarn Fawr, Cardiganshire. (Last resident vicar in the parish).

Cyril Thomas

1958-1983

Incumbent of Llandingat church. Non resident in Myddfai.

Brian T. Rice 

1983

Present vicar, non resident.

* Sir, signifies a graduate.

The problem of financing the repair and maintenance of church fabric as well as providing a stipend for the vicar, has over the ages proved to be a matter of considerable dissension and controversy but quite a prolific source of information and record. The care of the church fabric (but not of the chancel), the provision of bread and wine for communion, the regular washing of the surplice, these and their like were financed out of the church rate. It was the duty of the churchwardens to levy and collect this rate. As an example and illustration, in the year 1823-24 the churchwardens were Morgan Walter and Evan Evans respectively for the upper and lower divisions of the parish. It was decided at a vestry meeting held in Kings Head Inn that the church rate should be at 1s 6d in the pound. This raised £9/16s 0 3/4p for the upper division and £14-19s 3d for the lower division of the parish. Persons who failed to pay their church rate were taken before the consistory court at St Peter's Church, Carmarthen.

It is doubtful if the lot of the churchwardens was a happy one and they probably aspired to spending their year in office with as little trouble and inconvenience as possible. They were in the main farmers who had their own livelihood to look after. No salary was paid them but there was cash payment for expenses incurred, especially in their role as overseers, and this may have been a very significant attraction. In Myddfai, not only were they responsible for the church fabric but also for the welfare of the parish paupers.

The work and problems of the churchwardens in the eighteenth century and principally in their capacity as responsible for church fabric and its maintenance may be best exemplified in terms of one case study. This is shown by the account of Morgan Jenkin who was churchwarden and overseer of the poor for the upper division of Myddfai in the period Easter 1729 to Easter 1730. His account is shown below.

 

A true and perfect acct. of Morgan Jenkin Churchwarden and Overseer of ye Poor in ye upper Division of ye pish of Mothvey in ye county of Carmarthen for ye year 1729 and ending at Easter 1730 how he Desposd as follows of A Rate of 2s 10d per pound there assess'd on ye sd Division towards ye Reparation of ye sd parish Church and other necessarys thereunto belonging yt Ammountred to ye sum of £18 15 4 1/2d.

 

£    s.     d.

Paid towards ye expence of A Procession

    10      1

To David John Morgan for Tile Stones 

1    3      0

To Howell Powell for Timber 

1   11     0

To Daniel Williams for erecting ye Roof
of ye sd. church in part of a larger sum 

1   10     0

To Rowiand Williams for boards 

     13      2

To Dd. Thomas Smith For Mending ye
church shovel Large nails and fixing ye
Hinges of ye Cch. door

        8     9

To Francis Penry for Tilieng

2      0     0

To Morgan John for Tilieng

2      5   10

To Howell John for sieve to screen lime 

               6

To Walter Rees for Carriage of Tile Stones

       14    0

To John Wiiliams for Carying a large parcel
of nailes to ye work

               4

To Rees Thomas Evan Carpenter for sawing
and fixing the sawd Pieces to ye couples 

         3    6

Pd for 11 teales of lime at 1s. 3d. per Teal

       13    9

To Morgan Beynon for measuring ye sd Tiling work
in part of a large sum         

         2    6

To Morgan Harry for Carrying Timber

         2    6

To William Rudderch for two days sawing 

               9

For a warrant to Levy

          1   0

To a man, Horse to remove Thomas John a Pensioner in his sickness two miles

          1   0

To Jennet William for attending and nursing ye
sd.Thomas John before his removal

          2   0

To William Dd Richard for ye Dyet Lodgings and
attendance of ye sd. Thos. John

          5    0

To Catherine Rudderch a sick pensioner

          1    0

I charge of ye carriage of 2600 of laths at 2s. per 1000 

          5    0

Do. for Carriage. of boards to ye work

          1    0

Item to David John for bringing Horse Dung to ye
work to mix with ye mortar

          3    0

Paritor's fees

          1    0

To John William Parish Clerk for scouring and clearing ye Rubbage out of ye Leaden Gutter & ca as also for
bread and wine 

1        3   10

To Morgan Lewis for destroying a rookery at ye Request
and by ye Consent of ye Parishioners 

         10    0

To Lewis David my Brother Warden my proportion for timber bought by him towards ye sd work and ye carriage thereof - Timber bought for £4 5 0 and One Guinea for carriage wch makes £5  6  0

2       13    0

To Thomas Davies of Landovery for nailes of several sorts towards ye work

1       16     5

To ye Ecclesiastical Court at giving in ye Presentment

           2     0

Uncollected form Mr Daniel Williams

                  31/2

Do from Evan Williams who lives not in our parish 

                  4

Do from Harry John who lives not in our parish

                  4

Distributed as per particulars as above 

£19     5    11

Asses'd as aforesd. ye sum of

£18    15     4½

Recd from ye former Wardens

             9    1

Due to me

             1    6

Disburs'd June 7 1730 in Court 
To Mr Davies Proctor
for a sheet of stamp paper
pd for filing ye Accoun

             2     0 
             1     1
             2     6

The above account would have been formally presented at a meeting of the Church Vestry but that was no occasion for a supine and uncritical acceptance of the account by those present. On the contrary, in this particular instance serious objections were raised and the matter was taken before the Consistory or Bishops Court in St Peter's Church at Carmarthen. The action was brought by the two churchwardens of Myddfai, David John and Thomas John who held office in the following year 1730-31.

Objections were raised to a number of items in the account. The first objection was the expense of holding a procession. It was contended that this was quite unnecessary since the boundaries of the parish were well known and established. Furthermore the procession had been undertaken without the consent of the Church Vestry. Objection was also made to the fact that ten shillings had been paid to one Morgan Lewis for destroying a rookery. It was agreed that this had been solely done in the self interest of the Churchwardens and thus they had no right to charge it to the parish. The churchwardens were also accused of charging £2-13s for buying timber ostensibly for church repairs, none of which was actually used for the stated and intended purpose.

A further objection, if of a more subtle nature, was that monies had been paid to Thomas John, Jennet William, Catherine Rutherch and also used for the removal of Thomas John; the crucial point being that this had been set against the Church Rate in the churchwarden's account. The objection in essence was that these payments had been set against the Church Rate when they should have been set against the Poor Rate. The vicar of the parish and the lay tithe owner did not have to pay Church Rate but did have to contribute towards the Poor Rate. Thus if provision for the poor was taken out of the Church Rate it meant that the Poor Rate levied was that much less and thus the vicar and lay tithe owner would have to pay less and by inference the other parishioners marginally more in their Poor Rate contribution. ........

The vicars stipend was derived from the tithe which was levied on the direct and indirect produce of the land. Crops and animals were tithed but there were also what could be termed a personal tax which was equivalent to a poll tax. Anciently the tithe was paid in kind such as every tenth sheaf or seventh lamb was collected by the vicar or rector. The tithe however had become progressively changed to a money payment until, with the passing of the Tithe Redemption Act in 1836 it was completely committed to a financial transaction. A further development occurred in Wales however, for by an act of parliament which came into operation in 1920 the payment of tithe to the church was formally abolished and thus ended a most ancient custom and institution.

In Myddfai as in many other Welsh parishes, the tithes were not the right of the vicar by virtue of his office and appointment. The vicar of Myddfai was appointed by the bishop of St David's. The tithes of the parish were however leased out by the bishop to someone other than the vicar. This was very often a lay person or impropriator as he was termed, but occasionally the tithes could be leased to a religious institution such as a church or college. It was basically the responsibility of the impropriator and not the bishop to pay the vicar out of the tithe revenue of the parish.

One may well ask what benefit was the above type of arrangement for the impropriator; the answer is a greater share of the tithe income than was paid to the vicar. This is made clear for Myddfai in the tithe apportionment schedule where it shows that the vicar obtained a third and the impropriator the remaining two thirds. Around 1840 this gave the vicar £ 140 per annum and the tithe owner or owners £280. There was only one little draw back in this scheme from the tithe owners standpoint, he or she was responsible for the upkeep of the chancel of the parish church. Thus the maintenance and repair of the chancel of Myddfai church was not the responsibility of the parishioners but that of the impropriator or tithe owner. The last in a very long line of lay impropriators who have been responsible for the chancel in Myddfai have been the trustees of Christ College, Brecon. Sometimes the tithe ownership was shared between two or more persons.

In the case of Myddfai the tithe-lease granted by the bishop contained a specific stipulation that the impropriator had to pay a certain annual income to a named institution. Some examples will make this clear.

Date of 
Lease

Name of Impropriators  

Length of  Lease 

Conditions

1755

Charles Owen of Glasallt and 
William Williams of Llandingad

21 years

Payment of £16 yearly to College of Brecon. Repair, maintain and  keep up the appropriate part of the chancel of the church at Mothvey.

1793

Rhys Davies

21 years  

£16 p.a. to College of Brecon and upkeep of Chancel at Myddfai.

1827

Robert Henry Jenkinson 

21 years 

Yearly rent of £20, being £16 to Brecon College and £4 being land tax.

The nature of the tithe payments for the parish of Myddfai is set out in detail in what is described as a 'terrier' drawn up by the vicar and churchwardens in 1720. The salient features are as follows, the original form and wording being kept where suitable.

  • 1. There is due at the feast of Easter for offerings from every house-keeper two pence and for his wife two pence, and for every child, man or maid servant, sojourner or other person of the family of the age of seventeen years and upwards two pence (every worker four pence and every tucker four pence) as handy-craft men in lieu of personal tieths according to the custom of the said parish.
  • 2. From every house keeper one penny, commonly called a smoke penny in lieu of the tieths of wood burnt in the house.
  • 3. One penny called a garden and orchard penny in lieu of the tieths of minute herbs and apples growing in garden and orchard.
  • 4. One penny called a hay peny in lieu of the tieth of hay on each and every tenement within the parish.
  • 5. One peny called a colt or feely peny in lieu of every colt of feely reared.
  • 6. One peny in lieu of bees.
  • 7. One peny in lieu of a pigg or sow.
  • 8. For each and every milch cow and calfe summerred within the parish there is due three pence in lieu of tieth cheese, but if a calfe of the said milch cow dye before the feast of Easter following there is due but two pence (if weaned or killed, there is due then the said sum of three pence). If any milch-cow shall calfe after Lammas day there is due in lieu of such milch cow and calfe at the said feast of Easter following but two pence. (The terrier is much broken at this point but one can deduce that a tithe was levied per seven milch-sheep, every two milch-goats, one tithe lamb on every seven lambs.)
  • 9. There is due yearly on each and every land-holder and occupier of lands the tenth sheaf for all the tieth-corn and grain and also to pay for the rakings bound or unbound, the tenth part thereof; flax and hemp also the tenth part thereof, at Michaelmas yearly according to the custom of the parish.
  • 10. (The terrier also states in a preamble that a third of the tithe goes to the vicar and the remainder to the impropriator(s) of the parish).

This 1720 terrier speaks volumes, if indirectly, about the contemporary farming scene and its problems. The tithe on a cow which calves after the beginning of August is less than on one which calves in early summer. This reflects the different amounts of milk available for butter or cheese from the 'spring' and 'autumn' calvers and also the probability that a cow calving after August is likely to be in a poor condition the following spring, assuming it survives.

The fact that corn rakings were to be tithed is of interest since the justification and sanction for levying tithes has always been the biblical injunction that a tenth of the produce was due to the servant of the Lord. It is equally clear however in the Bible that the farmer should leave the corn rakings or gleanings for the poor to gather. One has to be resigned to the fact that human behaviour is rarely logical and rational where matters of self interest are involved.

The vicar was not entirely dependent on his share of the tithe for his livelihood. He did have the full use and profits of the glebe-lands but these did not amount to much in Myddfai being only about seven acres in extent. The vicar did however have additional income in the form of surplice fees, these being a charge of 10 pence for marriage by banns, five pence for each baptism (a private baptism cost ten pence) and three pence for every burial.

The terrier of 1720 also shows that much of the tithe had already been commuted to a money payment, thus it was no great change of principle to have the whole of the tithe changed to a cash payment. This was done in Myddfai in 1839 after the passing in 1836 of 'An act for the commutation of tithes in England and Wales'. Some lands within the parish were already paying their full tithe as cash, these being Pentremeurig, Cwmcowddu and Cwmydwyisaf. One consequence of the above act was the preparation of a very detailed map of the parish showing the outline, area and name of each field as well as the owner and occupier. The map of Myddfai was prepared for William Goode of Llangadog, but the actual map was drawn by a David Davies, land surveyor. ...................

................ The nonconformists and there were many in Myddfai, increasingly objected to the payment of tithe which they perceived as being of no benefit to them at all since they did not attend church nor were they members of it. The care of the poor was by now no longer a matter for the church but of the secular board of guardians and the overseers. The tithe was seen by the nonconformists as support for an institution with which they were completely out of sympathy and often seen as quite antagonistic to their aspirations. ......................

There were many instances of farmers refusing to pay some if not all their tithes. One example from Myddfai was that of William Price of Llwyniar who refused to pay tithe to the value of £2-10s-11/2d and one of his cows was seized under distraint. The cow was put up for sale at Llandovery on February 20th 1888. The animal was decorated with blue and yellow ribbons and covered with a white sheet, on which was written 'The Church of England Tithe War in Wales'. The cow was sold for £4-10s but immediately afterwards a collection was made to reimburse William Price. Such was the strength of feeling. In 1886 a 'tithe agitation meeting' as it was termed was held at Llangadog and open to the tithe-payers of Gwynfe, Llanddeusant and Myddfai; its purpose was to seek a 15% reduction in the tithe rate.

The payment of tithes became figuratively a burning issue which developed into a political one which led ultimately to the Welsh Church Disestablishment and Disendowment Act and the formal termination of the tithe payment to the church. Not unexpectedly the threat of disestablishment was keenly felt by the church in Myddfai and from 1895 onwards we find the church vestry meetings regularly organised petitions to protest against the proposed act which finally came into force on April 1st 1920. In many of the petitions collected, a careful note was made of the number of nonconformists who signed as opponents of the bill. In 1914 for example we find for one petition that 33 Methodists, 33 Congregationalists, 8 Baptists and 2 Wesleyans had signed and to make the case against that much stronger, one of the signatories is named; he being William Price, Caegwyn a baptist deacon and secretary of his chapel..............................

The passing of the disestablishment bill meant and signalled that the role and place of the church in parish life was formally diminished. From thence on church affairs were organised by a parochial church council. The first parochial council for Myddfai was nominated by the vestry in 1920 and had the following composition. The incumbent and the two churchwardens (ex-officio members), Miss Lewis Church House, Mrs Evans Vicarage, D Price Abertriphlwyf, Tom Hughes Hollybush, T.P. Walters Coedlasallt, Henry Lloyd Cilgwyn Lodge, Morgan Price Bailycelyn, D.W.P. Lewis Llettyfandde, Thomas Griffiths Pistyll. Mr John Price the schoolmaster was appointed secretary to the parochial church council.

The church in Myddfai was now no longer and formally a member and part of the Anglican Established Church but belonged to the Church in Wales.

Nonconformity

The first unequivocal evidence that people who could be classed as nonconformist lived in Myddfai is that entered in the bishop's return for 1684 where James Price of Glantowy is described as a giddy brained quaker. There is no evidence which suggests that there were any other quakers in the parish although at a later date (1740-60) there was a prominent quaker living in Llanwrda by the name of Thomas Price, a man who suffered much for his beliefs.

Nonconformity became blatant in Myddfai with the building of Sardis chapel in 1792. The building of a chapel is however only the visible manifestation and culmination in the development and adoption of certain religious beliefs and practices which had gone on for some considerable time previously. Prior to the Act of Toleration in 1688 congregations of dissenters had secretly assembled at 'ogof Castell Craig-yr-Wyddon', a rather remote if shallow cave in the parish of Llanfairarybryn which adjoins Myddfai parish. With the passing of the above act, the dissenting congregation lost no time in building a chapel at Cefnarthen in 1689 and not very far from the original secret meeting place. This chapel was the focus for public worship by dissenters for a number of parishes including Myddfai.

The diary of Morgan Williams, a member of the congregation at Cefnarthen covers the period 1731 - 1756; this makes clear that a number of attenders came from Myddfai such as Thomas Jones Hafod, William Thomas Llanerchgoch and Rees Morgan Wernyfed. There are also references to births, marriages and burials and named are persons from Tynllwyn, Goyallt, Gribin, Cefngole, Dagfa and Gorllwyn fach, all places within the parish. Thus there was a community of dissenters in Myddfai quite early and before what later became recognised as the Calvinistic Methodists had become organised. There was one early Methodist in Myddfai for we read in the journal of Morgan Williams the following - Mary daughter of James (Rees) William, spinster, was married to David John Wiliam David of the parish of Mothvey, Methodist, on Jan 11th 1745.

The early church at Cefnarthen must have been rather dynamic. It was certainly no moribund congregation, but alive to doctrinal differences such that could cause division within the congregation. Although remote and isolated geographically, its horizons and concerns were wide. A diary entry for Feb 4th 1732 records that gathered at Keven Erthan towards the relief of the poor, persecuted protestant exiles of Saltzburgh in Germany, the sum of two pounds, six shillings and six pence. This was no isolated example of concern and response to affairs outside the immediate home area.

Thomas Thomas of Craig y Bwbach, a member of the congregation which met at Cefnarthen and later at Pentretygwyn used regularly to travel to Myddfai on week days and preached at Blaencwm, Myddfai the home of William Rogers. In 1792 and seemingly at the instigation of Thomas Thomas a small chapel was built and known as Sardis which was but a stones throw away from Blaencwm. Eight persons were responsible for building Sardis, two being named, Mrs Gwen Morgan, Llwynmeredydd and William Price Goleugoed.

Thomas Thomas the founder of Sardis died in 1794 and a few years later a Mr David Davies from Llangeler took charge of Sardis. He had the reputation of being a humorous and popular preacher. He also had charge for various periods of chapels in Llandovery (Salem) also Bethlehem and Llangadog. He remained at Sardis until his death in 1838 but in the meantime he had been largely instrumental in re-building Sardis in 1827 and the building of Capel Seion, Myddfai in the year 1823.

Capel Seion was built on land belonging to Miss Elizabeth Lewis of Glasallt, Myddfai and of Knightsbridge, London. The lease is drawn up between her and the following: David Davies Minister of the Gospel (Myddfai), David Williams Parish of Lamoited co. Brecon Minister of the Gospel, David Jenkins of Brychcoed, parish Devenock, Minister of the Gospel and also four farmers from Myddfai being John Walters, Lewis Walters, Rees Lewis and Lewis Edwards. The lease further declares 'the chapel or meeting house called Zion Chapel erected there since Michaelmas 1822 for the benefit of the society of congregation of independent dissenters assembling at Mothvey ... for 99 years from 25 March which was in 1823 yielding to Elizabeth Lewis the rent of ten shillings in equal parts on 29 September and 25 March.' The leasehold subsequently came into the posession of the Saunders Davies family of Pentre in Pembrokeshire who presented the leasehold to the chapel trustees.

The chapel was rebuilt in 1844 and surrounding land acquired for a cemetery. The first interment in the new cemetery is dated 1845 and was that of Mary Anne the young daughter of Thomas Thomas, mercer, of Llandovery. David Owen alias Brutus published in 'Yr Haul' in 1846 a somewhat scurrilous tale that the deacons of Seion were offering twelve shillings to have persons buried in the new cemetery. Brutus took every opportunity to ridicule the Independents and especially their leaders and his accusation has to be considered in that context but one wonders what possible, if tenuous, basis there might have been for his statement.

The list of ministers who have been in charge of some or all of the three congregational chapels in Myddfai, Seion, Sardis and Bwlchyrhiw, at various times is shown below.

  • David Davies; came originally from Llangeler and was instrumental in rebuilding Sardis and the building of Seion. Died 1838. He lived at Tynllwyn for a time. Also had charge of chapels at Llandovery (Salem), Llangadog, Bethlehem and Abergorlech at various stages.
  • David Phillips; Born 1810 in the parish of Henfynyw, Cardiganshire. Inducted Dec 1st 1838. Left precipitately and under a very dark cloud in 1840, he having fathered a 'natural son' by Elizabeth Davies the widow of the previous minister.
  • John Williams: inducted August 5th 1841. He was born and lived at Brown Hill farm, Llansadwrn. He had charge of the chapels at Llangadog and of Seion and Sardis Myddfai.
  • Evan A Jones: inducted 1852, later went to Merthyr Tydfil.
  • Rees Rees: had charge also of a chapel at Capel Isaac.
  • William B Morgan: inducted 1865, was previously in Sheffield. Left for Maesteg in 1870.
  • Lewis Patagonia Humphreys:  inducted 1872, left in 1876 for the chapel at Abercannaid, Merthyr Tydfil. Buried in Patagonia, S. America.
  • David Richards: inducted Dec 7th 1876, minister for 51 years and retired in 1927. Died December 19th 1933 aged 85 years at Myrtle Hill, Myddfai.
  • William J Jones: inducted 1925, later went to Rhymni.
  • Morlais Evans:  inducted 1937, left in 1950 to be minister at Talgarreg
  • W. Tryfan Hughes: inducted 1951, left 1962 for a teaching post. Subsequently became Unitarian minister at Halifax and Huddersfield in Nov 1964 before moving in 1966 to take charge of Ciliau, Rhydygwin and Aberystwyth unitarian churches.
  • T. Meirion Sewell: inducted 1963, left in 1969 to be minister at Rhyd y bont.
  • David Hugh Roberts: inducted 1970 and present minister. Has charge of Seion and Bwlchyrhiw Myddfai, Salem Llandovery, and chapels in Cilycwmand Cynghordy.

Services were held in Sardis chapel until about 1955-56 when the building was sold and it was finally demolished in 1961. The chapel at Bwlchyrhiw was built in 1871. It was erected on land owned by George Jones of Ystrad, Llandovery who granted a 999 year lease at a shilling per annum. The chapel deed states that the building was to be used as a 'Meeting House for the celebration of DIVINE WORSHIP and in the offering of prayers and supplications to the SUPREME FATHER and GOD of the UNIVERSE'. The chapel was officially opened in June 1872 coinciding with the induction of the Rev Patagonia Humphreys but the first communion service took place in August 1876. Extensive repair and renovations to the chapel were carried out in 1899 - 1900.

The Congregationalists or Independents as they were sometimes termed were not the only dissenting sect established in the parish; there were also what were termed Methodists. The Methodists but more specifically the Welsh Calvinistic Methodists as distinct from the Wesleyan sort were formally and legally constituted as a separate religious denomination in 1811 at Llandeilo. The movement became a very dynamic and influential force in communities and in the lives of very many people as indeed happened in Myddfai. The original leaders were all members of the established Anglican church.

The first information we have of a Methodist in Myddfai is in the diary of Morgan Williams for the year 1745 in which a David John William David is described as such. In some respects the parish of Myddfai lay within the heartland of early Welsh Calvinistic Methodism since two of its principal leaders and pioneers, William Williams of Pantycelyn and Howel Harris of Trefecca lived in the region. The former lived in an adjacent parish and also had family connections in Myddfai. There can be few parishes in Wales that Howel Harris visited more frequently but why this should be so is not clear. His father came from the adjacent parish of Llangadog and this may have had something to do with the frequency of his visits.

The diaries of Howel Harris contain a number of references to Myddfai and places therein and these entries afford an interesting and intimate picture of what occurred in the very earliest days of Methodism in the parish. Six entries are quoted, some of the abbreviations originally used have been extended.

Dec 18, 1739. Towards Muddve Trap*, 3 miles. Discoursed at Muddve to 6, very tender. Feeling pity to all especially the Curate present ... then with Mr Powell the Curate some sweet discourse. About 7 (o'clock) towards Dagfa 2 miles, there discoursed near 8 to near 11, sweet.

Dec 19, 1739. Dagfa in Muddve.

July 4, 1740. Discoursing to 1/2 past 10, towards the Trap in Myddve. Discoursed in Muddve near 3 to 1/2 past 5. Many wept and I hope were made believers.

Sept 26, 1740. Towards Cefntelych 4 miles, discoursed there to many hundreds of God's everlasting love.

April 22, 1742. Towards Cefntelych.

June 3, 1742. Keventelych, 7 Family Duty.

* Trap was an inn, about half a mile outside the village of Myddfai on the road to Llanddeusant and situated between Tynewydd and Llwynrhicet.

The above entries convey just a little of the ferment that must have been taking place within certain sections of the parish community; most at this time were members of the established church. The events alluded to in the diaries did not represent a transient bout of religious fervour but something long lasting and which had a profound influence on most aspects of parish life. Prior to the building of any Methodist chapel in the parish, religious services had been held in various houses such as Col, Cefntelych and Porthyrhyd. One of the prime movers and supporters of the Methodist cause in Myddfai was one Dafydd Morgan Dafydd who lived initially at Ynyswen and was a stonemason by profession.

The story behind the building of the first Methodist chapel in the parish is somewhat unusual but there is no reason to doubt its veracity. Dafydd Morgan Dafydd who was also known as David Davies had wished to build a chapel close to the village of Myddfai. He had repeatedly asked his landlord for the lease on a suitable plot of land for the purpose. Then one day a letter came to the village addressed to the Rev. D. Davies, Myddfai. As it happened a Rev. D. Davies lived at Tynllwyn who was congregational minister in charge of Sardis. Thus the letter was delivered to him and not to the intended recipient David Davies of Ynyswen. The letter contained the lease of a plot of land close to the village whereon a chapel might be built.

The congregation of Sardis chapel were also looking for a plot of land close to the village as a site to build a chapel. Thus the receipt of a letter apparently granting them the lease of a plot of land for their purpose must have appeared to them as an irrefutable and dramatic demonstration of Divine intervention and an answer to their prayers. It was sometime before the misunderstanding came to light but by that time the building of Seion chapel had got under way and there it stands today, but on the site originally intended for a Methodist chapel.

Whether the story is literally true one cannot say but it could explain how it was that Capel Seion was built just a very short time before the first Methodist chapel was built and furthermore how it was that the lease for Capel Seion was granted after the building had apparently been built.

Despite the above misunderstanding and undoubted disappointment to David Davies of Ynyswen, he was determined to have a chapel built. He had become owner and occupier of the farm of Gollenwen and he largely by his own efforts built a chapel on his land at a site close by to what is now recognised as Myrtle Hill and Berllandywyll. The formal name of this chapel was Salem but it was more commonly called Capel Berllandywyll. Building commenced in 1822 and this formed the first Methodist chapel in the parish. In 1849, Ruth, the only daughter of David Davies died and was buried close to the chapel her father had built.

The Methodist congregation meeting at Salem still wished however to build a larger and more convenient chapel near to the village, but there were two obstacles in the way. Firstly they did not wish to upset and hurt the feelings of David Davies by suggesting that Salem should be abandoned. Secondly no suitable site was available on which to build a chapel. The latter obstacle was overcome when Lewis Williams of Tyngarn House, who had come into the ownership of land close to the village, offered a plot of land on which to build a chapel. There still remained the first obstacle but this was overcome when David Davies agreed to the exhumation of his daughter Ruth and reinterment in the cemetery of the parish church. The bishops transcript for 1857 records - Ruth Davies of Godre'r waun on Gollenwen was buried May 29th aged 24, having been buried at Berllandywyll Chapel for nearly eight years.

The new chapel was built and called Bethania. It was officially opened on the 6th and 7th of July 1858 when six guest preachers took part in the celebrations and no doubt delivered suitable and powerful sermons. Salem chapel must have become ruinous and insuitable quite soon after, for there is no further record of its use. Bethania chapel was rebuilt in 1880 at a cost of £275.

The first minister to be called to take charge of Bethania was the Rev. T. E. Thomas D.D. who was inducted around 1862 and remained minister until his death in 1918 at the age of 82. He also was in charge of Tabernacle Chapel, Llandovery; he lived at Bailyglas farm which is near that town. There is a tablet to his memory in Bethania. During his ministry he undertook a visit to the United States which was probably some kind of preaching tour as well. He returned having had the degree of Doctor of Divinity conferred on him by Gale College, Galesville, Wisconsin. According to Dr Thomas, as he was subsequently known, this honour had been entirely unsought on his part. He played a full role in the life of the community and it was alleged that he acted as a kind of unofficial marriage broker, finding husbands for suitable young ladies from his congregations; he was certainly sometimes called 'Thomas bach y merched' on account of this.

After the death of Dr Thomas the chapel was without a minister for nineteen years until the appointment of the Rev. T.H. Armstrong in June 1936. He also had charge of the Memorial Chapel Llandovery and of Gosen Cynghordy. Mr Armstrong left the pastorate towards the end of 1943 to be minister of Park Place, Tredegar. The succession of ministers after the departure of Mr Armstrong is shown below.

  • H Jones Griffith (1944 - 1948)  - came from Trefeglwys, Mont. and later went to Towyn, Meirionnydd.
  • D T Davies (1950 - 1955)  - came from Abermule, Mont. went to Ystalfera, Glam.
  • T Oswald Davies (1957 - 1965)   - came from Bagillt, Flintshire; later migrated to Tasmania.
  • J Ellis Davies (1966 - 1980)  - came from Ystradgynlais, retired 1980.
  • Gwyn Rhydderch (1981 - 1986) - who was also in charge of the following chapels. Memorial Llandovery, Gosen Cynghordy, Salem Rhandirmwyn, Siloh Llandovery, Cilycwm and Tabernacl Llandovery. No minister has since been appointed.

Matters of Faith and Action

In the year 1851 a national religious census was carried out which covered both England and Wales. One of the consequences of this census is that we have information on the estimated average numbers who attended places of worship in Myddfai on and prior to Sunday March 30th 1851. The data shown for Myddfai is as follows.

  • The Parish Church                       140
  • Seion (Congregational chapel)    200
  • Sardis (    "   )                             100
  • Salem (Methodist chapel)           100

The figures quoted are for what is described as the general congregation. It is very doubtful indeed if the data are in any way precise estimates of those attending for the simple reason that figures are given to the nearest hundred in three of the cases. Furthermore it is only natural to expect the figures to be somewhat inflated but they probably give some indication of the relative sizes of the congregations. The population of the parish at this time was 1069 thus about half may have attended a place of worship.

One intriguing problem posed by the above figures is why so many parishioners had been prepared to abandon the established church and join the nonconformists. There must have been either much dissatisfaction with the Church or else what the nonconformists had to offer seemed much more attractive than that espoused by the church of the time. That the vicar John Price (1801 - 1818) the supposedly religious leader of the parish, was for a period suspended for drunkeness and profanity does suggest that the church at least in Myddfai can have given little religious and moral leadership. This was not an unique case; in 1738 Howel Harris describes the vicar of Llangadog as a drunkard, who also kept a dancing school at his house. One can speculate that one deficiency of the established church was its inability to espouse or engender any passionate commitment on the part of its adherents. The persons who preached in and around Myddfai in the period 1750 - 1790 were such as John Thomas, Rhayader and Howel Harris of Trefecca who were full of a passionate intensity and concern to save the souls of the parishioners. Regardless of what one might today think of their theology and beliefs, the effects of their preaching and others like them was clear and dramatic. The chapels and their members were the tangible and irrefutable evidence to their influence and effect in the lives of very many people in Myddfai.

The upsurge and commitment to nonconformity in Myddfai as in many other rural parishes has been characterised by a number of associated religious and social manifestations. For the nonconformist and especially the Calvinistic Methodist the source and foundation of correct belief and action rested on the inerrancy and correctness of a literal biblical revelation. Thus the study of the Bible was one of the paramount features of nonconformity as was the exposition of biblical truths in sermons. The Sunday schools at Bethania, Seion and Bwlchyrhiw were the quintessence of this tradition. During the last century and at the beginning of this one, the younger children would be taught to read the bible in Welsh. There would be separate classes for adult men and women. In the adult classes selected portions of scripture would be read, analysed and commented on verse by verse. Each member of the class was expected and usually did make some contribution to the discussion..................

The other key feature of chapel life was the week night meeting, held normally on Tuesday evening in Bethania and on Wednesday evening in Seion. Such meetings were not a feature of the parish church. The pattern taken by the meeting, known as the seiet or society in Methodist churches, varied somewhat depending on whether it was held in the first week of the month or not. The meeting was held in the chapel vestry, with the men sitting on the left hand side of the room facing the reading desk and the women on the right hand side. In general the meeting commenced with a Bible reading or readings followed by extempore prayers taken by one or two of those present and rarely if ever by the minister of the church. Some members would then give public testimony or account of some aspect of their religious convictions or experience and often in relation to contemporary problems and questions. Towards the end of the meeting every one present would have to recite a verse and sometimes comment on its significance........................

...................The week-night service or prayer meeting played a central role in the religious life of the chapel. It is recorded that Dafydd Morgan Dafydd the stonemason would walk back from his place of work ten or so miles just to be at the meeting, such was its importance and significance. The last to show this kind of dedication was Mrs Mary Ann Thomas of Penrhiwydw who in her early eighties would walk a distance of about a mile to each week night service quite regardless of weather and conditions. The week-night services are no longer held.

An eye-witness relates how on Rhyblid farm during a hay harvest in the period just prior to 1914, a servant maid wished to go to the prayer meeting on a Tuesday night. She was forbidden to do so in order that she could assist with the hay harvest. On being refused permission, the next load of hay tipped over on its way to the barn. This was taken as a sign of divine displeasure and her request to attend the week-night meeting was never again disputed.

Another feature of the growth and place of nonconformity was the great emphasis put on what might be termed sabbatarianism. The established church had always maintained that Sunday was a day in which all non-essential tasks and work should be dispensed with. What the nonconformists and in particular the Calvinistic Methodists did was to attach very much greater emphasis and importance to such observations and to make it almost a touchstone of Christian belief and commitment. Thus in Myddfai up until around 1940 no farmer would overtly perform any task on the farm other than those necessary for the daily welfare of farm livestock. Such was the strength of this imperative that even at harvest time when weather conditions made harvesting extremely difficult, the code was never broken. By today only two or three farms at most adhere to the old convention.

The above attitude extended just as rigidly into the household for only essential tasks would be carried out on Sunday. In many if not most of the chapel-going households, the vegetables for Sunday meals would be prepared on Saturday and boots or shoes never cleaned on a Sunday. The gathering of hazelnuts on Sunday was presented to children and adolescents as a particularly serious crime. In some of the strictest Methodist households in the parish, Saturday afternoon was taken as a prelude to Sunday and household tasks would as it were be run down or reduced. In some, the household would take part in bible reading and family prayers on Saturday evening. Morning devotions after breakfast during weekdays and which the whole household attended were a regular feature of many places in the parish until about 1937.

A feature which possibly marked out most clearly differences in social behaviour and beliefs between members of the three denominations represented in the parish, was the attitude to the consumption of alcoholic drink. One could recognise a cline of response, with the Calvinistic Methodists being mostly total-abstainers or tee-total as it was more commonly called, and indeed the majority were. At the other end of the scale you had the parish church and its members who had no fundamental objection to the consumption of alcoholic drink at least in moderation. The congregationalists held and practised a wide diversity of stance between the two extremes mentioned. These differences are unambigously revealed when one examines the denominational allegiance of those who had been prosecuted and named in the local press for drinking out of hours. Historically however all this was relatively new, for the temperance movement was an American importation brought to Great Britain from around 1830 onwards, but by 1850 had become widespread and powerful. What had started as a temperance movement became later a tee-total movement signifying a complete rejection of the use of alcoholic drink in any form.

Just before the turn of the last century a temperance van toured the countryside in the Llandovery area but there is no mention of it having visited Myddfai. In April 1891 a lecture on temperance was given at Bethania chapel. The lecturer made his point by showing the effect of alcohol on the white of an egg. The report of this lecture in the Carmarthen Journal declares that the temperance adherents in Myddfai were very sparse and stated that those that drank in moderation were not strong willed enough to dispense with it entirely.

..................One of the staunchest advocates of tee-totalism in the parish, David Davies of Rhyblid, was not above worshiping both God and mammon. It was the tradition at the time for farm sales to be liberally suplied with beer since it was generally considered that its supply greatly improved the sale and no doubt it did. Whilst David Davies had been tee-total all his life he did not feel able to dispense with a liberal supply of beer at his biennial sale of sheep and cattle until the year 1891.

This opposition to the use of alcohol was made manifest at the monthly meeting of the Calvinistic Methodists held at Capel Dewi in 1908 when it was passed that 'henceforth none shall be elected to the offices of ministers and deacons among us as except they be total abstainers from all intoxicants as a beverage'. Despite this resolution a rather inexplicable notice appeared in the Carmarthen Journal at the time when, in 1919 the association of Welsh Calvinistic Methodists held their annual convention at Llandovery. A request was made to extend the opening hours of public houses from 10 a.m. until 6.00 p.m. whilst the association was being held. This probably was a hoax. Not all the deacons in Bethania were able to attain these rigorous standards however and at the beginning of this century, one was known to drag his feet somewhat on going home after the weeknight service in order to call at the Plough.

Church and chapel have, if unwittingly, played an extremely important role as the vehicle in developing and fostering social and cultural life not only within their own congregations but of the parish as a whole. The literary meetings organised by the chapels have already been referred to, but there were other meetings and festivals which were looked forward to and enjoyed as much for being social occasions as anything else. Up until the outbreak of the Second World War, the harvest thanksgiving festival in the parish church was an event for the whole parish and not just for the formal church members. The church in Myddfai was very elaborately and profusely decorated and somewhat to the astonishment of nonconformist children who attended, whose own chapels on such occassions, Bethania and Seion, were bare of any decoration.

The singing festival was par excellence an event for the nonconformists rather than the established church. It had involved preparatory singing classes held after the evening service on Sunday for three or four months prior. But on the day it was also an opportunity to wear a new hat, meet friends from neighbouring parishes and more importantly an opportunity for boy to meet girl. Denominational meetings meant that the women of the chapel had to organise the catering for all the delegates and visitors. The best crockery and cutlery available was used. At one such meeting of Presbytery in Bethania attenders were shown at tea-time an undignified spectacle when Miss Price Llwyniar and Mrs Thomas Penrhywydw struggled over the physical possession of a 'silver' tea pot and thus who should have the honour of pouring out the tea at one of the tables. Miss Price a strong forceful person held the teapot by the handle and there was no possibility whatever that she would relinquish her grip. The two ladies never did subsequently speak to each other.

The part played by the chapels and the church in the life of the parish as it is today, is enormously diminished in comparison with what it used to be. In 1905 the nonconformist statistics for Carmarthenshire show that the total adult congregation for the chapels in Myddfai were as follows: Bethania 100, Bwlychrhiw 70, Sardis 58 and Seion 131, giving a total of 359. Comparable data are not available for the parish church although the number of Easter communicants was probably in the region of 80 for 1906. The situation today is very different, Sardis no longer exists and the estimated total congregations today are 24 for Bethania and 50 for Seion, whilst that of the parish church is 22. Actual congregations are as often as not of the order of a dozen members or less; such is the extent of the change that had occurred in church and chapel attendance since the beginning of this century. The causes of this decline are many and complex but possibly the most important is that resulting from the decline in population. In 1905 the population of the parish was approximately 620 whilst in 1981 it was 338; what is more, approximately a third of this population is now English speaking thus the potential chapel going population has been reduced from around 600 down to about 230 by now. Thus both population and linguistic changes go a long way to explaining the decline in membership of the Welsh chapels in the parish. In the case of the parish church the decline in Welsh speaking members has been quite catastrophic and were it not for the solely English speaking members who have moved into the parish and become church members, it is very doubtful if it could be maintained as a church offering regular Sunday services. National figures for church membership in Wales indicate that only in the region of a quarter of the audit population are nominally members of any church; set against this background, church together with chapel membership in the parish of Myddfai is higher than the national norm.