Towns and Villages
Mathry is a genuine hilltop village that probably owes its existence to the need, in the Iron Age, for the most prosperous communities to be well defended. Mathry is indeed positioned perfectly for early sightings of any enemy approach. Probably it had a defensive embankment around its perimeter, and probably a ditch as well. All traces are now gone. Mathry church (dedicated to the Holy Martyrs) lies in the centre of the village, visible for miles around. Two incised early Christian stones from elsewhere in the parish are now standing in the porch. The present church dates from 1868, replacing a medieval church. Today Mathry is a quiet place with small streets, an inn, a craft workshop, and a vibrant community life. The General Stores (now closed) are much photographed!
This is a small village within the cultivated area below the northern flank of Mynydd Preseli. Nowadays it's just a cluster of houses and farms, with a village hall in the old school a little way from the village centre. The most notable building is Brynberian Independent Chapel, built in 1842, with a three-sided gallery. This chapel features strongly in the novel "Flying with Angels". This is where the last love of Martha's life, Amos Jones (Jones Minor Prophet) is called to be minister, and where -- in one of my favourite episodes from the novel -- Amos is confronted with a demand for him to be "cast out" following his misdemeanour in the woods with Martha!
Goodwick (Wdig) lies immediately west of its twin town of Fishguard. The coasts of Wales were subjected to Norse raids during the Viking Era and, in the latter 10th century, Norse trading posts and settlements became established. The place name probably derives from a combination of the old Norse forms. Goodwick was originally just a small fishing village in the parish of Llanwnda, but in 1887 work commenced on a railway connection and harbour, and the village grew rapidly to service this. The main industry is now tourism although in the town's industrial past brick making was once an important industry. Some fishing still takes place on a small scale. The local beach, Goodwick Sands, is where the defeated French invasion force assembled prior to their unconditional surrender on 24 February 1797. In "On Angel Mountain" Martha's husband David finds himself in Goodwick when he joins the irregular forces combatting the French.
The harbour was constructed by blasting 1.6 million tonnes of rock from the hillside to make a 900 m long breakwater. The quarried-out area became the quay, with ample space for railway sidings. The harbour was finally opened on 30 August 1906. Planned to be the end of the Great Western Railway's line and its major Atlantic sea port, replacing Neyland, silting problems within the harbour prevented larger ocean liners from docking. Nonetheless, the Great Western Railway ordered three new steamers for its service to Rosslare, St David, St George and St Patrick. RMS Mauretania visited once in 1909 although passengers had to board by tender when transferring to and from the London train. A smaller breakwater was built as part of the preparations for the visit of the RMS Mauretania and it is sometimes known as the "Mauretania Mole". The breakwater led to even more silting, and the prospect of future visits from larger liners was abandoned. Directly above the harbour is a small estate known as "Harbour Village", built to house workers during the construction of the harbour. The port now accommodates a Stena Line ferry service to Rosslare.
The RNLI operates an all weather Trent class lifeboat, the Blue Peter VII, and a class D inshore lifeboat from within the harbour. In October 2011 plans for Fishguard & Goodwick Marina were revealed, but the economic recession has held up work on the project.
In this remote and pleasant village there is a strong link with the old days of the drovers, in the inn called the Drovers Arms. The drovers were the “cowboys” of the Wild West of Wales. For something like 200 years they moved meat on the hoof from Pembrokeshire towards the growing urban centres of the Midlands and the south-east of England. Their routes kept well clear of the turnpike roads and other rough tracks that carried coaches, carts and travellers on horseback, for herds of several hundred animals were generally not welcome. The preferred routes were in open country, where the animals could graze intermittently and where the men could camp for the night. The herds might travel fifteen miles in a day, and a journey between Pembrokeshire and Smithfield might take three weeks or more. The local farmers who entrusted their livestock to the drovers came to depend on the droving trade for a large part of their annual income, and the drovers themselves were variously heroes, villains, adventurers, bankers, entrepreneurs, and carriers of news. They were not all that interested in animal welfare, and although they tried not to lose too many animals en route many observers were appalled at the cruelty endured by emaciated, filthy and often injured cattle, sheep, pigs and geese. Around the middle of the nineteenth century the droving trade suddenly disappeared, for with the advent of the railways in Pembrokeshire farmers could send their animals to the London market in cattle trucks, with just a few hours between departure and arrival.
Rosebush is the most prominent of Pembrokeshire's slate quarrying sites. Here you can see (from a great distance) the prominent spoil heaps and quarry pits. Quarrying has been going on here for at least three hundred years, with the slate blocks used at first for sills and lintels, grave headstones, steps and scullery work surfaces, and later on for roofing slates. The earliest, northern, quarries at Rosebush were referred to as the Bellstone Quarries, probably named to indicate an association with Maenclochog (which means “ringing stone” or “bellstone.”) The three southern pits are known as the Rosebush Quarries proper. They were opened up commercially as a result of a collaboration between Edward Cropper and Joseph Macaulay, around 1870, and they worked for about thirty years. From 1876 onwards most of the output of the quarries was transported by rail, on the newly completed Maenclochog Railway.
Nearby there is a long terrace of simple houses. This is the Rosebush “Quarryman’s Row” which provided housing for quarry workers and their families. The houses were very small, and some of them seem to have had just two rooms, one downstairs and one upstairs. They have been modified since, with the addition of internal partitions, extensions built onto their fronts, and conversions involving the joining of adjacent properties. Look for the tell-tale signs of bricked-in doors. All of the roofs were originally made of Rosebush slate, and around 1950 most of them were covered (in traditional Pembrokeshire fashion) with layers of protective cement wash. Now, ironically, most of the roofs have been rebuilt with artificial slates. At the end of the row there was a cottage used for the payment of wages to the quarry workers. Next door was the shop and the quarry manager’s house, later converted to a post office and restaurant.
The old Preseli Hotel, clad in corrugated iron sheeting, was adjacent to the station platform. It has now been converted into a popular inn and restaurant known as Tafarn Sinc.
This small hamlet is strung out along the Cardigan - Haverfordwest road, not far from Brynberian. Towards the south, there is a special historic landscape which lies along the northern fringe of Mynydd Preseli. It consists of small, irregular fields, dispersed farms and cottages and winding lanes. Stone is the traditional building material. Boundary banks are stony and topped with hedges. Land-use is mostly improved pasture, but with pockets of rough, wet ground.
If you take the minor road southwards you come out onto the edge of the common; this is in my view one of the most charming landscapes in the whole of Pembrokeshire. Here, every year since 1977, the 5-mile fell race called Ras Beca has been held, in celebration of the Rebecca Riots. The race, always held towards the end of August, attracts about 100 runners each year, from all over the UK -- and there is a children's race as well.
Morfil is a lonely place -- with a small scatter of farms now all that is left of a once considerably larger community. We might even call it a "lost village". It is chiefly notable because here there are TWO stories of people seeing phantom battles in the sky above Mynydd Morfil -- causing some to believe that the famous Battle of Mynydd Carn was fought here between two armies of feuding Welsh princes in 1087. In "House of Angels" Martha herself sees a battle in the sky near here, and takes it as an omen of terrible events to come.
The railway track in this somewhat surprising location was part of the North Pembroke and Fishguard Railway, built as a link between the main South Wales Line and the port of Fishguard. The railway reached Rosebush in 1876, but engineering difficulties and political and financial problems delayed the completion of the section between Rosebush and Letterston, and the line was not ready for use until 1899. The line never was a great success, but it served the communities of North Pembrokeshire with a passenger and goods service until the track was lifted in 1952.
This small village on the road between Cardigan and Cenarth has grown and survived partly because it is adjacent to one of the most important bridging points on the River Teifi. This is the highest point reached by the tides. Llechryd Bridge is a miracle of bridge-building, since it is regularly battered by massive quantities of flood waters, tree trunks and branches, and all too often completely overtopped by the river in flood. Sometimes even the bridge parapets disappear beneath the swirling waters.
Much of the early growth of the village was associated with the developments at Coedmore or Llechryd Forge in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, on the Cardiganshire side of the river. The forge became an ironworks, fed with imported pig iron, limestone and other raw materials and smelted with charcoal derived from abundant supplies of local timber. The ironworks ceased production around 1750, and after that the Penygored Tinplate Works rose to prominence on the Pembrokeshire side of the river, under the ownership of Sir Benjamin Hammett.
All in all, the forge, ironworks, and tinplate works must have required a substantial workforce, and other employment was provided for those who dug out the leat which ran downstream from near Llechryd Bridge and those who operated the sailing vessels and barges which brought in the raw materials and exported the finished products. So Llechryd, somewhat surprisingly, must have been one of the earliest "industrial" villages in Wales, predating by a century most of the other coal mining and ironworking settlements that grew up during the Industrial Revolution.
A small village on the road from Boncath towards Cenarth and Newcastle Emlyn. Part of the village strays off along the edge of the Cych Valley on the minor road leading towards the Teifi Valley, Llechryd and Cilgerran. In the other direction, upstream of the bridge, the branching and beautiful Cych Valley extends for more than 10 km southwards. It is thickly wooded and steep-sided, and it remains somewhat mysterious and unvisited to this day since there are few decent roads. Perhaps we should not be surprised that somewhere in this wooded wilderness, according to the Mabinogion, there is the entrance to the Otherworld. Pwyll, the Prince of Dyfed, went stag hunting here, and became involved in a very complicated adventure by changing places with Arawn, the Prince of the Otherworld.
Cardigan is at attractive town located on the banks of the River Teifi, about 3 km inland from the estuary. A castle was built here by Robert Montgomery in 1093 after the Norman army conquered Ceredigion, but the area was regained by the Welsh in 1136 and held until 1164. Under later Welsh rule a castle was built in stone with a walled settlement around it and in 1176 Lord Rhys instituted the first eisteddfod. Contestants came from all over Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland to compete for chairs in music and poetry. In 1199 the town received its first charter and became an important trade centre. In 1227 a weekly market was established which continues to this day. Welsh rule over Cardigan continued, for some periods under royal lordship, until it was annexed to the English crown in 1283 when the county of Cardiganshire was created. The town wall was built in the 1240s and the castle was rebuilt. St Mary's church was established as a Benedictine Priory and parish church in mediaeval times and survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries. The castle ceased being the administrative centre of the county with the Act of Union in 1536 and by the early 17th century was already falling into ruins.
Until the 16th century, Cardigan had been a small, walled town with some river traffic. With Wales formally annexed by England, political and domestic stability boosted economic prosperity through the increase in maritime trade. At 1600 the port's principal trade was fishing, but over the next century trade expanded to include a range of imports and exports, and a Customs House was established to collect revenues. The herring fishery developed and then declined. By the beginning of the 18th century there was a large merchant fleet. Exports included herring and salmon, slate, bark for tanning, corn and ale. Imports included oranges, manufactured goods, building materials and coal. Industries that developed included shipbuilding, brickworks, a foundry, ropemakers and sailmakers.
In the 18th and early 19th century, Cardigan was the most important port in South Wales. In 1815 it possessed 314 ships totalling 12,554 tons. This was seven times as many vessels as Cardiff and three times as many as Swansea. It also had a thriving shipbuilding industry, with over 200 vessels being built both in Cardigan and downstream in the village of Llandudoch (St Dogmaels).
Rural industries and craftsmen were an important part of life in a county town. In 1830, there were thirteen boot makers, three bakers, one corn miller, four blacksmiths, seven carpenters, two coopers, six tailors, five dressmakers and milliners, two straw hat makers, two weavers, three curriers, three saddlers, two whitesmiths (tinsmiths), four glaziers, five maltsters, two printers, two tanners and one stonemason
The Guildhall, built in a Gothic design, and opened in 1860, was erected on the site of the 1804 grammar school. By the mid 19th century there were more than 60 taverns in the town. But the port began a decline, hastened by the coming of the railway in 1886. The river silted up and larger vessels could no longer reach the port, which had largely become inactive by the early part of the 20th century. Plans for dredging came to nothing.
Nowadays there is something of a renaissance in the town, with a vibrant cultural centre in Theatr Mwldan, and with the opening (after a campaign of many years) of a much renovated Cardigan Castle. As with all of the other settlements of west Wales, tourism is of great importance to the modern economy.
There is much of archaeological interest in and around Eglwyswrw community, and the village is recorded from Norman times; on the west side of the village is a small Norman motte. The site where the church now stands may have been sacred in pre-Christian times. The churchyard is raised, and roughly circular in plan, and it has a surprisingly irregular and hummocky surface, suggesting that there may have been Bronze Age burial mounds here. The first Christian church dates back to before the 8th century, and there was a later Norman church, the earliest record of which is in 1291. The current church (on the same site) is surprisingly large, and almost entirely late Victorian in age.
Since the name means "the church of Wrw" one might expect something in history that identifies who this saint was -- but there is nothing but speculation. One theory is that a female saint named Eirw was buried here; and there is a local tradition that close to her grave near the edge of the graveyard no man could be buried, for fear that the corpse would be flung out of the ground by the pure saintly spirit who had vowed never to lie with a man........
The village hosted several important fairs, including Meigan Fair, at least as early as 1794. In 1895, following the death of local landowner W. Mathias, property and land covering nearly the whole of the village was auctioned in 16 lots for a total sum of nearly £7,000; some of the property, which included two pubs, the Butchers Arms and The Plough, was bought by tenants.
The Serjeants Inn, now a private residence, was a Grade II listed public house dating back to the 17th or 18th century, so named because the Cemais Assizes were held there. It closed in the 1990s. To the rear of the inn is a former meeting house which served as a chapel and a school in the 19th century. The Butcher's Arms, the village's other pub (now closed), featured in a 2004 Canadian Visa campaign highlighting difficult-to-pronounce place names around the world. There was irony in the fact that the pub did not accept Visa cards. The village shop and Post Office closed in 2009. In January 2016 Eglwyswrw was judged to be the wettest village in Britain for 92 years, having suffered rainfall on 85 consecutive days since 26 October 2015. Everybody was very disappointed when it stopped raining five days short of the British record.
How can one not fall in love with this wild and beautiful place in the foothills of the eastern Preselis? There is not much here nowadays, except a cluster of cottages and farms and a chapel faced with spotted dolerite from the nearby rocky tors. There is also a memorial to the famous Welsh poet Waldo Williams.
According to tradition, the Rebecca Riots which swept across West Wales in the period 1839-1845 were started by a group of men from the Mynachlogddu area. It all started at a meeting in Glynsaithmaen. The riots were a response from landless peasants and small tenant farmers to the exorbitant tolls charged by the turnpike trusts who were responsible for improving old rutted roads and building new ones. Some of the trusts were thoroughly dishonest, with the income from the toll-gates going into the pockets of the gentry or other "toll farmers" instead of being used for roadworks. Also, the new toll-gates were often so close together that poor farmers had to pay several times over for moving their livestock between field and farm. Discontent built up and finally boiled over in a series of riots in which many toll gates were destroyed and some people were killed. The rioters were always dressed in women's costumes, and they were always led someone called Rebecca. They were astute at guerrilla tactics, and they led the constables, the judiciary and the army a merry dance all over West Wales. Very few of the leaders were arrested and transported. The riots had the desired effect, and Parliament eventually had to act to remove some of the worst practices of the turnpike trusts. In the churchyard of Bethel Chapel is the grave of Thomas Rees or "Twm Carnabwth" who was reputed to have been the first Rebecca when the Rebecca Riots began at Efailwen in 1839. He died in his garden when fetching a cabbage for his dinner. A nice way to go......
The village and the surrounding district feature prominently in the novel "Rebecca and the Angels."
Llanychaer is a village made up of several segments, towards the western end of Cwm Gwaun. At one time it served a substantial farming community, favoured by relatively good access from all points of the compass. Traces of an old mill can be seen adjacent to the road. Up above the valley stands the old mansion house called Cwrt, which is currently in the process of renovation. This house features in the later Angel Mountain stories as the home of the eccentric ex-industrialist named Wilmot Gwynne, and his even more eccentric wife Delilah. At the bottom of the hill is a pretty whitewashed gatehouse linked to Cwrt, and now used as a holiday let.
Moylgrove is a small straggling village located between Nevern and St Dogmael's, not far inland from Ceibwr Bay. Most of the village is built on a steep hillside. The name is something of a mystery, with links to the thick woodland which still extends from the village towards the sea. In 1291 there was a reference to Moylgrove Church as "Ecclesia de Grana Matildis" which translates to "The Church of Matilda's Grove". Matilda, who married Robert Fitzmartin, gave Moylegrove as part of her dowry to St Dogmaels Abbey. This name was subsequently worn down to "Moldegrove", and by the time of Henry 8th it had become "Moilegrove". Matilda was the daughter of William Peveral of Tregammon, and by all accounts she enjoyed walking in the grove...........
The Welsh for Matilda is Mallt and from this has sprung a number of rather eerie legends! Apparently Mallt was an "evil genius" who was also known as "Y Mwnci Mallt" or "Mallt of the mist". Mortals seeing her washing her hands in a woodland stream would die. Sometimes she would be seen at the end of the lane to Penrallt Ceibwr, by men walking home from the pub on foggy nights.
The Welsh name "Trewyddel" seems to be a corruption of Tre-Gwyddel -- which translates to Irishmans Town. There is evidence of Irish people living in Cemaes from Roman times, as inscriptions on some of the Ogham stones in the area are written in Irish.
We might as well call this one of Pembrokeshire's "lost villages" since there is nowadays a parish church and a trace of a village green, but just a scatter of cottages and farms as a reminder that there must at one time have been a distinct cluster of dwellings in this exposed and remote place. Some people believe that there are traces of prehistoric stone settings on the green.
The church is a typical "Welshry" bellcote church with a simple interior, and it has been changed many times over the centuries, There was a church here before 900 AD, and Asser, a friend and advisor to King Alfred, was educated here. Giraldus Cambrensis, the Welshman who never did become the Bishop of St Davids, was rector here for a time. The church was substantially rebuilt in 1881, and there are a number of inscribed stones built into the structure.
In February 1797 there was a good deal of activity hereabouts, during the short-lives French Invasion. The rocky crag near the church was one of the strongpoints and lookout points used by the rabble of French troops before they lost interest in the enterprise and surrendered on Goodwick Sands.
Tufton is a small village or hamlet on the B road between Haverfordwest and Eglwyswrw. Maybe we should call it one of those "lost villages" because at one time it was certainly much larger than it is now. It has a nonconformist chapel and a pub, and some distance away there is a rather spectacular TV transmitter mast. Perhaps Tufton's main claim to fame is that it was once the home of a very wonderful corrugated iron village store, which I remember well from 40 years ago as the Gwalia Stores. When it was closed in 1982 it stood empty for some years and was then rescued for the nation. It found its way to the Pembrokeshire Museum at Scolton Manor, where it can be visited today, packed with nostalgic groceries....... or at least the nostalgic packaging.