Historic Landscape Characterisation

Vale of Ffestiniog - Area 18 Maentwrog

© Crown copyright. All rights reserved, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, 100017916, 2005

Historic background

Maentwrog's origin is probably due to the fact that it lies at the highest navigable point on the Dwyryd, and the point where the river is crossed by a several routes, including probably the Roman road which comes down from Tomen y Mur at the place known as Felinrhyd (see below). For this reason, from the early 18th-century if not earlier, the immediate area became the entrepôt for the valley, with the export of timber, attested from 1739, but particularly after the development of the slate industry from the 1760s onwards. The present village is largely a creation of the Oakeley family, and bears many of the classic features of a gentry-sponsored estate village. The village itself is visible from the Oakeley family’s Plas Tan y Bwlch home and was developed by them in the nineteenth century on the back of profits from the slate industry. The church (SH 6641 4055) and the vicarage (SH 6647 4067) date from around 1800, and the village itself seems to have been constructed in its present form in the early and mid-19th century.

As with Plas Tan y Bwlch itself and its immediate environs, it is emphatically an exercise in creating a visually attractive settlement that reflected well on its owners, and its buildings preserve many decorative features and details. Its several chapels are all built in locations which make them invisible from the Plas. The older part of the village largely comprises a terraced row of houses, shops and a public house along one side of the road only (the other side being formed by a steep hill slope, with some buildings above the level of the road). The buildings are in the same style, massive grand structures in local stone with large windows and Georgian doors. The small housing estate to the south, built up the hill slope, is more modern.

Interestingly, the Meirioneth lay subsidy rolls of 1293-4 records that Maentwrog had a hosteler (William Speder) which was unique in the county: similar people, for example in Nefyn, were referred to 'y gwestwr' and this implies that Maentwrog had a 'hostelry' rather than a lowly tavern (and already perhaps had a foot in the tourist trade!).

Maentwrog is also mentioned in the fourth branch of the Mabinogi, Math fab Mathonwy. After crossing Traeth Mawr when fleeing south from the army of Math, Pryderi is killed in single combat by Gwydion at Felinrhyd (remembered in a place-name c. a mile to the west), and he is subsequently buried at Maentwrog. Another legend concerns Twrog casting a huge boulder off the cliff above which still exists as a standing stone next to the church tower.

Key historic landscape characteristics

19th-century estate village

A village directly sponsored by the Oakeley family and designed in such a way as not only to be visible from the Plas terraces but also to reflect credit on the estate. One of the village’s few nonconformist chapel lies a little way to the north of the village, others to the east; none is directly visible from the plas. Buildings vary in date from the regency to the late 20th century, but there is much deliberately picturesque vernacular architecture, making particular use of the large slabs from the quarry at Gelli Grin (see also area 29).

The area includes the trace of the short Cemlyn canal, built as the entrepôt for Diffwys quarry slates and used as such until 1868.


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