Historic Landscape Characterisation

Llŷn - Area 14 Cors Geirch PRN 33496

Rhyd y Clafdy

Wern Fawr


Historic background

There are two possible prehistoric defended enclosures, either side of the marsh on slightly raised ground at Bwlch Gwyn, 600m south of Rhyd y Clafdy and on a spur overlooking the marsh at Tyddyn Bychan (PRNs 43382, 4381).

During the middle ages the marsh was known as Ystrad Geirch or Nant Geirch, these being the alternative names for the free township which occupied the western side of the fen. Six gwelyau of the progeny of Dywrig had landed interests in Ystradgeirch, as did the heirs of the gwely Wyrion Eigion and several members of the kindred of Cenythlin in the fourteenth century. The freeholders of the gwely Dywrig had a particular focus on Ystrad Geirch with a geographical localisation extending across the marsh from Bodfel to Llangian. Their mills were are Werthyr, south of Nanhoron, and Kirgh (?Ceirch, perhaps in the vicinity of Rhyd y Clafdy). Thirteenth-century valuations record 18 tenant families at Ystrad Geirch, in possession of 187 cattle, 24 horses, 30 sheep, 39 draught animals and the potential for producing 67 crannocks of flour and 14 crannocks of grain.

The southern part of this area was occupied, in part, by the bond township of Wystnyn and the hamlet of Bachellyn, on the flood plain, just north of Llanbedrog. Two thirds of Bachellyn were emancipated, by concession of the former Prince of Wales, the third part remained bond, as was the rest of the township.

At the western end of the coastal marsh lay the medieval townships of Penyberth and Penrhos. Penrhos was a bond township of the Bishop of Bangor, occupied by 22 tenants in two gwelyau and holding around 60 acres of arable land which was worked jointly. Penyberth, with its focus within the bend of the Geirch, lay adjacent, to the west. Penyberth was a small bond township of no more than seven families who had any substantial movables. Nevertheless, by the later nineteenth century, Penyberth was farming 300 acres. Between them, these two medieval townships held 42 cattle, 10 horses and 7 draught animals. There were also sheep at Penyberth and they harvested and milled oats, wheat and some barley. Among the customary rents owed by these tenants, who, before their labour dues were commuted for cash, did works on the former Prince’s manor at Pwllheli and worked in the fields at the Autumn harvest and harrowed in Lent. They also fetched and carried and made repairs to the water corn mill. In addition to the gwely lands, there were 40 acres of the royal demesne of Pwllheli in that place. The present village of Rhyd-y-Clafdy incorporates in its name, the concept of a ‘clafdy’ or leper-house. Such leper-houses are sometimes recorded in association with royal commotal maerdrefi, usually at the limits, rather than at the core, of the maerdref. It is possible, but not certain, that this reference to a ‘clafdy’ is an indication of such an institution in the vicinity.

To the north of Penrhos and Penyberth lay the small free gafael of Gellidara, whose associations were with Elernion in the cantref of Arfon, some distance to the north.

In the early nineteenth century, about two-thirds of the coastline between Llanbedrog and Pwllheli was enclosed, drained and reclaimed.

In 1936 a decision was taken to establish an RAF bombing school at Penyberth, including the area of the low plateau in the bend of the river where the Afon Penrhos joins the Afon Geirch. Opposition was strongly felt, particularly as it was perceived that the sixteenth century house, Penyberth was, in Saunders Lewis’ words, ‘one of the essential homes of Welsh culture, idiom and literature’. As work proceeded, an arson attack was initiated. Nevertheless, the base came into operation in February 1937. During July and October 1940 the base was attacked six times by the Luftwaffe. In consequence No. 312 (Czech) Squadron was moved in to protect Penrhos. Another airfield (RAF Hell’s Mouth) had already been established as a relief landing ground for Penrhos, five miles to the south and was upgraded after the attacks of 1940. RAF Penrhos remained operational until October 1946 providing armament, air observer, bombing and gunnery training.

Twenty acres of the Penrhos site is now owned by the Polish Housing Society, in consequence of the requirement to house Eastern European soldiers under British command at the end of the war, following a lease and then sale of the base by the Air Ministry.

Key historic landscape characteristic

•An area of alkaline fen, important for its environmental significance.

•Clear indications of enclosure and reclamation along the coastal edge and an important crossing point of the fens on stone causeways and bridges at Penrhos and Rhyd y Clafdy.

Cors Geirch is a low-lying area of marshland which extends from Edern in the north to the Cardigan Bay coastline, east of Llanbedrog. The character area boundary which is not exactly coterminous with the environmental designation of Cors Geirch, is identified by the 30-40m contour extending from the south of Edern and Morfa Nefyn, bounded on the west by Ceidio, Madryn and the eastern slopes of Carneddol; on the east by the gently rising ground of Boduan and Bodfel and includes the coastal marshes of Penrhos between Llanbedrog and the west end of Pwllheli.

Much of the interest in the Cors Geirch character area is the environmental significance of the alkaline fen and its vegetation, which includes bog myrtle, purple moor grass, blunt-flowered rush, common reed, great fen sedge and the rare slender cottongrass. The marsh is also the only locality known in Wales to support Desmoulin’s whorl snail.

Nevertheless, the historian will take greater interest in the landscape, economy and social and dynastic relationships which come together in the central and southern area of Cors Geirch These touch on the extensive interests of freeholding lordships, the Bishop of Bangor, and the adjacent maerdref of Afloegion at Pwllheli, including the possibility of, in addition to the Prince’s demesne at Penyberth, a ‘clafdy’ or leper-house near Rhyd-y-Clafdy as a manorial adjunct.

The area is wet and marshy and few roads cross it, except in the furthest north of the area at Plasyngheidio and, importantly, in the south at Rhyd-y-Clafdy where there is a nineteenth-century bridge, and on the Afon Rhyd-hir, crossed by a causewayed bridge at Pont Rhyd-hir, where there is also a mill (Rhyd = Ford).

The coastline between Penrhos and the west end of Pwllheli, as described in the History section, was enclosed and drained in the early nineteenth century. The pattern of this landscape is characteristic of this period of agricultural and landscape improvement. This localised area is transacted by drainage ditches but remains wet in the winter. The vegetation is rough and coarse and colonised by scrubby trees. The present road from Llanbedrog to Pwllheli, which corresponds with the line of the nineteenth-century road, is carried on a causeway above the wet ground and lined with low stone walls. A golf course has been laid out at the western end and along the coastal fringe.

The history of the low Penrhos plateau is a significant one which lends character to this part of the landscape. The medieval background to later events is represented only by the clawdd banks of small irregular fields at both Penyberth and Penrhos, indicative, in their occasional curving outlines and narrow dimensions, of parcels of former arable quillets. The World War 2 landscape of the 1936-1946 RAF base is still visible and is overlain by the succeeding village of Polish expatriate soldiers, established at the end of the War. The political dimension regarding the construction of the air base in 1936 continues to be remembered in Welsh Nationalist politics.

Crugan Farm, on the eastern fringe of Llanbedrog, is important for its surviving seventeenth and eighteenth century-features and outbuildings, including its eighteenth-century barn. Wern Fawr, on the western edge of the marsh is an important gentry farmhouse. Geoffrey Parry of Rhydolion married Margaret Hughes, heiress of Cefn Llanfair and Wern Fawr in the seventeenth century, bringing Wern Fawr into the Love-Parry orbit, later of Madryn. The house, of sixteenth-century date, is of un-coursed rubble in two storeys but, apparently, had a dormer or dormers in the eighteenth century. The front façade has a four-centred arched doorway with broad quarter-round moulding, very badly abraded on the jambs, and a corresponding hood mould. The window openings (with modern pivoting casements) are tall and narrow and not exactly symmetrical. One window is blocked. There are chimney flues in the thickness of each gable wall, with tall stacks. The north stack is set diagonally.

Other than the Polish community at Penrhos House and the dispersed settlement at Penrhos itself, there is only one nucleated village in this character area; Rhyd-y-Clafdy. The Afon Geirch is crossed by an early nineteenth-century, three-arched bridge. In the nineteenth century there was an Inn, ‘Tuhwnt i’r Afon’ (‘The Other Side of the River’), 300m east of the bridge. The core of the village clustered near the river with a smithy close to the bridge on the west side. Across the road, on the north side, there was a terrace of six two-storey houses and a large and well kept chapel, complete with chapel house, built in 1881. The smithy building still survives with a row of early nineteenth-century two-storey cottages adjacent and which lend character to the village. The walls are local rubble with stone chimney stacks.

Across the road there had been further expansion in the Victorian period. These later, Victorian, two-storey terraced houses on the north side are of differing size and proportions but all have stone walls, probably quarried and mostly rendered, with brick chimney stacks. During the twentieth century, the area to the south of the road, on both sides of the river, has seen further infill, in particular a modern estate, south east of the chapel.

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