Historic Landscape Characterisation

Llŷn - Area 18 Llanengan and Abersoch PRN 33488


St Engan’s Church

Llanengan with the hillfort, Castell, on the hill and traces of the old mine workings

Abersoch, Bennar headland

Historic background

Flints have been found at Abersoch (PRN 5074) and a stone axe, north of Sarn Bach at Deugoch lead mine (PRN 4004). Two Iron Age hillforts look out across the Neigwl plain from the higher ground above the bend of the Soch. One near Llangian and a second on a spur at 60m OD south of Llanengan. The immediate vicinity of both hillforts has suffered from quarrying the adjacent rock. At Pen y Gaer (Creigir Uchaf) the ore was ironstone and little work was carried out during the first half of the nineteenth-century. At Castell, near Llanengan, the ore was lead, worked by the Port Nigel (Porth Neigwl) mine in the late nineteenth century.

During the Middle Ages, Llanengan was a free township occupied by the two gwelyau, Madog ap Sawyll’ and the Wyrion Utot (=the grandchildren of Utot). Llanengan also included a hamlet at Penygogo (or Penygogof = head of the cave) which was occupied by a third gwely, holding their land by bond tenure. The freemen and the bondmen, all, had to mill their corn at the lord’s mill at Towyn, on the Soch, at the eastern end of the Neigwl plateau. The hamlet of Penygogo lay 1km south of Llanengan Church and partly on the Neigwl plain.

St Engan’s church has early masonry surviving but the appearance and fabric of the church is predominantly sixteenth century. Ffynnon Engan, a holy well, is located 100m to the north-west.

The major occupation in this area, between the Cilan peninsula and the Soch at Abersoch, remained farming-related until the middle of the nineteenth century. There had been some trials in the search for mineral ore around Pen y Dinas in the 1830s or so but not a great deal of progress was made. Farmers, farm labourers, animal dealers, carters, domestic servants and some blacksmiths, joiners and other craftsmen occupied this predominantly rural landscape. During the later part of the century the Penrhyn Du lead mines at Marchros were operational again and new workings were established; some large and some very small. The Port Nigel (Porth Neigwl) mine at Llanengan was opened, on the hill where the old Iron Age fort stood, at Castell. The ruins of some of the mine-working buildings can still be seen at Tan yr Allt. An engine house was installed and a tall and impressive chimney was set on, and through, the brow of the hill above. The chimney, restored in the 1990s, is a local landmark. Jobs were created on a large scale.

There was an influx of workers, many from existing mining localities, particularly Cornwall. Wives and children came with their husbands. New services and new accommodation would inevitably be required. Rows of workers’ cottages were built. At Bay View Terrace on the north side of the Soch, nine of the ten houses were occupied by lead miners. Of all the mining families living in Bay View Terrace, only one miner was born locally. The others came from Cornwall, Dinas Mawddwy, Minera, Dolgellau and Shropshire.

Llanengan, a small village in 1800, was beginning to grow. Hyde Hall recorded nine new houses at Llanengan between 1800 and 1810 although it was likely that a number of these were being built on the Bennar headland, as Abersoch was also beginning to expand. By 1860 there were fifteen families at the core of the village of Llanengan. Twenty years later there were 29 families in residence and, with the addition of lodgers the village supported 133 individuals. Twenty-four of these had come to Llanengan to work in the mines, bringing their families with them.


North of Llanengan, in the bend of the Soch, there were six farmers and 18 sons of the farm or hired agricultural workers. Eleven lead miners and three stone masons, lived or lodged in the same area. East of Llanengan there were three farms working 267 acres with one of the farmer’s brothers and 12 hired agricultural hands. In that same area there were 15 lead miners. On Cors Llyferin the only occupied cottages were taken by lead miners.

The mines closed at the end of the century and there has been very little serious development since. The impact on the wider landscape was not untouched by these developments at Llanengan and Abersoch.

The headland of Bennar (now, Penbennar) was little developed before the beginning of the nineteenth century. It rises above the Soch estuary. The name is an ancient one, meaning a steep-sloped headland. In the 1770s there were only two properties on the headland, the house now known as Bryn Tirion, 400m south of the river, and a second house close to the present post office, at the north end of the headland. Across the river stood Melin Soch, the mill buildings and miller’s house and three cottages and gardens.

Fields had been laid out from Bryn Tirion to the estuary but, along the coastline, there was a large expanse of dune and sand. The census of 1861 identified 25 families. A generation later there still remained little but fields and dunes. The fields, however, had been subdivided into smaller plots and around the estuary on both sides of the river by 1890, developments took place. A row of cottages and gardens stood close to the estuary, below the mill at Bay View Terrace. A school had been built, a short distance to the east, on the north side of the river. A lifeboat house stood near the shore below Bennar and a hotel (St. Tudwal’s), a Nonconformist chapel and a small cluster of houses stood on the south side of the river near the bridge. The small village came to be known as Abersoch.

By the 1920s the number of houses and other buildings had doubled. Bryn Hyfryd and St. Tudwal’s Terrace had been built in the late nineteenth century, near Bryn Tirion. Houses were now being built on the former fields on the headland. Abersoch was still a small village with only about 50 houses and buildings on the south side of the river. During the course of the twentieth century, however, the good beach and sailing water saw Abersoch expand out of all proportion to a community of around 500 or so houses on the south side and a further 100 north of the river.

Key historic landscape characteristic

•The core of Lanengan village retains a nineteenth-century character, dominated by the sixteenth-century church.

•The Bennar headland and the estuary of the Soch is a coastal landscape transformed from a small community focussed on the mill and one or two houses in the late eighteenth century to a busy tourist destination of 600 houses in the twentieth century.

•The predominantly rural landscape of Llanengan was locally transformed by lead mining in the later nineteenth century and the evidence of industrial activity remains.

The estuary of the Soch enters the sea on the north side of the prominent headland of Penbennar. This character area includes the left bank of the Soch in its lower reaches and on the west by the Soch, as far as Llanengan, then following the scarp at Yr Allt, south-south-west to Penygogo and Nant Farm. The southern boundary is coterminous with the northern boundary of the Cilan character area and on the east by the sea. The topography is a rolling landscape, transected west to east by broad shallow valleys at around 20-30m OD to the south of Llangian and south and east of Llanengan. Steeper slopes predominate on the west side along a north-south escarpment, which is followed at its base by the river Soch. Eastward, the ground falls to the sea at between 10m and sea level at Cors Llyferin.

The church of Llanengan stands at the focus of the village, below the ridge which flanks the Soch on its east side. The village is small but includes a number of buildings of period character, including the nineteenth century school, close to the church, and eighteenth and nineteenth century houses on the south-east side of the church.

The church is exceptional. Early masonry survives at the west end of the north wall, otherwise the church is mostly of the early sixteenth century. The older church was enlarged by extending its length eastwards and by adding a second aisle to the south, with communication between the two facilitated by six, four-centred arches. Four of these arches gave access between the naves; the eastern arches occupy the two chancel spaces. Highly decorated wooden screens signal the divisions between nave and chancel. There are twelve roof trusses in the north aisle and eleven trusses in the south aisle. All are collar-beam trusses with arched braces but there are variations between the north and south aisles and along the length of each. The western tower is also of the first half of the sixteenth century, as is the porch on the south side, thought to have been built c. 1534. The perpendicular style of the large east window in the north chancel is indicative of the early sixteenth-century date of most of the church.

The surviving evidence ot later nineteenth century mining is still visible, particularly on the south side of Llanengan village.

On the Bennar headland at Abersoch we can chart the development of this landscape from eighteenth-century agricultural tenement and mill in the hand of Vaynol estate through the development of a small village, largely inhabited by sailors and those who have to do with the sea, to the 1860s when a major occupation of the tenants and lodgers of Abersoch was lead mining. By the turn of the century Abersoch began to encounter tourists, but it was not until the second half of the twentieth century that Abersoch became the popular tourist destination that characterises the village in the present day.

There are few traditional buildings that survive from the early nineteenth century. There are, however, significant early twentieth century houses on the headland. These include the neo-Georgian Garth, and the extensive Haulfryn with its lodge, terrace partitioned tennis court. There are also interesting features of siting such a those numerous modern cottages that perch on platforms, carved out of the rock face of the headland and the coastline opposite.

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