Historic Landscape Characterisation

Llŷn - Area 2 Aberdaron Hinterland (PRN 33483)



Historic background

This gently undulating region comprises the hinterland of Aberdaron, extending from the headland of Mynydd y Gwyddel in the south west; bordered by Mynydd Mawr and Mynydd Anelog at Uwchmynydd to the west; extending from the broad sweep of Aberdaron Bay on the south coast and limited by the rising ground of Penarfynydd and Rhiw in the east and the formerly marshy enclosures of Rhoshirwaun to the north. The landscape is a patchwork of irregular and often curving fields, enclosed by clawdd banks topped by gorse and bracken and, in a number of instances, by wire fences. This pattern is dissected by roads and tracks which converge, invariably, on the village of Aberdaron. The topography rarely reaches 100m above OD, with the exception of Mynydd Ystum, a rounded landmark capped by the Iron Age fortification, Castell Odo, at 140m OD, 2.5 km north-east of Aberdaron.

Early activity is attested 300m below Mynydd Ystum in the Neolithic period (PRN 1798) and settlement at Castell Odo, a small bivallate hillfort, on the summit of Myndd Ystum in the first millennium BC (PRN 767). Possible hut circles are known from Rhydlios and a number of further hut circles have been identified on marginal land, both areas beyond the periphery of this character area. None are positively recorded within this character area. A more intensive agricultural regime over a long period is likely to have destroyed the surface evidence. Crop and soil marks and geophysical survey have the potential to provide more evidence on these early periods of prehistory.

A monastic presence is recorded, at a very early date, on inscribed memorial stones found at Anelog. These water-worn boulders carry inscriptions, in Latin, commemorating Senacus, a priest, buried with a multitude of his brethren (cum multitudinem fratrum) and Veracius, also a priest. These stones date from the late fifth- or early sixth century AD.

The lands around Aberdaron were, in the Middle Ages, mostly but not entirely, associated with the quasi-monastic, clas church of Aberdaron. These comprise five Medieval townships. On the Uwchmynydd promontory to the south-west of Aberdaron lay Uwch Sely and to the north-west, Is Sely, separated by the Afon Saint. The township of Ultradaron extended along the coastline of Aberdaron Bay from Aberdaron, itself, to Llanfaelrhys. These lands were populated with several hamlets, each supporting a number of tenant smallholdings. The names of many survive, as single individual holdings or, where hamlet lands have been subdivided there may be two, three or more farms bearing the same name. Examples include Penrhyn Mawr, Penrhyn Bach and Penrhyn Canol in Ultradaron and Bodermid Isaf and Bodermid Uchaf in Is Sely.

Is and Uwch Sely represent the original core of the abadaeth, the landed endowment and inheritable landed interests of the claswyr (the monastic community) of the church of Aberdaron. The establishment of the clas was undoubtedly ancient. At some later date, but before 1200, additional lands were endowed, in Bryncroes. These lands were tenanted by bondmen of the claswyr. During the very early thirteenth century the claswyr were persuaded (it would seem) to renounce their abadaeth in favour of the establishment of a community of Augustinian canons, based on Bardsey, originally a component of the Aberdaron clas. Much of these lands, including additional endowments in Tremorfa (north of Rhoshirwaun) and Ultradaron, were then transferred to the canons of Bardsey leaving the Aberdaron claswyr a restricted core in Is Sely but with preferential rights of tenure. The abbey on the island produced fish, pasture for cattle, some arable and rabbits and rabbit skins. However, the canons’ main resources were on the mainland. They had a grange of three acres at Bryncroes, cattle and sheep, four mills and the townships supplied ground corn, barley and wool. The management of these resources was based at a property 1 km to the south-west of Aberdaron. This court and exchequer (lately Cwrt and Sieccar), called the ‘Court of Bardsey’ with its house, orchards and gardens, occupied two acres in the sixteenth century, with 157 acres of demesne adjacent. Cwrt is now a large farm. In the nineteenth century it extended over 215 acres. Exchequer became a separate property of six acres. It is very probable that the present modern holdings occupy the site of the abbey’s mainland base.

At the Dissolution, the Abbey and its lands were dismembered and its holdings on the mainland, in the Aberdaron hinterland, passed into private possession. In 1581, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was granted lands in Is and Uwch Sely, late of Bardsey monastery, which were held by corn rents.

In addition to the monastic interests, a broad area of free land was held in the township of Bodrydd. It also included the small bond township of Penarfynydd, the only enclave of remaining secular lordship in the western half of the commote of Cymydmaen, after the Conquest. Bodrydd was an extensive township of over 1000 acres, immediately to the east of Is Sely and north of the coastal monastic lands of Ultradaron. The river Daron runs in a narrow defile through the centre of the township, reaching its estuary at Aberdaron. Bodrydd, however, does not have direct access to the coastline. Nevertheless, the Daron powered five mills in 1800, three for corn, two for fulling.

During the Middle Ages there were two offshoots, or gwelyau, of the same dynastic family in Bodrydd, the Gwely Rhys ap Seisyll and the Gwely Goridir ap Seisyll. There was also a hamlet in the township called Gafael (holding) Trefabaythyan. These freeholders occupied their land with very few obligations owed to the Prince, other than commuted cash payments for the maintenance of the Prince’s otter-hounds, attendance at court and, in the case of Gafael Trefabaythyan, a requirement of the tenants to take their corn to be milled at the Prince’s court at Neigwl. The descendants of Seisyllt had their own mills and were free to use them. The Gwely Rhys had access to the mills of Bodwrdda, Facheys, and Melin Newydd (the new mill). The descendants of Goridir had their own mill, Melin Wyrion Goridir. There is also a reference to the mill of Bodrydd which suggests that the whole township was in possession of five mills in 1352.

It is possible that we may be able to illuminate the social organisation of the township a little further, which in turn may have a bearing on the later development of the landscape. It is probable that Bodwrdda was a hamlet within the Gwely Rhys. John Evans’ eighteenth century map shows the sixteenth-century house of that name and the mill adjacent. Pandy Bodwrdda (by then a fulling mill) is identified on the 1845 Tithe Schedule. Bodwrdda lands, by the mid-eighteenth century, had divided into two proprietary holdings, extending over nearly 600 acres and must have, perhaps by amalgamation, come to occupy about half of the township. Bodrydd, now a farm with the same name as the township, lies within the other half. Melin Uchaf, the ‘upper mill’ on the higher reaches of the Daron steam, lies adjacent. It is possible that Bodwrdda had come to represent the landed interests of the descendants of Rhys ap Seisyll, the Gwely Rhys. Bodrydd and its other hamlets, Pencaerau, for example, may represent the lands of the Gwely Goridir. It is proposed here, that the land use and landscape development in the the two gwelyau took different directions. Bodwrdda’s fields are large with straight boundaries, indicative of estate management. The property, in fact, was in the hand of Richard Edwards of Nanhoron in the early nineteenth century as his family had been since 1749. His tenant farmer, Hugh Griffiths, worked the northern 465 acres, William Griffiths worked the remainder. In contrast, the remainder of Bodrydd were, and still are, dispersed. The fields and their boundaries are small and sinuous irregular enclosures. Even within the remainder of Bodrydd there is a recognisable distinction between the small enclosures in the northern part and the more open fields in Pencaerau, in the south.

Two important Medieval pilgrimage routes cross this character area with Bardsey as their destination. The southern route follows the south coast from Abererch to Aberdaron. The northern route, from Clynnog may very well have taken the north coastal road from Llangwnnadl to Aberdaron rather than the more direct, but moorland route through Rhoshirwaun. John Evans’ eighteenth-century map shows both routes prominently.

The parish church of St Maelrhys stands at the south-eastern corner of the character area, in the township of Ultradaron. The church is medieval in origin with a later extension at the east end. The windows are modern. In 1841 a new church was provided for the parish of Aberdaron on a new site at Bodernabwy, formerly a hamlet of Is Sely. The old rectory, Plas yr Wylan at Bodernabwy, stands close by and was at one time the home of the vicar and poet, R S Thomas. Two of the earliest non-Conformist chapels on the Llyn peninsula are found within this character area, at Uwchmynydd 1770 and Pencaerau 1768.

Key historic landscape characteristics

•Key historic landscape features and processesLarge number of traditional farm buildings and cottages including good examples of single-storey and croglofft cottages.
•Contrasting field sizes and patterns reflecting different tenurial associations and agricultural management.
•Parcelling of open-field quillets and the survival of sinuous field boundaries which reflect the former presence of arable fields.
•Documentary evidence for the pattern of monastic endowment across the townships of the Aberdaron hinterland.
•Fragmentation of townships and the consolidation of their constituent parts as single farms.
•Association of early roads and tracks with stations on the pilgrimage route to Bardsey.
•Bodwrdda is a significant building in this character area.

The pilgrimage routes from Clynnog to Bardsey are important. The coastal route passes the now destroyed chapel of Anelog, a hamlet within Is Sely and the location of the discovery of the sixth-century memorials to Senacus and Veracius, priests. Eglwys Fair, a chapel below Mynydd Mawr, at the tip of the promontory looking across to Bardsey, also destroyed, is likewise highlighted by Evans. The chapel, in the hand of the canons of Bardsey may have been a station on the pilgrimage route. St. Mary’s well, a spring emanating from the rock, lies on the coastal cliffs below the chapel (this site is discussed further in the context of the Mynydd Mawr character area).

Bodwrdda is a highly significant secular building within the Aberdaron hinterland. The house almost certainly stands at the core of the hamlet of the same name, within the free township of Bodrydd, as discussed above. The present house comprises an earlier east-west range of the early sixteenth century, stone-built and extended to the east soon after. Later, two large brick-built wings were added, springing from each end of the extended earlier house to present an imposing facade on three storeys. The windows are striking and generally uniform, of two or three lights, separated by stone mullions and capped by flattened arches under a horizontal drip mould. The jambs, mullions and arches all carry ovolo moulding in late-sixteenth or early seventeenth century style.

Richard Edwards of Nanhoron also held Penrhyn Mawr, and a total of 300 acres on the coastline east of Aberdaron as well as several properties in Pencaerau and Bodwyddog. Penrhyn Mawr is a substantial and unusual gable-fronted late eighteenth-century - early nineteenth-century gentry farmhouse.

In the north-west of the character area, between Rhoshirwaun and the coast, Methlan is a substantial farmhouse in early nineteenth-century style, much altered. Methlan, in the nineteenth century, was the focus of an estate of over 500 acres. To the south stands Carreg, nestling below the prominent rock outcrop that gives the house its name. The house presents a late eighteenth - early nineteenth century appearance concealing seventeenth and eighteenth century internal features. The Carreg estate extended over 800 acres in the nineteenth century and it was the Carreg family who initiated and supported the repairs required to allow St. Hywyn’s Church to be opened again in 1906.

These were the principal landholders in the Aberdaron hinterland and their houses reflect the significance of their estates. Much of the character of the area lies in the survival of a relatively large number of traditional farm buildings and cottages. Particularly good examples of single storey, croglofft and traditional in-line farm buildings are found clinging to the lower eastern slopes of Mynydd Anelog near Gors and Bryn Mawr and at Uwchmynydd.

With the exception of large fields with ruler straight banks which, in general are a product of early nineteenth-century improvements, most of the enclosures in this character area have boundaries which reflect the shape and tenurial demarcations of earlier periods. Very much of this landscape was under arable cultivation during the Middle Ages. The open fields of the arable sharelands were necessarily sinuous to accommodate the traverse of the ox-drawn plough. The long acres were subdivided into dispersed quillets according to the share of the tenants within the community. Parcelling of quillets in the process of breaking up an older system of land-use into individual tenancies, nevertheless, in many instances, retained the shape of earlier fields. Exceptional examples are to be seen on the promontory of Uwchmynydd. One hundred and fifty years ago it was possible to distinguish unenclosed quillets within enclosed clawdd banks, in the hands of several tenants at, for example, Solfach near Mynydd Bychestyn. More generally the sweep of field boundaries, however much dissected, illustrates the circumstance that these boundaries overlie earlier arable fields and that much of this character area was formerly under the plough.

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