Historic Landscape Characterisation

Llŷn - Area 20 Nefyn and Morfa Nefyn PRN 33497


Nefyn, ancient core

Enclosed medieval quillets, Morfa Nefyn

Morfa Nefyn

Historic background

The earliest indication of human activity in this area are two funerary monuments of the Bronze Age; a possible Early Bronze round barrow in a field near Ty Mawr at the eastern extent of Morfa Nefyn and urn burials of approximately the same period 100m to the west (PRNs 2340, 17211). There are important Iron Age fortifications immediately to the west and east of the area but not within it.

The present church at Nefyn is a completely rebuilt structure of 1825-7. The earlier church is little known in respect of its architecture. Its historical associations, however, are important. The ancient church was first recorded, as far as records survive, in the mid-twelfth century. Cadwaladr, son of Gruffudd ap Cynan and brother of Owain Gwynedd, granted the church of Nefyn and its appurtenances and all the land where the church is, between two small brooks which define the boundaries, to the Augustinian Abbey of Haughmond. The grant also came with land outside Nefyn on the south-east slopes of Mynydd Nefyn.

Three further grants of land in Nefyn ensued, in favour of Haugmond Abbey by Dafydd ab Owain, twice between 1177 and 1190 and Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, in 1230. In these charters and grants we may be witnessing an early instance, in North Wales, of the transition from ancient clas church to its replacement by one of the ‘modern’ pan-European orders; in this case, an Augustinian priory. In 1301 David ap Madoc, a chaplain of Nefyn, renounced any claim to the church of Nefyn and stated that he had been brought up in the Augustinian priory with the canons and had, for a long time, officiated within the church. The only explanation for anyone to think that there might be such an issue would be that a residue of the old clas continued, in some way, to serve the church. One secular member of the Nefyn community, Madoc Clericus (calling himself a merchant) may have been a relation of David ap Madoc. In 1252 William, Prior of Nefyn was a witness concerning an agreement about tenurial arrangements in Aberdaron. In 1535 the church had the status of vicarage of the Abbey, on the eve of the dissolution. St Mary’s Nefyn continued, as a parochial church. It is now a maritime museum and has been replaced by St David’s church on Tower Hill.

We do not know the size or the status of Nefyn in, say, the late eleventh century when Gruffudd ap Cynan brought his boat into the harbour of Porth Nefyn, although it would be reasonable to suppose it was already a significant or, at least, notable place. The presence of an earthwork castle at Nefyn, of probably late eleventh-century date, may be indicative of the Norman advance into Gwynedd and, at least, provides an additional indication of the strategic importance of the location. The nature of the Augustinian order is that its members go out into the world, unlike closed orders, and provide various priestly functions including the care of parishes. We might expect, and the grants to Haugmond suggest it, that a village had grown in the vicinity of the church. In April, 1188, on the eve of Palm Sunday, Gerald and Archbishop Baldwyn stayed in Nefyn, on their peregrination in support of the Crusade.



By the thirteenth century the township of Nefyn can be identified as a royal maerdref, a manorial estate in the hand of the Prince and the focus for the management of the collection of rents and dues from the Prince’s bond tenants and also those dues which were owed by the freeholders across the commote of Dinllaen. In 1293, ten years after the conquest of Gwynedd, Edward I raised a subsidy on moveable goods to help pay for his Scottish war. The document provides an insight into the economic resources and productive capacity of Nefyn. Nefyn, during the course of the thirteenth century had been granted borough status as Pwllheli had, before the conquest. Nefyn, at this time, was a much larger community. There were 93 taxpayers. There was a priest, the sons of a smith or smiths (no doubt they pursued their fathers’ occupation), a drover, an innkeeper and his children, a goldsmith and many more. The most wealthy had 14 or 15 or so cattle, 2 or 3 horses, some sheep and 6 or 7 crannocks of flour and grain. Six individuals described themselves as merchants. Forty-one individuals had fishing nets, some had 2, 3 or 4 nets and four individuals had boats. Two members of the community, Ieuan ap Madoc and Dafydd ap Thum had few animals, but they did have 2 boats and 7 nets between them. The community of Nefyn had, in total, 264 cattle, 49 horses, 205 sheep, 41 draught animals and were capable of producing 138 crannocks of flour and grain, mostly oats and some barley.

Although some aspects of the infrastructure of the maerdref ceased to be relevant after the conquest, surveys and ministers’ accounts continued to refer to customary dues which were, perhaps, more appropriate to the maerdref in the Age of Princes. The rents were paid in cash and that was what mattered. However, the commuted labour services provide a glimpse of the operation of the traditional maerdref.

Nefyn, in the thirteenth-century, had 120 acres of demesne land and a garden. The manor also had a productive turbary, a valuable source of fuel, which was to become an issue centuries later. Renders of four crannocks of rye flour and barley were required. The tenants had to provide certain labour services as part of their rent. They had to make good the manor, repair the roof of the hall and work of the houses. They had to cut turves and bring in fuel for the fire and light it. They also had to supply hams for the table and chickens.

There were agricultural works to be done too, including working with the harvest in autumn. Nefyn had three mills, not all within the township itself.

In 1349 Nefyn was granted to Nigel Loryng, the Black Prince’s chamberlain. In 1355 Loryng advised the Black Prince to enfranchise Nefyn (and Pwllheli) and create a free borough there. In recognition of his service at Poitiers, in 1356, Nigel Loryng was granted the two boroughs, in perpetuity for the annual rent of one rose (T Jones Pierce,1972, 151).

Pennant called Nefyn a small town in the 1770s. The Revd. Bingley, in 1814, thought it a small and insignificant … surrounded by mountains and appearing altogether separated from the world. Hyde Hall, four years earlier, took a more detailed look. He thought the assemblage of main houses were somewhat larger than those commonly met in the region, and although scattered, his impression was of a nucleated centre of population. Recent houses were slated, but the majority were still thatched. Nevertheless, Hyde Hall saw some cause for optimism in that slates were being used at all, one of the signs of ‘improvement’ as he would put it.

The coastline from Penrhyn Bodeilias to Penrhyn Nefyn is a long sweeping bay where, at the western end, Penrhyn Nefyn provides a good sheltered harbour on the lea side of the point. In the middle ages the community of Nefyn had several nets and boats and fishing continued to be important. Hyde Hall remarked on the herring curing houses along the bay. There were about 40 boats in Nefyn when Hyde Hall visited in 1810. Each was owned by several individuals, as many as seven taking shares in a boat. The herring fishing was seasonal and many of the fishermen had other occupations, mostly working on the farm. This was the common pattern all round the coast of Llyn. Nefyn was also a ship-building town. It could not compete with Porthmadog and Pwllheli but it did produce around 100 ships between the end of the eighteenth century and the end of the nineteenth centuries. Nefyn had a ropewalk at the south end of town, which, of course, was an adjunct of the maritime nature of the community.

Athe turn of the eighteenth/nineteenth century almost all the buildings in the borough were concentrated in the area of the cross; at the junction of Stryd y Ffynnon (Well Street), Stryd y Plas and High Street; and north along Stryd y Ffynon. A scatter of buildings stood south of the church along Stryd y Llan (Church Street) and to the north of the church. The two streets, Stryd y Plas and High Street diverge in a south and south-westerly direction from the Cross, creating a space within that triangle where the Maes, or Green, stood. The well stood at the south end of Stryd y Ffynnon and the stream which emerged from it ran more or less down the centre of the street.

There are clear indications of the former presence of Medieval open fields, to the north-west, south-west and east of the town. The clearest indications lie between Nefyn and the sea. They may be identified by their enclosure within clawdd banks of parcels of unenclosed quillets, which retain, in their boundaries, the sinuous curves of arable ploughlands. A Glynllivon estate map of 1815 and the Tithe map of around 1839 both show several long, narrow, quillets within the clawdd boundaries. The quillets themselves are not fenced and it is rare that two quillets in the hand of one tenant are juxtaposed, reflecting an ancient tradition of sharing the land. On the evidence of these maps it would seem that large quilleted areas remained unenclosed, almost until the middle of the nineteenth century.

Immediately adjacent to Nefyn lay the free township of Morfa, occupying the coastline between Penrhyn Nefyn and Bwlch Bridin and the territory inland as far as the northern limit of Cors Geirch. In 1806 a new turnpike road was driven across Llyn from Traeth Mawr to Porthdinllaen. This new road provided a focus for settlement to the west of Nefyn at Morfa Nefyn. The road is clearly identifiable from its ruler-straight sections, crossing the old road from Nefyn westward along the coastal route, through Edern and Tudweiliog and on to Aberdaron. Some settlement had already taken place along the old road. Now development focussed on the crossroads.

The expansion of settlement during the nineteenth century created a rather dispersed pattern comprising almost 100 properties extending the lengths of both roads within Morfa Nefyn. The premises comprise large detached houses, terraced houses, a vicarage, police station, a Calvinistic Methodist chapel, a Congregationalist chapel, a Baptist chapel, St. Mary’s Mission chapel and an Inn at the crossroads, together with early vernacular cottages such as Caer Pwll, on the Aberdaron road. During the course of the twentieth century the total number of properties rose to over 400. Many of these were built in the early twentieth century as seaside villa residences but there have been, also, more recent estate developments towards the western end.
The fields to the north and south of the developed area at Morfa Nefyn display an even more extensive survival of relict open field quillets, fossilised by their enclosure within clawdd banks, than those closer to Nefyn itself. The sweeping pattern of the former medieval ploughlands is unmistakeable.

On the north-west side of Nefyn, 300m from the town a small development had emerged alongside the Aberdaron Road, near the farm of Cae Rhug. A track led down to the shore at this point through one of the gulleys which cleave the high cliffs. There is a cluster of houses and cottages just above the shoreline but nothing is recorded before the end of the nineteenth century. The development to the north of Cae Rhug, however, comprised a small terrace, a school, four detached houses and the town cemetery. It was not long before the town began to expand along the Aberdaron Road and towards the sea cliffs, with access to the beach. In 1903 St. David’s church was built on Tower Hill road (the Aberdaron road), on the edge of the town. In 1914 the Nanhoron Arms was built across the road and during the course of the twentieth century, holiday villas, houses and guest-house accommodation, expanded almost up to the edge of the cliffs.

Key historic landscape characteristic

•Nefyn is an ancient community and royal maerdref in the thirteenth century, which has retained many of the components of an earlier landscape in its street plan.

•A landscape which retains the pattern of arable quillets in medieval open fields, now defined and enclosed by clawdd banks.

•The Traeth Mawr – Porthdinllaen turnpike and the earlier coastal pilgrimage route cross at Morfa Nefyn, stimulating the growth of a roadside village in the nineteenth century.

•Expansion from the town of Nefyn, towards the coastline, was stimulated by tourism in the early twentieth century.

This character area includes the borough town of Nefyn and the more recent community of Morfa Nefyn. The area is bounded on the north by the sea; on the west by the limit of Morfa Nefyn and westernmost extent of relict Medieval field systems; on the south by the northern limit of Cors Geirch and on the east by the igneous intrusions of Garn Boduan, Mynydd Nefyn and Gwylwyr.

Nefyn is an ancient community which has retained many of the components of an earlier landscape in its street plan and other surviving features. Nefyn also has detailed documentation regarding the former presence of a royal llys of the Welsh princes, in the context of an important commotal maerdref.

The surviving features which identify the components of a medieval landscape include:Tthe street plan, forking at the south end of Stryd y Ffynnon into the High Street and Stryd y Plas, defining the triangular area of the Maes and the Cross at its apex.

•The site of the church and churchyard in the hand of the Augustinian house of Haughmond by the second half of the twelfth century with possibly more ancient origins

•A late eleventh-century earthwork castle to the west of the Cross

•The possibility of identifying the burgages of the borough of Nefyn, from the thirteenth century, which are most likely to be found concentrated on both sides of Stryd y Ffynnon, the west side of High Street and around the Maes

•Extensive relict open-field quillets of medieval origin to the north-west and south-west of the town and, even more so, across the land of Morfa, now Morfa Nefyn.

To the west of Nefyn two long-distance roads, the west route and pilgrimage trail from Caernarfon and Clynnog to Bardsey and the early nineteenth-century turnpike from the Traeth Mawr to Porthdinllaen, cross each other at Morfa Nefyn. The Aberdaron road had seen some scattered premises along it but the junction of the two roads provided a focus for settlement which extended along the length of both roads in the very characteristic way of a street-side development.

The fashionable pursuit of seaside holidays form the twentieth century undoubtedly encouraged the development of the St. David’s Road and Rhodfa’r Mor area. The beginning of this phase of development is characterised by the building of a new parish church, St. David’s, in 1903 in a restrained Victorian Gothic style, and the Nanhoron Arms Hotel in 1914. Much of the early phase of construction comprises two-storey or two-storey and attic, villa-style properties. Most houses are detached or semi-detached, although, to the west, there are low-profile modern bungalows and an estate of utilitarian semi-detached properties.

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