Historic Landscape Characterisation

Llŷn - Area 21 The Western Coastal Plain from Llangwnadl to Porthdinllaen PRN 33494

Porth Dinllaen




Historic background

The earliest indication of human activity in this character area are the findspots of a stone tool at the neck of Porthdinllaen and a flint scatter and source of pebble flint on the coastline either side of Aber Geirch, south-west of Porthdinllaen (PRNs 2210, 7094, 7093). There is a possible earthen burial mound of uncertain attribution near the estuary of the Geirch (PRN 2211) and in the Later Bronze Age, the finding of a bronze palstave near Porth Ysgraig (PRN 5226). A Bronze Age standing stone, or perhaps a cattle rubbing stone, stands near Croesfford, west of Edern (PRN 422). Another standing stone, 3m high, stands near the roadside, south-west of Pont Llangwnnadl (PRN 2778).

During later prehistory the promontory of Porth Dinllaen was defended by two earthwork banks which crossed at almost its narrowest point, a constriction mid-way along its length, and at a point where the ground dropped slightly before rising again towards the seaward half of the isthmus. The defence of the promontory was achieved by a combination of man-made ramparts and the natural defences of the sea and the sea cliffs. At Cwmistir, near the coastline, between Edern and Tudweiliog, a circular cropmark was identified during aerial survey by RCAHMW in 2006. Geophysical survey confirmed the presence of a 40m diameter ditched enclosure with a possible internal bank. The size, true circular shape and lack of defensive potential, suggests that it might represent a weakly defended later prehistoric settlement or, alternatively, a Neolithic or Early Bronze Age ritual enclosure. The site is 340m north-west of Cwmistir Uchaf.

A more convincing later prehistoric defended enclosure has been recognised at Bryn Rhydd, south-west of Edern, 125m south of the Aberdaron road. The enclosure is bivallate, of possible two phases as, from the evidence of geophysical survey, hut circles overlie the inner enclosure.

There is one holy well in the character area., Ffynnon Lleuddad, a curative well, equally efficacious for man and beast, with no associated church. It lies on the northern boundary of the Rhoshirwaun enclosure, south-east of the house, Carrog, between Llangwnnadl and Sarn Meyllteyrn (Jones, 1954, 149, 152, PRN 3647).

From the thirteenth century to the Dissolution, the churches of Tudweiliog and Llangwnnadl, with a small amount of land, were adjuncts of the Abbey of Bardsey. They were both on the pilgrim route to Llyn. The remainder of the township of Llangwnnadl, however, was in the hand of the Bishop of Bangor. Here, in 1306, there were seven tenants holding about 30 acres of ploughland, freely. Tudweiliog was a hamlet in the township of Morfa in the commote of Cymydmaen and the abbey held land there, including the church, which was dedicated to St. Cwyfan. The church is first recorded in the mid-thirteenth century but there must be a suspicion of an earlier, possibly clas, origin, particularly in respect of the dedication to St. Cwyfan and the names of the associated fields, as discussed below.

The early church at Llangwnnadl was a plain rectangular structure. During the early sixteenth century a north aisle and south aisle were added to the pre-existing nave, to the same length and same proportions. The aisles communicate with the nave through an arcade of three four-centred arches on each side. There are large perpendicular-style windows with four-centred arched heads in each of the east gables. The octagonal font is of the same date. The roof is supported by arch-braced collar-beam trusses. Repair and restoration work was undertaken in 1850 by Henry Kennedy, which included the insertion of some new windows in the north, south and west walls.

To the north of Llangwnnadl lay the freeholding township of Penllech, comprising three gwelyau. One of the three groups had two mills of their own and milled their own flour. The landscape is relatively flat but the cliffs are 20m above the shore and are gouged by ravines which lend power to the streams. The two other gwelyau were obliged to take their corn to the lord’s mill at Neigwl, almost on the other side of the promontory.

There is a church at Penllech, dedicated to St. Mary. The structure is a plain rectangle with only a step up to distinguish the chancel. Most of the church was rebuilt in the 1840s but more ancient work survives at the east end. The old walls are roughly coursed rubble and retain the evidence of slit windows which originally lit the chancel.

Beyond Penllech lay the hamlet of Tudweiliog. St. Cwyfan’s church must always have been the focus of this community. In 1564 John ap Gruffydd ap David ap Madog of Madryn received a grant in Tudweiliog, held in fee farm from John Wyn ap Hugh of Bodfel, of land formerly part of Bardsey’s holdings. The names of the components are interesting: a tenement called Hengwrt (the old court) or, alternatively Y Cae Mawr, comprising Dryll Cerrig Llwydion (the grey-stones patch); y Hirdir Mawr (the Long ploughland); Erw’r Eglwys (Church acre); Llain yr Abbad (the Abbot’s Quillet); y Talarau Hiron (the Long Headlands) and Llain dan y cae mawr (the quillet below the big field). The names refer to open-field ploughlands; to the church; an abbot, a possible reference to a former clas community and an unidentified ‘Old Court’. St. Cwyfan’s, Tudweiliog, was entirely rebuilt in 1849 by the architect George Gilbert Scott.

The medieval township of Hirdref occupied the landscape to the north-west of Tudweiliog and is now represented by four farms with related names, either side of the Aberdaron road. The farms are Hirdre Fawr, Hirdre Ganol, Hirdre Uchaf and Hirdre Isaf. The recurrence of dispersed farms with similar and related names are a feature of the post-medieval landscape and are indicative of the later consolidation of former individual tenant holdings within townships or hamlets. Hirdref was a township in the Middle Ages. Its tenants held under tir cyfrif tenure, a demesne or estate tenure with the specific function of working the lord’s land in that township or providing some particular service in the context of the operation of the royal maerdref, in this case, the maerdref of Nefyn. In 1352 Hirdref had ceased to pay its dues and its mill was in decay. Depopulation during the Black Death was the most likely cause. The township was subsequently let out at fee-farm. In 1350, just before a new tax assessment was to be made, Goronwy ap Llywelyn Du took the lease, at £4.

The two medieval townships of Nyffryn and Cerrig Cefni were accounted for together and lie to the south-east of Hirdref and to the north-east of Brynodol. There were four components to these two townships. There are two gwelyau, the gwely Rhingylledd and the gwely Mab Riodle, both within Nyffryn. Both were under tir gwelyog bond tenure although the designation Rhingylledd would normally suggest that one of the major commotal officers, the Rhingyll had tenure there. The second of the two gwelyau had been granted a fee farm lease on the gwely and was in the hand of Sir Thomas Brerely in the 1350s. The third part of Nyffryn comprised around 30 acres of land which was granted, exceptionally freely, by Llywelyn ap Grufydd, before the conquest, with the only obligation attached to that land being that the tenants should go to the Prince’s war at the Prince’s own cost. The fourth part of these two townships lies in Cerrig Cefni, which comprises one gwely of bond land called the gwely Ieuan ap Philip Foel. Again, this portion was in the hand of Sir Thomas Brerely, in 1352.

In 1538 Robert ap Gruffydd held Nyffryn and Cerrig Cefni. In that same year he transferred Cefn Leisiog, a parcel of those two townships, to John ap Gruffydd David. In 1571 Thomas Madryn of Madryn, who held the property, leased Nyffryn to Meredudd ap Thomas ap Robert. In 1576 tenements in Cerrig Cefni were leased by Hugh ap Gruffydd ap John of Brynodol. And so Nyffryn and Cerrigcefni, the former bond townships of the Welsh Prince and the English Crown were granted, leased and released in the process of compiling extensive estates.
Trellech and Edern are both ecclesiastical townships of very different nature and character. Trellech is described as ‘in the tenure of St. Beuno’. That is to say, it was once a clas community and, clearly by the Beuno dedication, affiliated to the great church of Clynnog. Trellech milled at Llannor, which was also part of the Clynnog network. There were two farms with the name Pentre-llech, 1km. south-west of the church at Edern and these farm names probably identify the location of the township.

Edern is a large bond township in the hand of the Bishop of Bangor. There were 42 tenants across two gwelyau in Edern in the early fourteenth century, working around 60 acres of ploughland. In addition five advocarii (brought-in cash-rent tenants) worked in the township. There was also a blacksmith, Adda, who held one messuage and one acre of free land and made the irons for the mill and the ploughs. He also shod the Bishop’s beasts when they came to pasture. Edern was one of a number of manors maintained by the Bishop. He had a house there, with curtilage, fifty acres of demesne land and half an acre of meadow. Edern also had a water corn mill within the Lord Bishop’s estate. The medieval mill may very well have stood where it did in the early nineteenth century, and still does, on the north side of the Geirch at the present site of the Aberdaron road-crossing where the more recent core of the village of Edern has emerged.

The nucleus of the original village of Edern is very likely to have been close to the church. The graveyard is sub-circular. The church was rebuilt in 1868 on the original footings to a cruciform plan of nave and transepts, with an eastward projecting chancel. There is a farm, Tyn’ Llan, next to the church and the rectory once stood 300m to the south-east. It is now a hotel. There are a clutch of small plots along the outer circumference of the church, occupied from 1845 by a church school; an old single-storey building of the earlier nineteenth or possibly late-eighteenth century and a terrace of four, two-storey houses with long back garden plots. The terrace houses are rubble, roughly rendered, the single-storey house is of random rubble. The school house is rubble, roughly coursed. A projecting porch has squared stone voussiors for a four-centred arch. The corners of the porch and the main building have stepped buttresses, diagonally set. There is a dislocated projecting drip mould at eaves level. A plinth course at about 500m above floor level is carried around the porch from the main building.
By about 1840 a dozen buildings had emerged along the road south-west and up the hill from the stream of Afon Geirch. The mill stood on the opposite side with two buildings nearby. At about 350m to the south-west, along the Aberdaron road, another dozen buildings had congregated at the cross-roads. One route led to the coastal farmlands; the southern road led to Cefn Edern and Glanrhyd. The small crossroad community had already acquired the name Y Groesffordd by the late eighteenth century and a Calvinistic Methodist chapel had been built in there in 1780. Another small group of premises lay a short distance of 400m along the southern lane which included Bryn Goleu Farm and the farmhouse of Pen y Bryn. A footpath across fields communicates between Pen y Bryn and the church.

Pen y Bryn is an important house, of small boulders, in courses, on one and a half storeys with chimney stacks at each gable end, within the thickness of the walls. The upper floor rooms are lit by gabled dormers with the windows dropping below the eaves. There is a reduced attic space above. The roof is slated with small slates and is supported by collar beam trusses. The collars are arched and pegged.
There is a date-stone ‘I I M 1790 Os barnasoch fy môd i yn ffyddlawn i’r Arglwydd deuwch i mewn i’m ty – Act. XVI, 15’ (‘If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house’). The stone remembers John and Mary Jones. John Jones (1761-1822) was a Calvinistic Methodist preacher who married Mary Williams, the heiress of Pen y Bryn (Dict. Nat. Biography, p 476, although the marriage cited there cannot be correct). The beams in the ground floor ceiling suggest a late seventeenth-century date.

The western coast plain is predominantly rural. Farms are dispersed and the only significant concentrations of population are to be found at the villages of Tudweiliog and Edern. In the mid-nineteenth century fifty percent of the working population within this character area were farmers or farm workers. Twenty percent were domestic servants and ten percent were general labourers. There were mills, four blacksmiths, eight joiners and seven spinners and weavers, some doubling up with other trades or occupation. Many items were locally produced; there were dressmakers, shoemakers, drapers and hatters, half as many as there were general labourers. Five percent of the working population had some direct involvement in the sea and coastline and, given the location, it is surprising there were not many more. These included seamen, ships carpenters and sailmakers. There were only a handful of shops and just as many victuallers.

There were 94 farms within the character area although the distribution and scale was not even. In Tudweiliog and Penllech, respectively, 80% and 70% of the working population were employed on farms. There were 14 farms in Tudweiliog, three of which worked over 100 acres. Hirdre Fawr had 300 acres, Hirdre 240 acres and Hirdre Ganol 100 acres, a consolidation, presumably, of the parcelling, leasing and ultimately selling off the former medieval bond township. Penllech had 27 farms of which seven extended over 100 acres. Plasymhenllech had 400 acres, Penllech Uchaf, 108 acres and Penllech Bach, 100 acres, a similar echo of the former medieval holdings. Llangwnnadl, with 31 farms had four farms over 100 acres, including Plas Llangwnnadl and Trefgraig Plas and Trefgraig Bach. The largest farms in Edern were Portinllaen (Porthdinllaen) Farm at 400 acres and Cwmisdir Uchaf and Tan Llan Farm at about 90 acres each.

At the beginning of the 19th century a plan and proposal was made to engineer a new route across Llyn from Meirioneth and the Traeth Mawr to Porthdinllaen, towards establishing a packet boat station there, in competition or as an alternative to Holyhead with regard to the Irish Sea crossing to Dublin. There was an intention to build a new harbour and pier. The man behind this venture as William Madocks, who first obtained an Act of Parliament in 1806 to develop the harbour at Porthdinllaen and, in 1807, to enclose and drain the Traeth Mawr, driving a road across the embankment, or cob, eventually creating a harbour at Portmadoc, named after himself.

The improvement of communications was a major infrastructural element in the Porthdinllaen scheme. In 1803 an Act of Parliament was sought to repair the ‘narrow, circuitous…. incommodious’ existing roads, and to widen and make more direct, the carriageways. Two routes were proposed and despite continuing maintenance difficulties, the roads were built. Both routes began at Porthdinllaen. At Tan y Graig the roads forked. One went south-east to Pwllheli (the present A497), through Efail Newydd; the second ran east, through Y Ffôr and on to Chwilog and Llanystumdwy. Both roads met again at Llanystumdwy and onto Criccieth with the intention of diverging once more, up Nant Gwynant and on to Bangor Ferry or alternatively across the Traeth Mawr to Bala. (Porthdinllaen Turnpike Trust. Act: George III, May 17, 1803; R T Pritchard, Caerns, Historical Society. 1959. 87-98).

The turnpike road is still a visible presence in the landscape of Morfa Nefyn. The harbour scheme, however, did not come to fruition.

The harbour at Porthdinllaen continued to be busy. It was one of the best sheltered harbours, safe against anything except a north-easterly wind. Coastal trading had been a staple at Porthdinllaen for centuries. Longer distance routes took salted herrings and pigs to Ireland, Chester and Liverpool. Steam was introduced in the 1830s and 40s but sail continued to be the mainstay during much of the rest of the century. Between 700 and 900 vessels a year entered the bay at this time.

There had been a handful of premises on the shore in the lee of the promontory since the 18th century at least, including those associated with the local ship building industry and fishing, the customs house and boat sheds. (A. Davidson and R. Evans, 2008, Nefyn : GAT report 734). There were three inns on the shoreline in the nineteenth century, Ty Coch, Tan yr Allt and a residue of Madock’s venture, the White Hall.

The first lifeboat house was built in 1864 and the boathouse and slipway were rebuilt in 1888 on the eastern side, close to the tip of the promontory. In 1925 new work was done to lengthen the slipway and boathouse, to accommodate the arrival of a new motor lifeboat. The slipway is one of the longest in use. A new boat is expected to arrive at Porthdinllaen in 2010. (information: Porthdinllaen Lifeboat Station).

Tudweiliog in the early nineteenth century was a small village with a handful of house and garden plots, lining the Aberdaron road at the junction of the lanes to Brynodol and Cefnamwlch. The old church of St. Cwyfan, and its church house, stood near the corner of the Brynodol road. Capel Beersheba, Independent, was built in the late 1820s, a little way down the Brynodol lane. The style is barn-like. The minister’s house stood attached, in line, and was later enlarged. The masonry of the chapel and the house is random rubble, flush-pointed. There were two large doors at either end and a central window. The minister’s house and its extension is of one and a half storeys with small square windows immediately below the eaves. The lintels of all the openings on the ground floor are undressed stone slabs.

An earlier Calvinistic Methodist Chapel had been established in 1770, rebuilt in 1832, 270m south of the church, alongside the Aberdaron road.

To the north of Tudweiliog, a small hamlet had developed, at least by the 18th century and probably considerably earlier, at Rhos y Llan (church moor), about 1km from St. Cwyfan’s church and close to the coastline. There were about nineteen smallholdings or crofts around the edge of common and waste ground between streams draining westward to the coast. The individual holdings were no larger than one or two acres, except for Rhent, which held six acres. The land had not been formally enclosed but what appears to be encroachment in this area must have received tacit approval as the tenants there had a landlord, in this instance Charles W G Wynne of Cefnamwlch.

Tudweiliog expanded during the later part of the 19th century and into the twentieth century. A school, north of the church, and two inns along the main road had been added in the later nineteenth century and a smithy to the south-west end of the village. By the end of the twentieth century there was a dozen or so premises along the road north towards Nefyn and three small estates, one to the south of the church and two to the south-west of the village centre and a school and playground opposite the Cefnamwlch junction. A row of semi-detached and detached houses on the south-east side of the Aberdaron road continues the accretion of residential development to the small wooded valley at Penygraig, causing the two localities to coalesce.

Edern also saw expansion in the twentieth century with the erection of fourteen houses on the north side of the Aberdaron road extending south-west from the outskirts of the village set back from the road. The properties were built in two or possibly three phases. Those nearer the village comprise three blocks of six semi-detached two-storey houses with flat gable ends. Four have brick porches. The remaining eight were built in two blocks of four houses with hipped gables. The chimney-stacks are rendered and the walls are pebbledashed. The roofs are slated. This small development carried the name Gerddi and the road between Edern and Y Groesffordd is Lon Gerddi. The term Gardd, or plural, Gerddi, in a medieval context would refer to the small plots of land associated with the tenements of a bond hamlet within a maerdref or manorial estate. It may be fanciful to suppose that, within the Bishop of Bangor’s maerdref and demesne lands in Llyn, at Edern, the locational designation Gerddi, survives in Lon Gerddi and its adjacent, albeit recent, housing.

The focus of settlement at Groesffordd doubled in size during the early twentieth century and these two components, Edern and Groesffordd are now almost linked. Ty’n Llan farm buildings have grown during the later part of the twentieth century to become a dominating presence in the context of the church and churchyard. A relatively recent estate of twelve two storey houses has been built 130m south of the church and a large caravan park has been established between the estate and the Woodlands Hotel, the former rectory.

During the twentieth century, as tourism began to spread through the peninsula, so Nefyn and Porthdinllaen became tourist resorts. A golf club was established in 1907, part of which extends over the length of the Porthdinllaen promontory.

Caravan and camping parks and fields are spread widely across the area from Porth Colman and Penllech Uchaf, near the coast at Porth Gwylan and Porthysgaden, Near Tudweiliog and at Porth Tywyn, inland at Hirdre Fawr, on the coast at Brynglowydd and at Porthdinllaen Farm and in the village of Edern. None of these are exceptionally large or as concentrated as the caravan parks in certain areas of the south coast.

Key historic landscape characteristic

•A predominantly rural and agricultural flat coastal landscape, transacted by clawdd banks. The present pattern of farms and landholding, in particular at Hirdref, Trefgraig, Cwmister and Penllech, provide indications of the consolidation of holdings created by the fragmentation of medieval townships and hamlets.

•The coastal pilgrimage route from Clynnog to Aberdaron passes through the church communities of Edern, Tudweiliog, Penllech and Llangwnnadl.

•Llangwnnadl is an exceptionally important church. It lies within an area of particularly small elongated and curving fields in contrast to the generally larger fields of this character area and which retain evidence of enclosed former open field quillets.

•Edern is of significance in its former association as the manor and demesne lands of the Bishop of Bangor in the Deanery of Llyn.

•Porthdinllaen is an important coastal harbour and a prominent headland. It was defended by earthworks in the Iron Age and promoted as a packet-boat harbour on the Dublin run in the early nineteenth century.

The north-western boundary of this area is the water of Caernarfon Bay. The southern boundary is the area of the early nineteenth century Inclosure award at Rhoshirwaun. The south-eastern boundary is between the 50m and 60m contour where the low flat coastal plain begins to rise more steeply at Mynydd Cefn Amwlch, and, at Cefn Amwlch and the rising ground on the north side of Llaniestyn at Nyffryn. The north-eastern boundary is at Morfa Nefyn and the northern reach of Cors Geirch.

This character area is predominantly rural and predominantly agricultural, as are other areas of Llyn, but in contrast to developments in the second half of the nineteenth century where, in certain areas, metal mining provided alternative employment (at Llanengan, for example), stone quarrying in Llanaelhaearn and Pistyll drew on the labour force of that area and, during the twentieth century, tourist services were required to support burgeoning tourism along the south coast from Pwllheli to Marchros.

Farms are dispersed and, in the 19th century, several worked over 100 acres. Fields are large. There are many rectilinear fields with straight line boundaries. Nevertheless most fields are irregular, albeit with straightened sides. The irregular fields are indicative of the amalgamation of parcels of smaller plots. The most common form of boundary is the ubiquitous clawdd bank.

There are exemptions and the most significant is a large area of Llangwnnadl, particularly on its east side where Llangwnnadl meets Penllech. The distinctively curving sides of these fields are among the best in this character area with regard to indications of former medieval quillets in open field.

The west coast route to Aberdaron from Clynnog follows a well-trodden pilgrim route, passing through Edern, Tudweiliog, St. Mary’s, Penllech and Llangwnnadl. The ancient church of St. Beuno at Edern was rebuilt in 1859 on the old foundations. The site survives and the documentary evidence of the medieval espiscopal township and manorial centre in the cantref and Deanery of Llyn lends character to this part of the landscape.

St. Cwyfan’s church in the hamlet of Tudweiliog, with a small portion of land, was an appurtenance of the Abbot of Bardsey. This church was also rebuilt in the 19th century. Documentary evidence regarding Bardsey holdings on the mainland and particularly evocative field names are important in appreciating the village of Tudweiliog in its landscape. The small community of Rhos y llan is a relic of informal enclosure or encroachment on local common land and waste with, nevertheless tacit approval from those who could give it, in contrast to the hard fought issues of Parliamentary Inclosure.

At a micro-level, the early 19th century Independent Chapel, Beersheba, lends considerable character, in its low-key style, which persisted into the 20th century, in contrast to the nearby parish church.

St. Gwynhoydl’s at Llangwnnadl is a very significant church; for its association with Bardsey, albeit the remainder of the township was in the hand of the Bishop of Bangor, and for its extensive elaboration in the early 16th century. The early unicameral church was embellished with two side aisles, north and south, with communication through three four-centred arches supported by octagonal pillars. The perpendicular style in the eastern windows, the south door and arcades which carry inscriptions, including a date of construction are important as the building date provides a bench mark for other churches in the region.

Porthdinllaen is a prominent coastal landmark, it is also a safe haven for many ships in these coastal waters. The promontory itself is an important late prehistoric promontory fort. The Inns, cottages and boat sheds on the shore lend character to a landscape which before the twentieth century was a component of the ship-building tradition of Nefyn. William Madocks’ Whitehall Inn, no longer operating as such, contributes to another overlay of Porthdinllaen history in the unrealised venture of developing a packet boat station for the Dublin run, in competition with Holyhead. The turnpike road across Morfa Nefyn, as it approaches Porthdinllaen, is another product of Madocks and his associates.

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