Historic Landscape Characterisation

Llŷn - Area 4 Rhiw and Penarfynydd (PRN 33485)


Mynydd y Garreg

Bwth, Mynydd Rhiw

Mynydd y Graig

Plas Rhiw

Historic background

Mynydd Rhiw, Mynydd y Craig and Mynydd Penarfynydd constitute a long series of hog-back ridges of igneous rock extending from the area south of Bryncroes for a distance of 5 km to the sea at Trwyn Talfarach. They are one of the most prominent landmarks in southern Llyn. Mynydd Rhiw in the north of the character area is the largest of the three ridges, rising to 300m. At its southern end, the outcrop of Clip y Gylfinhir (the long-beaked crag or, more prosaically, the Curlew’s Crag) is on a prominent natural pyramid visible far and wide. Both eminences carry, or are adjacent to, wireless and radio transmitting masts. Below Clip y Gylfinhir lies a col at around 180m which provides a west-east route across the high ground, and separates Mynydd y Graig to the south. This ridge is crowned by a ‘comb’ of hard gabbro at 240m presenting a dramatic profile against the skyline. The south-eastern slopes fall steeply towards the sea. Mynydd Penarfynydd (the steep-sloping headland-hill) is an extension of Mynydd y Graig, at the promontory. Penarfynydd, quite apart from its striking profile, is one of the best exposures of intrusive, layered, igneous rock in the British Isles. The land above 200m and the south-eastern seaward slopes remain, for the most part, rough and uncultivated.

There are indications of settlement or, at least, activity across these hills from very early periods of the past. In the 1950s shallow quarry hollows at the north end of Mynydd Rhiw were identified as a product of the extraction of fine-grained baked-shale rock for the manufacture of Neolithic stone axes (PRN 1232). In 2005-2006 further quarries were located, over an area of around 400m by 30m along the ridge. Radiocarbon dates place this activity in the third and fourth millennium BC. At the same distance below the ridge on the eastern side, a chambered cairn, comprising two or possibly three chambers, stands near Tan y Muriau at 120m OD, and a second, badly damaged tomb is located on the eastern slope of the Rhiw col at about the same altitude (PRNs 1219, 1220). These tombs are very broadly contemporary with the industrial activity on the summit. There are cairns of possible Bronze Age date on the ridge itself and standing stones below the northern slopes of Mynydd y Graig (PRNs 1217, 1233, 3298, 3299, 3300; 1218, 5052) .

Actual settlement is more visible during later prehistory. There is a bivallate stone-walled enclosure, now mostly robbed of its stone, at the northern end of Mynydd Rhiw at the interface of enclosed and uncultivated land, at around 200m OD (PRN 1234). There is a severely denuded fortification on the summit of Mynydd y Graig at Creigiau Gwinau (PRN 1206), in a very dramatic location, protected by the vertical gabbro outcrop on the north and a stone wall to the south-east. There is a third, small fort, at Conion, set among terraced fields below the eastern side of the Rhiw ridge at around 200m OD (PRN 1207). Several hut circles and terraced fields of probable late Iron Age and Romano-British date occupy the lower slopes, below 200m OD, on the southern and south-eastern faces of Mynydd Rhiw and Mynydd y Graig (PRNs 1205, 1208, 1210, 1215, 1231, 3304, 3311, 3312, 3314, 5053). The presence of cultivation terraces of Medieval character at Mynydd Penarfynydd and enclosures and rectangular house platforms of later or post-Medieval date attest the continuity of settlement in this area.

Although the rocky ridges of this character area have a coherence of topography and land use, Rhiw, Mynydd y Graig and Mynydd Penarfynydd are touched by three Medieval townships and the two hamlets of Meillionydd and Bodwyddog, perhaps, originally, a component of the free township of Bodrydd. Each impinges on the hill slopes and each would have a controlled access to the upland grazing. The townships themselves have different qualities and characters. Dindywydd, in the age of the Princes, was a bond township of the Lord of Cymydmaen, sometime Dafydd ap Gruffydd, brother of Llywelyn. Dindywydd and its detached hamlet Crugeran operated under a very restrictive form of bond tenure, trefgyfrif indicative of a direct association with the royal demesne at Neigwl. It occupied the northern extremity of Mynydd Rhiw at Castell Caeron. The ‘Din’ in the township name may reflect the proximity of the ancient fortification.

The name survived into the nineteenth century as Tredindywydd, a patchwork cluster of very small rectilinear plots, now focussed on the property Bron Dywydd at about 175m OD.

At the south-western limit of the character area stood the small Medieval trefgyfrif bond township of Penarfynydd. A farm at the interface of cultivable land, and the rough pasture of the mountain, still bears that name. Today the fields are large and the walls are stone at the mountain edge with little indication of its Medieval origins.

Rhiw was a free township, held by the descendants of two clans, the gwely Heilin and the gwely Gwrgenau. These freeholders, nevertheless, had obligations to the lord which, in the fourteenth century, at Rhiw included commuted payments for the maintenance of the lord’s horses and his otter hounds. Most of the tenants were obliged to take their corn to be milled at the lord’s mill at Neigwl. However, two families had shares in their own mill, the Melin Rhiw, and ground their own flour.

The western limit of Rhiw is likely to have been at the watershed of the col between Mynydd Rhiw and Mynydd y Graig. Bodwyddog and Penarfynydd occupied the western slopes open to the Atlantic south-westerly winds. Rhiw extended over the more sheltered and sunnier eastern slopes, in continuation of a settlement pattern that had persisted since prehistory. The core of Rhiw township in the Middle Ages is likely to have been at, or close to, the present gentry house of Plas yn Rhiw but, perhaps, not on the actual site as is often supposed. Ty’n y Muriau, on a locally elevated spur 300m south of Plas, was formerly known as Henblas. The Rhiw estate had been amalgamated and dismembered successively over a long period of time. In 1718 the estate comprised the mansion house of Rhiw, already an established edifice, built a century earlier, with its appurtenances, arable fields, on more ancient quillets, hay closes, orchards, barns and cowsheds. At this time, the properties of Ty’n y Muriau, Ty Bleiddyn (also known as Ty’n y Graig) and the water mill, Melin y Rhiw with appurtenant holdings at Ty yn y Borth and Ty yn y Sarn, were also in the hand of the Lewis family. Melin y Rhiw, known as Hen Felin (the old mill), stood close to the shore of Porth Neigwl at Borth and is likely to be the site of the ancient mill referred to in the Crown survey of 1352. This, and a second mill above Plas yn Rhiw, were fed by three streams emanating from springs on Mynydd Rhiw. One of these, Ffynnon Aelrhiw, a holy well, near the church, fed the upper mill.

Although these holdings were in separate tenancies they form a compact and contiguous unit and, together, most probably represent a coherent component of the original township. Treheilin (or Treheilir, 1840) stands adjacent and may refer to one of the two Medieval gwelyau of Rhiw, gwely Heilin. It will be remembered that, in the fourteenth century, Melin Rhiw was in the hand of a subset of the Heilin clan.

By the early nineteenth century we find that the appurtenant holdings of the estate had been divided further. Ty Bleiddyn, on the uphill slopes above the Plas had been reduced to the tenement, Y Graig, with the residue let separately. Ty’n y Muriau had become two tenements, Ty’n y Muriau and Tan y Muriau with Gwern y Saer adjacent. In 1718 Plas yn Rhiw had a Dairy House (that is, a hafod) on Mynydd Rhiw common. This is the Ty’n y Mynydd of the 1840 tithe survey. However this may be, the occurrence of ‘Cae Newydd’ field names close to the edge of uncultivated land in the former Ty Bleiddyn, is a good indicator of early encroachments and intake from the upland pastures, at least as early as c.1700.

Settlement expanded across the col during the nineteenth century. Late encroachments on the uncultivated land of Mynydd Rhiw and Myndd y Graig of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century date, can be seen at Bwth, near Clip y Gylfinhir, at Syntir at the east end of Mynydd y Graig and at Pen yr Ogof and Tu Hwnt i’r Mynydd (‘the other side of the mountain’).

In 1811, 790 acres of common land at Mynydd Rhiw and 260 acres of Mynydd y Graig were enclosed by Act of Parliament. Ancient and more recent enclosures had previously made inroads on to the common and judging by the evidence of relict fields some had already been abandoned.

In 1827 manganese was discovered. Prospection led to exploitation at Nant in Penarfynydd and at Benallt below Clip y Gylfinhir. At this early stage the production was intermittent. Donkeys took the ore to Porth Cadlan from the Nant mine and from Benallt to the coast at Porth Neigwl. During the two world wars, however, manganese was in demand as a strengthening agent in steel. An aerial ropeway took the Benallt and Rhiw ore almost directly over the growing village on the col to a jetty on the shore. At Nant, the ore was moved on a system of inclines. The evidence of this industry has left its mark on the Rhiw landscape.

In the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries new buildings were erected for the accommodation of industrial workers and other occupations alongside traditional farm buildings mostly alongside the road which runs across the col from Aberdaron to Neigwl and north from the crossroads at the highest point on the col. This northern road, and the houses built alongside it, occupies a narrow corridor of enclosed common between the large enclosures of Mynydd Rhiw and Mynydd y Graig. Farm buildings themselves were modernised. The first non-Conformist chapel, Capel Nebo, was built in 1813 on an allotment of the former common. It was to be joined by the Wesleyans (Pisgah) and the Calvinistic Methodists at Tan y Foel and in the 1870s all three chapels were themselves rebuilt. The Anglican church of St. Aelrhiw had been rebuilt in 1860 on more ancient foundations. A shop, school and public house, Penboncyn, were all in place by the 1880s.

Key historic landscape characteristics

•A landscape characterised by stone-walled enclosures, small farms and single-storey cottages.

•Visible evidence in the landscape of early Prehistoric industrial and ritual activity on the summit and eastern slopes of Mynydd Rhiw.

•Visible evidence of Later prehistoric settlement as defended enclosures on the higher ground and hut circle settlement on the south and eastern slopes of Mynydd Rhiw and Penarfynydd.

•A pattern of post-Medieval settlement distribution which reflects the presence of historically documented Medieval townships.

•Encroachment on un-enclosed, uncultivated land from at least the seventeenth century.

•The emergence of nucleated village community in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, facilitated by Parliamentary enclosure and intermittent industrial activity.

•Plas yn Rhiw is a very significant building in the character area.

This landscape displays visible evidence of early Prehistoric industrial and ritual activity on the summit and eastern slopes of Mynydd Rhiw. Later prehistoric settlement, in the form of defended enclosures, is visible on the higher ground with hut circle settlements on the south and eastern slopes of Mynydd Rhiw and Penarfynydd, within the pattern of post-Medieval settlement distribution which reflects the presence of historically documented Medieval townships.

Encroachment on un-enclosed, uncultivated land is documented from at least the seventeenth century and continued until the early nineteenth century. Those intakes and smallholdings still in existence retained their tenements. Single storey cottages, some with crog-loftydd surviving, lend considerable character to the Rhiw landscape, so much so that, of nineteen dwellings with listed building status in the locality, sixteen are single-storey cottages. The emergence of a nucleated village community in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was facilitated by Parliamentary Inclosure and intermittent industrial activity, for which evidence on the ground may still be found

In contrast to the lowland plains of Aberdaron and Neigwl, Rhiw is predominantly a landscape of stone walls, rather than clawdd banks. The hard rock provided abundant raw material. The present landscape is characterised by stone-walled enclosures, small farms and single-storey cottages.

Plas yn Rhiw is an important building in the Rhiw landscape, although occluded by tree cover. The Plas was significantly revamped in 1820. The walls were heightened to accommodate a third storey on the original two storey house, a stair-wing was added to the rear and the external faces were presented as a late Georgian façade with sixteen-pane sash windows above a ground floor verandah. A kitchen wing was added in the mid-nineteenth century. Despite the modifications, several features of the original early-seventeenth-century house survive, including chamfered beams, indications of former timber partitions and a stone spiral stair adjacent to the south gable fireplace. The original roof line is visible externally.

The house was acquired by the Keating sisters in 1939, who restored the building, with advice and assistance from the architect Clough Williams-Ellis. They were determined campaigners for the protection of the local environment and their conservationist approach, particularly in respect of property in their ownership, undoubtedly contributed to the character of the present landscape.

A note on the gardens at Rhiw by Margaret Mason

Plas-yn-Rhiw has no park as such, but the area of woodland below the house, which now appears to be semi-natural, may have been planted in the early nineteenth century. The small area of woodland above the house may be a remnant of plantings of the same date. The garden lies below and in front of the house and is terraced into the slope, divided by hedges into several small compartments. The hedges may have been partly intended to shelter small plants from the winds which whistle up from Hell’s Mouth. Many of the woody plants have by now of grown much taller than the hedges, and the garden feels rather crowded and restricted; but this is part of its charm.

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