Historic Landscape Characterisation - Llŷn

Historical Themes

Prehistoric Agriculture and Relict Archaeology

The earliest settled communities on the Llyn Peninsula from the fifth millennium BC were agriculturalists.  Their lifestyle was sedentary, not nomadic, they herded and corralled livestock, they broke and turned the sod, sowed their seeds and harvested their crops in the autumn.  Their religious, ceremonial and funerary monuments which have left such an evocative mark on the landscape would seem to be permeated with mysteries of the cycle of the seasons and a concern for the fertility of the soil.  It remains, nevertheless, that the evidence of settlement and the agricultural impact on this Neolithic landscape is extremely scarce.  The survival of megalithic chambered tombs or the tradition of their former presence may be an indication of areas of population density during this period but the evidence is so dispersed as to be of little account in this respect.  There is a tomb at Cromlech Farm, Four Crosses; another at Pont Pensarn on the rising ground behind Pwllheli and another on the headland of Mynydd Tirycwmwd.  There are two tombs on the Cilan peninsula, south of Llanengan and a further two tombs on the eastern flank of Mynydd Rhiw.  All of these have been recorded on the east side of the peninsula, on ground which is to some degree elevated.  Two tombs are recorded closer to the west coast near the headwaters of the Afon Soch.  One, Tregarnedd, is now lost; the other, on the north flank of Mynydd Cefnamwlch, is a local landmark.

Mynydd Cefnamwlch

The distribution of surviving monuments of the Earlier Bronze Age, towards the end of the third millennium and the early second millennium BC, is similarly dispersed, though more numerous.  The funerary monuments, represented by stone cairns, earthen barrows and ring ditches show some degree of concentration on the high ground of Yr Eifl, particularly their peaks and the adjacent mass of Carnguwch.    To the south-west, there is a standing stone on the south-eastern flank of Moel Gwynus at 160 m OD and on the lower, moorish ground close to the headwaters of the Afon Erch and, further to the south-west, the Afon Rhyd-hir.  There are standing stones across the river from the church at Carnguwch and two stones, 170 m apart at Ty Gwyn, to the north-east of the visible outcrop of Moel y Penmaen.  There are standing stones near the Afon Erch between Pencaenewydd and Y Ffor.  Another important concentration of cairns on Mynydd Rhiw is flanked by standing stones and a cist burial between Mynydd Rhiw and Mynydd y Graig and an urn burial on the northern slopes of Mynydd Rhiw.


There are standing stones at Llangwnnadl and Maen Hir, Pen y Groeslon and in the churchyard at Sarn Meyllteyrn.  A cairn with urn burials has been recorded on the slopes of Foel Meyllteyrn and a cluster of seven ring ditches with central graves and ploughed-out barrows has been excavated at Bodnithoedd, at the western end of Botwnnog.  These latter burials were discovered by the presence of their cropmark ditches and are an indication of a possible greater density of similar sites, erased form the landscape by later agricultural activity on lower ground.

Urn burials have been recorded, again on lower ground, at Pen yr Orsedd, Morfa Nefyn, and a possible round barrow nearby.  A cluster of three barrows stand within 30 m of each other at 50 m OD, near the house of Cefn Mine, south of Bodfel.

A cairn and stone-lined cist stands on the plateau, at 340m OD, immediately below the summit of Carn Fadryn and a possible cairn stands below and to the south of the visibly striking cone of Garn Saethon at 165m OD.

Settlement enclosures with varying degrees of defence or fortification and enclosed or unenclosed hut circle settlements are more sure indicators of later prehistoric farms in the Llyn landscape.  Nevertheless, the distribution is weighted in favour of locations on marginal land and upland where the potential for the survival of evidence is greatest.  In the dry summers of 1989, 1990 and 2006 several new enclosures were recorded as crop and parch marks with no other surviving remains above ground, the evidence having been erased by centuries of ploughing.

Few of these settlements have been excavated to any great degree and little evidence for the farming regime has been forthcoming. An important exception is the double-ditched concentric enclosure which stands on a slight promontory overlooking the Afon Soch at Sarn Meyllteyrn.  The settlement spans the end of the second and early first millennia BC.  Pollen evidence suggests an open grassland environment with wheat and barley cultivated in the near vicinity.

The greatest density of surviving small farms, of the later prehistoric and early Roman centuries, lie on the slopes of the granite masses which range from Yr Eifl in the north to Garn Boduan in the south-west.  There are nucleated groups and single round huts on the seaward facing slopes of Gallt Bwlch and between Llithfaen and Pistyll.  A dispersed scatter of single huts and a nucleated, enclosed group nearly, lie on south-east facing slopes below Bwlch Farm, in the same area at around 200 m OD.  These settlements are at altitudes within cultivable limits but which are conveniently sited to access summer grazing on the higher ground.

There are fourteen settlements occupying the southern and south-eastern slopes, south of Llithfaen and Pistyll, in the general altitude range of about 150 m OD, more or less, following the contour from Moel Gwynus to Moel Ty Gwyn, Cerniog, Mynydd Nefyn and the lower slopes of Garn Boduan and looking out over the flat lands of Boduan and the Afon Rhyd-hir.  Ten of these settlements are nucleated and enclosed and we can be certain that these represent established small farms of the later prehistoric and Romano-British period.  These small farms are well-placed to exploit a cross-section of a diverse landscape which includes arable cultivation and stock rearing and in this context, the intractable higher slopes of the igneous intrusions should be considered a resource rather than a constraint.

There are two very substantial and broadly contemporary stone-walled fortifications in this area.  At the northern end, Tre'r Ceiri occupies the easternmost peak of Yr Eifl at 480 m OD.  At the southern end Garn Boduan rises above Nefyn and the coastal plain to 270 m OD.  Both hillforts have extensive and strong defences and both display clear evidence of hut circle settlement within their ramparts.  At Tre'r Ceiri a chronological sequence is identifiable in the replacement of large circular stone-walled houses with smaller, compartmentalised units.  There is also evidence for the maintenance and repair of part of the rampart during the second century AD.    An argument could be advanced that these forts, at altitude, could be related to stock control and summer pasturing, particularly so in respect of the potential hazard of cattle raiding in the summer months and the historically recorded use of these uplands for grazing in later centuries.

Tre'r Ceiri

A comparable context might be met with in the area of Carn Fadryn, Carn Bach and Garn Saethon, at 370 m, 280 m and 220 m respectively.  Carn Fadryn has an extensive plateau at 340 m, defended by stone ramparts.  Single, dispersed hut circles occupy the lower slopes of Carn Fadryn and the saddle between it and Carn Bach.  Another dispersed group occupies the south-eastern slopes of Carn Bach.  Nucleated enclosed and unenclosed hut circles constitute farmsteads on the flatter land overlooking the west flank of the Nanhoron Gorge.

Carn Fadryn

There are defended enclosures at the north end of Mynydd Rhiw, on a break of slope on the south east side of the hog back and, as the ground rises again, a third hillfort, Cregiau Gwineu, along a basalt intrusion at the summit of Mynydd y Graig.  There are several circular settlement enclosures and nucleated hut circle groups on the south-western, and south-eastern, slopes above the saddle between the south end of Mynydd Rhiw and Mynydd y Graig and a string of single and dispersed hut circles on the steep south-eastern slopes of Mynydd y Graig, overlooking Porth Neigwl and Caridgan Bay.  Mynydd Rhiw and Mynydd y Graig were areas of upland grazing in more recent centuries and it would not be unreasonable to suggest that the disposition of later prehistoric settlement valued that landscape for the same reason.

Castell Odo is a relatively small bivallate hillfort on a low, but nevertheless, locally prominent rounded hill, rising from the Aberdaron plateau at 146 m OD.  The defences were remodelled and replaced several times.  Its situation might suggest a main function as a focus of local or regional lordship and control.  Nevertheless, notwithstanding politically strategic considerations, the fort is sited at the interface of the productive agricultural land of the plain and the extensive moorish wet ground of Rhoshirwaun which, in antiquity, was used for grazing and fuel but not much else. 

At the south-western limit of the Llyn peninsula there are single and dispersed hut circles on the higher rocky ground of Mynydd Anelog, Mynydd Mawr, Mynydd Bychestyn and Pen y Cil which fringe the agricultural plateau of Uwchmynydd. The lack of evidence across the farmlands of Aberdaron is undoubtedly a consequence of extensive arable agriculture over centuries.

Back to Llyn Landscape map

Agriculture from the Middle Ages to the present

The landscape of the present day is a dramatic transformation of the pattern of the medieval agricultural landscape. Nevertheless, despite changing agricultural regimes and priorities, the landscape remains a palimpsest in which the past continues to inform the present. Taxations of the thirteenth century and Minister’s Accounts of the fourteenth century provide an insight into the crops, livestock and processes. The Latin measures of land, bovate and carucate, relate to ploughland, referring to oxen and ploughs and the Welsh terms, llain (pl. lleiniau) and talor, so frequently occurring in field names up to the present day reflect the ubiquitous presence of arable quillets and the headlands on which the plough teams turned. Arable ploughlands could be extensive and were unenclosed. Ploughing was undertaken by a team of oxen pulling the plough, a ploughman and a boy walking backwards calling the team. The number of oxen depended on the resources of the community who would pool their assets. The process of ploughing was a shared operation but long narrow, sinuous strips or quillets were carefully defined and individually owned. Rarely would the strips of the same tenant lie side by side and the dispersed nature of the quillets ensured a reasonable distribution of good and less good land. The strips are necessarily curved in a reversed S-shape to allow the lumbering team of oxen to make a turn on the headland to return down the next furrow.

Carn Fadryn slopes

The crops sown and harvested were wheat, oats and some barley. Rye was also grown in small quantities, as were peas. Gardens supplemented the diet. Malt was made from grain and brewing would seem to be reasonably widespread. Every community had access to a mill. The tenants of bond townships were invariably required to mill their grain at the Crown mills which were, in Dinllaen, the mills of Ceirch, Hirdref, Boduan, Nefyn and Gwynus; in Aeflogion, Gwerthyr, Ceirch, Deneio and Llannor and in Cymydmaen, the mills of Neigwl, Crugerran and Tywyn, all water mills. Freeholders often had their own mill or shares in a mill, although, in certain circumstances, they too milled at the Crown mill. Many of the locations of the medieval mills will have been used continuously into the nineteenth century, albeit rebuilt and replaced over a considerable period of time. The mills of the freeholders were at Llannor, Pistyll, Trefgoed, Madryn and Mochras in the commote of Dinllaen; Abersoch (Melin Isa and Melin Ucha), Castellmarch, Bodfel and Llangian in Aeflogion and Rhiw, Bodwrdda, Bodrhydd and a number of mills named after their families which can not now be easily located as, for example, the Melin Wyrion Gorid (the mill of the grandchildren of Gorid). There was also a mill on the Bishop of Bangor’s estate at Edern.

Across the townships of Afloegion, the south-eastern central part of Llyn was capable of producing nearly 3 crannocks of flour (11.5 bushels) and half a crannock (2 bushels) of grain per family. Each family, with the exception of the poor, owned one or two beef cattle and four cows, on average. The head of a family might own a horse and an additional draught animal. In practice, however, some families were better off than others. Angharad, the daughter of Adda and her son, in the township of Bodfel, owned 42 beef cattle and 48 cows, 6 horses, 12 draught animals and her farm was capable of producing 82 bushels of ground flour and 24 bushels of grain. This level of wealth and productivity was exceptional, however. Sheep were also reared, in relatively small numbers, with the exception of certain areas where David Fychan, in Marchros, and Iorwerth Du in Bryn Celyn, both on the Cilan peninsula, had 20 sheep each. Gwyn ap Rhirid, in Bachellaeth also had 20 sheep but no one else kept so many.

Cattle-rearing was important for meat and also for dairy produce. Within the context of royal administration during the Age of the Princes, the significance of livestock production is reflected in the establishment of what were essentially cattle ranches, located in areas which gave access to uncultivated upland pastures, particularly during the summer months, when crops were ripening in the unenclosed arable fields. In the commote of Dinllaen, for example, vaccaries or Hafodydd are known to have operated in Gwynus, Rhoswiniasa, Bleiddiog and Castellmawr, south-east of Pistyll between Llithfaen and Cerniog.

In coastal areas, fishing was a very important seasonal supplement to the diet. At Bryn Celyn on the Cilan peninsula, in 1293, Iorwerth Du had a boat with nets. In Pwllheli, nine of the twenty-one tenants, who had sufficient moveable wealth to be taxed, had nets; Madoc ap Einion had seven. At Nefyn, 42 of the 93 tenants had fishing gear and, together, could muster four boats and 64 nets.


During the sixteenth century several leases of Crown land were granted to private individuals. This was not a new phenomenon in itself but at about the same time, transfers of freehold land were being made and these acquisitions were to become the basis of consolidated estates. Parcels of land began to be enclosed to create irregular fields and closes from the formerly unenclosed arable quillets. The process extended over a period of time and, in some locations, areas of unenclosed strips in several different tenancies persisted into the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Nevertheless, the outlines of a sufficient number of relict arable quillets were delineated by clawdd banks to survive into the present day. Particularly good examples may be seen at Uwchmynydd, Aberdaron, Nefyn and Morfa Nefyn and on the Cilan peninsula.

During the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the major estates on the Llyn peninsula continued to enlarge their holdings. By the late seventeenth century the Vaynol Estate, based to the south of Bangor, had acquired significant interests in the parishes of Llangian, Llanengan and the Cilan peninsula and had control of Castellmarch. The Griffiths’ of Cefnamwlch were expanding into Nyffryn, Cefnleisiog and the coastal plain. The Edwards’ of Nanhoron had an interest in almost all the parishes of Llyn and acquired the important estate of Bodwrdda in Aberdaron in 1748. Towards the end of the eighteenth century the Madryn estate coalesced with Wernfawr at Cors Geirch and Rhydolion on the Neigwl plain. Bodfel and its related neighbour Boduan were important in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries until Boduan passed, by marriage, into the orbit of Glynllifon and the Newboroughs.

Hyde Hall, in 1810, expressed an opinion that, a generation earlier, it would have seemed to be like a dead weight on a landowner’s hands if a tenancy became vacant. In the climate of 1810, the advances that had been made in the meantime were a significant incentive to enter into a tenancy. The spirit of improvement permeated the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Landowners were investing their money in their farms ‘in preference to the noble hazard of faro or the too alluring chance of the turf!’ (Hyde Hall, 1810, ed E.G. Jones 1952, 293; Walter Davies, 1810, 94). Agricultural societies were formed to promote better practices. The Caernarvonshire Society was formed in 1808. At Rhiw a tenant of Sir Robert Vaughan obtained a subvention from the Agricultural Society for pointing a wall for a cattle enclosure, newly constructed. Considerable scientific thought was going into the breeding of livestock; the appropriateness of certain types of plough, the familiar Lomax or the new Scotch plough, each ploughman with his own preference; and the merit and financial comparisons of ox-drawn plough teams or harnessed horses.

Consideration and debate was given to crop rotation. Walter Davies suggested a four year rotation for Llyn which comprised a first year of wheat on fallow, or clover ley, limed; a second year of turnips or other green crops, manured with dung or compost; a third year of barley with a fourth year of clover with white clover and grass seeds added (Davies, 1810, 163).

A draft letter, from Cefnamwlch, written on the pages of a rent book in 1776 gives an insight into the daily routine on the farm at this time:
Hon. Sir, … since you left … weeding or cleaning potatoes, turning the dunghill in Cae’r Gwindy, mucking Cae’r Lloia all over and almost ploughing it. Ploughed and harrowed Cae’r Ychain and Cae’r Coed and planted it over with cabbage … opening the water course. Heavy rain so obliged to take such work as clean the sheep pens and courts at Cae’r Rhyd Ddu.

… barley has been sown since last week, likewise potatoes put down two or three days ago. They are ploughing Cae’r Ychain for turnips and carrying the stuff which was taken out of the drains in Gors Las.

… 42 hobets of oats sowed between Cae’r Pant, Cae’r Gongl, Ffridd Wen and Cae’r Gate Wen … by this time we thought the horses were much abused … thought it easier for them to muck for potatoes and drawing stones to make a wall by Llyn Pen y Mount, then they began to plough Barley at Cae’r Goetan and Ffriddwen which will be completed tonight.

… Droughty and hoar frost weather which we have had for a long time but now these three or four days passed it is fine warm growing weather (Cefnamwlch papers 307, Gwynedd Archives).

Rent books of Vaynol holdings in Llanengan and Llangian parishes give an indication of the cropping regime in the 1820s. Tyddyn Talgoch on the Cilan peninsula records: oats, barley, hay and meadow; pasture, potatoes and fallow; oats; hay, barley and pasture. Llawr y Dref on the Neigwl plain records: wheat, meadow, barley, hay, pasture and potatoes. Deuglawdd nearby records: barley, wheat, pasture, pasture, meadow, oats and potatoes.

Cattle had always been important on the Llyn peninsula. Pennant, in the 1770s described the main produce of Llyn as oats, barley and black cattle of which ‘above three thousand are annually sold out of these parts’ (Pennant 1773, ed. J. Rhys, 1883, vol. 2, 374-5). The cattle in question were driven by drovers for fattening in English pastures before sale in the markets of London and the Midlands. Roadside smithies along the drovers’ routes and at collection stations are a continuing reminder of the trade.

Despite improvements, however, there was still room for criticism. Walter Davies identified a short list of the obstacles to efficient agriculture at the beginning of the nineteenth century and Hyde Hall’s tour through Caernarvonshire provoked him to comment on certain deficiencies. In his words: ‘of the agriculture here [at Nefyn] no favourable account can be given, if a traveller judges from the slovenly management of the fields, the ragged lines of earth which … pass for fences [a reference to the undivided quillets of former open fields]. There is wanting, too, all the shelter which trees afford, and the bareness … in this respect that the very first improvement called for seems to be that of plantations’. Again, in respect of Tudweiliog: ‘a flat and woodless tract’; Llanfihangel Bachellaeth: ‘the forlornness of its exposure, not a single tree’. The lack of tree cover at that time, across several parishes, is only mitigated by the plantations and gardens of the gentry houses.

Mud-wall house, west coast

Davies railed against the condition of many of the cottages of agricultural labourers and small tenant farmers: ‘… a species of cottages which are truly the habitations of wretchedness; one smokey hearth, for it should not be styled a kitchen; one damp litter-cell for it cannot be called a bed room’ (Davies 1810, 82). Hyde Hall encountered several vernacular cottages still being built with thatched roofs and considered this to be retrograde. His comment on newly built houses in Llanbedrog encompasses his complaint: ‘ a hamlet called Pig Street … sixteen new houses have been erected since 1800, but as the number seems small, so the circumstances of thatch being generally used when the opportunities of conveying slate by sea are so convenient … bespeaks but little zeal or spirit of improvement about the place’. Very similar considerations apply to the agricultural landscape and will be discussed in more detail in the section on buildings.

Farm, southern Llyn

A further hindrance and obstacle to the development of efficient farming was the state of the roads and tracks across Llyn which made it difficult for the produce of farms to reach distant markets and for materials and equipment to reach the farms. During the first half of the eighteenth century it is suggested that few roads were fit for anything other than local traffic across the whole district. At certain seasons of the year and inclement weather wide detours would have to be made as, for example, crossing the wet moor of Rhoshirwaun or the coastal route south of Pwllheli. During the course of the nineteenth century landward communications improved dramatically.

Despite an agricultural downturn, following the conclusion of the Napoleonic wars during the second quarter of the nineteenth century, all the Llyn parishes continued to put several hundred acres under the plough. In the 1840s fifty percent of the total land mass was under arable cultivation. The principal crops continued to be those grown 500 years and more earlier, oats, barley and wheat, in that order of priority.

Some areas were naturally more productive than others. Llaniestyn, Penllech, Llandygwnning and the small parish of Botwnnog had seventy percent of their lands under the plough. Llanfaelrhys, Boduan and Meyllteyrn had less than thirty percent of their area under arable cultivation. At Boduan, parkland and pasture on the mountain of Garn Boduan occupied 1300 of the parishes 1850 acres. At Llanfaelrhys, 1500 acres of the parish was upland pasture, on the slopes of Mynydd Rhiw and Penarfynydd and it is probable that the medieval bond township of Penarfynydd maintained the same priorities six centuries before.

Nanhoron Gorge

The twentieth century saw the increased consolidation of holdings and amalgamation of individual tenancies into one or two large farms with a reduced population of farm labourers and an increased reliance on machinery. Fields had been enlarged during the nineteenth century with the removal of ancient boundaries and their replacement with ruler-straight banks, walls and hedges. This process continued into the twentieth century to accommodate machinery and a trend towards an increase in cattle-rearing and dairy which was already in train by the second half of the nineteenth century and from which time the cattle were fattened locally rather than in English pastures.

Back to Llyn Landscape map


The organisation of the Medieval administrative landscape

During the early Middle Ages the territorial divisions within the Kingdom of Gwynedd were the cantrefi (pl), a very ancient designation. There is no mention of the later subdivision of the cantref, the commote, until the twelfth or thirteenth century. In the early Middle Ages the power base of freeholding, dynastic, territorial lordships would have been the maenol, a network of settlements linked by kinship, a clan-land, with interests very widely spread. There might be several maenolau (pl.) within the boundaries of a cantref and each, or at least some, of the patrimonial heads of such an extended kindred might consider themselves to be little different in status to the king himself. We may glimpse something of the nature of this relationship, at a distance in time, in the landed interests of the fourteenth-century progeny of Cenythlin and Dwyrig in the townships of Carnguwch, Bodfel, Llangian, Cilan, Bryn Celyn, Ystradgeirch and their hamlets. During the Age of the Princes it would be usual for the related settlements of a maenol to define its boundaries within the compass of a township. On the contrary, in this instance, the landed interests of the progeny of Cenythlin and Dwyrig extend across township boundaries and commotal boundaries, from Carnguwch in the north to Cilan in the south, as though those boundaries never existed. However, these several gwelyau are confined to the eastern side of Cantref Llyn leaving open the possibility that other comparable freeholding maenolau, now masked by later tenurial arrangements, may once have occupied lands to the west of the peninsula.

It is probable that the administrative landscape of Gwynedd was transformed during the twelfth century. The context may have been the stability which ensued during the later years of Gruffudd ap Cynan’s reign and the expansionism of Owain Gwynedd. Throughout the Kingdom the old cantrefi were subdivided into commotes, either two or three commotes in each cantref. The cantref of Llyn was divided into three. The commote of Dinllaen occupied the northern part of the cantref. The commote of Afloegion occupied the south-eastern part and Cymydmaen occupied the south-west. Royal maerdrefi were installed in each of the three cymydau (pl.).

A maerdref was a royal township, run on manorial lines comprising demesne land and a llys, or mansion house, and a hamlet or hamlets of bond tenants. The llys provided a residence for the prince when he visited a particular region of the kingdom. It was also the administrative hub of the commote. Rents and dues, owed by the tenants of the prince in the commote, would be paid at the maerdref. The rents and dues may have required carrying and repair work, food renders or cash payments.

The maerdref of Dinllaen was at Nefyn. The maerdref of Afloegion was at Deneio (Pwllheli) and the maerdref of Cymydmaen was at Neigwl.

Nefyn, ancient core

The prince also maintained extensive pasture lands in each commote. These hafodydd or friddoedd were probably operated more like cattle ranches than summer pasture lands. In the commote of Dinllaen the hafodydd were on and around the slopes of Gwynus, south of Yr Eifl. In Cymydmaen, the township of Penarfynydd may have performed that function.

There would be bond tenants of the prince in the wider landscape of the commote, working their own smallholdings and freeholders who, in general, had dues to pay as well. The Bishop of Bangor also had free and bond tenants and the Bishop’s demesne land and manorial residence in the cantref of Llyn, was at Edern.

After the conquest of Gwynedd in 1283 some things changed and some stayed the same. For many the change was a change of landlord. A new administration was imposed, with its focus at Caernarfon and a sheriff was installed in each of the three new counties. Llyn occupied part of Caernarvonshire. Nevertheless, the commote was retained as a regional unit within the county and the two important commotal officers under the princes continued to have a role, particularly so in the case of the Rhingyll (Carr, 1982, 59-60).

The former bond lands and demesne of the Prince came into the hand of the English Crown and many favourites and petitioners of the Crown interests were granted fee-farm leases of these lands. The royal hafodydd were also leased separately from their associated townships. Nefyn and Pwllheli had become boroughs before the conquest to facilitate their mercantile interests and, in the mid-fourteenth century, both were enfranchised as free boroughs.

During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries freeholders were devising ways in which they might accumulate land in the property market without breaching the Welsh law regarding the alienation of patrimonial land and, at the same time, sought to acquire leases in bond land. After the dissolution of religious houses, in the 1530s the opportunities increased. John Wyn ap Hugh of Bodfel acquired Bardsey, by grant, for example, in 1553.

During the sixteenth century, the acquisition of parcels of land through purchase and other forms of transfer saw the beginning of the enclosure of groups of individual quillets within clawdd banks and the process of consolidation which, in the course of time, would create the landscape of fields which are a familiar part of the present landscape.

Back to Llyn Landscape map


The rise of the gentry

Professor Jones Pierce considered that the origins of gentry estates lay in one or other of four categories of free landholding. To paraphrase, these were: hereditary kinship patrimonies; land granted for services rendered; land acquired through one or other form of purchase and estates created by incomers. In many cases these categories inevitably merge. On Llyn the origins of those exceptionally large landed interests which dominate the landscape of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries can be seen to lie in the opportunities for securing leases in Crown lands and in devising mechanisms for exchange and purchase, more easily effected after 1536, and in the judicious alliances of marriage.

The principal families and their estates in the sixteenth century were the Bodfel family, Castellmarch, Bodwrdda, the Griffiths of Cefnamwlch, Madryn and Llwyndyrus. John Bodfel is noticed during the reign of Henry VIII when Leland refers to John fab Madoc who ‘dwellith yn Lleene’ at Bodfel, one of the few houses in Caernarfonshire to be named in his itinerary. John’s grandson, John Wyn ap Hugh distinguished himself considerably as standard bearer for John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, at Mousehold Hill, Norwich, in 1549. Gruffydd ap John of Castellmarch also served under the Earl of Warwick and was constable of Conwy Castle in 1549. In recognition of his service John Bodfel was granted Bardsey Island and Cwrt on the mainland.

Following the Act of Union in 1536, newly created Justices of the Peace of ‘good name and fame’ undertook the main responsibility for law and order and underpinned local government. These justices were drawn from the greater gentry.

During the sixteenth century:

Bodwrdda: Justice of the Peace twice; High Sheriff once
Cefnamwlch Justice of the Peace three times
Llwyndyrus: Justice of the Peace three times; High Sheriff once
Madryn: Justice of the Peace five times; High Sheriff once
Bodfel: High Sheriff four times
Castellmarch: High Sheriff once

High Sheriff or not, John Wynn ap Hugh Bodfel was accused in Star Chamber Proceedings as ‘the chief captain of the pirates of Ynys Enlli’. It was said that he used the island as a place for storing booty and had installed a factor there. The goods, it was said, were carried off to Chester to be sold in fairs and markets. John’s son Hugh Gwyn was the first to take Bodfel as a surname, a practice becoming common during this period using a static place name rather than a patronymic. Hugh married the heiress of Pistyll, bringing those lands into the orbit of Bodfel. Hugh, however, fell out of favour with Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, over issues regarding Dudley’s office as Ranger of the Forest of Snowdon and spent some time in the Tower, along with Thomas Madryn, High Sheriff in 1586-7.

During the seventeenth century much the same families remained prominent in the political, social and landholding landscape but the balance of power was changing and the net was thrown a little wider. The Civil War, mid-century, had a greater effect on some estates than on others:

During the seventeenth century:

  • Bodwrdda: Justice of the Peace three times; High Sheriff three times
  • Cefnamwlch: Justice of the Peace three times; High Sheriff three times
  • Castellmarch: Justice of the Peace three times; High Sheriff twice
  • Madryn: Justice of the Peace once; High Sheriff seven times
  • Bodfel: Justice of the Peace three times; High Sheriff three times
  • Elernion: High Sheriff three times
  • Cefn Llanfair: Justice of the Peace twice; High Sheriff twice
  • Meillionydd: High Sheriff twice
  • Nanhoron: High Sheriff once
  • Saethon: High Sheriff once

Hugh Gwyn Bodfel’s brother, Thomas Wynn, lived at Boduan, adjacent, on land of the former bond township and demesne land of the Prince before the conquest. Hugh’s great grandson John initially supported the Puritan argument in Parliament at the beginning of the war and had married Ann Russell daughter of Sir William Russell, of a strong Puritan family. By 1843, however, John Bodfel had come out on the Royalist side and ended the war with the rank of colonel. The conflict of sympathies within the Bodfel household resulted in estrangement and Ann arranged a marriage of their daughter to Robert Robartes, Viscount Bodmin in 1657. A generation later the surviving heir of Plas Bodfel disposed of his Welsh estates around the end of the seventeenth century.

The Boduan branch of the family, however, developed a significant presence in the shadow of Garn Boduan and in the town of Nefyn. Around 1700, Thomas Wynn of Boduan, great-great-great-grandson of John Wynn ap Hugh Bodfel married Frances, daughter and heiress of John Glynne of Glynllivon. Frances’ grandson, Sir Thomas Wynn, was created 1st Baron Newborough (born 1736, died 1807) and Boduan lands passed into the orbit of Glynllivon.

In 1625, Sir William Jones (constructing a surname from the patronymic of his father, William ap Griffiths ap John), Chief Justice of the King’s Bench, laid the foundation stone for his new modern mansion at Castellmarch. His son, Griffith Jones, by sentiment a Royalist, took the Puritan side in the Civil War and paid for it when Capt. John Bartlett made a daring seaborne raid on the house, plundered it and kidnapped Griffith Jones in an attempt to secure the release of Sir John Owen in the aftermath of the second war (Dodd, 1968, 134).

Cefnamwlch claimed descent through several generations, from Rhys ap Tewdwr in the eleventh century, the Lord Rhys of Deheubarth in the twelfth and Madog and Trahaearn Goch, Lords of Cymydmaen in the thirteenth century. David Fychan is recorded at Cefnamwlch in the fifteenth century and his wife Jonet was a daughter of Castellmarch. Several marriages made alliances with families of equal note, including Clenennau, Mostyn and Baron Hill. John Griffith was High Sheriff in 1604 and his son John successfully challenged the political supremacy of the Wynns of Gwydir. A later John Griffith of Cefnamwlch died in 1794 and the house passed to his cousin Jane Wynne of Voclas and her husband Charles Finch. Their son Charles Wynne Griffith-Wynne (1780-1865) was succeeded by Charles Wynne Finch who built the present house at Voelas.

The Madryn dynasty did not outlive the Civil War for very long. Thomas Madryn, another Royalist sympathiser who took the Parliamentary side, nevertheless, kept cases of pistols secreted in his home after the conclusion of hostilities. His second son succeeded to the estate and sold it to the solicitor, Owen Hughes of Beaumaris at the end of the seventeenth century.

There was no doubt about Geoffrey Parry of Rhyddolion’s sympathies. He was a contemporary of Thomas Madryn and a devout Puritan. Parry’s marriage to Margaret Hughes brought with her the inheritance of Cefn Llanfair and Wern Fawr, on the edge of Cors Geirch. Their son was named Love-God Parry and his son, Love Parry. The second Love Parry married Sidney, the great-granddaughter of Jane, the sister of Owen Hughes of Beaumaris, in the mid-eighteenth century. Sidney inherited, bringing Madryn together with Love Parry’s interests in Cefn Llanfair, Wern Fawr and Rhydolion. Their daughter married her first cousin, Thomas Parry Jones in 1780. Thomas added Parry to his surname in recognition of his wife’s family and the consolidated estate. It was Thomas Parry Jones Parry who initiated a number of improvements and brought new life to Madryn at the turn of the century.

The Nanhoron family had claims to an equally long pedigree. The marriage alliances of this dynasty included Glynllivon and Pennarth in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. During the later part of the fifteenth century Madog Fychan of Llwyndyrus, great-great-grandson of Gruffydd Llwyd of Tregarnedd, married Gwenllian, sister of William ap Griffith, who fought with Henry Tudor at Bosworth, and granddaughter of Robin of Cochwillan. Their daughter married into the Coetmor family and their son Gruffydd had Nanhoron Ucha. This became the nucleus of the estate. Their son Thomas inherited both Llwyndyrus and Nanhoron. Richard Edwards, born in 1628, was the first of the family to use the new style of surname, after his father, Edward ap Thomas. Richard Edwards was a Puritan and a very successful lawyer. At the Restoration Edwards came under suspicion but was too useful for those suspicions to be pursued too strenuously.

In 1780 Captain Timothy Edward died on a return voyage from the West Indies, having fought in Rodney’s fleet in the American War of Independence. His son married Annabella Lloyd of Hirdrefaig and Bronheulog and Lloyd entered the family surname. Another tragedy hit the family in 1855 when Captain Richard Lloyd Edwards was killed before Sebastopol in the Crimean War. Inkerman Bridge over the Nanhoron Gorge and Balaclava Road are reminders of the context.

During the first half of the nineteenth century four major landlords, together, held fifty percent of the landmass of the Llyn peninsula. In 1840 these estates included Richard Lloyd Edwards’ Nanhoron, comprising 6500 acres, chiefly in Aberdaron and Llangian but with significant interests in Rhiw, Llaniestyn, Llannor and Llangwnadl and six other parishes. Charles Wynne Griffith-Wynne of Cefnamwlch and Voelas held 5500 acres in Llyn, mostly in Tudweiliog, Penllech, Llaniestyn and Meyllteyrn, the parishes which encompass Cefnamwlch, and the adjacent Edern and Llandudwen. Sir Love Parry Jones Parry’s Madryn estate owned 5000 acres over the central and south-eastern parishes of the peninsula, focused on Llandudwyn, Ceidio, Llanfihangel Bachellaeth, Llanbedrog and six other parishes. Lord Newborough’s Llyn estate, 7500 acres in total, was centred on 2288 acres in Boduan with extensive holdings in Abererch, Penllech, Bryncroes, Nefyn, Llannor and eight other parishes. In addition, Thomas Assheton Smith’s Vaynol estate, Douglas Pennant’s Penrhyn and Edward Lloyd Mostyn’s holdings were also considerable in Llyn.

The impact on the landscape was considerable, particularly so during the late eighteenth century and the nineteenth century when the impetus behind improvement was driven by these gentlemen farmers. They could control or encourage cropping regimes, the state of agricultural buildings, the size of fields and the character and state of walls and banks, plantations and windbreaks. The character, style and layout of the estate desmesnes were also in their hands. Many of these families had ancient backgrounds. At Cefnamwlch there once stood a first floor hall with oriel window, of fifteenth/sixteenth-century date. At Bodwrdda the earliest surviving detail is, probably, the nucleus of a first floor hall with arch-braced collar-beam trusses of sixteenth-century date. During the early decades of the seventeenth century, these older houses were modified and enlarged or just swept aside to give way for new, modern Renaissance styling. Bodwrdda was built on the core of the earlier house on two storeys and an attic with massive brick wings perpendicular to the main house and provided with symmetrical fenestration of mullioned, ovolo-moulded windows. Castellmarch was built in 1625-1628, another mansion with symmetrical stone-mullioned windows, ovolo-moulded, and a classical porch with entablature and pediment supported by Doric columns. The metropes and the pediment carry armorials. Cefnamwlch was provided with a gatehouse in 1607, aligned towards the old house, and a complex, contemporary with the gatehouse, was built to the south before the old house was taken down. The house at Madryn was replaced by a neo-Gothic ‘castle’ but the gatehouse survived as a reminder of another ambitious construction of the early seventeenth century. Bodfel went a stage further, creating a three storey and attic, cruciform gatehouse, with a classical arched entrance flanked by detached Doric columns with the first floor delineated by an entablature ‘returning’ against the façade at the height of the column abaci. The present eighteenth/nineteenth-century windows are likely to have replaced original stone-mullioned openings.

At the more local and private level the building works referred to, on the estate demesne and their associated planting and ornamental gardens, created a certain specific character within the wider agricultural landscape.

Back to Llyn Landscape map


Domestic Buildings

The earliest surviving buildings in the Llyn landscape are hut circles of the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age. Not all these huts would have been houses, some may have been workshops and others, perhaps, unroofed and used to pen small animals, such as pigs. Archaeological excavation would be required to make the differentiation, and not always successfully. The distribution of these round houses or hut circles is inevitably biased by the context of their survival and the materials of their construction. The greatest density of these huts occur in the area between Yr Eifl and Garn Boduan; on the flanks of Carn Fadryn and Carn Saethon and on the south-eastern slopes of Mynydd Rhiw. They might be clustered together, nucleated and often enclosed within a ‘farm yard’ or dispersed, standing alone. They are stone-built and occupy areas of less intensive agriculture which has contributed to their survival. Cropmarks and parch-marks, identified through aerial survey under favourable conditions, have shown that settlements of this period are likely to have been significantly more numerous in the arable lowlands than their absence of visibility above ground has allowed.

Certain of the stone-walled houses are quite large, 8 m in diameter, as may be seen in an early phase of occupation at Tre’r Ceiri. The houses at Garn Boduan are equally spacious. On the evidence of settlements outside Llyn there would seem to have been a diminution of scale towards the end of the first millennium BC and the Roman centuries. At Tre’r Ceiri the earlier, larger houses were compartmentalised by the addition of party walls. The date of this activity is not clear. It may be late and the haphazard cellular arrangement might represent temporary accommodation, perhaps in the context of summer hafodydd.

The evidence for early Medieval and Medieval houses is very scarce. Giraldus’ commentary on the late twelfth-century habitations of the Welsh, however, cannot be taken at face value: ‘They content themselves with wattled huts on the edges of the forest, put up with little labour or expenses, but strong enough to last a year or so …. Most of their land is used for pasture. They cultivate very little of it sowing a plot here and there’.

The evidence on Llyn, at least, is of extensive arable cultivation. The houses referred to would be more appropriate to encroachments on the boundaries of upland or uncultivated grazing or oftemporary structures associated with the management of cattle and dairying on the hafodydd or friddoedd, the summer pasture lands. Rather more substantial houses might be expected at the nucleus of townships. At a higher level of status, structures of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries have been excavated at Trefadog and Rhosyr on Anglesey, both measuring, internally, 5.5m wide and 10.5m to 11m in length. These have low stone walls with slightly curved external corners and were probably thatched. The doors were in the long side, with opposed entrances at Rhosyr and both had open hearths. The foundations of a group of four agricultural buildings of a similar period were excavated at Graeanog Farm, near Clynnog, the largest of which measured 10.5m by 4.75m internally. The footings comprised a low wall of local boulders. Royal halls are recorded at Nefyn and Neigwl, at least by the thirteenth century, and there would be a hall at Pwllheli too. These would be even more substantial structures, probably timber built on stone footings as it is recorded that several lengths of timber were removed form the maerdref at Aberfraw, on Anglesey, for works at Caernarfon castle, after the conquest; and the hall of Ystumgwern was removed bodily and re-assembled within the castle at Harlech.

Following the conquest, the pattern of landholding was inevitably going to change. Bond lands were leased at fee-farm to royal favourites and Crown petitioners. Freeholders devised methods of property transactions during the fifteenth century which allowed them to begin to develop consolidated estates without breaking Welsh land law. At the same time prominent local Welshmen began to acquire such leases, the more so during the sixteenth century and especially after the suppression of monastic houses. John Wyn ap Hugh of Bodvel was granted Bardsey in 1553. Many of the up and coming gentry families had ancient lineages with houses commensurate with that status. John ap Madog, grandfather of John Wyn was named by Leland in c.1536, as living in Llyn at Bodvel. This premises was replaced in the first half of the seventeenth century. At Cefnamwlch there was a first floor hall of the sixteenth century, with an oriel window, pulled down in the early nineteenth century, replaced by building works which were initiated in the early seventeenth century. Bodwrdda, near Aberdaron, was also a first floor hall in the sixteenth century, enlarged in the early seventeenth century. A part of the old house was retained in the core of the new works and small pointed windows of the sixteenth century and arch-braced collar beam trusses have survived in the west part of the main range.

Wern Fawr is a late sixteenth-century house of irregularly coursed rubble on two storeys which has retained its four-centred-head door with drip mould above. There is a plain, corresponding door in the opposite wall. The moulding on the arch and jambs has been described as a wave moulding but more closely resembles a broad ovolo which would fit in with the cavetto moulding on the eaves. The tall diagonally-set chimney stack, contained within the thickness of the north gable would also fit within a late sixteenth-century context. There is a second stack on the south gable which was largely rebuilt in the eighteenth century. The windows on the front elevation are tall and symmetrically disposed, notwithstanding the loss of three blocked windows on the first floor, and are probably of the eighteenth century. It has been suggested that there were dormers in the roof in the eighteenth century. The twelve-over-twelve pane sashes have been replaced since the RCAHMW photographed the house in the 1960s.

Llwyndyrys is an early seventeenth-century house on two storeys, possibly replacing a sixteenth-century precursor on the basis of surviving carpentry work within the house. The house is of random rubble with chimney stacks set square at each gable end. The stack on the north gable projects from the wall; that at the south end is contained within the thickness of the wall. It is thought that the building was, at one time, partitioned for two families’ use.


These buildings are substantial and are a development and modification of the hall house tradition. During the first half of the seventeenth century, however, the pretensions of the prominent gentry became more clearly visible in the architecture of their houses. Bodwrdda, already referred to, was re-developed on a grand scale in the early 1600s. The original two-storey hall was extended and provided with two massive wings, projecting perpendicular to the main range, at either end. The main range is random rubble but the wings are of brick, the earliest use of brick on this scale on the peninsula. The quoins are stone, alternately laid. The fenestration is symmetrical and windows identical in style in each section of the façade. The wing facades have stone mullioned windows in three lights with depressed arched heads and ovolo moulding on mullions, heads and jambs, with horizontal drip moulds and labels. The main range façade has similar windows of two lights.

During the first decade of the seventeenth century Cefnamwlch embarked on a new building programme which involved a gatehouse aligned on the old hall at some distance removed and a series of building works in a courtyard arrangement on the south side. Madryn, too, was modernising in a programme which also involved a gatehouse access to the core and replaced by a neo-Gothic ‘castle’ by T P Jones Parry at the turn of the eighteenth/nineteenth centuries. The early seventeenth-century gatehouse at Madryn was built in two storeys. The windows disposed either side of the voussoired arch of the gateway are stone-mullioned in three lights, with squared heads and ovolo moulding. Drip moulds run horizontally above the windows with no labels.

Sir William Jones laid the foundation stone of a new building at Castellmarch in 1625. The house was built of random rubble on two storeys and an attic. The ground plan of the new mansion is, unusually, asymmetric, with a door towards the north end of the north-south range and a single, but massive, wing springing, perpendicular, from the southern end. The windows are symmetrically and vertically disposed on the main range and doubled to maintain the same height but greater width on the gable of the wing. All the windows are stone mullioned and transomed with horizontal drip moulds and labels - four lights on the main range façade and eight lights on the wing gable. An exception is the gable attic window which is of three lights. There is a projecting chimney stack on the rear of the house and on the south wall of the wing. Of particular importance is the porch which fronts the false four-centred door. Two Doric columns support a entablature and pediment. The entablature is capped by a cyma-profiled moulding and the face of the entablature carries an echo of triglyphs with armorials in the metopes.


At Bodvel, the concept of the gatehouse was taken one step further without, unfortunately, bringing the project to completion with the intended construction of an associated mansion house. The Bodfel gatehouse, which survives, is built on three storeys and at attic. The plan is cruciform with access through the gatehouse from south-west to north-east sides. The building was extended at the rear and to the left of the façade for use as a dwelling house and the arched gateway is now blocked by a door and partition. The original design, which is still visible, is based on a Renaissance theme which in turn derives from the Roman triumphal arch and the more restrained arches of the Coliseum. A rounded-arch entrance is flanked by two detached Doric columns with returning entablature defining the first floor level. The present windows are Georgian, replacing stone, ovolo-moulded windows of which one survived on the north-east side.

Many of these houses of important families remodelled or modernised their homes during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, if only to revamp the fenestration, as at Wern Fawr, Plas Gwyn and Bodfel for example. Some, such as Plas yn Rhiw, raised the height of the eaves to allow the head room and proportions which would accommodate Georgian symmetry. Verandahs were frequently added at ground floor level as at Plas yn Rhiw, Cefnamwlch and Nanhoron, where cast iron supports were applied. At Nanhoron the house of 1677, built by Richard Edwards was superseded by a new build on an adjacent site, around 1800.

The later years of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century was a period of great improvement in the agricultural landscape. It may not, however, have seemed so to the several small-holding tenant farmers and agricultural labourers of the last years of the eighteenth century. In Walter Davies’ opinion, ‘a greater part of … Caernarvon is disgraced with a species of cottages which are truly the habitations of wretchedness; … one smoky hearth, for it should not be styled a kitchen; one damp litter-cell for it cannot be called a bedroom … frequently all the space allotted to a labourer, his wife and four or five children’ (Davies, 1810, 82).

John Evans, in 1798, would come to the same conclusion: ‘The cottages of Caernarvon appeared worse than those of Meirioneth …. Here turf or clay with chopped rushes supplies the place of stone. Except towards the mountains; where they are constructed of pebbles placed upon each other. The form is generally oblong, the length very considerable compared with breadth and height. The walls are about six feet high … poles, not even stripped of their bark for rafters and pegged at top and bottom …. Over these are placed heath or rushes, kept down by ropes … netwise. Openings in the wall, filled with a lattice of sticks and a hurdle for a door permitted light or, otherwise, provided protection from the weather. The fuel on the fire was peat from a nearby moor; the chimney, aperture in the roof’ (John Evans, 1804, 161-2).

Pennant, a generation earlier, in 1773, made the same observation that the ‘houses of the common people were very mean, made with clay, thatched and destitute of chimnies’ (Pennant, ed. Rhys 1883, 374). Evans did make a distinction of assigning a superior style of accommodation to tenant farmers, with a bedroom or two upstairs, but even so, ‘pigs, asses and other domestic animals take up their abode and form part of the family’ (Evans, 1804, 161).

Farmhouse, Rhoshirwaun

The descriptions quoted strike a resonance in the detailed records of a survey taken across the Vaynol estate holdings in Llyn, particularly in the parishes of Llanengan and Llangian. There were sixty-seven tenancies in these two parishes, some jointly run in partnerships, some shared with family members. Straw thatch was ubiquitous. Seventeen tenements had one or more mudwall or sod houses on their farms. For example, on one of the Tyddyn Talgoch holdings at Marchros, there stood a dwelling house and barn under the same thatched roof and, opposite, a range of mud wall buildings comprising a dwelling house occupied by a brother, who was a weaver, and a stable, cow-house and outhouse. At Melin Isaf the mill house was built of stones, with straw thatch, but the miller’s house was mudwall under the same roof as the mill, and thatched, with a small stable and cow house. The drying kiln was also mudwall. At Castellmarch two cottages were built on the sandbanks, for labourers to keep the sheep from Llanbedrog of the land. One of these was mudwall and thatch. At Tyddyn y Pricciau, Cilan, a dwelling house, cow house and stable stood under the same roof. The house was stone built but the roof was thatched. The son of the family had a stone-walled house, barn and cow house on the premises, all thatched and a small mudwall cow house adjacent. Another tenant also on the same premises occupied a house, under the same roof as a barn, stable and cow house, all straw-thatched and built of part stone and part mudwall. A cottage on the same holding stood near the mountain wall.

At Llawr y Dref, on the Neigwl plain stood a good dwelling house of stone walls, slated roof and a good loft. Nevertheless, several of the outbuildings had been constructed part in stone and part in mudwall and almost all the buildings, except the dwelling house itself, were thatched.

Farmhouses and cottages of this period, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, have survived. Some relatively substantial smallholding farmhouses are built in stone on two storeys or one and a half storeys to include an attic, with agricultural buildings attached, in-line. Good examples may be found in Uwchmynydd and at Anelog; at the centre of Abererch, where twentieth-century houses have now clustered around the former farmhouse, Ty Gwyn, and at Llanbedrog where a two-storey house and smaller agricultural building, in-line, has become part of the accumulation of buildings in the upper part of the village along Ffordd Pedrog.

Farmhouse, Abererch

Surviving single-storey cottages or cottages with crogloffts may be found throughout the peninsula but the greatest concentration is in the southern part and in particular in Uwchmynydd, Anelog, Rhiw, Llanengan and Llanbedrog and in and around the Parliamentary Inclosure areas of Rhoshirwaun and Mynytho. Most are stone built of random rubble on the evidence of exposed walls, although very many have external treatments of render or pebbledash. Some are regular coursed, squared rubble as, for example, the roadside smithy at Efail Botwnnog. Roofs are all slated, with the exception of the occasional corrugated iron roof. It is clear from first-hand descriptions, however, and from details of chimney dripstones, and, less obviously, roof pitch, that many were originally thatched and continued to be so into the nineteenth century despite the lamentations of improving observers.

Mudwall cottages can still be found in Llyn, often in a ruinous state, but others still in use. There may be many more, hidden behind cement-and-sand rendering.

During the first half of the nineteenth century some solid and sizeable premises were being built in the villages and towns of Llyn. The development of the Four Crosses Inn with its stable yard and associated houses is one example. Commercial premises at Lon Penbryn, Llanbedrog, and two-storey houses adjacent on Ffordd Pedrog are another. Terraced properties on the north side of the church at Abererch and terraced rows of two-storey houses of coursed squared rubble on the east side of the village are other examples.

During the second half of the nineteenth century certain areas of the peninsula experienced an industrial boom, in particular mineral mining in Llanengan, Llangian, Rhiw and Llanfaerhys; and granite quarrying in Llanbedrog, Llanaelhaearn and Pistyll. In Llanbedrog the eighteen houses of Madryn terrace were largely occupied by quarrymen and their families. The houses are solid two-storey buildings of random rubble with large stone block lintels, slate roofs and brick chimney stacks, some with the added detail of contrasting colours of brick in the stacks. Most of the frontages have been treated with render or pebbledash and most of the original Victorian windows and door have been replaced. At Abersoch, Bay View Terrace, ten two-storey houses were almost exclusively occupied by lead miners and their families.


At Llithfaen, in the shadow of Yr Eifl, similar stone-built terraces were constructed in consequence of the quarries at Nant Gwrtheyrn and other quarries in that area. The houses are two-storey of random rubble with rubble stacks. At Pistyll a terrace of fourteen two-storey houses were built along the road from Llithfaen to Nefyn, adjacent to the tramway incline from Moel Ty Gwyn quarry to a pier on the shore. The building materials are obscured by pebbledash. Most, if not all, the openings have been replaced and the attic spaces are now lit by skylights.

The turn of the century and through the twentieth century has inspired an eclectic range of buildings. Plas Glyn y Weddw, built in 1856 by the architect Henry Kennedy in Victorian Gothic style, for the dowager Lady Elizabeth Love Jones Parry of Madryn, is possibly one of the most important individual buildings of the second half of the nineteenth century in Llyn.
In 1896, the entrepreneur and developer, Solomon Andrews acquired the house as a function and exhibition centre for visitors and local people at a time when tourism was just about to change the face of certain areas of the peninsula. Solomon Andrews developed the West End of Pwllheli with a complex of holiday accommodation and facilities. During the course of the century, villa-style properties emerged on the road west out of Pwllheli and colonised the area to the north-west of Nefyn, between the town and the sea and a little to the west at Morfa Nefyn. At Abersoch, significant early twentieth-century houses on the Bennar headland include the neo-Georgian Garth and Haulfryn, both listed buildings.

Back to Llyn Landscape map


Religion and its influence on the landscape

The earliest evidence of religious experience in the Llyn landscape must be sought in the monuments of the Neolithic period and Early Bronze Age. There are around fifteen standing stones in the study area. There is a cluster near the banks of the river Erch, two stones, 180 m apart at Pen Prys, Llannor and a dispersed distribution extending to the south-western tip of the peninsula. It is impossible to determine the function of these stones. Some may be outliers or signposts to more extensive complexes of ritual activity, no longer visible. Others may be associated with burial. Most are an evocative expression of historical depth in the landscape. There are no certain stone circles or circular embanked ‘henge monuments’ in the area, although it has been suggested that a circular ditched enclosure, discovered from the air as a cropmark and confirmed by geophysical survey, at Cwmistir between Edern and Tudweiliog, might be an early prehistoric ritual enclosure.

Sarn Meyllyeyrn

There are ten chambered tombs of the Neolithic period which have been recorded in the landscape area, although not all have survived. There is a tomb at Cromlech Farm, Four Crosses, again near the Erch and at Pont Pensarn, close to the confluence of rivers which come together at the Pool, Pwllheli. There are tombs on the Cilan headland and, importantly, on the eastern slopes of Mynydd Rhiw, below the important source of fine grained rock used in the manufacture of Neolithic axe-making. Although places where burials were made, and described as tombs, these monuments are best considered as focal points of religious expression where death was recognised as part of the life cycle, an important consideration for agriculturalists. The burials of later centuries are closed monuments and more obviously graves.

The earliest Christian churches on the Llyn peninsula are very difficult to identify and difficult to interpret, as is the case with many aspects of the Early Middle Ages, in the absence of direct evidence. The character of early churches and their organisation may, in many cases, be described as quasi-monastic or ‘clas’ churches. They were not yet part of a parochial system but were operated on community lines. The clas (a later term) describes a very wide range and type of church from the important and influential communities of Aberdaron and Clynnog Fawr and its offshoots within Llyn, to small churches run by a local community with no other influence or interest outside its township boundaries. As an example, a clas church could come into existence if the freeholding head of a kindred, with the consent of its heirs and the sanction of the king or lord, transferred its rights in the land of the community to the benefit of a church, by making it and maintaining it. The customary rents and dues owed to the king or lord would then be transferred to the maintenance of the church. One of the community would have to be a priest and the head of the family, cleric or not, would be styled ‘Abbot’. Another scenario might involve the king or lord granting land for the construction and maintenance of a church and, perhaps, the installation of a younger member of the family or relative to hold that church. In either case, the church, and its community, would be freed from royal taxes. Certain appurtenances and rights accrued. The community, the claswyr (the ‘monks’), had a vested and inheritable interest in the landed endowments of the church, the abadaeth. An area of sanctuary (the noddfa) extended from the church and provided protection for those who required it. In one documented instance, in 1114, Gruffydd ap Rhys ap Twedwr of Deheubarth, pursued by Gruffudd ap Cynan’s men, took sanctuary in the church of Aberdaron. Gruffudd’s men were sent to drag him out but Aberdaron stood firm and ‘did not allow the sanctuary of the church to be violated’ (Brut y Tywysogion, Peniarth MS, 20 sa.1112).

Two important sixth-century memorial stones, found at Anelog, near Aberdaron, bear inscriptions which identify ‘Senacus, the priest, who lies here with a multitude of his brethren’; and ‘Veracius, the priest, here he lies’. The inscriptions use Roman capitals with serifs, ligatures and contraction marks in the style of grave markers to be found in many towns of the late Roman Western Provinces, indicating, at least, a familiarity with certain aspects of contemporary continental Christianity.

The early churches of Llyn were almost certainly of wooden construction. The earliest surviving structural evidence of the use of stone is of the twelfth century. Aberdaron, with its twelfth-century Romanesque arched door, in three orders, is the best example, albeit much added-to and altered over the centuries. Those churches where a clas association can be identified have significant potential for there to have been an earlier church in that location.


During the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries there was a movement of reform which considered the old clas churches to be in decay and outmoded in respect of the continental orders which were making headway across England and Wales. Many of the clas communities were encouraged or persuaded to relinquish their rights in the abadaeth in favour of communities of Augustinian canons. Augustinians were chosen because the flexibility of their rule allowed them to undertake parochial responsibilities, as did the priests among the claswyr. Other clas communities seemed almost to melt away, leaving the church in the hand of a rector within a diocesan structure. In practice, concessions were made both to the claswyr and to the new occupants of the church. Again, Aberdaron provides the clearest example on Llyn. The claswyr of Aberdaron retained their personal and property rights, their bond tenants were enfranchised and additional royal land on the mainland was granted by Dafydd ap Gruffydd, Lord of Cymymaen.

A second and important example refers to a grant of the church of Nefyn by Cadwaladr ap Gruffudd ap Cynan, in the 1170s or thereabout, to the Augustinian abbey of Haughmond. There are certain indications which suggest that the church was originally a clas church, raising the possibility that the establishment of Nefyn as a commotal maerdref had not occurred before the grant to Haughmond.

Between the twelfth and early sixteenth centuries stone-built churches became a very significant and visual component of the medieval landscape. There were considerations of a tenurial nature to take account of too. The township of Llannnor with its five dispersed hamlets was in the tenure of St. Beuno, that is to say, Clynnog Fawr. Carnguwch had also come within the orbit of Clynnog.

The Bishop of Bangor’s interests across Gwynedd were extensive. In the cantref of Llyn the Bishop maintained a manor house and demesne lands at Edern. He was also landlord of the townships of Llaniestyn, Abererch, Llangwnnadl, Penrhos, Llanbedrog and Edern itself.

Surviving twelfth century detail is clearly visible at Aberdaron and also at Pistyll. The earliest visible masonry at Llannor is of the thirteenth century, which encompasses the entire unicameral structure before the addition of a fifteenth-century tower and modern porch and chapel. In its time it must have been the largest church in Llyn. Llangian also has thirteenth-century work at the west end with a very clear distinction between that phase and a fifteenth-century extension. Similarly, Llaniestyn has surviving thirteenth-century masonry at the west end which was extended eastward in the late thirteenth century.

Perhaps the most expansive phase, however, centred on the year 1500. Llaniestyn, Llanengan, Abererch and Aberdaron churches all built new aisles adjacent to the previously extended structures and introduced arcades of four-centred arches between for communication. Llangwnnadl, on a much earlier structure, built two additional aisles, north and south of the early nave in the 1520s and 1530s punctuated the walls with three, four-centred, arches.


The style in these late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century churches is predominantly perpendicular, with the exception of Llaniestyn which retains a version of an earlier, triple-lancet window, style at both east gables. At this same period, similar styles of roofing were employed using collar-beam, arch-braced, trusses, sometimes strengthened with wind-braces and raking struts. Good examples, some repaired or restored, may be seen at Llangian, Llanengan, Pistyll and Llangwnnadl.

Llandudwen is an interesting sixteenth- and seventeenth-century rebuild on medieval foundations, incorporating square stone-mullioned windows with ovolo moulding.

Fourteen of the twenty-eight parish churches in the study area have either been demolished and left as ruins or rebuilt on the same site during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The church at Deneio, close to the assumed llys of the maerdref of Afloegion has been reduced to a stable ruin of low walls.

A new church was built on a new site in the centre of Pwllheli in the nineteenth century and it was rebuilt again in 1887. St Peter ad Vincula at Meyllteyrn was rebuilt on the same site but it, too, is now a ruin. Many of the nineteenth-century churches which have replaced earlier ones are solid Victorian conceptions of diverse medieval themes as, for example, at Edern and Tudweiliog. Two unusual churches in this category are the rusticated Romanesque church built to replace the St. Hywyn’s original Romanesque at Aberdaron and St. Gwninin’s church at Llandygwnning.

The rise of religious Non-Conformism in the later eighteenth-century was fuelled by eloquence and enthusiasm. Among those evangelists who fired up the mass rallies was John Elias, a son of Abererch. The smaller meetings which followed these rallies, held within individual communities, required accommodation of some kind. Lofts and barns were let, or given freely for the purpose. As the movement and momentum increased within communities which had outgrown their rented rooms, steps were taken to acquire more spacious and suitable buildings. One of the earliest chapels to have been used,and which still survives, is Capel Newydd, Nanhoron. Capel Newydd is barn-like and may very well have been a barn before its use as a chapel. Acquiring land for a dissenters’ chapel was not always easy and the gentry were not always well disposed to Non-Conformists. However, the Puritan background of the Nanhoron family was a legacy which endured. Captain Timothy Edwards of Nanhoron was a benefactor and his wife, Catherine, joined the congregation after her husband’s death. Capel Newydd (Independent) stood close to the edge of common land, and, in 1782, a second chapel of Calvinistic Methodists was built within the common at Nant, a short distance away.

Capel Newydd, Nanhoron

An Independent Chapel was built at Tudweiliog in the late 1820s a short distance down the lane to Brynodol and not far from the parish church. The style here is also very like a barn or agricultural building and has a house for the minister, adjacent and in-line.

During the second quarter of the nineteenth century Non-Conformist chapels were built more spaciously to accommodate larger congregations. In a small village like Aberdaron there were three chapels, Independent, Calvinistic Methodist and Wesleyan before 1890. Chapels, by this period, were designed and the designs which found favour were predominantly classical. Victorian Gothic designs were less popular but do occur. Capel Nebo, at Rhiw, for example, rebuilt in 1876 has a restrained, but nevertheless Gothic facade as does Capel Peniel at Ceidio, immediately adjacent to the restored church there. Those churches with classical elements in their design present recurring motifs, with some variation, and a generally standard arrangement of openings, at least until the end of the century when chapels grew larger still and the designs more adventurous. Common elements of the second half of the nineteenth century include large half-round arches springing from abaci upon tall pilasters occupying a good portion of the gable façade. The arch frames two tall windows with rounded heads, above which are set a kind of pseudo-hood mould. Two paired doors with rounded heads stand outside the frame on either side of the facade. This arrangement and others recur several times and are probably the work of local architects. The round arched theme described above is replicated precisely, for example at Capel Berea, Efail Newydd, in 1872, Bethania at Pistyll in 1875, Bryn Mawr in 1877 and Salem, Sarn Meyllteyrn 1879.

Bethania, Pistyll

In respect of the larger chapels of the turn of the century, at Edern in 1898 we see a tall porch, with pediment, projecting slightly from the rectangular face of the body of the chapel, carry three round-headed windows at the first floor gallery level and a round-headed door flanked by windows on the ground floor, all within an arched recess. Two windows up and two windows down flank each side of the porch. At Llithfaen, which also has a gallery we find a variation on the same theme on a smaller scale. Both chapels employ a style of classical rustication, or the semblance of it, to imply a utilitarian function to otherwise impressive buildings.



Parliamentary Inclosures

In the period between 1802 and 1861 several thousand acres were enclosed on the Llyn peninsula between Llanaelhaern and Porth Neigwl. The motivation behind enclosure was the improvement and more profitable use of common land. There is no doubt that improving landlords and landowners saw an opportunity for increased agricultural efficiency in the process and that bringing more land under the plough had the potential for alleviating the high prices which obtained during the wars with France. Notwithstanding, enclosure of common land had taken place for centuries. Inevitably there would have been intakes from the common. Some would be ancient, of long-forgotten memory, others, the majority, would be recent encroachments. In certain areas and circumstances private agreements were made at a local level, both informal and formal. Nevertheless, it was and would always be an arrangement which benefited the large landowner or local lord at the expense of the smallholder.


During the early eighteenth century a Private Act of Parliament could be a mechanism of enclosure if local agreements could not be reached. Private Acts were, however, expensive and in 1801 the Inclosure Consolidation Act was passed in Parliament with the intention of speeding and simplifying the process by consolidating and standardising the main clauses of such Acts. Further refinements were made through the General Inclosure Act of 1836 and the Inclosure Act of 1845. It was only until the 1845 Act that a degree of protection for the ordinary person was embedded in the Act.

The process could take a long time to reach completion. In Llangian and Llaniestyn, for example, the Act was drawn up in 1808 but not awarded until 1825. In Aberdaron, Rhiw, Llanfaelrhys and Bryncroes, the award was not made until 1861. Inclosure Commissioners needed to be appointed, surveys taken, advertisements circulated, division of boundaries marked on the ground, objections made and heard and roads and highways made up to a satisfactory standard. At Mynytho several encroachments had been made before the Inclosure Act was drawn up and awarded.


Cottages had been built and the prospect of dispossession loomed at Rhoshirwaun, Nefyn and Pistyll. At Lithfaen riots ensued which resulted in death sentences for the alleged ring-leaders, which were, however, later commuted. There were others who had not encroached but who took peat from the turbaries, for fuel and who would be significantly disadvantaged in the process. In general some accommodation for ‘fuel grounds’ were made in mitigation.

A correspondent of Walter Davies, writing about 1803, remarked:
‘I am no advocate for the enclosure of Rhos Hirwaun. Its poor inhabitants support themselves by the fisheries on the coast without being burdensome to the parishes, and are ready hands for the farmers in the labouring seasons. If these are ejected.... where will they remove to. The old and infirm must remain and live upon the scanty allowance of the parishes. By thus enclosing, the landed proprietors will enlarge their bounds, but will not conduce to add a handful of corn to their stock of provisions’ (Davies, 1810, 275).

The prospect of adding to the arable acreage never really materialised. The lands in question, common grazing and peat turbaries, were intractable rocky ground and would have been used long before had it not been so. Nevertheless, the larger landowners in the parishes in question gained additional land and, in some areas, pasture was improved. Roads were driven across the newly enclosed areas, allotments were apportioned and some sold to pay expenses. In Rhoshirwaun several new houses were built after the enclosure of the common and the road improvements ensured that the Rhoshirwaun route would become the main direction of travel south to Aberdaron. Communications were improved locally and house building contributed to the expansion of Llanbedrog.

Those lands within the present study area enclosed under the various Inclosure Acts of Parliament are:

•Mynydd Mawr, Mynydd Bychestyn and Mynydd y Gwyddel in Aberdaron parish
•Rhoshirwaun Common, in Aberdaron and Bryncroes parishes
•Mynydd Rhiw and Mynydd y Graig in Rhiw and Llanfaelrhys parishes
•Mynydd Cilan and Morfa Neigwl in Llanengan parish
•Mynydd Tirycwmwd, Mynytho and Carn Fadryn in Llanbedrog, Llangian and Llaniestyn parishes
•Coastal land in Penrhos, Deneio and Abererch parishes
•Mynydd Nefyn
•Mynydd Carnguwch
•Bwlch Mawr in Llanaelhaearn and Pistyll parishes


Back to Llyn Landscape map


Communications, towns and villages

Long distance communication within Llyn before the end of the eighteenth century was difficult. The coastal towns, Pwllheli and Nefyn, and coastal villages had access to sea routes and harbours. Landings were numerous along the coastline and safe anchorages were well known - at Porthdinllaen, Porth Nefyn, Pwllheli, Porthorion Road off Mynydd Anelog, Aberdaron Road, Ceiriad Road and St. Tudwal’s Road (where Captain Bartlett swooped on Castellmarch to kidnap Griffith Jones in 1649).

Small boats were built all along the coast. Gruffudd ap Cynan was provided with a boat by the claswyr of Aberdaron in the late eleventh century. Boats with nets are recorded at Nefyn and Pwllheli in the thirteenth century. Ships were later built at Pwllheli, Nefyn, Aberdaron, Abersoch and Edern. Coastal traffic mitigated the poor condition of landward routes, to some extent, and ‘Bardsey boats’, could be seen at a number of the small coastal harbours and they also plied a trade with cities as far distant as Liverpool.

In 1750 there were few roads in Llyn capable of supporting a journey of any distance, particularly in bad weather. Wheeled transport was impossible on many routes. Wagons and carts were, of course, in use locally but, in the words of Lord Clarendon in 1685, ‘never was, or can, come a coach into that part of the country’. His experience was of north Caernarvonshire but the situation in Llyn was no better. A visitor contemplating travelling needed to be in good health to make a ‘Welsh Journey’ where inns provided ‘as little accommodation as the untracked heaths and narrow lanes’ (Eighteenth/nineteenth century, quoted by Dodd 1925, 122).

Cattle reared in Llyn, fattened in English pastures and sold in English markets involved the movement of several thousand black cattle a year. The drovers had their own routes, mostly off-road to spare the beasts’ feet. But there were collecting points and fairs and markets in Llyn where animals and drovers gathered and there were roadside smithies to shoe the cattle for the long journey; Sarn, Botwnnog, Rhydyclafdy, Efail Newydd and Y Ffor were such places. The distances and the routes travelled were inevitably a conduit of communication.

Efail, Botwnnog

During the later eighteenth century a turnpike road was driven from Caernarfon south to Clynnog, through Llanaelhaearn and on to Pwllheli. During the first decade of the nineteenth century, further turnpike roads were proposed and completed as part of the necessary infrastructure associated with a scheme to develop a packet station at Porthdinllaen for the Dublin run. A road to replace the ‘narrow, circuitous, incommodious’ provision was built ‘wider and more direct’ between the Traeth Mawr and Porthdinllaen with a junction near Boduan taking the road to Pwllheli. These roads began to open up the peninsula.

Morfa Nefyn

The Inclosure Movement of the first quarter of the nineteenth century was bitterly resented by many. One of the few improvements it brought was an upgrading of communications. At Rhoshirwaun, the road south through central Llyn must have been impassable during parts of the winter months. The roads and tracks which crossed the wet moor were unfenced. Similarly, between Pwllheli and Llanbedrog, the traveller would have to negotiate the several channels and sand bars and marsh of Talycymerau, the estuaries of three rivers which came together at the ‘Pool’ at Pwllheli. At both locations land was enclosed, drained and reclaimed with a consequent improvement in travel. Bridges, too, throughout the peninsula, but particularly noticeable in the area of Llwyndyrus and Llannor, Cors Geirch and Neigwl, built in the late eighteenth and early nineteen centuries, were a significant component in the progress of communication.

Rhydlios, Rhoshirwaun

The railway came to Llyn in 1867, along the Aberystwyth and Welsh Coast Railway via Barmouth and Criccieth and was absorbed by Cambrian Railways in the same year. The line reached a terminus at Pwllheli in 1869. A junction at Afon Wen, six miles to the east of Pwllheli, took a branch line north along the Caernarvonshire Railway (later LNWR). The original terminus at Pwllheli was at the eastern side of the harbour. Reclamation along the north part of the harbour allowed the track to be extended to the present position of the station at the west end of the Pool, in 1909. For a short period, between 1896 and 1927, a horse-drawn tramway operated from the West End of Pwllheli to Llanbedrog, primarily geared towards tourists wishing to visit Llanbedrog. The Afon Wen branch was discontinued during the Beecham era in 1965.

During the late nineteenth and twentieth century, roads improved significantly. During the second half of the twentieth in particular, roads improved exponentially to cater for increasing volumes of traffic. The main routes, however, remained largely the same. The A499 now follows the eighteenth-century turnpike from Llanaelhaearn to Pwllheli and continues south to Llanbedrog and Abersoch, reflecting the significant development of tourism in that part of the peninsula. Madock’s turnpike from Pwllheli to Morfa Nefyn is followed by the A497. The Chwilog to Morfa Nefyn turnpike, crossing the Llanaelhaearn to Pwllheli road at Y Ffor (Four Crosses) is now the B4345 and still an important cross-country route. The B4417 follows the western coastline and the ancient pilgrim trail south as far as Llangwnnadl, joining the B4413 at Penygroeslon. The B4413 is now the main route south through central southern Llyn to Aberdaron, crossing the former wet moor of Rhoshirwaun. There remains a preponderance of winding, often narrow, unclassified roads across the entire peninsula.

Towns with commercial origins

There are two towns in the landscape area of Nefyn and Pwllheli both have ancient origins being the locations of the royal maerdrefi under the Princes in the respective commotes of Dinllaen and Afloegion. This status in itself was not sufficient for an urban centre to develop on the site but with considerable potential for commerce at coastal locations with good harbours both Nefyn and Pwllheli became boroughs before the conquest of Gwynedd in 1283. Both were enfranchised as free boroughs in the mid 14th century. Initially Nefyn was the more populous and profitable but during the seventeenth century Pwllheli grew and by the late eighteenth century the borough could be described as ‘the best town in the county’. In addition to its fairs and markets, Pwllheli built over 400 ships in its shipyards on the shore of the Pool during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The arrival of the railway in 1869 facilitated a tourist boom which began to grow from the 1890s.

Villages with ecclesiastical origins

The villages and communities of Llannor, Llaniestyn, and Abererch show indications of having been quasi-monastic ‘clas’ communities before the 13th century although, by the fourteenth, Llaniestyn and Abererch had come under the tenure of the Bishop of Bangor. In each case a nucleated village has developed around the church as its focal point. Llaniestyn and Abererch retain eighteenth and early nineteenth century buildings close to their churches which lend significant character to the villages. Bryncroes and Tudweiliog, both satellite churches of Bardsey, also have nucleated villages which focus on their respective churches. Tudweiliog, however, has reached its present extent and expansion by virtue of association with the important route from Nefyn, south to Aberdaron (B4417).


Aberdaron is another example of a village which developed as a nucleation around its important church, but the village remained small until the mid- nineteenth century despite its potential for fishing, access to the sea and a safe anchorage. The community of Aberdaron expanded in the twentieth century along the two roads which converge on the bay to comprise over 100 residential properties. Many of these properties are modern, large bungalow-style, but the core of the village still retains its coastal character and a number of nineteenth century buildings.

Llangian and Llanengan are villages which also focus on their churches. Both are of considerable antiquity. Llangian was a hamlet, that is to say, a nucleation of settlement within the township of Llangian in the middle ages, but has not grown much since. Llanengan’s, albeit limited, expansion is to some extent a product of the influx of population when the lead mines reopened in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Industrial villages

The focus of Rhiw may once have been on the slopes below the church and near to the site of Plas yn Rhiw. The present dispersed village colonised the saddle between the high ground of Mynydd Rhiw and Mynydd y Graig. Encroachments had been made on the common land of the mountain in the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries before an Act of Parliamentary Inclosure was passed in 1811. Manganese mining below Clip y Gylfynhir on Mynydd Rhiw encouraged the building of houses for industrial workers which stood alongside traditional farms. The expansion in population inevitably gave rise to the construction of chapels: Nebo, on an allotment of the former common, and subsequently Pisgah and Tan y Foel. Single storey cottages and croglofftydd remain an important component of the building stock in the present landscape, alongside later nineteenth century and more recent housing.

The growth of Llanaelhaearn at the northern limit of this landscape area derives from a combination of circumstances. It is situated at the junction of the A499 to the south coast and south-west along the B4417 to Nefyn and points south. The church was the original focus of the village like many in Llyn. The turnpike road to Pwllheli, engineered in the late eighteenth century and, with later improvements, particularly in the twentieth century, gave considerable impetus to the village’s development. However, Llanaelhaearn supplied workmen for the main period of production at the Trefor quarries in the late nineteenth century.


Llithfaen and Pistyll are also villages along the B4417. Pistyll is an ancient community with an important mediaeval church on a coastal ledge overlooking the Irish Sea. The present village of Pistyll, however, is a roadside hamlet built in the mid- nineteenth century to provide accommodation for workers at the Ty Gwyn quarries which had just come into operation. Similarly, Llithfaen was, until the beginning of the nineteenth century, a cluster of four farms bearing that same name and almost certainly a residue of the mediaeval hamlet of Llithfaen in the township of Trefgoed. Encroachments had already been made on the common land of Bwlch Mawr, Yr Eifl. Parliamentary Inclosure ensued, plots were let and a few houses were built along the roadside. When the coastal granite quarries were opened in the second half of the 19th century, Llithfaen grew considerably. In 1890 there were 90 houses in the village, snaking along the roadside, a hotel, three non-conformist chapels and an Anglican church.

The largest of the granite quarries between Yr Eifl and Nefyn was supported by the village of Trefor on the coastal plain at the foot of Yr Eifl itself. Although it is possible to identify the former presence of the components of the mediaeval township of Elernion, Trefor was an entirely new village of tightly nucleated terraced rows, three nonconformist chapels and a church supported by the Welsh Granite Company for its labour force.

At the southern end of the peninsula the villages of Bwlchtocyn and Marchros coalesced and grew out of the former tenure of, once again, mediaeval hamlets, and in particular, Tyddyn Talgoch. The impetus for growth at Marchros was lead mining on Penrhyn Du, in the later 19th century, which brought a significant influx of miners from outside the area, many from Devon and Cornwall. In the present day Marchros has continued to expand as a holiday destination and early nineteenth century cottages, substantial Victorian houses and modern estates can be seen to be intermixed.

Roadside villages


Y Ffor (four crosses) and Morfa Nefyn owe their emergence and development to good roads. Y Ffor grew at the junction of the turnpike running south to Pwllheli from Llanaelhaearn and the west-east route of William Madock’s turnpike from Traeth Mawr to Porthdinllaen, where its crossed the old road south just outside Nefyn.

Efail Newydd and Rhydyclafdy are also roadside villages. Both lie on a west-east route, across country, from Sarn and Botwnnog to Pwllheli, an old drovers route with facilities at both villages for blacksmith work. Rhydyclafdy is at an important stone-bridge crossing of the Cors Geirch fen. Efail Newydd crosses the Pwllheli to Porthdinllaen branch of the early 19th century Turnpike, now the A497 to Nefyn.
Sarn Meyllteyrn and Botwnnog, both have ecclesiastical origins as satellites of Clynnog. The focus of the two villages, however, are some little distance away from the churches themselves. The same is true at Edern, where the Bishop of Bangor maintained a manor and demesne lands there. No doubt each church provided an original focus but in more recent times settlement gravitated towards the roads. At Sarn, a cluster of housing, a smithy, public houses and a chapel grew at a junction of roads, at a crossing of the Afon Soch.

At Botwnnog, the church, and the adjacent early seventeenth century endowed school, did not provide a focus for later development. Houses were built along the Sarn Road (B4413) in the nineteenth century, close to the roadside smithy, Efail Pont Y Gof. More recent housing now extends eastward on both sides of the road.

At Edern there is a cluster of 19th century buildings on the south side of the curvilinear churchyard, including a National School, built in 1845, and a terrace of four, nineteenth century, two-storey houses. The Rectory has now been replaced by a hotel. The important seventeenth century farmhouse, Penybryn, stands 350 m distant. The present focus of settlement, however, is along the roadside, from Nefyn, south to Tudweiliog and on to Aberdaron. This settlement extends south-westward from the water corn mill on the Afon Geirch with a secondary nucleus at a crossroads (Groesffordd), 300 m along the same road, dominated by a late nineteenth century nonconformist chapel.

Settlement on enclosed common and speculative villages
Mynytho is largely a product of an act for Parliamentary Inclosure passed in 1808. Several encroachments had already been made, some ancient and some right up to the Act. By the middle of the nineteenth century, the former common had been transected by ruler-straight plots and paddocks and tenements had been let. Around 100 houses were built across Mynytho. New houses continued to be built but several early nineteenth century, single storey, cottages, mostly of stone rubble and originally thatched, survive.

Following the Parliamentary Inclosure at Rhoshirwaun, enacted in 1802 and implemented in 1814, the moor was crossed with ruler straight roads and plots and paddocks defined by low clawdd banks, topped with hedges (and later with posts and wire). Plots were let and small holdings were built. There are several areas of dispersed settlement: Penygroeslon, where three roads come together, Rhydlios, and Hebron to the west and north-west of the Inclosure area and Rhoshirwaun at the southern boundary. The presence of chapels is a good identifier of communities within the dispersed distribution of settlement. These are areas where early nineteenth century single storey and croglofft cottages and smallholdings may be found in some numbers and where surviving mudwall cottages may still be seen.

The original nucleus of Llanbedrog was near the coastline, close to the church, in the shadow of the north side of Mynydd Tirycwmwd. In the early nineteenth century T P Jones Parry of Madryn began to develop Pig Street (later Ffordd Pedrog) on the higher ground above the shore at about the same time the enclosure of Mynytho was mooted. The village grew slowly but by the 1840s there were already thirty houses and two chapels. During the second half of the century the population of the village increased and a terrace of eighteen houses were built. Granite quarrying on the headland of Mynydd Tirycwmwd was underway. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw the beginnings of a tourist trade. Several components of the development of Llanbedrog: single storey cottages, an in-line farmhouse of the early nineteenth century, later nineteenth century terraced houses and late Victorian residences, survive.

Tourist village

Abersoch comprised a small handful of premises including the mill, Melin Soch, close to the estuary in the 1790s. Some developments on the Bennar headland took place slowly through the first half of the nineteenth century, expanding with the influx of miners into the area and, their need for accommodation, in the second half of the century. By the early twentieth century, tourists began to arrive but it was not until the late 20th century that the beach and good sailing water made Abersoch the tourist attraction it is today.


Back to Llyn Landscape map



Mynydd Rhiw

In the 1950s shallow quarry hollows along the ridge of Mynydd Rhiw, towards the north end, were identified as the product of extraction of fine-grained baked shale rock used in the production of tools, particularly axes, during the Neolithic period. Further investigation in 2005 and 2006 defined a more extensive area of exploitation for a length of 400m. Radiocarbon determinations suggested that this activity was on-going during the fourth and third millennia BC. This process of extraction and manufacture could claim to be described as the earliest industrial activity in Llyn.

Penrhyn Du

The presence of lead on the Penrhyn Du headland has been known since at least the early eighteenth century. Lewis Morris charted the waters of Ceiriad and St. Tudwal’s roads between 1737 and 1748. He marked the position of the lead mine and recorded the name of an inlet, adjacent, Porth y Plwm – the Lead Harbour. He further recorded that there were veins of lead and copper at Penrhyn Du. The lead mine had formerly worked to good profit, but ‘now lies under water, … recoverable with proper engines’.

The attempt was apparently made to drain the water using a Boulton and Watt steam engine but ‘the expenses proved superior to the profits’ (Pennant, 1773, ed. John Rhys 1883, 368).

At Hen Dy, Tyddyn Talgoch, a tenement on the Penrhyn Du headland, a surveyor of the Vaynol Estate commented in 1800 that ‘the lands have suffered very much by the Mine Company of Penrhyn Du who sank several shafts in it and left them open, and the heaps of rubbish delved therefrom not trimmed or levelled’. Hyde Hall, in 1810, observed that mines had been operational some years ago but had not been cost effective and had not been resumed. In 1839 a field in Hen Dy still retained a memory of the earlier works as Cae Hen Chwimse (chwimse = whimsy, a machine for raising water from the mine).

During the second half of the nineteenth century the lead mines were in operation again. A Cornish engine and engine house was installed in the 1860s and by the 1880s, 240 miners, dressers, washers and engine drivers were at work in the mines across the headland from Llanengan to Penrhyn Du. Many of these workmen had come to Penrhyn Du from other regions. Half of the mining population came from Cornwall and Devon.

Mynydd Rhiw and Penarfynydd

Manganese was discovered at Mynydd Rhiw in the 1820s. Prospecting led to an expansion of the operations into Nant at Penarfynydd and Benallt below Clip y Gylfinhir. During the nineteenth and early twentieth century activity and production was intermittent. However, manganese was a strengthening agent in steel and was much in demand during two world wars. In the early years of mining, donkeys took the manganese to the shore at Porth Cadlan. During the later phase of greatest demand an aerial ropeway carried the ore above the village to the shore at Porth Neigwl. Inclines were used at Nant.

Granite quarries between Trefor and Nefyn

Igneous intrusions which define the visual character of the landscape between Trefor and Nefyn run in a chain of peaks and hard rock outcrops from Yr Eifl to Garn Boduan.


During the second half of the nineteenth century quarries were established where granite was accesible. Some of these quarries were small, others were much larger. A quarry was opened at Gwylwyr, north of Nefyn, in 1835; at Moel Ty Gwyn, Pistyll, around the middle of the century; Carreg y Llam, Porth y Nant in 1860 and Yr Eifl at Trefor in 1880. Together these and local quarries came together to form the Welsh Granite Company. The main business in the early years was sett making, to surface the roads of towns and cities. By the end of the nineteenth century the demand for setts had evaporated and the quarries which remained in business turned to crushed stone, as a component of tar macadam or as an aggregate for concrete. The quarries worked the seaward faces in bonciau, banks or horizontal ledges. There were ten or more bonciau at Trefor and six at Porth y Nant. Inclined tramways took the product to the shore for transportation. There was an intimate relationship between the quarries and the villages of Trefor, Llithfaen and, on a smaller scale, Pistyll. One hundred houses in a tight nucleation of terraced rows stood near the quarry workshops at the foot of the incline at Trefor. Llithfaen had been an agricultural settlement of four farms with a handful of encroachments onto the common in the early years of the nineteenth century. By 1890 there were 90 houses, mostly associated with the quarry of Nant Gwrtheyrn. Nant also had its own barracks, shop and bake house on site until its closure in the 1950s.

Mynydd Tirycwmwd

Exploitation of the hard granite began in the second half of the nineteenth century, on the headland, at three locations, Gwaith Trwyn and Gwaith Ganol (Headland and Middle Workings) and a smaller quarry on the south side. Initially, boats would be beached on the shore, loaded and floated out at high tide, a procedure replaced by jetties. The main product during the nineteenth century was the manufacture of setts. The quarries closed in 1949.

Back to Llyn Landscape map



‘Few travellers find their way to this secluded spot, which must indeed, if visited at all, be visited for its own sake; but I can scarcely credit what I have been assured, that I was the second person of the present generation who had thus reached it for the purpose of inspection’ (Hyde Hall, 1810). The commentator refers to Penrhyn Du at Marchros, two kilometres south of Abersoch down a long sandy beach close to one of the busiest holiday destinations on the peninsula.

Tourism came to the Llyn peninsula with the railway. Pwllheli was the terminus of the Cambrian Coast line west of Barmouth and Criccieth. The station was built in 1869 and the line was extended a short distance further west to the other side of the harbour in 1909 to provide better access to the town and the developments that were in process at the West End. In 1890, Solomon Andrews, a Cardiff entrepreneur, undertook to develop the sand bar on the west side of town as a holiday complex on the shoreline incorporating a hotel, apartments a promenade and other facilities. Andrews also acquired Plas Glyn y Weddw, a Victorian gothic house, built for the Dowager Lady Elizabeth Love Jones Parry by the architect Henry Kennedy. Solomon Andrews’ vision included using the house as a focus of art and entertainment for local people and the holiday making public. To this end he designed and built a horse tramway which ran from West End, Pwllheli to Llanbedrog to trasport the visitors. The tramway continued in operation until 1927.


By the beginning of the twentieth century, visitors began to explore further along the coast to Abersoch. The south coast was beginning to experience the first ripples of a tourist boom. However, it was not until the second half of the twentieth century that Abersoch became the popular tourist destination that it is today. Abersoch was still a small village of about 50 houses on the south side of the estuary in the 1890s. With a good beach and sailing water, Abersoch expanded out of all proportion in the twentieth century with around 500 or so houses on the south side of the river and a further 100 on the north.

In the present day, tourism is one of the main occupations along the coast from Pwllheli to Llanbedrog, to Abersoch and Marchros. There are golf links and sandy beaches, extensive chalet accommodation and numerous caravan parks.

On the north coast tourism had to wait for the motor car. Nevertheless, at Nefyn, the fashionable pursuit of seaside holidays was catered for in new developments immediately north of the town and at Morfa Nefyn and Porthdinllaen. Villa style houses were built close to the sea, between the town and the coastline. A golf club was established in 1907, part of which extends over the length of the Porthdinllaen promontory. The Nanhoron Arms Hotel was built in 1914 to cater for the holiday trade.

Further south, caravan and camping parks are spread widely across the western coastal area from Porth Colman and Penllech to Porthdinllaen and the village of Edern. None of these are exceptionally large or as concentrated as the caravan parks in certain areas of the south coast.

Back to Llyn Landscape map


Cultural landscapes

In an assessment of landscape character and, more particularly, historic landscape character it is sometimes considered to be appropriate to take account of the work of artists and literary men and women as an associative theme. This study takes the view that there is a distinction between cultural attributes which take cognisance of the landscape, but do not influence it or modify it, and are less relevant to such an assessment than those attributes which change or impact upon the landscape. Examples of the latter include cultural movements which significantly modify or lend a particular and identifiable character to the landscape.

Within Llyn the consolidation of estates in the hands of the gentry could be considered to be a cultural phenomenon in several respects. From the early seventeenth century, architectural innovations were being applied at the core of gentry demesnes . Classical styling, drawn from Renaissance prototypes, signalled the break from medieval and sub-medieval forms and, at a micro-level, embellished and lent character to the landscape. On another level, by the late eighteenth century, practical and ornamental planting could be found on gentry demesnes in a landscape otherwise generally devoid of tree cover. At the same time, in an age of improvements, innovation in agricultural practice, spearheaded by gentry landlords, transformed the pattern of the landscape in many areas.

Religious movements may be cerebral or philosophical but they, nevertheless, have made their mark on the landscape. At least from the twelfth century, when earlier stone churches first appear, they represent the most substantial and architecturally innovative buildings in the Llyn landscape, as far as the evidence allows, before the later fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

By the late eighteenth century and through the nineteenth century non-conformism took hold in Llyn, a dissenting reaction to the workings of established religion. Initially, the meeting-houses of the dissenters were plain and barnlike, partly because the available rooms were generally utilitarian and partly as a point of principle. As non-conformist congregations grew, larger chapels were required. They distanced themselves from the traditional architecture of the established church, preferring, in general, an apparently anodyne choice of classical motifs. During the nineteenth century non-conformist congregations significantly outnumbered members of the Anglican Church and many communities even quite small ones, had three chapels, contributing a very particular and distinctive character to the urban and village landscape.
An industrial boom in the later nineteenth century chiefly focussed on stone quarrying between Yr Eifl and Gwylwyr near Nefyn, at Mynydd Tirycwmwd at Llanbedrog and lead mining in Llanengan and Penrhyn Du, Marchros. These industries generated industrial villages of terraced houses, often tightly nucleated to accommodate the workforce at Trefor, at Llithfaen, Pistyll, Marchros and Llanbedrog. The pattern of these villages is distinctive, and particularly so, in contrast to the predominantly rural and agricultural character of the early nineteenth century.

Back to Llyn Landscape map


Visit our social network sites
Ymwelwch a'n safleoedd rhwydwaith cymdeithasol