Historic Landscape Characterisation

Penmon - Area 1 Llanfaes PRN 33471

The site of Llanfaes Friary, later house and 20th century engineering works

Llanfaes village and new church

Henllys Hall, 2007

Fryars and Catalina compass circle

Key historic landscape features and processes

  • A landscape which maps several of the components of a royal maerdref during the age of the Princes.
  • A deserted mediaeval landscape, soon after the conquest of Gwynedd at the end of the thirteenth century.
  • The site of a Franciscan friary and burial place of Joan, wife of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, and several other notable people.
  • A transformation from medieval priory, to a small private estate, to engineering works, notable during world War II.

This character area is bounded by the steep slopes of Coed Cadw on the west, the town and castle of Beaumaris on the south, the limits of Llangoed and Trecastell on the north and north-west and Fryars' Bay on the east.


Llanfaes was the maerdref of the commote of Dindaethwy during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The maerdref was a royal township held by the prince and operated along manorial lines. At its focus might be found the royal halls and other buildings which constituted the llys. The demesne lands in Llanfaes were extensive, comprising some 780 acres of arable land together with meadows, a garden and the considerable resource of woodland on the slopes to the north-west of Llanfaes known as Coed Cadw or the 'wood of Llanfaes'. A stream from the escarpment powered the water corn mill there and Llanfaes controlled the northernmost of the important ferry landings which crossed the Menai Straits. The Llanfaes ferry stood at the southern limit of the township on the site of what was to become Beaumaris Castle Green and was operated by five bond tenants of the prince who occupied tenements in that location. The importance of the ferry should not be underestimated as it gave access to and from the north coast of Gwynedd from Aber to the Conwy estuary. To the north of the township, near the coast, stood a leper house or clafdy, maintained by the prince in common with a number of other royal maerdrefi.

During the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries the bond tenants, holding their tenements under the restrictive 'tir cyfrif' demesne tenure undertook labour services and agricultural works on the demesne lands. The nature of this tenure was conducive to the nucleation of settlement, so that the holdings of these tenants would have taken on the appearance of a village.

In the early thirteenth century, the favourable location of Llanfaes with regard to communications, particularly in respect of the ferry crossing but also in respect of a safe anchorage in Llanfaes Bay for longer distance traders, provided an opportunity for the prince to commute his tenants' customary works for cash revenue. The fairs and markets of Llanfaes flourished and later references refer to a new kind of tenancy gwyr y farchnad 'market men'. Brewers, butchers, bakers, clothes makers and shoemakers plied their trades and were taxed. Tolls were levied on carriage of goods from the shore and on the ferry boats. The sure indicator that Llanfaes was becoming a town was the installation of a friary at Llanfaes. Friars, being a mendicant order, would require access to a nucleus of population for their survival. In 1237, Joan, wife of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, died at Aber. In the words of Brut y Twysogion, Joan was buried in a consecrated enclosure on the Anglesey shoreline, where after, a monastery of the Barefooted Friars (the Franciscans) was established to the honour of the Blessed Mary, and the Prince built it all at his cost for the soul of his lady.

In 1254 Llanfaes church was the richest on Anglesey. It has been calculated that towards the end of the century Llanfaes accounted for something like seventy percent of the total trading revenues throughout Gwynedd. In 1283 the war of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd and Edward I was concluded with the death of Llywelyn and his brother Dafydd and the conquest of Gwynedd. Injustices in the newly established administration gave rise to a revolt, instigated by Madog ap Llywelyn. Damage was done at Llanfaes and the town never recovered. Edward I's response was to build a new castle on land of the township of Cerrig y Gwyddyl at the southern boundary of Llanfaes. This castle and its attendant planted town was named Beaumaris. If the town was to flourish then Llanfaes and its commerce would need to be suppressed. Edward made provision for the removal of the reluctant burgesses of Llanfaes to a new location at Rhosyr, the maerdref of the commote of Menai. With Llanfaes depopulated, or nearly so, the new town of Beaumaris appropriated Llanfaes' former trading connections and the ferry.

The church remained, but in straitened circumstances with its parishioners gone. The friary also continued to exist despite a crisis in the time of Glyndwr and was still operating at the dissolution. In addition to Joan, daughter of King John and wife of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, Llanfaes friary remained the burial place of many local worthies. An inventory taken at the time of the suppression in 1538 provides an indication of its appurtenances. These include the friary church, choir and vestry, a brew-house with a furnace and brewing vat, a yard with carts and various outbuildings including one with racks for cheese; another with beds, pillows and bolsters; a kitchen; a hall with table and trestles and a store house; agricultural produce, grain, cattle and sheep.

In 1539 Thomas Bulkeley of Beaumaris was granted a lease of the friary lands and proceeded to demolish its buildings. Boatloads of good stone were removed, presumably for building works in Beaumaris. Despite this, John Speed, in 1610, was able to sketch the friary site, showing a precinct wall enclosing it. In 1991 archaeological excavation revealed and confirmed the lower courses of the wall on its south-west side.

In 1563, the lease passed to Ellis Wynne (White). Later in 1623, Rowland Whyte built the first secular house at Fryars.

During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries the Hampton and Bulkeley families emerged as important landowners in the area. The Hamptons were holding land locally as early as 1414 and by 1584 William Hampton was in possession of Henllys and its demesne, a key property within Llanfaes. By 1630 it is clear that the Hamptons had acquired a large part of the former township of Llanfaes, including the hamlet of Bodgylched. At about the same time the Bulkeley family held the remainder of Llanfaes, including the land of the former friary.

The Bulkeleys and Hamptons were neighbours and there must have been several instances of contention and accommodation with regard to access. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries a number of new roads and realignments were put in place across the lands of both parties. Henllys Lane is a very old routeway, still in use, which once brought travellers from the Llanfaes ferry, in the thirteenth century, from the shore at 'Beaumaris Green' to the very probable location of the prince's llys at Henllys. Similarly, a track ran from the shore at the port of Llanfaes, past the friary wall to the crossroads at St. Catherine's Church. At the very end of the eighteenth century parcels of land were exchanged between the two landlords and a new, wide, coach road was driven from the north end of Henllys Lane, in an easterly direction, skirting the southern boundary of Henllys to reach the church and the nucleus of the village without travellers needing to cross the curtilage of Henllys. At the same time the road past the former friary, and now in the tenure of the Bulkeley family, was diverted some sixty metres to provide some private space in front of the house.

The Social Landscape
In the mid-nineteenth century there remained significant social distinctions within communities. This is particularly visible in Llanfaes and is reflected in the housing stock and architecture. Henllys Hall was the Anglesey home of the Hampton family from 16th century. On the doorstep of Henllys, one kilometre to the south, stood Baron Hill, the seat of the Bulkeley family since 1612. Baron Hill aligns with Beaumaris and is considered within that character area, although the mansion house lies within the parish of Llanfaes. In 1861, when the census was taken in that year, and Sir Richard Williams Bulkeley and his wife were in residence, there was also a butler, an underbutler, a stud groom, four manservants, a male cook, seven female servants, a laundry maid, two housemaids, a dairymaid and a stillroom maid. On that same evening John Lewis Hampton Lewis and his wife, Fanny, and daughter, were at Henllys. A butler, footman, female cook, and under-cook, ladies' maid and two house servants were also in the house on that night.

Henllys, or its successor, was built on or near the site of the llys of the Welsh Princes within the maerdref of Llanfaes. A walled garden, adjacent to the mansion house, was a feature of the late 18th century complex and by the early 19th century several other buildings, it would seem, had accrued between the garden and the old house. One road, Henllys Lane, ran directly south towards the old Llanfaes (later Beaumaris) ferry, another ran north-east towards the church. In the 1850s a new mansion of grey ashlar, in two stories and an attic, was directly superimposed on the L -shaped plan of the former house. Two parallel ranges spring from the main house on the north-west side. The rectangular windows of the main house are mullioned or mullioned and transomed (mostly on the ground floor). The several tall chimney shafts, grouped in pairs or triplets are octagonal in section. The attic dormers facing the approach to the main door are slightly jettied and one first floor window on the south-east of the facade is an oriel. The main door is entered through a projecting porch which rises to the full height of the facade with a balcony on the first floor. The style is a restrained Victorian-Elizabethan.

Until the middle of the 19th century, the pattern of settlement across the Llanfaes character area was dominated by ancient and substantial holdings. Henllys was the major landowner, in possession of 100 acres in Llanfaes including 40 acres of demesne. The Hampton family had held Henllys for three centuries. Their status is reflected in the Hall and its appurtenances.

The Cichley lands, nearby (57 acres in the 1840s) were part of a larger estate which accrued in the 14th and 15th centuries (Carr, 1982,25).

Fryars, on the shoreline, developed in the hands of the Whyte and later Bulkeley families on the site of the former Franciscan friary and its lands, from the 16th century. In 1800 Moses Griffith drew the old house and friary church, adjacent, still standing in part, and in use as a barn. It still stood in 1855 but had gone eleven years later. In 1868 Rowland Whyte's old house was pulled down and replaced by a new Victorian mansion on the same spot.

The farm of Tyddyn y Gwynt (47 acres in 1851 ) is first recorded in William Hampton's hand in 1638. There was a handful of smaller premises too, Pen y Wal, adjacent to the late friary (the 'Wal' refers to the friary wall ) and Nant, recorded at least as early as 1712. There must always have been a cluster of tenements in the vicinity of the church in the 13th century, before depopulation and the transfer to Newborough.

By the 1770s, a small number of single storey
cottages stood near the church and along the lane towards the higher ground of Rhos Llaniestyn. These include Ty Uchaf and a cottage close to the north-western corner of the churchyard. Swn y Gloch was added, adjacent, across the lane before 1830 and, in 1810, a smithy had been built, 50 m to the west of the church at a junction of four roads converging from Henllys, itself; from Fryars and the shore; from Rhos Llaniestyn and along the back road from Llangoed.

Along the approach roads to Henllys, from the church to the east and Henllys Lane to the south, there stood two small tenements described in 1830 as William Owen's cottage and garden and a cottage and flower garden respectively. William Owen's garden was replaced by the East (Llanfaes) Lodge. Land was exchanged with Baron Hill in favour of Henllys in the late 19th century, enabling the lodge to be established. Concomitant with these exchanges, a new coach road was driven, from Henllys Lane to join the Fryars road south of the church and the southern portion of the road to the west of Friars to provide a buffer of privacy between the road and the house. Baron Hill also established an East Lodge which joined Henllys Lane from the road north-east from the Baron Hill mansion house. The Henllys Lodge is a 'ty uncorn' (single- storey, central chimney) with widely projecting eaves supported by pillars to provide a verandah on the north side.

In the 1830s a row of 10 cottages were built on the land of a small three acre tenement, Ty'n y Lon, alongside the road north from Fryars to Llangoed. The cottages are single-storey, built with un-coursed limestone rubble, on the evidence of the visible masonry. Most are now painted, rendered or obscured by porches and glass- fronted extensions. The chimney stacks are tall, with dressed limestone blocks. The present porches are later additions.

The social contrast is considerable between the substantial farms in Llanfaes and the labourers cottages but, particularly, in the spacious accommodation, the infrastructural hierarchy of servants, gardeners, grooms and labourers and the architectural design of the buildings, the mansion house of Henllys and its neighbour, Baron Hill, in the 19th century. In 1851 every one of the tenants of the Ty'n y Lon Cottages was a labourer except for Richard Roberts, a 78-year-old Chelsea pensioner. The two room, single-storey tenements accommodated, in some instances, families of four, five or six. Robert Owen, aged 55 was a farm labourer. He lived with his wife, his married daughter, a niece and a young lodger in the same two room accommodation.

In the village there might be found some variety of occupation. There were four labourers, five seamstresses or dressmakers, two shoemakers, two charwomen, a dairymaid, a land bailiff, a blacksmith and a mariner. More widely, some of the smaller farm buildings were occupied by agricultural labourers. In 1841, Gyfynys was occupied by four unmarried agricultural labourers, aged between 14 and 25 years and one female servant. During the second world war an engineering works was established on the old friary precincts by Saunders-Roe. Flying boats were built there and around four hundred catalinas were flown into the Straits during a three-year period, to have their instruments modified and calibrated. Until recently, many components of these wartime installations could still be seen, including the slipway which hauled the aircraft out of the water and onto the compass-turning circular concrete pad.
The probable site of the royal llys at Henllys was occupied by more recent Franciscans in the 1950s. It later became a hotel, with golf course and is now a Holiday Property Bond development

Historic Landscape Character

Despite very considerable changes in land use, the landscape of Llanfaes is historically important in that it reflects the disposition of several of the components of a royal maerdref of the age of the Princes. The Victorian neo-Gothic mansion which occupies the site of Henllys in the present day, supersedes an earlier building which may, in turn, overlie the thirteenth-century llys. The lane south, is an ancient route between the ferry landing and Henllys. The location of the ferry, on Beaumaris Castle Green, can be confidently identified as the site of Llanfaes ferry before it was appropriated by Beaumaris at the end of the thirteenth century. The present house, Fryars, lately offices of the engineering works, replaced Rowland Whyte's seventeenth-century house in the 1860s. Archaeological excavation in advance of a sewage treatment installation on the south side of the premises identified the southern boundary wall of the Franciscan Friary and uncovered graves beneath garden landscaping of the centuries following the dissolution and more recent levelling associated with the wartime engineering works.

A consecrated enclosure on the shoreline provided a burial place for Joan, wife of Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1237 and several other notables were buried within the precincts of the friary over three hundred years. The sarcophagus, if the attribution is correct, now lies in the porch of Beaumaris Church.
The church of St. Catherine, an unusual dedication in north-west Wales, is nevertheless recorded at Criccieth, another royal township within Gwynedd. The present church is a rebuild on the ancient site by Matthew Ellison Hadfield in 1845. There is a small cluster of nineteenth-century cottages at a junction of lanes adjacent to the church. These, including a smithy and, across the lane, a lodge to Henllys Hall, lend character to what has probably always been the nucleus of the community.

At the end of the war, pre-fabricated accommodation had been made, immediately to the north-west of the Fryars' complex to provide for workers in the engineering plant. By the 1980s these were replaced and a small village has grown alongside the road towards the church.

The area between Beaumaris and Henllys is under grass and dotted with mature trees. There were many more a century or so ago. These trees have grown from former hedge banks and on early detailed maps it is possible to delineate the form of small plots more characteristic of the eighteenth century than the present large open nineteenth and twentieth-century fields. These boundaries, in turn and far removed, reflect the sinuous pattern of medieval open field quillets.


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