Historic Landscape Characterisation

Penmon - Area 4 Penmon and Puffin Island PRN 33473

The South Transept Cross

Pentir and Caim: Coed yr Hendy, top left; Deer Park/Noddfa, right

Pen y Fron Terrace

Key historic landscape features and processes

  • A limestone landscape of steep scarp slopes and broad stepped terraces dropping to the north coast of the Irish Sea
  • An early medieval monastic landscape of noddfa or sanctuary, cross markers, ancient church and a holy well
  • Penmon church is important for the surviving tenth and eleventh century crosses and the eclectic influences in their design; and for the embellishments of the church tower in the twelfth century
  • Puffin Island/Ynys Lannog, associated with Penmon, has twelfth century church with a comparable plan to St Seiriol's on the mainland
  • The maritime context is reinforced by the 19th and 20th century lighthouse, Telegraph Station on the island, and pilots, houses

This character area represents the eastern extension of the northern limestone ridge. It is bounded by the sea on the north, east and south sides. The western boundary, which cuts across the neck of the promontory, is defined by the ravine of Coed yr Hendy in the north and the western extent of the villages of Caim and Pentir, swinging round to Trwyn y Pentir in the south, at the boundary of the ancient township of Trecastell. The topography of the character area is defined by a series of limestone escarpments which extend as flat ridges to the headland of Penmon Point. The scarp face is on the south; the ridges fall gently seaward to the north.

Penmon is an ancient ecclesiastical or monastic township and the nature of it has defined its character over several hundred years.

The earliest evidence for human activity on the promontory is represented by flint tools, within the Deer Park north of the church and on the headland, near the pilots' cottages (PRNs 5073; 2568; 18399). A promontory fort is reputed to have stood at Trwyn Du Point but no evidence of this survives. There are several hut circle settlements and relict field banks of Iron Age and Romano-British date along the high points of the Ridge from Tyddyn Rheinallt to Dinmor and Trwyn Du and Romano British pottery has been found, 250 m west of Tyddyn Rheinallt, within the village of Pentir. More hut circle settlements and early field boundaries have been recorded on the low, wet ground near Trwyn y Penrhyn and on the higher ground near Pen y Fron (PRNs 2544; 2555; 2551; 2563; 2564; 2565; 2588; and 7360 (pottery).

The early origins of the church at Penmon are obscure. Nevertheless, Penmon is one of the very few churches in the north-west Wales to have tangible, rather than documentary, evidence for its presence during the early mediaeval centuries. Penmon had a long-standing association with a second ecclesiastical establishment on Puffin Island, 750 m from the mainland, to the north-east; so much so that during the early thirteenth century, grants of land to the church could refer to the abadaeth of Penmon and the canons of Ynys Lannog, apparently indiscriminately. Ynys Lannog was the regular usage for the island, rather than Priestholm or Ynys Seiriol, until after the conquest.

Ynys Lannog is referred to as early as the 630s when the Welsh Annals record a siege of the island by Edwin, King of Northumbria. Cadwallon King of Gwynedd had taken refuge there and it may be that the noddfa or sanctuary of an existing monastic establishment protected Cadwallon, rather than the defensive potential of the island itself. It has sometimes been suggested that the presence of a holy well, closely adjacent to the mainland church, might have influenced its foundation. This is possible. The structure however, the foundation of which, has led to the suggestion that an ancient stone walled hut circle stood nearby, cannot be supported. If it was ever roofed, the foundations are most likely to have been an eighteenth century component of the well complex.

More concrete evidence of the church's early presence on the mainland is in the survival of two exceptionally important decorated crosses and the record of at least one, or perhaps two, others which are now lost.
Both surviving crosses are of the tenth or eleventh centuries and are now in the church. They originally stood outside, however. The so-called Deer Park cross (better, the Saint Anthony Cross) stood high on the Ridge, 420 m west of the church, close to Sir Richard Bulkeley's extensive Deer Park wall, built in the fourth century on land of the former priory. It is very likely that the sweeping run of the park wall has been built on the line of the ancient noddfa or sanctuary of Penmon. The position of the cross once signposted the noddfa at an important point of access from the nucleus of settlements outside the boundary. The cross, now in the south transept of the church, or one very like it, recorded by Edward Lhuyd, stood on a slightly elevated spur of land in a field later known as Cae'r Groes, in the tenement of Bryn Mawr, and also marked the boundary and may, very probably, have signalled the early limits of the abadaeth. The abadaeth, represents the landed interests of a community that serves and maintains the church and its infrastructure. The boundary in question coincides with the junction of Penmon and the townships of Llangoed and Trecastell.

The 'Clas'
Penmon was a 'clas' or quasi monastic community. Such institutions might come into being in several ways. One way could involve the transfer of a freeholding community's land towards the building and maintenance of a church. Another, might involve a grant of land from the king or other lord who might install a younger member of the royal house or relative as a benefice. Not all the members of a clas community would be clerics and there need only be one priest, among them, in residence. The head of the community would be styled Abbot. Idwal, son of Gruffudd ap Cynan the king, was Abbot of Penmon in the twelfth century and we must assume that the church was supported by royal grants.

During the twelfth century, St Seiriol's church at Penmon was rebuilt in stone and embellished with some of the finest Romanesque decoration in the kingdom of Gwynedd. The twelfth century manifestation of the church comprised a chancel to the east (replaced on several later locations) a central square tower which rises above the nave and transepts, a nave which was built on to the tower, and transepts which abut the corners of the nave, rather than the tower.

The most highly decorated feature is the tall arch giving access from the nave to the tower. The openings from the tower to transepts were also embellished but the opening to the chancel is plain. The north transept was rebuilt in 1853. The south transept carries a blind arcade around two walls. The entire composition suggests a redesign of the liturgical space. This suggestion is reinforced by a small misalignment of the nave and tower, the disproportionately narrow tower in relation to the nave and transepts, the unusual construction sequence and the lack of any embellishment on the chancel arch. It is possible that an earlier stone church stood on the site of the present chancel and that the tower was first added at the western end. Some further support for this hypothesis is represented by what would appear to be an inserted, rather than original, decorated tympanum above the south door of the present nave.

The church on Puffin Island/Ynys Lannog also has a twelfth century tower, and a building sequence which may be, quite possibly, comparable to that on the mainland.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries there emerged a movement of monastic reform across England and Wales. In the kingdom of Gwynedd, the old clas communities and their institutions, which included an inheritable interest in the assets of the clas, were considered to be decayed and out of synchronisation with the new European monastic orders which had begun to become established. The solution, supported by the king, saw the replacement of the clas at Penmon with a community of Augustinian canons. The new arrangement was underpinned by grants of land and a striking new building programme. This included the construction of a chancel, larger than the existing nave, a probable range springing south from the south transept and, perhaps, accommodating the prior's house. The most visually impressive component was a refectory and dormitory block on the south side, defining a claustral space between the refectory and the chancel.


During the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century, a warming-house block was added to the east end of the refectory and, at about the same time, the chancel was rebuilt and the roof of the nave was raised and it may be, at this time the present prior's house was built. Within a generation, however, together with all monastic houses across England and Wales, the lands and buildings of Penmon Priory were sequestrated and the institution was suppressed.

At the suppression, the available land was leased. Sir Richard Bulkeley wanted the lease but did not get it immediately. It passed to Richard Starkey, a member of the royal household, then to John Dudley, Earl of Warwick and, on reversion, to John Moore. In the following year, 1565, Penmon lands and buildings were in Bulkeley hands, including the island. The church remained an exception and continued to serve the community as a parish church. It was probably the third Sir Richard Bulkeley who built the dovecote, to the east of the complex and who made alterations to the prior's house, including the second northern, chimney stack on the back wall of the house. Later, the Deer Park was laid out and the walls built across a very large extent of the Penmon holding.

In 1374 the 'Priory of Priestholme' was surveyed as to the value of its temporalities. Two hamlets are identified, Pentere (Pentir) and Llane.

In Pentir there were three gafaelion which extended over four carucates of arable land (about 240 acres), in addition to any meadow or pasture land they may have had access to. There were two gafaelion in a place called Llanne. It is not certain where this hamlet or location stood, perhaps at Lleiniau Gwynion - white quillets - to the south-west of Pentir The Llanne gafaelion are the Gafael Wion ap Elidir and the Gafael Hwfa ap Philip. There are also six other gafaelion with no locational designation other than that they lie within the township. These holdings are: the Gafael Arthen; the Gafael Gronw ap Purwyn; the Gafael Madog Hen; the Gafael Wion Goch and the Gafael David ap Madog ap David; the Gwely Ieuan Lace; the Gwely Meilir ap David and the half Gwely Cynddelw.

The principal areas of settlement, the smallholdings of several tenants, lay to the west of the Priory, between the line of the later Deer Park wall (and possible limit of sanctuary) and the township boundary to the west, which corresponds, more or less to the later boundary of the ecclesiastical parish.

The hamlet of Pentir is clearly identifiable. It is high on the limestone ridge, where the ground slopes towards the north slope of the promontory, flanked on the east by the Deer Park wall and on the west by the deeply scoured valley of the stream which was known in the sixteenth century as Nant Gwion, leading from Caim to the north coast and running through what is now known as Coed yr Hendy. Properties in Pentir are recorded as early as 1415 when Gwenllian, daughter of Angharad, daughter of Madog and her son, Hywel, sought the consent of Thomas Trentham the Prior, with regard to a transaction. Several other property transactions were made in Pentir during the sixteenth century. In 1583 Pentir Isaf is described as being between the lands of Hugh ap John ap William and the stone wall of the Penmon hare warren (later, the Deer Park).

Gwely Madog Hen is mentioned in in 1514. In 1536 Hugh ap Hywel transferred his share in Gwely Madog Hen which comprised a house with 51 virgates of arable land and appurtenances. This deed identified the location of Gwely Madog Hen as situated in the township of Penmon and Caim. Caim, of course, is a short distance to the south-west of Tyddyn Rheinallt and on the fringe of Pentir.

The Bulkeley family were actively involved in land transactions during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and by the eighteenth century held most of the properties in Penmon township. It is very likely that the pattern of settlement mapped in the 1770s and, less clearly traceable through deeds and transfers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, genuinely represents the areas of Medieval settlement. The core areas, bearing their modern names, are Pentir, Caim, Penmon village and Bryn Mawr and the limits of settlement are bounded by the Deer Park or putative noddfa on the east and the parish or township boundary on the west. The main routes and points of access to the church are less likely to have been the present coastal road and are more likely to be represented by the narrower winding lanes running east from Llangoed and from Llanddona. The lower of two Llangoed routes skirts the base of the limestone escarpment and were sign-posted by the free standing cross at Cae'r Groes, Bryn Mawr. The upper road from Llanddona passes through Caim, at the head of Nant Gwion/Coed yr Hendy, entering the Deer Park at Tyddyn Rheinallt. Here the track across the Deer Park passes close to the site of the free-standing St. Anthony cross.

The Demesne
The demesne was also exploited. Bond tenants, Ieuan Chwith, the sons of David Gwta and the sons of Gwassanffraid are also recorded and may be estate workers on the Prior's demesne although the demesne lands are not specifically referred to in the survey. The area within the later Deer Park walls extended over 400 of the 700 acres of the township. Components of the demesne, recorded in 1534 by Henry VIII's surveyors, include Maes y Neuadd (Maes Ynyeth), a fish trap (gurgitum), the pasture or pannage of one wood, a parcel of land called Maes y Borth, a parcel called Y Ddol (Ytholl), a meadow, and other lands and assets outside the township. Y Ddol is likely to be to the south-east of the church. Two pieces of land called Dol Deer Park are recorded in the 1840s tithe schedule for Penmon. The accompanying map, however, is devoid of detail within the Park. Pentir Park, Dinmor Park, Trwyn Du Park and 'Deer' Park are also accounted for on the schedule, leaving the fields south east of the church as the likely contender. Maes y Borth (Harbour field) is probably directly south of the church, above the bay of Porth Penmon. The fish trap (Lat. gurgitum; W. gorad) lies just south west of Penmon Point, immediately adjacent to the modern lifeboat station slipway. There are two traps side by side with just a possibility of a third trap a short distance to the south, near the old landing stage of the Flagstaff quarry. The prior also had ploughland, cattle, sheep and the pelts of rabbits and honey from bees.

Pentir and Caim, on the ridge, remain as dispersed settlements into the twenty-first century and the traditional zone of settlement which pertained in the later middle ages has hardly been disturbed. There are terraced rows of two-storey houses at Pen y Fron Terrace in the late nineteenth century and Coedwig Terrace, of early twentieth century date, at the edge of the scarp, a National School building below Bryn Mawr and a small twentieth century row near the school and a number of small clusters of twentieth century housing on the lower ground near Trwyn y Penrhyn.

Historic Landscape Character
This is a limestone landscape with steep, terraced, scarp slopes of outcropping limestone on the southern aspect and gently inclined slopes to the north. Visually, the landscape may be divided into three areas. Towards Penmon Point, to the east, there is a zone of uncultivated scrub with large areas of limestone quarrying, at Dinmor to the north and Flagstaff quarry to the south. The central area is bounded by Sir Richard Bulkeley's Deer Park wall, running from north to south, of grazed grassland with few artificial boundaries. To the west there is a zone of settlement interspersed with rectilinear fields bordered with hedges, fences and stone walls

Penmon church is important because it is one of the few churches in north-west Wales which have direct and tangible evidence of early origins. At Penmon, also there is the potential for understanding the monastic landscape of a clas community which comprises not only the church but the definition of the noddfa or sanctuary boundary and the crosses which signpost it; and the relationship of the ecclesiastical core of the clas with the tenant community.

At the church it is possible to perceive in the surviving structure, the various changes that have taken place, not simply in architectural terms but in the transition from early medieval clas to Augustinian Priory and beyond the suppression of the community in the sixteenth century to the development and layout of estate design. Its structural features, may be seen in the monumental dovecote and extensive Deer Park walls.

Penmon church probably contains the most important assemblage of twelfth century Romanesque architecture and embellishment in the north west Wales, together with the exceptionally important tenth/ eleventh century crosses. The significance of the crosses is not entirely in aesthetic quality of the material but also in the eclectic designs which draw together wide ranging influences from around the Irish sea coastline.

At the east end of Penmon the lighthouse between the Point and Puffin Island lends character and a reminder of Penmon's position on the coastline of the Irish Sea. Similarly the early nineteeth century Pilots' cottages reinforce the maritime connection, as does the brick-built Telegraph Station on the north eastern tip of Puffin Island which was occupied and in service from 1841 to the 1860s, as a stage in the Holyhead to Liverpool Telegraph.



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