Historic Landscape Characterisation

Llŷn - Area 17 Llangian and Castellmarch PRN 33489



Llangian village

Llangian village

Historic background

There is little evidence for prehistoric activity in the vicinity of Castellmarch and Llangian, north of the Soch, other than the cropmark evidence of a 30m diameter circular enclosure on the rise above Castellmarch and three hut circles a short distance away (PRNs 1248, 1745).

A small pillar standing erect in the graveyard at Llangian, a few metres from the south wall of the church, is an inscribed funerary monument of the fifth or sixth century. It cannot be said with certainty that the stone is in its original position. It now has a small setting of stones around its base and it once had a sundial set on its truncated top, where three fixing holes are visible.

A Latin inscription commemorates Melus the doctor, son of Martinus (here he lies). The modern Welsh word ‘meddyg’ is a direct descendant of the latin ‘medicus’. The form of the inscription is in the tradition of late Roman Western Christianity but other influences are also apparent. The inscription reads downwards on the face of the stone, rather than horizontally, a treatment borrowed from Irish ogam and the expression of kinship, Melus son of Martinus, owes more to the Western British and Irish mindset than to the continental exemplars.

The Llangian stone, and others like it, represent exceptional evidence for contact with mainstream Western Christianity during the early Medieval centuries. They also reflect the melting pot of influences circulating around the coastal areas of the Irish Sea in the early Middle Ages. Priests are mentioned but the reference to a doctor or a secular profession is very unusual in a British context Only a handful are known from continental epitaphs of this period.

In 1352 a mill is recorded at Castellmarch. The progeny of Cenythlin in the gwely Iorwerth ap Cenythlin, whose interests reached across the townships of Cilan, Ystradgeirch, Llangian, Carnguwch and Bodfel, had shares in that mill as they also had shares in Melin Bodfel. Other members of this far-reaching clan had landed interests in Llangian. These were heirs of the gwely Cen’ ap Cenythlin and also members of the six gwelyau of the progeny of Dywrig, perhaps a related patrimonial ancestor. Langian in this sense refers to the extensive lands of the township of Llangian and those kinship groups, mentioned above, would have worked scattered plots or shares in the open arable fields. With respect to the special case of Nefyn, the township of Llangian was one of the most populous communities in the commote of Afloegion in the late thirteenth century. There were thirty tenants of substantial means in the township, owning 135 cattle and 24 horses. Marchros, Cilan and Bryn Celyn had more sheep and Bodfel had more cattle but Llangian and Bodfel, both, had 39 draught animals and both produced 82 crannocks of flour and grain (328 bushels each). The records of 1352, however, also refer to the hamlet of Llangian, a nucleated settlement or cluster of houses in that place. We can identify the members of the gwely Madog ap Gron’ there. One of these kinsmen had his own mill at Llangian, the others were obliged to mill their corn at the Lord Prince’s mill at Gwerthyr, near Nanhoron. There was also a gafael, or holding, called the Gafael Gron at Llangian which also milled at Gwerthyr.

Standing beside a stream, nestling at the foot of steep slopes to the north and east, the church of Llangian is ancient. It is first recorded in the thirteenth century but may be older. Much of the north and south walls, at the west end, with their blocked doorways, belong to this period. The different style of masonry at the east end is, perhaps, of the fifteenth century. The roof is carried on ten trusses of fifteenth century type - collar beam trusses with arched braces. The western eight have cusped raking struts but the easternmost two do not, an indication of special treatment for the roof above the chancel end. The present appearance owes much to the repair and insertion of new windows and west door and the provision of a porch and vestry on the north side before the end of the nineteenth century.

The original graveyard was nearly circular, flanking the stream to the southwest. Traces of the circuit can still be seen in the low bank a few metres to the east of the church. Beyond this, there once stood an outer enclosure, concentric with the graveyard. This could represent the area of sanctuary around the ancient church. Buildings could be erected here, which might form the nucleus of the hamlet’s settlement. In 1994, repairs to the churchyard wall alongside the stream revealed a sequence of buried deposits in the exposed cross-section. The Gwynedd Archaeological Trust recorded the sequence and obtained a sample for radiocarbon dating from wood charcoal and burnt structural debris at the base. The date, of around AD 550, suggests very early activity at the site but does not confirm the presence of a church.

In 1625 Sir William Jones, Chief Justice of the King’s Bench laid the foundation stone for his new house at Castellmarch, at the foot of the sea-facing escarpment. The house is important but the design is unusual, with one end wing and an off-centre door. Sir William’s son, Grifith Jones, had espoused the Puritan cause for reasons of expediency. Sir John Owen of Clenennau, a royalist General under Byron in the Civil War, his commission renewed in the second civil war, was tried for treason and was condemned to death. Among the efforts for reprieve was a daring exploit by the sea captain Bartlett who sailed from Wexford to the coast near Castellmarch, plundered the house and took Griffith Jones hostage, against the life of Sir John. Owen, through various agencies, got his reprieve (Dodd, 1968, 134;).

By the end of the seventeenth century, many tenements and properties in Llyn had come into the possession of the Vaynol estate, initially to Sir William Williams and subsequently to Sir Bourchier Wray. The Vaynol holdings on Llyn were concentrated in the south-east and, in particular, on the Cilan Peninsula and in the parish of Llangian around Castellmarch and the Neigwl plain. During the eighteenth century and into the third quarter of the nineteenth century, the predominant occupation was farming and services related to farming.

Within Castellmarch and Llangian north of the Soch there were eleven farms; some very large, others smaller but none as poor as the three acre smallholdings which occur over the rest of the parish. In Llangian in the later nineteenth century, there were 17 farms of less than 10 acres in area.

During the two hundred year period from the late seventeenth century, the acreages of the farms north of the Soch remained fairly stable. Castellmarch was the largest premises on the coastal plain, farming 291 acres in 1770 with an additional 51 acres of sand and waste. Castellmarch also held the two St. Tudwal’s islands. Fach Farm, 500m to the south, worked 138 acres and held an additional 13 acres of coastal sand. West of the gorge which bisects this area, Rhandir farmed 100 acres, Bodwi 140 acres and Nant 40 acres. Bryn Cethin Mawr and Bryn Cethin Bach, between them held 30 acres between the Afon Soch and the northern stream which powered the mill at Melin Soch.

In 1800 Castellmarch was split into two holdings. The old house was in very bad repair, with ceilings fallen and the staircase in poor condition. The slates on the roof needed replacing. Nevertheless, a new stable and cowhouse had been built and a new shed for feeding calves. A store for potatoes has been built and an existing cowhouse was capable of housing 43 head of cattle indoors. The agricultural buidings were of stone, with thatched roof, except for the potato house, which was slated. One of the tenants had recently built cottages for workmen. These houses were of mudwall construction and carried straw-thatch roofs (Roberts, 1973, 43-4). A generation later, two tenants working in partnership, occupied Castellmarch. The same complaint from the Vaynol surveyor was that the roof of the house was much out of repair and was taking in water in several places. The timber was rotting and needed slating without delay. The cropping regime in 1823 included Wheat, Barley and Oats, Potatoes, Pasture and Hay (Caenarfon Record Ofice Vaynol 4065). Rhandir, in 1800, on the other hand, was found to be in good repair and very neat, with a house and cowhouse under one roof, stone-walled and thatched; a stable, cowhouse and hovel under one roof, again stone and thatched. The barn and store was in excellent repair and a pump had been sunk, supplying good water.

During the later nineteenth century certain changes took place in the balance of occupations. The catalyst was the renewal of minining activities, locally. Over the two parishes of Llanengan and Llangian, in the mid-nineteenth century, there were only three individuals who worked as lead miners. Twenty years later, there were 208 lead workers in Llanengan parish and 31 lead miners in Llangian, of which 12 mining families lived in the 10 houses of Bay View Terrace on the north bank of the Soch. This phenomenon will be considered, below, in the context of the development of Abersoch as a whole.

Key historic landscape characteristic

•Important early church at Llangian, with indication of original curvilinear graveyard and fifth-sixth-century memorial stone. Llangian village retains a nineteenth-century character.

•The landscape character is enhanced by detailed records of farm surveys of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries at a time when the philosophy of agricultural improvement was taking hold.

•A landscape of large farms of which Castellmarch was the largest, across a rolling landscape above the 50m scarp, transacted by the Nant Mawr gorge. Castellmarch house is important architecturally.

Llangian is the only village in this character area. Its nucleus is its ancient church. A tributary of the Soch joins the main river, 400m to the south. The stream winds against the churchyard and in the 1990s, caused a breach which provided an opportunity for an archaeological record to be made of the sequence of occupation below the present ground surface. The original circular churchyard wall was breached on the east side to allow an expansion of the graveyard in recent times, right up to what might be considered to have been an external concentric enclosure and part of the Early Medieval monastic space. It is not impossible that the core of the village occupied that area in a later period, although the recurrence of llain and quillet names equally suggests that this area was ploughed in open field. The small enclosure ‘llain gyd’ refers to an arable strip in the community’s shareland.

The present village has its nucleus immediately to the south-west of the church and the rectilinear plots and two-storey cottages are indicative of the first half of the nineteenth century. At the head of this very rectangular development, along the roadside and closest to the church, stands the old parsonage. It is built of roughly-coursed, flush-pointed rubble on two storeys with a slated roof. The structure originally comprised two residences as indicated by the central pair of diagonally-set brick chimney stacks, not quite centrally placed along the roof ridge. There are chimneys in the thickness of both gable-end walls and these carry three stacks each, in brick, and similarly set diagonally. The regularly arranged sixteen-pane hornless sash windows (8 over 8) are original. In contrast, there is a row of single storey houses alongside the road to Llandygwnning.

Further nineteenth-century house building took place alongside and below the steep hill at the northern entrance to Llangian. Nevertheless, very few additional buildings have been added in the immediate vicinity of the village. Llangian conveys the character of an early to mid nineteenth-century village, focussed on its ancient church and long-time, if not necessarily original, association with the important fifth-sixth-century memorial of Melus the Doctor. The large parsonage lends additional character, as does the cluster of nineteenth-century houses near the small bridge where the lane drops down from the high ground to the church. Historically the hamlet of Llangian has associations with one of the most powerful and extensive clans in Medieval Llyn.

The area north of the Soch and its estuary is low-lying and flat along the coastline, interrupted by the 50m scarp at Castellmarch, rising to a rolling plateau landscape, cleft from north to south by the gorge of Nant Mawr. Fields are generally large and regular with the exception of the immediate vicinity of Rhandir and Nant. The easternmost of these farms, from Rhandir to Castellmarch, came into the hand of the Vaynol estate in the late-seventeenth century and the history of these farms and their subsequent development benefits from the detailed records of Vaynol surveyors during the late eighteenth century and the first quarter of the nineteenth century. This was a period when the philosophy of agricultural improvement was taking hold, and a period and a landscape also, when mudwalled houses and thatched roofs were the norm for agricultural labourers and small farmers.

In contrast we see Castellmarch, farming 300 acres, at the heart of a former gentry estate which is significant both historically and architecturally. Despite the poor condition of the building in the early nineteenth century: ceilings down, staircase in poor repair, roof leaking and timber rotten, Castellmarch has survived. The design is unusual. It comprises a north-south range of two storeys and an attic and an equally tall south wing, perpendicular to the main range. The door is set off-centre in the east façade. The door is approached by a flight of stone steps and the doorway is protected by a Doric porch with columns supporting an entablature and pediment bearing armorials. The stone door frame has a false four-centred head with drip mould. The windows in the main east façade are set vertically; the windows in the east gable of the south wing are set horizontally. The mullions and transoms of the sandstone windows have ovolo moulding. All windows have horizontal drip moulds. The masonry is un-coursed rubble with larger quoins.

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