THE BOROUGH OF DINEFWR
A BRIEF HISTORY TO 1996
R. Brinley Jones, 1996
The original essay in Welsh was commissioned by the Royal Eisteddfod on the occasion of its being held in Dinefwr in 1996. The author is indebted to the Eisteddfod authorities for permission to reprint in English. Acknowledgment is made to Carmarthenshire County Council, the National Trust, the Plough Inn, Rhosmaen, Carreg Cennen Castle and Farm, and the Glanrannell Park Country House Hotel, Crugybar, for financial assistance in its production.
The modern borough of Dinefwr was created in 1974 and was a part of the County of Dyfed. However in 1996 it became once again a part of Carmarthenshire and lost its borough status. It had adopted, at its formation, the name of the renowned medieval castle which stands on a high cliff overlooking the course of the Tywi river on the outskirts of Llandeilo. The castle was the administrative centre for the Princes of Deheubarth and one of the three royal centres in Wales. An area of 374 square miles its borders verge on West Glamorgan, Ceredigion and so the landscape is as remarkable as the wildlife including the red kite. Even in the south, with its old coal workings and quarries, the landscape is both rustic and beautiful. The high points in every sense are the two regions of upland, the Black Mountain of the Brecon Beacon range to the east and, to the north, the south-west corner of the Cambrian Mountains. Both alt spectacular Black Mountain with its craggy moorland peaks and its dramatic escarpments and the Cambrian Mountains offering a series of varied views including, near the Dinas nature reserve, a scene right out of Norway a dam with the white foam boiling over in the middle of wooded land Llyn Brianne, the reservoir created in 1972.
One is able to taste something of the variety of the region, travelling by train on the Mid-Wales route, the Heart of Wales line, as it is called. That rail-track was built between Llanelli and Llandovery in the fifties of the last century. On that train journey which carves a furrow through the centre of the borough, there is the opportunity to snatch a view of the three largest towns (where most of the 40.000 inhabitants live) Ammanford, the industrial centre of the region whose history stretches back but a century but which possesses its own, unique, certain culture: Llandeilo, the name which conjures up the age of the early Welsh saints, the administrative centre of the borough until 1996, boasting the fine arched bridge, the largest in Wales built in 1848 by Thomas Jenkins: and Llandovery with its history stretching back to the old Roman fortress of Alabum, the meeting place of the rivers Bran, Gwydderig and Tywi and the shy Bawddwr that runs beneath the town and overlooking it all, the remains of the castle built c. 1113.
Travelling by train, one sees the splendour of the hills (under snow sometimes even when the sun is gleaming on the valley) the lushness of the green and the firms on the flat ground (under water sometimes when the weather is bad) and the silver line of the Tywi occasionally moving leisurely and other times flowing with determination and speed. On the journey too, one sees farms and smallholdings and fine residences sheltering under the cover of the hills. At times the train noses its way through clusters of houses built, in the main when industry was growing fast. The train stops at stations or halts Ammanford, Llandybie, Ffairfach, Llanwrda, Llandovery, Cynghordy (with its breathtaking eighteen-arched aqueduct).
In order to explore the countryside one must leave the train. But just as the medieval chronicler found it impossible to list the miracles wrought by Saint David, so too is it very difficult to include all Dinefwr's features and so as a kind of collage of colour and variety here are the names of some places which convey the romance and beauty of the region. On the map to the south of Llandeilo are the castles of Dinefwr, Dryslwyn, Carreg Cennen (all three built by Welsh princes), then Capel Hendre. Tycroes, Betws, Glanaman, Pen-y-groes, Brynaman, Carmel, Pentre Gwenlais, Derwydd, Llanfihangel Aberbythych, Beddaur Derwyddon, Trap, Golden Grove, Llangathen, Gwynfe, Cwrt Henri, the Black Mountain.
If one inclines to the north-east there are Llanegwad, Capel Isaac, Llanfynydd, Pistyll-y-March, Cwmifor, Bethlehem, Glanrhyd Saeson, Taliaris, Abermarlais, Llanddeusant, Myddfai, Cwmdu, Llansadwrn, Pentre-ty-gwyn, Mwmffri, Ystradwalter, Ahergorlech, Edwinsford, Llansawel, Crugybar, Pumsaint, Cynghordy, Dolaucothi, Cilycwm. Caeo, Dugoedydd, Cwrt-y-cadno, Rhandirmwyn, Llyn Brianne, Mynydd Mallaen, Ystradifin. The names ring like bells and tell tales of history and romance that are past. It would be difficult, in the whole of Wales, to find an area richer in its inheritance and more beautiful.
By now, one can only conjecture about the history of the early people who inhabited these parts and indeed what the landscape looked like and what kind of animals roamed about. Thousands of years have skipped by and there are only occasional clues to life past as in the human remains discovered in caves near Llandybie and Carreg Cennen, What, one wonders, was the significance of that stone, by now standing on the side of the road near Abermarlais, a short distance from Llanwrda? What were the beliefs of those who lived here, what were their customs, what indeed was their language? They were troubled when the Celts arrived; these Celts lived in fine farmsteads with their habitation secure inside stone fortresses. One may see remnants of some of these Iron Age fortresses in Penygaer and Maes Castell in Taliaris and Bryn Grongar, Llangathen (the Grongar Hill made famous by the poet and painter John Dyer who was born in Llanfynydd in 1699: the poem includes the lines:
A little rule, a little sway,
A sunbeam in a winter's day,
Is all the proud and mighty have
Between the cradle and the grave,
lines which inspired the poet Thomas Gray to compose 'Elegy written in a country churchyard'.
The largest Iron Age fortress in the whole of Wales is Garn Goch on the red-brown hill above the village of Bethlehem: it is quite dearly seen from the train. One wonders at the energy and creative skills that went into the creation of such a fortress: probably some 2,000 inhabited it at one time, together with their livestock, all which points to a relatively rich valley below c 150 B.C. Scholars maintain that it is to this period that one may attribute the shape of some of the fields and pathways which may be seen today and this was the time when there were important developments in agricultural practice such as the 'hafod' with its summer grazing on the hillsides and the 'hendre', the winter retreat. And agriculture with all the changes of the centuries has remained the essential industry of the borough.
We know that Roman legions 'approached' the area and that from their camp in Y Pigwn above Sennybridge sometime from 70 AD. It is possible that the Romans stayed for about 150 years and some of their number came to live in Alabum Llandovery today. There are Roman red bricks still visible, near to where they lived, in the church building of Llanfair-ar-y-bryn (it is in this churchyard that the hymn-writer William Williams of Pantycelyn is buried). The old name of a way that connected Llandovery with Carmarthen the Via Julia is still recalled by people alive today Maybe it was the fact that the gold of the mines at Dolau Cothi had such a fine reputation: maybe it was this that attracted the Romans to these parts. Such gold was known a thousand years before the legions arrived.
There is no evidence that the Romans brought the Christian gospel to Dinefwr despite the fact that they were responsible for doing so in some regions of Wales. But the names of the mission-saints of a later period Cadog, Dingar. Dyfin, Tybie, Tyfei and in particular Teilo (a monk of the sixth century who had dedicated and industrious disciples in South Wales and Brittany) are an indication that he gospel message had taken hold in these parts. Certainly the burial place of Teilo became a pilgrimage and there is a note dating from c. 820 in the Book of St Chad now kept in the Cathedral church at Lichfield referring to the fact that someone by the name of Gelli had exchanged the book (and what a splendid book it is!) for a fine horse: the contract of exchange was witnessed before the altar of the Abbey church of Teilo. It illustrates that there were men equipped to handle and administer legal matters in those so-called dark days!
A short distance from Teilo's church stands Dinefwr Castle, capital of Deheubarth the kingdom dating from the time of Hywel Dda (d. 950) and comprising three provinces, Dyfed, Ceredigion and Ystrad Tywi, in south-western Wales. That castle was built in the twelfth century but one would have stood there long before. The actual site with its commanding view is so remarkable it would be surprising if men had not seen its strategic advantage many centuries earlier. The Romans must have realised what an outstanding position it offered. We know nothing of that but it certainly became, later, a very important place in the history of Wales. It is possible that Rhodri Mawr, King of Gwynedd, Powys and Deheuharth had recognised its importance and we know that his son Cadell inherited Ystrad Tywi and that his son Hywel became King of all Wales (though Morgannwg and Gwent had their own independent Kings): it was Hywel who put order to various customs, usages and laws. And one of his descendants, Rhys ap Tewthw (d, 1093) entered into an agreement with William the Conqueror in order to keep the Norman out of Dinefwr (Cantref Mawr and ls-Cennen). It was in Dinefwr that Nest, Rhys's daughter, was born: she was a legendary beauty and a well-known paramour. Among her many children was Henry 'filius regis', son of Henry I, and she too was the grandmother of Giraldus Cambrensis, outstanding Latin writer and scholar, who fought bravely to gain archiepiscopal status for St Davids. By diplomacy and determination, the borough was kept in Welsh hands for two generations of princes Gruffydd ap Rhys and his son Rhys ap Gruffydd the Lord Rhys (d. 1197) the most prominent Welsh ruler of his time and the one who gave Deheubarth a rare period of stable government. However much he wished to safeguard his kingdom, he saw it was best to cooperate with the English king: he relinquished all claims to the royal status of his forebears and he was made Justiciar oi South Wales.
And he saw the advantage of adopting Norman fashion. This was when the new castle was built of stone in Dinefwr, the old capital 'city'. Lord Rhys's concern for the religious well-being of his subjects was considerable and he established monastic houses, Ystrad Fflur Strata Florida among them: but Talley was one of his special creations. This was the only Premonstratensian house in Wales and the ruins which remain on the verge of the lakeside right in the middle of the north-west of the borough whisper of glory and silence that were. (The church there was rebuilt in 1772 and some believe that it is in this churchyard that the greatest of all medieval Welsh poets, Dafydd ap Gwilym, fl. 132070, is buried.) Rhys was the last of the really powerful leaders of the South a soldier, a fair-minded administrator, a patron of the arts (he was patron of the famous 'eisteddfod' held in Cardigan in 1176). His sons quarrelled among themselves though they were successful in their stand against the English throne, during the reigns of Llywelyn the Great and Llywelyn the Last Prince who was killed on 11 December 1282. The political independence of Wales was at an end and the death of the Lord Rhys's eldest son Gruffydd ap Rhys in 1201 heralded the final collapse of the house of Dinefwr (later, in 127677 the castle was to yield to English forces and the Welsh failed in their attempts to recover it although they tried to do so in 1282 and again during the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr in 1403.
The dream of independence did not die and when Owain Glyndwr walked through parts of Dinefwr with fire in his feet that first week of July 1403 there were those who saw hope and salvation. Two years later he was crowned Prince of Wales with a parliament house in Machynlleth: there was a programme of measures to confirm Welsh independence with its own church and its own two universities. But it was not to be. From 1412 there is no news of him and maybe, when some recognised the possibility of unifying the whole of England and Wales and that under the banner of a Welshman in 1485, it seemed as if Welsh prophecy was being fulfilled. And for the enlightened of Dinefwr there was particular reason for satisfaction, After all, one of Henry Tudor's chief Welsh supporters was Rhys ap Thomas, grandson of Gruffydd ap Nicholas who had leased the lordship of Dinefwr in 1440. For his services, Rhys was made a knight and later a knight of the Garter.
Rhys's father, Thomas ap Gruffydd had married Elizabeth daughter and heiress of Abermarlais who claimed descent from the Welsh princes. Abermarlais was an important historic house in the borough and for six centuries a home to the Jones family descended from Ednyfed Fychan (d. 1240). Chief Steward to Llywelyn the Great. (In the second half of the eighteenth century, 'Twm or Nant, the composer of interludes metrical plays who fled to the south from Denbighshire when he experienced financial difficulties, maintained himself and his family by timber hauling at Abermarlais and other places and later looking after a tollgate and by keeping an inn at Llandeilo). The contacts of the families who lived in the large houses which may be seen or were seen in the neighbourhood are extremely interesting: references to the names of some of them will convey something of the richness of the connections Llwyn-y-brain, Derwydd, Glanbran, Ystradifin, Aberglasne, Cwrt Henri, Golden Grove, Edwinsford, Llwyn Hywel, Glyn Fur, Cynghordy, Ystradwalter to mention some of them. When the old order died it was those who lived in such houses who were the princes of these parts.
Whatever the Tudors felt of their Welsh connections they were certain about one thing the all-importance of a unified realm and to that end the Acts of Union 153643 were directed. One development that came with the new regime was to make Protestantism the official religion of the kingdom. Among changes that followed was the dissolution of religious houses and the Abbey at Tally closed in 1536. But the old religion did not disappear overnight and there is one reason to believe that the Catholic faith remained in the hearts of some right up to the beginning of the eighteenth century and, indeed, later. There is, for example, one Samuel Davies, Llandeilo, a former priest who received a penalty in the Great Sessions of 1700 for having sung mass in a private house in the parish and for administering the sacrament. How much he would have liked the fact that the old mansion of Tre-gib in Ffairfach, should have been used later as a school for Catholic boys and as a seminary for Catholic priests for a period after the second world war.
But Protestantism had come to stay: Carmarthen and the Bishop's palace at Abergwili were not far away and from them came clear messages of Protestantism. The new teaching was strengthened by the earnest preaching of a new generation of Protestants educated at Oxford in some cases, maybe, after a grammar school education at Carmarthen (in a school opened in 1576) or tutored privately in one of the great houses already mentioned. And there was a touch of Puritanism too. One example was Rhys Prichard of Llandovery who returned to his town in 1602 after graduating from Jesus College. Oxford. a college established in 1571. Through his powerful preaching and his sermons in song' known later as Canwyll y Cymry (The Welshmeri Candle) he denounced the teaching of the Pope and tried to inculcate high moral standards at a time when it would appear that such standards had been eroded, It was to Jesus College that William Vaughan of Golden Grove went, later to become founder of a settlement in Newfoundland called Cambriol, a venture that failed. His kinsman, John Williams of Llansawel also went to Jesus College: he was to become professor of Divinity in the university and Principal of Jesus as did Griffith Powell, also of Llansawel who was responsible for the chapel and dining hall of his old college. Another contemporary was Morgan Owen. Glasallt Fawr, Myddfai, chaplain to William Laud and later Bishop of Landaff: it was he who re-built the south porch of St Mary's, the university church at Oxford. About the same time another prominent Protestant, William Nicholson educated at Oxford became vicar of Llandeilo in 1626 and later was Bishop of Gloucester He had been a successful master at a school in Croydon before coming to L and he also kept school at Golden Grove with Jeremy Taylor during the Commonwealth period. (This Jeremy Taylor was the author of Holy Living, 1650, translated into Welsh by Ellis Wynne, master of Welsh prose and author in Welsh of The Visions of the Sleeping Bard, 1703, one of the classics of Welsh literature.)
The more radical tenets of Protestantism produced the Nonconformity of the area, for example in Cefn Arthen, Capel Isaac, Gwynfe, Ystradffin and Crugybar. But it was a movement within the Established Church which was the great spiritual explosion in the area Methodism. John Wesley visited the region in July 1777: his remarks are interesting. 'We dined at Llandeilo. After dinner, we walked in Mr Rice's park, one of the pleasantest I ever saw; it is so finely watered by the winding river running through and round the gently rising hills. Near one side of it, on the top of a high eminence, is the old castle, a venerable pile at least as old as William the Conqueror and majestic though in ruins. (It is not surprising that Mr Rice's park was so special: Capability Brown had been designing it from 1775 to 1778). Wesley came again in 1784 and 1790 and called in at Llandovery on the way. But Welsh Methodism, though it gained support from its English counterpart, was not derived from it. It was from Pentre-ty-gwyn that one of the clearest and most far-reaching voices of Methodism originated: it was the voice of William Williams, Pantycelyn, 171791, hymn writer and soul-searcher supreme. He had married a local girl Mary Thomas, Llansawel, who came originally from Uanfynydd. The meetings of the early movement in Dugoedydd (the old farmhouse between Cilycwm and Rhandirmwyn where the first Methodist session was held in 1742), in Llanddeusant, in Cilycwm, for example, are by now part of the mythology of Welsh religious experience. When the hymn-writer who composed two volumes of English hymns speaks of 'flowing torrents in the night/O'er rocks impendent fall' and 'Through forests wild we travel on/Where savage beasts devour', the local streams, rivers and landscape become part of the topography of the Holy Land, And his hymn 'Guide me, O thou great Jehovah' has taken the name of Williams, and his farmhouse Pantycelyn all over the world.
The circulating schools of Griffith Jones, Llanddowror (16841761) admired by Catherine of Russia were all-important in preparing the land for revival and many such schools were held in the area. Among the teachers was Morgan Rhys (171679) from Cilycwm, fired by the spirit of Methodism, who returned to Llanfynydd at the end of his days: he was author of some very fine Welsh hymns.
Of course there was some kind of educational provision over the ages. The Romans would have brought their culture with them (although the 'law' of Rome was not adopted but Welsh native law). The Normans brought courtesy, civilised manners and their kind of literature. A hundred years before they came, Hywel Uda, already referred to in his local connections and as codifier of the laws, admired the customs, manners and culture of the court of Alfred, King of Wessex. Such a centre as Dinefwr Castle with its civil servants and families of would-be rulers called for educational training. Reference has already been made to the large houses of the area: certainly their owners would provide education for members of their household and maybe to families in their employ. Religious houses offered teaching and poets were given support and encouragement from local patrons, from Cwrt Bryn-y-beirdd (near Carreg Cennen), Plas Meddynfych, Parc-y-rhun, Abermarlais, Derwydd, Cefn Cethin, Edwinsford among them. But, in addition, there was the training associated with rural crafts, husbandry and the craft of medicine as exemplified in the famous remedies of the medieval Physicians of Myddfai which demonstrate a wide knowledge of herbal remedies and the properties of plants. The locals also inherited traditions of leisure, superstitions, games, folklore such as the tales of the Lady of the Lake at Llyn-y-fan and the adventures of Twm Siôn Cati.
Although Protestantism at first was only mildly welcomed, by the last quarter of the sixteenth century it was beginning to make its mark. The authority of the Bible and the priesthood of all believers were central and in the wake of these came a deep desire to read and to understand. The printed book had arrived (the first Welsh book appeared in 1546): in 1600 the Llanwrda churchwardens report that they possess one Welsh Bible, one Welsh and one English Prayer Book. The appetite grew and the story of the publication of Canwyll y Cymry by Rhys Prichard, vicar of Llandovery, is a telling one: fifty-two editions appeared from the press before 1820. It is not surprising that Llandovery had a remarkable printing press in the hands of Rhys Thomas from 1760 and William Rees of Tonn from 1829. The books published by the Tonn Press of Liandovery are notable for their design, quality printing and the variety of their titles, e.g. the three volumes of Lady Charlotte Guest's translation of the medieval romances under the title The Mabinogion which appeared 183849. There, too, was published Yr Efangylydd under the direction of a group of Independent ministers and the editorship of Brutus (David Owen) who had come to live in Pentre-ty-gwyn in 1829. Another very special contribution of the borough to the Welsh book trade and to Welsh readers was Llyfrau'r Dryw a series of thirty-four booklets which came from the press in Llandybie between 1940 and 1952.
From 1581 the universities of Oxford and Cambridge admitted only those who accepted the teaching of the Anglican Church: in consequence other provision had to be made to (rain non-conformist ministers and the result was the creation of new private schools and academics. Often the education offered in them was superior and in retrospect they may be seen as a step towards the establishment of secondary schools and indeed the university of Wales. Rhys Prydderch (d.1699) dedicated Nonconformist of Ystradwalter near Llandovery kept a school of some distinction: it remained open for over forty years. Prydderch's work Gemmau Doethineb, a splendid collection of moral and religious maxims appeared posthumously in 1714 seen through the press by William Evans, Pencader one of his former students, first head of the Carmarthen Academy. Another very distinguished academy was the one kept by Dr William Davies in Froodvale near Llansawel opened in 18345. Indeed it carried unusually high commendations from the Commissioners appointed to investigate the state of Welsh education in 18467: they refer to it as comprising every part of a good classical (including Hebrew), mathematical and general education'. Another, the Sawel Academy was opened in 1871 by the Reverend Jonah Evans and among his alumni were Ben Davies, Panteg, crowned and chaired poet (winning the chair at Llandudno in 1896) and D. Lleufer Thomas, the barrister. Often those who attended these academies were mature students and their contribution was considerable as in the case of the notable school of W H. Williams (Watcyn Wyn) the schoolmaster, poet and preacher: the 'Hope Academy' at Ammanford in 1880 and a new school called Gwynryn School. It was a seminary for some twenty students leaving annually for the colleges and professions. In addition, Sunday schools were in their prime in the nineteenth century, right up to the first quarter of this century: their influence was considerable as was that of regular preaching.
One institution unique in the borough (and indeed in Wales) is Llandovery College opened on Saint David's Day 1848 a boarding school for boys (with girls joining in the early 1970. It offered a liberal, classical, scientific education in a Christian and Welsh context. It was here that Ernest Jones, friend and biographer of Freud was educated, D. Vaughan Thomas, mathematician and musician (father of the broadcaster Wynford Vaughan Thomas), Mervyn Johns the actor, W. Llewelyn Williams of Llansadwrn, journalist, historian, politician and a host of scholars, civil servants, businessmen, scientists, doctors, and priests. It attracted masters of distinction Frank Stenton and A. C. Coulton the historians; Littleton G. Powys the author; C. Hartwell Jones the classicist; and Carwyn James, rugby expert and Welshman. And it attracted as headmasters A. C. Edwards and G. O. Williams later to become archbishops of Wales. From Llandovery College David Morgan Jones, Llandeilo and Daniel (Lleufer) Thomas, Talley (having joined the College from Jonah Evans Academy) proceeded to Oxford to become two of the founders of the Welsh Society of the university's colleges, Cymdeithas Dafydd ap Gwiiym, in May 1886: it was a society that played a prominent part in Welsh affairs and in the renaissance of Welsh letters so much so that it was described by the distinguished Welsh scholar Sir Thomas Parry as a 'nursery of giants'.
By now the academies have closed but Llandovery College continues to serve as do the comprehensive schools at Ammanford and Llandovery, all old grammar schools noteworthy for their standards and for the successes of their pupils.
The old Roman roads and the railways were means of bringing pupils to Llandovery and taking them home at the end of term. But there had been 'traffic' of a different kind over the centuries the drovers, those men who drove cattle and sheep to the fairs of England. Llanfynydd, Cwmdu, Ffarmers were on the popular routes of the drovers and Llandovery one of the great assembly points. Vicar Prichard had offered the drover of the seventeenth century a word of warning:
Of drunkenness beware whate'er thou dost:
For drunkenness will make the wealthiest poor,
And when a trader's oft in liquor lost,
In wine and ale he soon will spend his store.
One of the drovers David Jones set up the Black Ox Bank in Llandovery in 1799. The drovers took the tales of the countryside with them on their journeys and they brought stories and news back. The romance and the difficulties of their journeys are proverbial. On his way back from a droving journey, Daf Jones of Cwmgogerddan, Caeo, experienced a religious conversion: he joined the Independent Chapel of Crugybar. He translated many of Isaac Watts's hymns into Welsh and some of these are the most memorable in Welsh hymnology.
The drovers tried to avoid using the main roads for many reasons to avoid traffic, to discover new and fresh grazing ground for the animals en-route and to avoid paying rolls. The number of tollgates had grown and the farmers were angered at the high costs. As a result there was major social unrest in west Wales during the second quarter of the nineteenth century and it manifested itself in what were called the Rebecca Riots. In this area the chapel-room at Cwmifor was a centre of planning and groups were accommodated in the cellars of the George Hotel, Llandeilo. There were incidents at Crug-y-bar, Llandybie, Llanwrda and Pumsaint among other places. The end result was a victory for the people and Lord Cawdor of Golden Grove had a part to play in the lessening of the burden of tolls and that by means of a parliamentary law passed in 1844.
As has been suggested already, agriculture has not been supplanted as the main industry of the region: hand in hand there are other occupations such as forestry, livestock markers, milk production and sewerage works. Instead of the heavy industries of the nineteenth century the coalpits and tinplate works (there were tin works at Tirydail, Pantyffynnon, Glanaman, Garnant and Brynaman but the industry came to an end in the last years of the last war) instead of these there are many light industries, There are open-cast and limestone works. There are light engineering works, steel cladding, glass fibre, clothes manufacturing, fresh spring water bottling, crafts, animal feeds, There are industrial complexes in Cape Hendre. Ammanford, Betws, Glanaman and Garnant in the south and Llandovery in the north. There are engineering works at Llandeilo and concrete works in Llangadog. There are sawmills in Garnant, Llangadog Pumsaint, Llandovery and Penygroes.
In recent years the tourism industry has become important with visitors slowly discovering the many secrets of Dinefwr. Llandovery now boasts a new heritage centre and Cadw has a great influence through the monuments that it maintains throughout the area. The National Trust, entrusted with many of the treasures, has its South Wales headquarters in Llandeilo, With the Trust's development of Dinefwr Park and Newton House, and bordering Castle Woods and Dinefwr Castle here is the history of Wales encapsulated in one gem that is slowly revealing some of those secrets so long hidden from the world.
Of course it is impossible to summarize the contribution of an area so wide, so rich and so varied to the culture of the nation. The architecture and internal design of some of the old churches remain a tribute to the standards of the past, just as the design and workmanship of some of the old houses display. The size and simplicity of the chapels call to mind old enthusiasm and devotion. But little remains of the artistic glory of ages past after all, Wales being a relatively poor country was not able to afford the luxury of great art. (It is interesting to ponder, however, how the local nobility lived and what their libraries and objets d'art consisted of. Just imagine someone like George Devereux, uncle to the Earl of Essex: he may well have brought Nicholas Hilliard miniatures to his home in Llwyn-y-brain when he resided there at the turn of the seventeenth century. But we do not know!). Such luxuries may have been few and far between but writing materials were relatively cheap and the Welshman's power of words strong. Little wonder that composition, writing, poetry discussion, preaching, community singing should have been so popular and nowhere more so than in Dinefwr.
There is a variety in social awareness in the area. Some see distinctive differences between the 'south' and the 'north-east'. Some, for example, detect a dear difference between the character of Liandeilo and Llandovery. Of course it is too tempting to generalise. Certainly the culture of the industrial part has as own distinctive features the choirs, the plays, the brass bands, the discussion groups, the big chapels, the powerful evangelical strain. This is the background to people like Watcyn Wyn, author of the well-known hymn 'Rwy'n gweld o bell y dydd yn dod' of Gwili, theologian and poet ... of J. T. Job, preacher and poet ... of Nantlais, editor of a children's paper and author of memorable hymns for young people. This is the culture that nurtured James Griffiths. miners' leader, politician, first Secretary of State for Wales, 1964, socialist of conviction ... and his brother Amanwy, the poet. Others too like Ken Etheridge, poet, dramatist and artist ... Rae Jenkins, musician and that fine scholar Gomer M, Roberts who started life as a miner but who became the authority on Welsh Methodism among other things.
Then there is the northeast, by now similar in its cultural life though the expert eye and ear may detect differences. Here are summer shows, hounds, tweeds ... and here one is more likely to come across a sherry party and a firm invitation to dinner, But here we are generalising again. It was, after all, from this part that one of the great poets of the Middle Ages came Lewis Glyn Cothi who wrote a poem, a 'cywydd' to Gwilym ap Gwallter of Llandybie and an ode to Hywel ap Henri of Parc-y-rhun ... and the splendid and moving poem he wrote on the death of his son Sion,
O Mary, woe is me at his resting,
And woe my bosom at closing his grave
And, as has been indicated already, the religious literature of Wales has been amply enriched from these parts by Rhys Prichard, William Williams, Morgan Rhys, Dai Jones. There was a host of stars ... some less well-known like Thomas Lewis 17591842, Cwmcynwal, Llanwrda, a blacksmith in Talley, who wrote a moving Passion-tide hymn ... and his friend John Thomas 17631834 of Llansadwrn, another fine hymn writer. There were the brothers John and Morgan Dafydd both shoemakers from Caeo in the middle of the eighteenth century; the first, author of 'Newyddion braf a ddaeth i'n bro' and the latter, 'Yr lesu'n ddi-fài ...'. And John Thomas 1730?1804 of Col, Myddfai, hymn writer and author of the remarkable autobiography 'Rhad Ras'. Later were Gwilym Teilo. poet and litterateur, local historian and eisteddfodwr and Keidrych Rhys of Bethlehem, who did so much to promote the work of the writers of the so-called Anglo-Welsh school. And here, in Llandeilo, one recalls recent names W. Leslie Richards, poet, novelist, scholar and Noel John, musician, and Carey Morris, artist, There were those who came and stayed and served like A. T. Arber Cooke from Wimbledon who set up home in Llandovery and who wrote a fine history of his adopted town.
There were fields other than the arts for example. Sir John Williams, Gwynfe, physician to Queen Victoria and outstanding benefactor of the National Library of Wales. From the same area came William Griffith and David Williams, missionaries in Central Africa and David Griffiths in Madagascar. It was in Llanddeusant that Richard Vaughan was born in 1904 his first novel 'Moulded in Earth' (1951) was highly praised and translated into several languages. One wonders where it was in Dinefwr that he had in mind when he wrote 'glory to every river and brook whispering their litanies under the soft stars'.
It really is impossible to give anything more than a selection in a short essay such as this. Nothing more than an aperitif. As the John Dyer of Grongar Hill put it,
'What landscape lies below'
and what, indeed, lies within it.
Copyright R. Brinley Jones 1996.
Date this page last updated: October 1, 2010