A brief history of a Carmarthenshire
dynasty and the building of Ammanford


1. Introduction
2. The Middle Ages and Dinefwr Castle
3. The Acquisition of the Lands
4. The Dynevor Title
5. Dinefwr Park
6. Policing Rebecca – The 4th Lord and the Rebecca Riots
7. The Twentieth Century and Ammanford
8. Summary
9. Sources


THE DYNEVOR COAT OF ARMS. The Crest (at the top) is the black raven of the Rhys family. The Arms (the shield in the centre) has the three ravens for he RHYS side of the ancestry (top left and bottom right quarters). A lion rampart (top right quarter) for the TALBOTs. Three trefoils (bottom left) for the DE CARDONNELs. The supporters are a Griffin (left) and a Talbot (right). The Motto means 'Secret and Bold'

The visitor to Ammanford today will find a small, essentially rural town nestling in the shadow of the Black Mountain. Unlike some of the other towns and villages of the area, it's a fairly recent arrival on the scene with little more than a two centuries of history to call its own. Before that the town was still farmland owned mostly by one family, the Dynevors, who had other parts of Carmarthenshire in their possession as well. Long since built on, the patchwork quilt of tenant farms that once paid rent and obeisance to the local squire has become our modern streets and housing estates, road systems, car parks, supermarkets, shops and factories. The virgin fields given over to arable cultivation, or grazed by livestock, can now only be guessed at from Ordnance Survey and parish tithe maps held in public archives.

The Dynevor estates in 1883 consisted of 7,208 acres in Carmarthenshire, 3,299 acres in Glamorgan, besides 231 acres in Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Total: 10,738 acres, worth £12,562 a year income and the principal residence was Dinefwr Castle in Llandeilo. (Source: The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Vicary Gibbs, London, 1916.) According to Bank of England figures, the pound had a present day purchasing value of £90.64 in 1883 so the above income represents £1,138,685 a year at 2009's values.

The Dynevors though were not the largest landowners in the county; far from it. That distinction must go to the Scottish Earls of Cawdor, whose vast land holdings dwarfed even the substantial acreage of the Dynevors. Their 10,738 acres in 1883 look puny compared to the 33,782 acres the Cawdors owned in Carmarthenshire alone, with another 17,735 acres in Pembrokeshire, and to which can be added 50,119 acres in their home county of Nairn in Scotland. The total of 101,657 acres brought in an annual income of £44,662 in 1883 (that's equivalent to £4,048,394 a year in 2009). Interestingly, the 51,000 acres of prime agricultural land in Wales yielded the Cawdors an annual income of £35,042 (£3,176,387 in 2009) but the 50,000 poorer Scottish acres were worth just £9,620 per annum (£872,006). Their principal residences (note the plural) were Glanfread in Cardiganshire; Stackpole Court, Pembrokeshire; Golden Grove, Llandeilo; and Cawdor Castle, Nairnshire, Scotland. Our source for this information, the 'Complete Peerage', by Vicary Gibbs, also informs us that Earl Cawdor was one of the 28 noblemen who in 1883 owned over 100,000 acres in the UK.

Carmarthenshire historian Francis Jones neatly enumerates the Cawdors' real estate:

The family occupied numerous country houses. At the height of its affluence the parent estate, that of Golden Grove, comprised over 50,000 acres, 27 extensive manors and lordships, and five castles, and when these are added to the lands of the many branches it can be truly said that nearly half of Carmarthenshire owned a Vaughan for landlord. [The Ethos of Golden Grove, Francis Jones, from A Treasury of Historic Carmarthenshire, 2002]

The most famous of the Cawdors, if Shakespeare's three witches are to be believed, was of course Macbeth ("All hail Macbeth! hail to thee, Thane of Cawdor!"). There was a historical Macbeth (1005–1057, and King of Scotland from 1040), but the modern Barony of Cawdor goes back only to 1796, with the Earldom being created in 1827. The modern-day Earls still live in Cawdor Castle, but as this was built in the late 14th century, it has nothing to do with Macbeth, historical or Shakespearean. Their Pembrokeshire residence at Stackpole Court was demolished in 1963 and their equally grand Carmarthenshire seat at Golden Grove was taken over by the county council in 1951 and run as an agricultural college, while the mighty Carreg Cennen Castle and its surrounding farmlands was lost to them in the 1960s. (For more on the Cawdors, including the somewhat devious way it's claimed they acquired the inheritance to the Welsh lands, click HERE.)

After this little digression into the Cawdor's family fortunes, it might now be productive to return to the Dynevors and trace the history of this family who figured so large in Ammanford's past. To do this however we'll have to start the story seven miles north, and a thousand years into the past, at the ancient town of Llandeilo, and where the Dynevor's ancestral seat can still be seen in all its glory.

Just a short walk from the centre of Llandeilo are the beautiful parklands of Dinefwr Castle. At the south west corner of the park, on a crag some 300 feet above the river banks, stands ancient Dinefwr Castle with a spectacular view overlooking the river Tywi from its recently restored ramparts.

Aerial view of Dinefwr Castle from the south. Photo by T. A. James (Dyfed Archaeological Trust) from 'Sir Gar – Essays in Carmarthenshire History', edited by Heather James (1991)

At the north west corner is the mock-gothic Newton House, medieval in origin, but with 17th, 18th and 19th century additions, and running along the river at the southern side, are the ancient woodlands concealing the slightly spooky, grave-strewn Llandyfeisant Church. Add a deer park and a wetlands area and you have the perfect ingredients for a thoroughly enjoyable morning or afternoon walk. And of course, mention that the beautiful park was laid out by the most sought after landscape gardener of the 18th century, Capability Brown, and your joy will be unconfined (or might be if the rain holds off).

The park's long views look down also on a long history, one that goes far back into the Welsh middle ages (and even further if legend is to be believed). There is an impressive cast of historical characters, too. Start with some fierce Welsh Princes fighting off the advances of the nasty Normans, when they weren't fighting each other that is (they were a quarrelsome lot), before finally being dispossessed of their lands by Edward the First. Then add a knight in shining armour, in this case Henry the Seventh (a Welshman), to restore the lands two centuries later, with another Welshman, Rhys ap Thomas, killing the monstrous King Richard III in the process. Next, enter Henry's villainous son Henry the Eighth, seizing the Rhys lands for the crown yet again, beheading the owner in the process, and all-in-all you have the makings of a rich history indeed, Hollywood material even. The family, by then calling themselves Rice after anglicizing the original name of Rhys, managed to get some, but not all, of their land back eventually thanks to later monarchs Queen Mary and James the First. Finally the family acquired a modern title in 1780 with the creation of the first Baron Dynevor of Dynevor (the current holder of the title is the 9th Baron). The 4th Baron brings the Dynevors back into the glare of history once more with his policing of the Rebecca Riots in 1843. The Dynevors' fortunes increased steadily throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries before declining precipitously in the twentieth century, after death duties struck them a mortal blow from which they never fully recovered. We can however add the obligatory feel-good ending to finish with, for despite the recent Dynevor generations somehow managing to fritter away all that wonderful inheritance, Dinefwr Park is now in public ownership and available for all, not merely one family, to enjoy.

The first recorded occupants of Dinefwr Castle and its lands was the medieval Lord Rhys and his descendants, who ruled the area until 1277 when their lands and castles were siezed by the Anglo-Norman King Edward I. Then, after two hundred years of dispossession by the English crown, the ancestors of the modern Dynevors acquired the estates (and incidentally the name Rhys as well), becoming the dominant political power in Wales. By virtue of being members of that thoroughly outdated, yet curiously persistent species, the aristocracy, the Dynevors have a pretty complete family history going back, they once claimed, to the sixth century. Most of us commoners are lucky if we can go back three generations or so before our genealogy peters out completely, usually with plenty of gaps for unknown great-aunts, intrepid emigrants, and mysterious black sheep. So, we'll trace a little of that Dynevor history from the middle ages to more recent times, by when all the achievements of that splendid, pageant-filled past have evaporated completely, leaving plenty of history but little else besides. Anyone taking a stroll in Dinefwr Park after reading this brief tale will know the history of the most prominent features they encounter but will also know that none of it any longer belongs to the Dynevor family.

1. Introduction
2. The Middle Ages and Dinefwr Castle
3. The Acquisition of the Lands
4. The Dynevor Title
5. Dinefwr Park
6. Policing Rebecca – The 4th Lord and the Rebecca Riots
7. The Twentieth Century and Ammanford
8. Summary
9. Sources


The early history of the Rhys/Rice/Dynevor dynasty (ie pre-12th century) is mostly based on conjecture and legend, there being no written records to confirm whatever the imagination has embroidered on time's blank spaces. The legendary part of the ancestry claims a 6th century origin in Uryan Rheged, Lord of Kidwelly, Carunllou, and Iskennen in South Wales. He supposedly married Margaret La Faye, daughter of Gerlois, Duke of Cornwall, and is even credited with building the castle of Carreg Cennen in Carmarthenshire. He had originally been a prince of the North Britons (ie Scots), but was expelled by the Saxons in the 6th century and fled to Wales. And if that's not enough, Uryan Rheged's great-great-grandfather is claimed to have been Coel Codevog, King of the Britons. Coel, who lived in the 3rd century A.D., seems to be the original of the nursery song, 'Old King Cole.' (See The Annotated Mother Goose, William S. and Cecil Baring-Gould, Clarkson N. Potter, 1962.) Well maybe; or then again, maybe not.

Burke's Peerage and Baronetage, that bible for the aristocratically inclined, is more circumspect however, and has this to say about the claims for such an early ancestry:

"The Rices (later Rhyses) have in their time claimed descent from URIEN RHEGED, ruler of an area called Rheged on the English-Scottish borders in the late 6th century. But the known chronology does not fit. Indeed the descent may be from a much later Urien."

The Lord Rhys
Whoever was the Dynevors' ancestor, the name 'Uryan' has been retained as part of their family name to this day (the 9th and current Baron Dynevor is Richard Charles Uryan Rhys). Burke's Peerage goes on to list the earliest known ancestor of the family as being one Einon ap Llywarch, born circa 1150. But early Dinefwr will always be associated with the twelfth century Rhys ap Gruffydd (c. 1132–1197) who was most definitely a historical figure. Rhys was one of the few Welsh Princes to regain territory lost to the Normans. Deheubarth (roughly modern Dyfed) was overrun by the Normans in 1093, remaining in their possession until 1155. Although Rhys and his brothers regained land from the English in Carmarthenshire, Cardiganshire and Glamorgan, they still had to rule under the overlordship of King Henry II (reigned 1154–1189), so that in 1158 Rhys ap Gruffydd submitted to Henry and was forced by him to drop the title of Brenin (King), being known as Yr Arglwydd Rhys (The Lord Rhys), though from surviving documents Rhys styled himself Princeps, ie Prince. While Henry lived, Rhys was a trusted agent and ally, dispelling much nationalist assumption of later centuries that Welsh Princes were unwilling subjects of the Anglo–Normans. (Lord Rhys's great-grandson, Rhys ap Maredudd (died 1291) even fought alongside Edward I against the Welsh, being given Dryslwyn Castle as his reward.) For his part, the Lord Rhys was content to make the most of his relationship with the king, even going to war against fellow Welsh princes with the Crown's support, but he continued to think and act as an independent Welsh prince. By the time of his death in 1197 he had been an active participant in war and politics, and the dominant ruling prince in Wales, for more than forty years.

He governed his principality from two centres, the formidable hilltop fortress of Dinefwr high above the river Towy in Llandeilo and Cardigan Castle, rebuilt by him in stone and mortar in 1171, demonstrating that the Welsh could imitate the Normans when occasion demanded. Interestingly, Cardigan was the first recorded Welsh masonry castle; that is, the first stone castle built by the native princes of Wales and it remained the property of the Lord Rhys until his death in 1197. It was at Cardigan Castle that Lord Rhys organised what is recognised as the first ever national Eisteddfod in 1176. (While the winner of the chair for music was a minstrel from Rhys's own household, the poets of Gwynedd won the bardic chair, revealing the cultural and linguistic, if not political, unity of Wales at that time.) It was the Lord Rhys who possibly built the first castle at Carreg Cennen near Llandeilo, though historians are not in complete agreement on this. The impressive stone structure that now stands 300 feet above the river Cennen, watching over five counties, was erected by Edward I around 1300 AD.

According to another of the legends attached to Dinefwr Castle it was built by Rhodri Mawr, King of Wales in the 9th century. By 950 AD, it was thought that Dinefwr was the principal court from which Hywel Dda ("The Good") ruled a large part of Wales including the southwest area known as Deheubarth (Dyfed) along with the kingdoms of Gwynedd and Powys. Hywel's great achievement was to create the country's first uniform legal system, which stood until Henry VIII's Acts of Union between 1536 and 1543 replaced them with English codes of law.

This legend was until recently also the received historical opinion, but has now been rejected by modern historians in favour of the following one expressed in the wonderful 'Castles of Wales' website (better than NASA, honest):

"The Welsh lawbooks of the medieval period, the earliest of which is a text of the 13th century, accorded to Dinefwr a special status as the principal court of the Kingdom of Deheubarth ... The phraseology of the lawyers' statements may give Dinefwr an aura of antiquity, but written sources do not suggest that the castle has any history earlier than the 12th century. The earliest reference to the castle at Dinefwr in historical sources belongs to the period of Rhys ap Gruffydd, the Lord Rhys. One of the greatest Welsh leaders of the 12th century, Rhys ap Gruffydd was able to withstand the power of the Anglo-Norman lords of the March, supported on occasion by the intervention of King Henry II (reigned 1154–89) of England, and recreate the kingdom. He was then able to take advantage of the king's more conciliatory policy in the period after 1171 to maintain stable authority for many years. Deheubarth flourished over a period of relative peace and general harmony, with Welsh culture and religious life, as well as legal and administrative affairs, all benefiting from Rhys's patronage and self-assured governance." (

But not for long. After the death of this great ruler, conflict over the succession arose between his sons, and thereafter the important castle figures repeatedly in the turbulent years of dynastic struggles between the Welsh princes, and the wars between the Welsh and the English in the late 12th and early 13th centuries. In 1213, for instance, Lord Rhys's youngest son, Rhys Gryg (Rhys the hoarse – what a wonderful image that conjures), was besieged in the castle by two of Lord Rhys's grandsons. This wasn't unusual for the times though – Lord Rhys himself had once been attacked and imprisoned by two of his own sons, Maelgwn and Hywel, in 1194. We are also told, that Rhys Gryg was forced to dismantle Dinefwr Castle by Llywelyn the Great, prince of Gwynedd, who became pre-eminent in the area in the early 13th century. But all this chaotic squabbling was to cease, dramatically and suddenly, after the death of Henry III in 1272. His son Edward I now came to the English throne and within five years had destroyed the power of the Welsh princes. In 1276 an English army under Pain de Chaworth was assembled at Carmarthen, and Welsh resistance crumbled. Rhys Wedrod placed Dinefwr in the king's hands in 1277, and from this time the castle remained largely in possession of the English crown.

But that is not to say its history ceased with this calamity; far from it, as Cambria Archaeology informs us:

"Extensive repairs and additions were made to the castle by the English Crown in the 1280s. During latter years of Welsh rule a small settlement – 'Trefscoleygyon' or 'vill of the clerks' – developed outside the castle. By 1294 the town of Dinefwr had 26 burgages, a weekly market and annual fair. The end of the 13th century saw Dinefwr become a twin-town. This consisted of an 'old' town on the hill containing 11 Welsh burgesses [ie modern Llandeilo town], and a 'new' town – soon to be called 'Newton' – containing 35 burgesses of mostly English descent. Newton was located some distance away on the site of the later mansion, Newton House. In 1310 the castle, towns and demesne of Dinefwr were granted to Edmund Hakelut and later to his son. The Hakelut family held their position, apart from a short break, until 1360. Repairs to the castle were carried out under the Hakeluts. A survey of 1360 indicates that Newton was a successful settlement with 46 burgesses. A charter was granted to the towns in 1363, but this seems to have marked a high point in the towns' fortunes.
......The castle and towns were besieged in 1403 during the Glyndwr rebellion. Following the revolt the towns and castle were granted to Hugh Standish. The Standish family had little interest in south Wales, and both the castle and towns went into decline. In 1433 responsibility for the towns and castle was separated, and the towns and demesne were granted to John Perrot. His cousin married Gruffydd ap Nicholas, and so began the long association with the Gruffydd family. By the time that Gruffydd ap Nicholas's grandson, Rhys ap Gruffydd, was attainted of treason in 1531 his family had built a mansion among the ruins of the former town of Newton, although 'Newton' was still marked on Saxton's map of Carmarthenshire of 1578. The age of the towns and castle had come to an end." [Note: a 'burgage' was a tenure of land in a town on a yearly rent.]

(from the Cambria Archaeology website

Dinefwr Castle was finally abandoned in the 15th century in favour of the more convenient site of the first Newton House lower down. (It was in this century that castles ceased to have significant military value – the earlier invention of gunpowder and cannons had seen to that.) As if to emphasize this, a purely decorative summer house was added about 1660 to the top of the circular medieval keep, the remains of which still survive. The age of the style guru had finally arrived.

Dinefwr Castle from the south in 1660 by an unknown artist. The decorative summer house can be seen on top of the circular keep, The building which pre-dated the modern Newton House is in the distance, middle right. Llandeilo Bridge (in reality a mile upstream) can be seen bottom right. (Nat. Lib. of Wales, Welsh Folk Museum)

1. Introduction
2. The Middle Ages and Dinefwr Castle
3. The Acquisition of the Lands
4. The Dynevor Title
5. Dinefwr Park
6. Policing Rebecca – The 4th Lord and the Rebecca Riots
7. The Twentieth Century and Ammanford
8. Summary
9. Sources


"The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away." (Job, chapter 1, verse 21). The Lord who gave in this case being Henry VII (left), who rewarded the Rhys family with lands in 1485, only for his son Henry VIII (right) to seize them back again in 1531, beheading the owner in the process. (See below for the full story.)

Gruffydd ap Nicholas (1400–1461)
When Edward I dispossessed the medieval Rhys family of their kingdom in 1277, their lands remained in the possession of the various Kings of England for almost 200 years. But eventually another Welshman, Henry Tudor (who was born and raised in Pembroke Castle), became Henry the Seventh of England (born 1457, reigned 1485–1509) and he returned the lands into Welsh hands. During the intervening two centuries one local Welsh family, that of Gruffydd ap Nicholas and his sons, had become pre-eminent in the Towy valley area and in 1440 he started to lease Dinefwr Castle and its lands from the crown, while accumulating other estates and properties at the same time. Gruffydd and his numerous sons became the most powerful native Welsh family during the mid-15th century, ruling effectively – and occasionally violently – with little control from a King (Henry VI) who, in between bouts of madness, was otherwise occupied with losing his possessions in France and his crown in England. In 1461 the Yorkist Edward, Duke of March became Edward IV of England when he seized the throne from the Lancastrian Henry VI. During this period of dynastic turmoil Gruffydd himself was killed at the Battle of Mortimer's Cross in 1461, and for their support of the defeated Lancastrians his sons forfeited the family's extensive lands in the Tywi valley. (But not before two of them, Thomas and Owain, had held Carreg Cennen Castle against a Yorkist onslaught of 200 men in 1462, only surrendering after a siege. To ensure no such resistance occurred again Carreg Cennen's fortifications were destroyed afterwards. It has never been occupied since.)

Sir Rhys ap Thomas (1449–1525)
The family's fortunes may have looked bleak during the Yorkist occupation of the throne from 1461 but one of Gruffydd ap Nicholas's grandsons, Rhys ap Thomas, was waiting patiently in the wings and would soon become the most prominent member of this extraordinary clan, directly ancestral to the modern Dynevors (see Burke's Peerage.) When Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond (who was distantly related to Rhys ap Thomas), seized the English throne from Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485, Rhys ap Thomas's fortunes were to change dramatically. Richard's death on a muddy Leicestershire field marked the end of the thirty year dynastic struggle later historians have called the 'Wars of the Roses' and Henry, now King, gave Dinefwr Castle and its lands to Rhys ap Thomas. Rhys had raised an army in support of Henry in 1485 so the restoration of the lands was his reward, as was the knighthood granted by Henry just three days after Bosworth.

Richard III, who was killed after a two hour battle at Bosworth, near Leicester, on 22nd August 1485, reputedly by Rhys ap Thomas. This battle ended the Wars of the Roses (1455–1485) and with it the Plantaganet dynasty which had ruled England (and eventually Wales) from 1154–1485. The victor at Bosworth, Henry Tudor (Henry VII), inaugurated the Tudor dynasty (1485–1603).

A biography of Rhys ap Thomas written about 1625 claimed it was he who actually struck down and killed Richard, though contemporary history is silent on who actually struck the fatal blow. "King Richard, as a just guerdon [reward] for all his facinorouse [vile] actions and horrible murders, being slain in the field. Our Welch tradition says that Rhys ap Thomas slew Richard, manfully fighting with him hand to hand." ('Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family', Ralph A. Griffiths, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1993, page 229–230.)

(Shakespeare in his play Richard III has Henry Tudor himself kill Richard, but historical accuracy was often sacrificed for dramatic effect by Shakespeare.) Walk in the main courtyard of Dinefwr Castle today and you could conceivably claim to be standing literally in the footsteps of the man who dispatched an English King to the next world. And as you look out from the castle you could just as easily imagine Rhys's army passing within view of the ramparts on its way to join Henry in August 1485.

The armies of Henry and Rhys formed a pincer movement that started from south west Wales. Rhys and his men (which included 500 cavalry) began their historic campaign at Carmarthen, marching eastwards along the Tywi Valley through Llandeilo and Llandovery, then turning north at Brecon to meet up with Henry's army near Shrewsbury on 13th August 1485. Henry and his forces, which started off as a mixed Scots, French and English army, had landed from France at Milford Haven on 7th August 1485. From here they marched up the west coast of Wales, gathering Welsh support as they went, before turning east at Machynllech and joining the rest of their supporters, by now augmented by Monmouthshire and north Walean contingents (the Tudor line – also spelled Tudur and Tewdur – originated in Anglesey.) These combined forces, crucially strengthened by various English magnates and their troops (Henry was after all making a bid to depose the King of England), finally engaged with Richard at Bosworth Field on 22nd August 1485.

Rhys's loyalty to Henry once he became King was not something that could have been predicted before that date however: he had initially made a sworn oath of fidelity to Richard III (and in February 1484 had been granted an annuity for life by him) but he must have weighed up each's chances of victory and decided that Henry looked the better bet. He was proved right, and prospered accordingly when Henry's forces romped home on Bosworth Field that fateful August day. The oath he was supposed to have made to Richard was, according to a legend which has found its way down the ages: "Whoever ill-affected to the state, shall dare to land in those parts of Wales where I have any employment under your majesty, must resolve with himself to make his entrance and irruption over my belly." The story is told that after Henry Tudor's return to Britain (at Dale, Pembrokeshire, in 1485) Rhys eased his conscience by hiding under Mullock Bridge, Dale, as Henry marched over, thus absolving himself of his oath to Richard. Of such stuff are legends made and the story, though not necessarily true, seems rather too good not to repeat.

Opportunism, not loyalty, seemed to be the motive that spurred others, not just Rhys, to join Henry. His step-father Thomas, Lord Stanley and his brother Sir William Stanley had raised 8,000 troops between them in the name of Richard, not Henry. But neither Henry nor Richard knew for certain on whose side the Stanley brothers intended to intervene and when William Stanley eventually committed his 3,000 troops for Henry, it was after the main battle had started. Thomas Stanley and his 5,000 men remained aloof throughout the fray, though the knowledge that Richard held his son hostage would easily explain such reticence. (See John Davies, 'A History of Wales', page 218.)

For his support, Henry showered titles and rewards on Rhys ap Thomas for the rest of his life, who was made Governor of all Wales amongst many other lucrative appointments. A biography of Rhys written in the early 17th century by a descendent of his, one Henry Rice, lists Rhys's titles as: "Rice ap Thomas, Knight, Constable and Lieutenant of Breconshire; Chamberlain of Carmarthenshire and Cardiganshire; Seneschall and Chancellor of Haverfordwest, Rouse and Builth; Justiciar of South Wales, and Governor of all Wales; Knight Bannerett, and Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Garter; a Privy Councellor to Henry VII, and a favorite to Henry VIII." ['Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family', Ralph A. Griffiths, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1993, page 148.]

Rhys came to Henry's aid many times during his reign, notably in 1487 and 1497 when he commanded armies that put down rebellions against the still-new Tudor rule. Rhys even lived long enough to render service to Henry's son, Henry VIII, who at the age of twenty-two invaded France in 1513 and defeated the French at the 'Battle of the Spurs' in Artois. Rhys, aged about 65, was in attendance on that day twenty-eight years after the battle that inaugurated the age of the Tudors. Rhys ap Thomas (born 1449) died in 1525 and his tomb can still be seen today in St Peter's Church, Carmarthen, after being moved from Carmarthen Priory where he was originally buried. Also buried at this priory were the remains of Henry VII's father, Edmund Tudor, who died in November 1456, just two months before Henry's own birth in January 1457. (Edmund's tomb was removed to St David's Cathedral on the dissolution and destruction of Carmarthen Priory, ironically by his own grandson, Henry VIII.) Edmund Tudor had been created Earl of Richmond by Henry VI and the title therefore passed to his son Henry Tudor at birth. Henry had been brought up by his father's brother, Jasper Tudor, whom Henry VI had created Earl of Pembroke. Henry VI was in fact the half-brother of Jasper and Edmund Tudor, just one of many examples of how closely related were the leading actors in the Wars of the Roses. It didn't stop them slaughtering each other with almost comical frequency, however. About 60 leading families effectively ran England and Wales at this period, all inter-related by blood or marriage, and it's been estimated that one in ten of their adult males were killed during the Wars of the Roses. (See Lady Catherine Howard below for more examples of such close inter-relatedness.)

Rhys ap Gruffydd (1508–1531)
The next king after Henry VII, the much more famous (or infamous) Henry VIII (born 1491, reigned 1509–1547) reverted to type and seized the lands back from Rhys ap Thomas's grandson, Rhys ap Gruffydd, who was accused of plotting with the King of Scots to overthrow Henry and make himself ruler of Wales. The charges were preposterous and fabricated but it was Rhys's misfortune to be guilty of a crime greater even than treason in Henry's eyes, that of owning extensive estates when Henry was in permanent need of money. Rhys's fate was sealed and he was executed in 1531, having no chance of justice at the hands of a man who would soon behead two of his own wives (Anne Boleyn in 1536 and Catherine Howard in 1542).

It has to be said that at the time of his trial for treason, Rhys ap Gruffydd had already been arrested and imprisoned for various acts of riot against the King's new representative in Wales, Lord Ferrers, which had resulted in several of Ferrer's associates being killed. When Rhys ap Thomas had died in 1525 aged 76, the King awarded most of his titles and powers, not to Rhys's heir, his 17 year old grandson Rhys ap Gruffydd (whose father had died in 1521), but to the Englishman Walter Devereux, Lord Ferrers – and had awarded them for life, at that. For the rest of Gruffydd's short life he harboured a deep grudge against Ferrers and the two were at daggers drawn, in one case quite literally when Rhys burst into Ferrers room in Carmarthen Castle in June 1529 with 40 armed men and threatened Ferrers with a knife. Rhys was arrested and imprisoned in Carmarthen Castle and Rhys's wife, Lady Catherine Howard, then went even further, raising several hundred supporters and storming Carmarthen Castle, demanding Rhys's release and threatening to burn down the castle gates! Some months later she even laid siege to Lord Ferrers and killed several of his men. Stand by your man doesn't even begin to describe it. There were other skirmishes and riotous assemblies during which lives were lost (and Rhys even engaged in piracy from Tenby) so that by October 1431 Rhys was in prison in London, and it was during this period that the additional charges of treason were laid against him.

Lady Catherine Howard was the aunt of two of Henry VIII's future wives, Anne Boleyn and another Catherine Howard, both of whom were beheaded by Henry. As Oscar Wilde might have said: "To lose one niece, Lady Catherine, might be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness." Almost immediately after Rhys ap Gruffydd was executed in 1531 Lady Catherine made a wealthy remarriage to the Earl of Bridgewater but her newly found respectability didn't seem to curb her enthusiasm for plunging headfirst into trouble. In 1542 she was convicted of treason herself for covering up the adultery of her niece and namesake Catherine Howard, the 5th wife of Henry VIII, who had just been beheaded for this offence. Lady Catherine's lands were briefly confiscated on her conviction but were returned to her when she was pardoned in 1543. She died in 1553. (The full story can be found in Chapter 4, 'Crisis and Catastrophe', of Ralph A Griffiths excellent book 'Rhys ap Thomas and his Family', University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1993.)

Despite Rhys ap Gruffydd's high-handed and unruly behaviour (to put it mildly) it does appear that the charges he was actually executed for were trumped up (the others certainly weren't). As Ralph A Griffiths in 'Rhys ap Thomas and his Family' sums up:

"Rhys's execution ... was an act of judicial murder based on charges devised to suit the prevailing political and dynastic situation ... and of developments that in retrospect made him one of the earliest martyrs of the English Reformation." ('Rhys ap Thomas and his Family', Ralph A Griffiths, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1993, pages 110 and 111)

A 19th century historian neatly sums up all these events thus:

"The Dynevor estates were given by Henry VII to Sir Rhys Ab Thomas, and descended with his other possessions to his grandson Rhys AB Gruffydd, from whom, through an act of the most cruel injustice, they again reverted to the crown, in the reign of Henry VIII. Rhys's ancestors had been in the habit of occasionally adding AB Urien, or Fitz Urien, to their names, in conformity to the general Welsh practice, in order to show their descent ['AB' and 'Fitz' both mean 'son of'']. This designation, after being disused for some time, was again adopted, probably in a vain frolic, by young Rhys. The circumstance being reported to the king, and being associated with the immense possessions and unbounded popularity of the family, was construed [by Henry the Eighth] into a design to assert the independence of the principality, and to dissever it from the English government. It was also supposed, without the shadow of proof, that this was part of a concerted plan to depose King Henry, and bring to the English throne James V of Scotland. To increase the absurdity of the whole business, the plot was said to be founded on an old prophecy, that James of Scotland with the bloody hand, and the Raven, which was Rhys's crest, should conquer England. On such frivolous grounds was this young chieftain, himself one of the first commoners in the realm, and connected by marriage with the family of Howard, arraigned for high treason, found guilty, and beheaded.
......On the accession of Queen Mary, his son, Gruffydd AB Rhys, had his blood restored, and received back part of the estates; and Charles I relinquished to Sir Henry Rice all that were at that time of them in the hands of the crown. The estates thus restored to the family were valued at about three hundred pounds a year; these constitute their present Welsh territories, and are all that remain to them of the princely possessions of their ancestors.
......The house of Dynevor has always held considerable influence in the county [ie Carmarthenshire], and has in several instances furnished its parliamentary representatives. George Rice, who died in 1779, married in 1756 Lady Cecil Talbot, only child of William, Earl Talbot. This nobleman was afterwards created Baron Dynevor, with remainder to his daughter, who, on his death in 1782, became Baroness Dynevor. On the death of her mother in 1787, she took the name and arms of De Cardonel, which are still borne by the family. Her ladyship died on the 14th of March 1793, and was succeeded by her eldest son George Talbot Rice, the present Baron Dynevor [in 1815]."
(Thomas Rees, The Beauties of England and Wales, 1815. Reprinted in A Carmarthenshire Anthology, edited by Lyn Hughes, Christopher Davies, 1985, pages 107–108)

Restoration, Rehabilitation ... and murder: Gruffydd Rice (1526–1592)
The next generations of the Rice family (as they now styled themselves) concentrated all their efforts on recovering the extensive lands that had been forfeit by Rhys ap Gruffydd's 'treason'. The possessions were so widespread that the King had to send teams of officers to Wales to track down land and properties that were scattered all over the three west Wales counties plus Glamorgan and Breconshire. Most of the confiscated lands were then sold or leased off, often to the Rice's own relatives, with the money going straight into the coffers of the crown. (The family's favoured lands in the Llandeilo and Dryslwyn area were granted to the son of Lord Ferrers, the arch-enemy of Gryffudd's father, which must have rankled.) By the time of Henry VIII's death in 1547 three quarters of all the Rice's Carmarthenshire properties had been disposed of and all the Pembrokeshire ones.

Henry VIII's daughter, Queen Mary (reigned 1553–1558), restored some of the lands to the next member of the Rhys family, Gruffyd Rice (though she sold or leased much more to other people) and James I (reigned 1603–1625 ) returned some more. Gruffydd Rice (1526–1592), the son of the beheaded Rhys ap Gruffydd, is listed in Burke's Peerage as the first member of the family to start using the surname Rice, the anglicised version of Rhys. He appears to have worked hard, first in an attempt to clear his father's name of treason – an important matter to the status-conscious gentry – and then to recover some of the lands of his inheritance. No sooner had this been achieved however, than he rather unwisely embarked on the family hobby – murder – and thus undid all his good work. On a visit in 1557 to County Durham (where he had been brought up as a child in the care of the Bishop of Durham after his father's execution), he conspired with a local woman to murder her husband; the motive has not come down to us but this may be one of those occasions when guesswork might be as accurate as any historical record.

Ralph A Griffiths describes the affair: "Gruffydd and his servant fled to Wales and on the 10th October Gruffydd's lands and properties were seized ... Gruffydd was attainted and forfeited the lands and properties which he had been slowly re-assembling over the past decade. It was a major setback in the campaign of rehabilitation and recovery." (Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family', page 120.)

Gruffydd was fortunate to be pardoned in 1559 by the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth (reigned 1558–1603) but not surprisingly had little luck with the recovery of his lands. Elizabeth did however return some of his mother's lands in south Pembrokeshire and the Llandeilo and Iscennen (modern Llandybie) estates to Gruffydd in 1560, which amounted to about 1,000 acres in total, little more than today's Dinefwr Park. But in 1623 the next member of the Rice dynasty, Gruffydd's son Walter Rice (1562–1636) was granted the Tywi Valley estates in full by James I – but only if he conceded his mother's Pembrokeshire lands.

Sir Walter Rice (1562–1636)
The past rarely comes down to us without an irony or two to brighten up our day: in 1629 the new King Charles I (reigned 1625–1649) granted a petition to Walter Rice for the return of all the lands still in the possession of the Crown – but on the same day (13th January 1629) that the Crown disposed of the last of the Rice's lands, making it now somewhat pointless in seeking their return. Kings do have a sense of humour, it would seem. The Rices did increase their land holdings in later centuries, but by inheritances and judicious marriages such as that into the wealthy Hobby family of Neath Abbey about 1700 and the Talbot family in 1756. Sir Walter Rice, who by all accounts was quite a spendthrift and therefore in constant need of money, had been most persistent, if unsuccessful, in his attempts to persuade, first King James I and then Charles I, to return his inheritance, writing petition after petition in pursuit of his claim. According to Ralph A Griffiths:

"He even enlisted an acquaintance, Thomas Jones (died 1609) – the celebrated Twm Sion Cati – who compiled pedigrees for a number of self-regarding Welsh families ... His pedigree for Walter Rice was completed on 22nd March 1605. Its purpose was to display Walter's descent from kings and English noblemen: "descended from seven kings, five dukes, fifteen earls and twelve barons and all but nine descents [ie generations] between the first and the farthest of them." (Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family', page 127.)

Twm Sion Cati is famous in Welsh legend as a sixteenth century Robin Hood figure who hid in a cave near Rhandirmwyn in the upper Tywi Valley, robbing from the rich to give to the poor, and it would appear he was keeping his hand in even after he became respectable. Compilers of family pedigrees don't appear to have changed much in 400 years – they will still prove your descent from the king or queen of your choice, provided you pay enough for it of course. It was Sir Walter's son, Sir Henry Rice (1590–1651), who wrote the biography of Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his family, sometime in the 1620s, in an attempt to rehabilitate the family name, though it was not published until 1796.

The End of an Era
When the executioner's axe fell on the neck of Rhys ap Gruffydd on the morning of 4th December 1531, five generations of rule – and often misrule – by this extraordinary Llandeilo family effectively came to an end. The crown then seized all their lands and possessions, leaving later generations of the family with little of their wealth and none of their power ever again. In the Middle Ages the leading families of Wales were virtually a law unto themselves (and sometimes quite literally so). They ruled more or less as they pleased, free from any constraints from English kings and their leading families, who were often occupied by military campaigns in France during the Hundred Years War (1337–1453) and later by dynastic struggles at home. If the long arm of the English law ever reached into Wales, the first generations of the Rhys dynasty (whose circle of family and friends made up the magistracy), usually had no problem evading its clutch. The young and headstrong Rhys ap Gruffydd clearly hadn't realized that times had seriously changed by 1531, when the power of the English state had not only been strengthened but also centralised in the hands of the monarch and his powerful leading ministers.

But not everyone mourned the passing of this family who, for more than a century, were the law in the areas under their control. Those who were on the receiving end of their rise to power rarely had a chance to voice their thoughts. That was left to one Ellis Gruffudd, a Flintshire historian who knew Rhys ap Gruffydd, and had been present when Rhys and Lord Ferrers were hauled before a London court for their various affrays in Carmarthen. Ellis Gruffudd has left us a fitting epitaph for the whole dynasty, not just Rhys ap Gruffydd, for whose execution it was gloatingly written:

"And indeed many men regarded his death as Divine retribution for the falsehoods of his ancestors, his grandfather, and great-grandfather, and for their oppressions and wrongs. They had many a deep curse from the poor people who were their neighbours, for depriving them of their homes, lands and riches. For I heard the conversations of folk from that part of the country that no common people owned land within twenty miles from the dwelling of Sir Rhys ap Thomas, that if he desired such lands, he would appropriate them without payment or thanks, and the disinherited doubtless cursed him, his children and his grandchildren, which curses in the opinion of many men fell on the family, according to the old proverb which says – the children of Lies are uprooted, and after oppression comes a long death to the oppressors." (Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family', pages 72–73.)

1. Introduction
2. The Middle Ages and Dinefwr Castle
3. The Acquisition of the Lands
4. The Dynevor Title
5. Dinefwr Park
6. Policing Rebecca – The 4th Lord and the Rebecca Riots
7. The Twentieth Century and Ammanford
8. Summary
9. Sources


It is still unclear why Sir Rhys ap Thomas was never given a title after his support of Henry Tudor at Bosworth Field in 1485; he did, after all, become the most powerful man in Wales under both Henry VII and Henry VIII, but perhaps his Welsh family connections weren't prestigious enough to impress the status-conscious English aristocracy. The Rhys (or Rice) family may have had their lands at least partially restored in the Tudor and Stuart reigns but the much-sought prestige of a title eluded them for quite some time afterwards, and even then was acquired indirectly by marriage. The modern Dynevor peerage dates back only to 1780 when William Talbot, Baron Talbot of Hensol, was created the 1st Baron Dynevor (anglicized spellings were more in keeping with the fashion of the day so Dinefwr had to go). The title came into the Rice family by the marriage of George Rice to William Talbot's only child and daughter, Cecil. (Walter Fitz Uryan Rice became the 7th Baron Dynevor on the death of his father in 1911 but by 1916 being Welsh had come back sufficiently into fashion for him to change the name Rice by royal assent back to Rhys! But not before a street in Betws built on Dynevor land had been named Rice Street after him in 1906.)

The First Baron Dynevor of Dynevor

According to The Complete Peerage (Vicary Gibbs ed.), the first Baron Dynevor was William Talbot, Baron Talbot of Hensol, co Glamorgan, who succeeded his father in that dignity as 2nd Baron [Talbot] on 14 Feb 1737.
......He was created Earl Talbot with the usual remainder on 29 March 1761. Having no male issue, he was created Baron Dynevor of Dynevor, co. Carmarthen for life on 17 October 1780, with a special remainder in favour of his only child, Cecil Rice, widow and the heirs male of her body. [Cecil Rice was his daughter.]
......William Talbot was born 16 May 1710 at Worcester, educated at Eton 1725–1728 and matriculated at Oxford (Exeter college) on 23 January 1727/28. He was created DCL (Doctor of Civil Law) on 12 June 1736. He was MP for co. Glamorgan (1734–1737), Trustee (21 March 1733–4) and Member of the Common Council for Georgia, 17 March 1736/7–1738.
......He was Colonel of the Glamorganshire Militia, 1760. Having been a supporter of Frederick, Prince of Wales, he was (by his son, George III, soon after his succession) created Earl Talbot (19 March 1761.) He was a Privy Councillor (25 March 1761) and Lord Steward of the Household, 1761 till his death. He was present at the marriage of George III and acted as Lord High Steward of England at the coronation and carried St Edward's Crown.
......He married, 21 Feb 1733/4, at St George, Hanover Square, Mary, daughter and heir of the Right Hon. Adam De Cardonnel, of Bedhampton Park, co. Southampton, Secretary at War, by his 2nd wife Elizabeth, sometime wife of William Frankland, daughter and heir of Rene Baudouin of London, merchant.
......He died 27 April 1782 at Lincolns Inn Fields and was buried at Sutton."
......[Source: E-mail from the House of Lords website:]

The Talbot Peerage is somewhat unusual in that the 2nd Baron Talbot was also an Earl who could add 1st Baron Dynevor to his roll call of titles, while the 2nd Baron Dynevor muddies the waters even further by being a woman (life gets thoroughly confusing when you're a peer of the realm, doesn't it?).

William, 2nd Baron Talbot was created the Earl Talbot in 1761. On 17 October 1780, he was granted the additional title of "Baron Dinevor, of Dinevor, county Carmarthen" with a special remainder to his only daughter, Cecil.
......Upon the Earl's death on 27 April 1782, the Earldom of Talbot became extinct, the Barony of Talbot passed to his nephew (which is now part of the Earldom of Shrewsbury) and the Barony of Dinevor (Dynevor) passed to his only daughter who later assumed the surname de Cardonnel.
......Upon the death of the 2nd Baron Dynevor on 14 March 1793, the title passed to her elder son George Talbot, who become the 3rd Baron Dynevor, resuming his paternal surname of Rice in 1827 (he died 9 April 1852).
[Source: E-mail from the website]

The current holder of the titles of Earl Talbot and Baron Talbot is a gentleman bearing the full, resplendent name of (are you ready for this?): Charles Henry John Benedict Crofton Chetwynd Chetwynd-Talbot, Premier Earl of both England and Ireland – 22nd Earl of Shrewsbury and Waterford, 7th Earl Talbot, Viscount Ingestre and Baron Talbot. (Source: Burke's Peerage.)

The Dynevors seem to have been prouder of the length of their ancestry than their achievements. In a book 'A Peerage for the People' by William Carpenter, first published in 1835, and again in 1841 with updates, George Talbot Rice, the 3rd Lord Dynevor, is described thus: "Baron Dynevor – This Peer is descended from Adam on the mother's side, and from the Lord knows who on his father's!" William Carpenter might even be justified in this sneering comment: as we've seen, the Dynevors once claimed their descent from 'Old King Cole' as far back as the 3rd century, no less, and "seven kings, five dukes, fifteen earls and twelve barons" were once branches on their family tree, or so they claimed.

If William Carpenter was contemptuous of the Dynevors' pretensions, the 3rd Lord was fortunate to get off so lightly from an author who described the aristocracy of his day in these stinging terms:

"The history of the Peerage is a history of intrigue, profligacy, corruption, jobbing, and peculation. Repulsive as the Spirit of Aristocracy has ever been, it is not to be doubted that it has, in many features, largely degenerated over the last two hundred years ... its high chivalry has degenerated into pure chicanery; its lofty courage has degenerated into low cunning."

The current Lord Dynevor is Hugo Griffith Uryan Rhys, born 19 Nov 1966. (Source 'Who's Who'.) And for those who are interested in such matters here are the dates for all the ten Barons (each Lord succeeded to the title on the death of the previous one):

Summary of Lineage:
The story of their line is one of ruthless founding fathers, replaced later by status-conscious gentry seeking recognition in London, and tending to dissociate themselves from direct involvement in Welsh regional affairs. The home seat of the family was at Dinefwr, Llandeilo, which the Rhys line held almost wholly from the 15th century. In Henry VI's reign the head of the Rhys family, Griffith ap Nicholas, was a man of great wealth, and consequently power and influence, related by marriage to the principal families of North and South Wales, and he caused a large Estate to be built up at Dinefwr. Thomas ap Griffith, the Courteous, succeeded his father followed by his son Sir Rhys ap Thomas, whose career shaped the making of English history, since it was he who was instrumental in Henry VII's victory at Bosworth field in 1485, and where tradition claims he killed Richard III. Despite some reversals in fortune the Rhys family flourished at Dinefwr, bearing a dominating role in Welsh influential circles. Many improvements were made to the Estate, and in 1775 Capability Brown was invited to lay out the magnificent parkland. The Neath Abbey Estate connection had come about through the marriage of Griffith Rice, an ancestor of the Barons Dynevor, to Katherine, daughter of Philip Hobby of Neath Abbey, around 1700.

1st BaronWilliam Talbot, Earl Talbot and 2nd Baron Talbot (born 16 May 1710 – died 27 April 1782)
2nd BaronessCecil De Cardonnel, Baroness Dynevor (born July 1735 – died 14th May 1793)
3rd BaronGeorge Talbot Rice (born 8th Oct 1765 – died 9th April 1852)
4th BaronGeorge Rice-Trevor (born 5th Aug 1795 – died 7th Oct 1869). He died without male issue and his cousin, the Reverend Francis William Rice succeeded to the title. Most of the family wealth passed to his four daughters, leaving only the estates and the title to the 5th Baron. Armed with hindsight, we might discern in this the beginning of the slow decline in the family's fortunes.
5th BaronFrancis William Rice (born 10th May 1804 – died 3rd Aug 1878)
6th BaronArthur De Cardonnel Rice (born 24th Jan 1836 – died 8th June 1911
7th BaronWalter FitzUryan Rice (born 17th Aug 1873 – died 1956)
8th BaronCharles Arthur Uryan Rhys Rice (born 21st Sept 1899 – died 1962). An M.P. for Romford and Deputy Chairman of the Sun Insurance Company. The Neath Abbey estates were sold by him at auction in September 1946. When he died at the age of 62, death duties previously incurred by the 7th Baron had not been paid, placing an intolerable financial burden on the next in line of descent namely Richard Charles Uryan Rhys
9th Baron Richard Charles Uryan Rhys, (born 19 June 1935 – died 12th Nov 2008). Richard Rhys inherited after his father's death the remaining holding of the Llandeilo Estate, comprising 23 farms, and 2,000 acres, a ruined castle, a deer park with a herd of rare long horned white cattle, and a death duties debt outstanding in six figures. (Farms were sold off and some attempt made to save the Hall as an Arts Centre, but ultimately it was sold to a private buyer in 1974.) The National Trust acquired the deer park and the outer park at Dinefwr in 1987. Newton House was purchased by the Trust in 1990 having been through several hands since first sold by Lord Dynevor in 1974. The East Drive was acquired in 1992. The generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund facilitated the purchase of Home Farm and Penparc in 2002. The 9th Baron resided in Chiswick, London, and the Llandeilo area, and his chief interest was in the Raven Book Publishing Company, of which he was a Director.
10th Baron Hugo Griffith Uryan Rhys, born 19 Nov 1966.
A detailed lineage of the nine Barons can be found by clicking HERE.

1. Introduction
2. The Middle Ages and Dinefwr Castle
3. The Acquisition of the Lands
4. The Dynevor Title
5. Dinefwr Park
6. Policing Rebecca – The 4th Lord and the Rebecca Riots
7. The Twentieth Century and Ammanford
8. Summary
9. Sources


As well as Dinefwr Castle detailed above, the modern Dinefwr Park consists of two other major features: Newton House and Castle Woods (with Llandyfeisant Church).

Map showing the main features of Dinefwr Park. From 'Sir Gar – Essays in Carmarthenshire History', edited by Heather James (1991)

Newton House
The National Trust, current owners and custodians of Newton House, describe the house and Dinefwr Park:

"An 18th-century landscape park, enclosing a medieval deer park, Dinefwr is home to more than one hundred fallow deer and a small herd of Dinefwr White Park Cattle. A number of scenic walks are available including access to Dinefwr Castle, with fine views across the Towy Valley. There is also a wooded boardwalk, particularly suitable for families and wheelchair users. Newton House, built in 1660, but now with a Victorian façade and a fountain garden, is at the heart of the site. It has two showrooms open to the public, a tea-room which looks out onto the deer park and an exhibition on the history of Dinefwr in the basement." (The National Trust website

Newton House amid the tranquil grounds of Dinefwr Park. The parkland was landscaped by Capability Brown in 1775 and the current house renovated in mock-Gothic style, complete with fairy-tale turrets, between 1856 and 1858.

There had been a manor house on the ancestral estate at Dinefwr Park since the 15th century but It was in 1775, at the time of Sir George Rice MP and father of the 3rd Baron, that the grounds were remodelled by Capability Brown in the fashion of the time – a carefully controlled 'wilderness' of sweeping parkland, punctuated by groups of towering trees, when the medieval castle, house and gardens were amalgamated into one large landscape. Although the present Newton House dates back to 1660 and Sir Edward Rice – the great-great-great-great-great grandfather of the present Lord Dynevor – the house has substantial 18th-century and Victorian Gothic additions.

Newton House has had something of an unhappy recent history. It was sold by the present Lord Dynevor in 1974 and suffered badly thereafter, falling into near ruinous disrepair. It was occupied by squatters for some years and was stripped of many of its original features. (No more than two people at a time are allowed on the top floor because the structure has been weakened by the removal of beams and joists for firewood!)

Mercifully, both the medieval castle and Newton House have recently been restored by Cadw and the National Trust respectively, who now run the park, its buildings and a tea shop. Dinefwr Park is also open to the public. Check the National Trust website for opening times, admission prices etc on: Since being restored to something resembling its former glory, Newton House has become an important feature of Llandeilo's cultural life, providing a superb setting for concerts and exhibitions as well as being licensed for civil weddings. The National Trust acquired the deer park and the outer park at Dinefwr in 1987. Newton House was purchased by the Trust in 1990 having been through several hands since first sold by Lord Dynevor in 1974. The East Drive was acquired in 1992. The generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund facilitated the purchase of Home Farm and Penparc in 2002 and the site of a major Roman fort has since been discovered on the land, so an exciting prospect lies ahead when the site, hopefully, is excavated in the near future. Dinefwr Park is now 286 hectares in extent (707 acres), somewhat less than the 10,738 acres the family owned in 1883, but impressive nonetheless.

The organisation responsible for the Welsh architectural heritage is CADW (Cadw means 'to keep' in Welsh) who describe Newton House thus:

"Newton Mansion continued to be occupied by the Rice (Rhys) family and was partly rebuilt between 1595 and 1603, again in c.1660, and in c. 1757–1779, and then in its present form in 1856–1858 by Richard Kyrke Penson, retaining many features from c.1660. The present landscape was emparked between c.1590 and c.1650 (Milne 1999, 6). The park walls were completed in c.1774 and enclosed a large landscaped area of over 200 hectares with a small formal garden, walled gardens and a suite of domestic structures. There are some remains of underlying landscapes, including an east-west terrace that may represent part of the Carmarthen-Llandovery Roman road, and traces of roads and trackways that may be Roman and/or Medieval. A Roman milestone and a coin hoard have also been recorded near Dinefwr Castle while sherds of amphorae and Samian ware have been found in the vicinity of Dinefwr Farm (Crane 1994, 6). The central part of the area includes the old parish church of St Tyfi, Llandyfeisant, which has Medieval origins. It is now redundant and used by the Wildlife Trust West Wales; the record ... of 'Roman tesserae' beneath the church appears to be entirely erroneous."

The architect of Newton House mentioned above, Richard Kyrke Penson, was also responsible for building the impressive lime kilns at the Cilyrychen Quarry in Llandybie in 1857, still visible from the main road, though no longer in use. Modern fertilisers have long put paid to the older practice of spreading lime on farm land.

Castle Woods and Llandyfeisant Church
Newton House and most of Dinefwr Park are owned and managed by the National Trust but the modern-day park also includes Castle Woods, Llandyfeisant Church and Dinefwr Castle which comprise the southern edge of the park, overlooking the river Towy. These are all owned by another public body, the West Wales Wildlife Trust, though another public body again – CADW, the Welsh ancient monument organisation – maintains Dinefwr Castle on their behalf.

The Castle Woods Nature Reserve has been described as "... one of the most exciting woodlands in South Wales" by no less an authority than Peter Crawford, a senior producer with the BBC's Natural History Unit, in his book 'The Living Isles.' "The woodland is primarily oak and wych elm," he writes. "The shrubs and ground cover are outstanding with cherry, holly, spindle, dog violet and the parasitic toothwort. Lichen communities are of importance and include the rare lungwort. Overlooked by the romantic Castle of Dinefwr the fine old parkland has a herd of fallow deer. The mature trees attract woodpecker, redstarts and pied flycatchers. In winter the water meadows draw large numbers of ducks." It's every bit as good as it sounds. The woods were purchased by the Wildlife Trust West Wales in 1979 and extend for dozens of acres along the steep slopes which rise from the Towy meadows up to the old Dinefwr Castle and to Penlan Park. The main access is from Penlan Park, but it's also possible to walk down the lane alongside the stone bridge over the Towy, following the marked paths indicated by the Badger footprint signs. Before long you'll come across Llandyfeisant Church, which lies in a delightful, sylvan, secluded setting at the heart of the reserve. (The name Llandyfeisant is a contraction of Llan Dyfi Sant – the church of St Dyfi.) This was regarded as the family church of the Lords of Dynevor, but had fallen into near-dereliction by the 1980s. It had ceased being used for worship in 1961 when its font and stained-glass window war memorial were removed to nearby St Teilo Church for safekeeping. This was not the first time, though, that the church had been allowed to fall into a ruinous state, and nor can the restless twentieth century carry the blame alone for the neglect of our architectural heritage, as the following inspection of Llandyfeisant church aptly demonstrates:

"The Church consists of two aisles, the roof of the north aisle has no tiles upon it, the Timber which has been very good, & still might be of use, is expos'd to rot in the weather. The other aisle is very much decay'd in the tiling. In fair weather the Minister that assists at Llandeilo reads prayers here once every Sunday, but in wet weather he is forc'd to omitt them there being no convenient place in the Church for keeping him or the people dry. No Bible, Common-Prayer Book, Homilies, Canons, Table of Degrees, nor Register Book. My Lord Carbery who holds the Tithes as Tenant to the Bishop of Chester allows 40 shilling a year to the Minister. Question. whether any preaching? I believe not." (From an account of the results of an [ecclesiastical] visitation of 62 parishes within the archdeaconry of Carmarthen, 'A Visitation of the Archdeaconry of Carmarthen, 1710', published in The National Library of Wales Journal 1976, Summer XIX/3, by G. Milwyn Griffiths.)

The date of the above 'visitation' (ie, inspection)? July and August of 1710. But by the 19th century the farm workers, retainers and servants of the rebuilt Newton House and Dynevor estate provided a sizeable congregation for Llandyfeisant church, which was completely rebuilt in the late Victorian period, as described in this survey by the Welsh ancient monument organisation, CADW :

"Small stone church of medieval origin but almost entirely rebuilt in later C19, possibly to designs by R Kyrke Pearson, architect of Oswestry who redesigned Newton House for Lord Dynevor. Plan of unified chancel and nave with medieval (?) South aisle set back to left ... Church of moderate architectural interest in an exceptional location at Dinefwr Park. Fine steeply sloping burial ground with old headstones." (St Tyfi's Church, Dinefwr Park, CADW survey number 11108, 24/06/1991)

Llandyfeisant Church is now buried even deeper in the surrounding woods. Date unknown but about 1910.

The church has since been restored with the help of unemployed labour from the Manpower Services Commission and served briefly as an information centre and shop in the 1990s, though it is currently locked. We may be a more secular age than back in 1710 but our lack of piety hasn't stopped us caring for our religious heritage any less. A few yards away from the church lie the ruins of an old gamekeeper's lodge, open to the elements now, and untended graves scattered under the steadily encroaching trees lend the scene a melancholy air tinged with a little mystery. Not somewhere for those of a nervous disposition to find themselves as nightfall approaches, either.

1. Introduction
2. The Middle Ages and Dinefwr Castle
3. The Acquisition of the Lands
4. The Dynevor Title
5. Dinefwr Park
6. Policing Rebecca – The 4th Lord and the Rebecca Riots
7. The Twentieth Century and Ammanford
8. Summary
9. Sources


Colonel, the Honourable George Rice Trevor MP, Vice Lieutenant for the County of Carmarthen and from 1852 the 4th Baron Dynevor. (Photo: Nat. Lib. of Wales)

As a result of his policing of the Rebecca riots in Carmarthenshire, the 4th Lord Dynevor has a place in Welsh history not accorded the rest of his family. A selection of his letters which have survived in various public archives reveal in some detail his involvement in the dramatic events that unfolded in Carmarthenshire during 1843 and 1844. George Rice Trevor (1795–1869), who became the 4th Lord Dynevor in 1852, was also the local Member of Parliament and Vice-Lieutenant of the County of Carmarthen and it was his responsibility for policing the disturbances. (His father, the 3rd Lord Dynevor, was the Lieutenant of Carmarthen, so it was a family affair in every sense of the word.) After an attack by Rebecca rioters on Carmarthen workhouse in June 1843, George Rice Trevor rushed back from his London residence to take over the responsibility of law and order in Carmarthenshire from his elderly father, a task he undertook with evident relish. And when Rebecca burned down corn stacks on his own Dinefwr estate in Llandeilo he quickly discovered he had a personal interest in the drama that was rapidly developing in his own backyard. And there was more to come, as his biographer in the 2004 Dictionary of National Biography (DNB) reveals:

"Trevor assured a meeting of magistrates at Newcastle Emlyn in June 1843 that he would order troops to fire on the rioters if necessary. The response of the protesters was predictably fearsome: in September 1843, they audaciously dug a grave within sight of Dinefwr Castle, the family seat, and announced that Trevor would occupy it by 10 October. Trevor, however, surrounded by soldiers, survived unscathed." [Mathew Cragoe, DNB, 2004.]

To be on the safe side a detachment of Dragoons was billeted at Llandeilo's George Inn in George Street for almost a year.

The George Rice Trevor letters, relating mainly to the activities of 'Rebecca' in south-east Carmarthenshire and west Glamorgan between 1843 and 1844, allow a picture of the unfolding events to be pieced together. Most of them are addressed to William Chambers junior, who was regarded as a liberal, and was present at a number of the early public meetings held by 'Rebecca'. However, as a magistrate at Llanelli, he also had a close relationship with the authorities, and did his best to stamp out the often violent night-time activities of the 'Daughters of Rebecca'.

The 'Rebecca Riots' is the name commonly given to a series of disturbances and popular protests which took place in parts of south-west Wales during the 1830s and 1840s. At that time, the inhabitants of this rural area were living in considerable poverty as a result of a serious economic depression. Between 1837 and 1841, local farmers endured a series of extremely poor harvests and the prices of their produce fell sharply. At the same time, the farmers faced considerable increases in their outgoings: rents were increased, as well as tithe payments (taxes), poor rates and turnpike tolls. The population had also increased sharply since the beginning of the nineteenth century, placing an even greater strain on this rural society.

By the mid-19th century Britain's already bad roads were being used by ever-increasing wheeled vehicles. Smaller parishes could not afford proper repair and so the 1835 Highway Act was passed, permitting tolls for road maintenance. Turnpike Trusts run by private companies were established and allowed to recover the costs of road building and repair by means of toll charges, plus whatever profit they felt like making. But the rights to collect tolls were auctioned off to the highest bidder and used to maximise profits as well as recuperate costs; with gate-keepers often paid on commission this was a system open to abuse, and abuse there certainly was. Llandybie historian Gomer Roberts gives us the details of such an auction in 1813:

Notice is hereby given that the TOLLS arising at the several tollgates upon the Turnpike road of Ffairfach, Llandebie Gate, with the sidegate thereunto belonging, and the Llanedy Forest Gate, will be LET by AUCTION to the best bidder, at the George Inn, Llandilo, on Saturday, the 4th of September next ... which tolls produce the present year sums hereunder stated, above the expenses of collecting them:

Ffairfach and Llandebie Gate with side Gate, £640.
Llanedy Forest Gate, £21.

Thomas Morgan, Clerk to the Trustees,
Llandebie, 10th August, 1813

'Hanes Plwyf Llandybie' (History of the Parish of Llandybie), Gomer Roberts, page 78 of English translation by Ivor Griffiths, 1986 (our italics.)

Gomer Roberts also informs us that it was seven shillings a week (£18 a year) that the 3rd Lord Dynevor paid his servants on his lands and gardens in 1811 so the income generated by a tollgate could be considerable – and most tollgates came complete with a house for the gate keeper and his family.

A contemporary print entitled 'Rebecca and her Daughters assembling to destroy a turnpike Gate'. (Nat. Lib. of Wales)

The 'Daughters of Rebecca' made their first appearance in Pembrokeshire on 13th May 1839, when a group of men disguised in women's clothes demolished the tollgate at Efail Wen near Narberth and attacks took place again in June and July. The owner of the tollgate was one Thomas Bullin, an Englishman who owned Turnpike Trusts all over southern Britain, from as far afield as east London, Portsmouth, Bristol and west Wales. Bullin was persuaded to pull the Efail Wen gate down and 'Rebecca' disappeared for a while before reappearing in November 1842 when a gate near St Clear's was destroyed. The attacks reached their peak during the summer of 1843, when the authorities decided to send for troops and the Metropolitan Police. By the end of that year the riots had come to an end, and many of the leaders of the movement were under lock and key. Rebecca's main targets to begin with were the tollgates – powerful visual symbols of the economic oppression which many farmers faced. However, the focus of their protests soon shifted to target high-rent landlords, bailiffs, unpopular magistrates, those individuals who were responsible for collecting tithe payments (taxes), and even fathers of illegitimate children. Attacks were also made against a number of workhouses in the area as the protesters expressed their hatred of the new Poor Law of 1834 and the means by which paupers were being treated. The rioters were mostly the small, subsistence farmers who were being forced to pay the tolls, though a number of new industries had been established in this area and coal miners and metal workers joined with the farmers in their protest. Elsewhere in the industrial area of neighbouring Swansea, the much larger Chartist demonstrations were occupying the authorities at the same time, stretching their resources to the limit. (The Chartists – today we would call them Civil Rights Campaigners – also had a wide-ranging political agenda, such as the right to vote, and this worried the authorities even more than the merely economic demands of Rebecca.)

Daughters of Rebecca attacking a Toll Gate. (London Illustrated News 1843)

The numerous raids, usually at night-time, were made by men dressed in women's clothing and wigs, with faces blackened to evade identification. The name Rebecca was taken from the biblical verse: "and they blessed Rebecca and said unto her, Thou art our sister, be thou the mother of thousands of millions and let thy seed possess the gates of those who hate them." (Genesis, chapter 24, verse 60.) The leader of each band of rioters was designated as 'Rebecca' and rode a white horse to distinguish him/her from the rest of her 'daughters' (see the above contemporary illustrations). Troops were sent to southwest Wales and some rioters were arrested, although such was the popular support for the protests that convictions usually proved difficult, even after one attack which had left Sarah Williams, the gatekeeper of Hendy tollgate, dead:

"About 2 o'clock, on 9 September 1843, a party of men disguised in white dresses, went to Hendy Gate, about half a mile from Pontarddulais. They carried out the furniture from the toll-house, and told the old woman, whose name was Sarah Williams, to go away and not return. She went to the house of John Thomas, a labourer, and called him to assist in extinguishing the fire at the tollhouse, which had been ignited by the Rebeccaites. The old woman then re-entered the tollhouse. The report of a gun or pistol was soon afterwards heard. The old woman ran back to John Thomas's house, fell down at the threshold, and expired within two minutes. She had received several cautions to collect no more tolls.
......On 11 September an inquest was held before William Bonville, Coroner. Two surgeons, Ben Thomas, Llanelli, and John Kirkhouse Cooke, Llanelli, gave evidence that on the body were marks of shot, some penetrating the nipple of left breast, on in the armpit of the same side, and several shot marks on both arms. Two shots were found in the left lung. In spite of all this evidence the jury found 'that the deceased died from effusion of blood into the chest occasioned, suffocation, but from what cause is to this jury unknown.'" (George Eyre Evans, describing a letter from George Rice Trevor,
13 Sept., 1843.)

(For the fates of the various people involved in the attacks on Hendy and nearby Pontardulais tollgates, see the website 'Rebecca in Pontardulais' by Ivor Griffiths.)

The authorities quickly saw they had no hope of convictions in the other Pontardulais incidents if the trials took place locally, so great was the popular support for the Rebeccaites. Thus the tactical decision was taken to move the Pontardulais trials to Cardiff, where it proved easy to secure convictions (the High Sheriff of Glamorgan selected the jury himself) and five ringleaders (including the infamous Sion Ysgubor Fawr and Dai'r Cantwr), were transported to Australia, with others given lesser sentences. (During the year long series of disturbances a total of thirteen people were eventually transported. None ever returned.)

In certain areas like the Gwendraeth Valley, what had started as a movement for reform was hijacked by a much more violent element, and Sarah Williams was its tragic outcome. A far cry from the earlier raids, which had been conducted in a carnival atmosphere (at least for Rebecca and her daughters):

"It was about midnight [on 2nd January 1843] when a large crowd, this time all on foot, dressed in a variety of garments, faces blackened, and armed with the usual array of weaponry, walked up to the gate at Pwll Trap. They halted a few yards short, and the lady Rebecca – stooped, hobbling, and leaning like an old woman on 'her' blackthorn stick – walked up to the gate. Her sight apparently failing her, she reached out with her staff and touched it. 'Children,' she said, 'there is something put up here; I cannot go on.' 'What is it mother?' cried her daughters. 'Nothing should stop your way.' Rebecca, peering at the gate, replied 'I do not know children. I am old and cannot see well.' 'Shall we come on mother and move it out of the way?' 'Stop,' said she, 'let me see and she tapped the gate again with her staff. 'It seems like a great gate put across the road to stop your old mother,' whined the old one. 'We will break it mother,' her daughters cried in unison; 'Nothing shall hinder you on your journey.' 'No,' she persisted, 'let us see; perhaps it will open.' She felt the lock, as would one who was blind. 'No children,' she called, 'it is bolted and locked and I cannot go on. What is to be done?' 'It must be taken down mother, because you and your children must pass.'
......Rebecca's reply came loud and clear: 'Off with it then my dear children. It has no business here.' And within ten minutes the gate was chopped to pieces and the 'family' had vanished into the night. ("And They Blessed Rebecca", Pat Molloy, Gomer Press (1983), pages 42–43.)

The acquittal of another Rebeccaite in a different incident disgusted George Rice Trevor, and he revealed his feelings in this letter of 19th July 1944:

"I am sorry to say our Petty Jury disgraced themselves most terribly in acquitting a Rebecca leader, in spite of his own acknowledgment of having been present at the time a Tollhouse was destroyed, on which occasion two witnesses swore he was actively engaged. He said: "I did no more that the others" who, however, pulled the house down amongst them."

George Eyre Evans, who transcribed the Rice letters for the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society, describes the incident that so irritated Rice:

"A Rebecca leader was David Evans, who at the Summer Assizes, opened before Sir Robert Monsy Rolfe, at Carmarthen on 13 July, 1844, was tried for being concerned in pulling down and destroying Llanfihangel-ar-Arth Gate on 16 July 1843, and found "guilty of being in the company, but not guilty of demolishing." On Wednesday, 17 July, he was again tried for destroying Gwarallt Gate. The jury, having been locked up all night not agreeing, the Judge ordered the prisoner to be discharged, but told him that he might be called again at the next or any Assizes to be tried for the same offence before another jury."

George Rice Trevor took matters so seriously that at the height of the disturbances he ordered a detachment of Metropolitan Police into Carmarthenshire from London, a response which would be repeated almost a 150 years later during the 1984/85 miners strike. The Metropolitan Police had been created as recently as 1829 and, contrary to popular belief, had been formed to combat not crime but political unrest. The new type of mass political demonstrations created by industrialism required a new type of policing and the Metropolitan Police combined riot control (including the recently invented baton charge) with information gathering. By the time Rebecca arrived in Carmarthenshire they had already been used against Chartist demonstrations in such places as Birmingham and Dewsbury. [See 'Crime, Class and Corruption: the Politics of the Police', Audrey Farrell, (1992), pages 52–63.] In a letter dated 22nd September 1843 Lord Dynevor issues his instructions on how to deploy these London police:

"As you have not mentioned in your letter to me of this day that you are prepared with lodgings for the London police, they must be again delayed, nor shall I send them till I know you are ready to receive them."
......Their duty will be pointed out to them by the Magistrates and yourself. I have sworn them in as Special Constables for the county to-day, and I consider they may be employed, if necessary, in watching gates, or in patrols, or in keeping the peace generally; and you may make use of them, if you should have occasion, to disperse any meeting, or in arrests.
......It will be in your discretion whether they are to carry arms or not, as also whether you support them by Troops, both of which I should recommend in any question of doubt."

In addition to the Metropolitan Police, large detachments of troops, including militia, infantry, marines and cavalry – plus two cannons – were brought in to quell the disturbances. By October 1843 there were so many troops garrisoned in Carmarthenshire that George Rice Trevor had to organise the construction of a new barracks at Carmarthen to accommodate them: "The contract for building the Barracks at Carmarthen is now about to be drawn, and the work will be immediately commenced." (Letter of 28th October 1843.) So serious was the threat to the established order that the Duke of Wellington, no less, sent in one of his top army officers to oversee the military operation:

"Letters were being dispatched daily to the Home Secretary Sir James Graham by the panic stricken magistrates and eventually he sent a request to the Duke of Wellington, Commander-in-Chief at the War Office, that a company of infantry under the command of Colonel Love be dispatched immediately to Carmarthen; troops that eventually numbered more than 2,000. Colonel Love was a veteran infantry man who had fought in every major battle from Corunna to Waterloo and had a great deal of experience in quelling insurrections in many parts of the country. He had seen action in Merthyr against the ironworkers: had saved Bristol from being destroyed by rioters. And had taken part in the quelling of the Canadian Rebellion of 1831, returning in time to end the Chartists march on Newport. However, the type of guerrilla warfare employed by the Rebeccaites would make this assignment the most frustrating of his career." (from Web site Rebecca in Pontardulais, by Ivor Griffiths.)

Unusually for a military man Colonel Love appears to have had a keen grasp of the political situation in west Wales and in particular the injustices of the Turnpike Trusts. There was a tollgate for every three miles of road in Carmarthenshire, some of which were even erected illegally, and many Trusts collected the tolls but did no repair work to the roads, pocketing the entire proceeds for themselves. Within four days of arriving in Carmarthen on 21st June 1843 Love sent this letter to the Home Secretary:

"... sufficient has transpired to convince me that the whole affair of the Trusts demands a strict enquiry. That in general there has been great maladministration is evident, and in very many instances double the toll authorised by Law has been levied by the collectors ... I am strongly of the opinion that a strict enquiry would be beneficial to the public and more than anything else allay the discontent so generally felt by the farmers." (Letter dated 25th June 1843, Colonel Love to Home Office. Quoted in "And They Blessed Rebecca", Pat Molloy, Gomer Press, 1983, pages 113–114.)

Within fourteen days of receiving this letter the Home Secretary sent two investigators to prepare a preliminary report into the state of turnpike trusts in Wales; a Royal Commission was set up just three months later, whose massive report and collection of evidence reported back just five months after that. Within a year of Colonel Love's arrival in Carmarthen, Parliament had passed a new turnpike road act correcting every one of the defects in the old law which had led to all the trouble. And entirely as a result of Rebecca, the Carmarthenshire police force, the first ever full-time constabulary in the county, was created at the end of 1843, though this was rather too late to do anything about Rebecca. ('And they blessed Rebecca', Pat Molloy, page 156.) This first ever Carmarthenshire Constabulary was made up of a chief constable, six assistants, ten sergeants and twenty constables, and all at a cost of some £5,000 a year. ('The Rebecca Riots – a Study in Agrarian Discontent', David Williams, page 60.). Only two years earlier the first ever Glamorganshire police force had been formed, and in similar circumstances, to curb the activities of the near-insurrectionary Chartist movement.

Interestingly, the 2,000 or so troops riding furiously – and fruitlessly – all over west Wales for almost a year never caught a single one of Rebecca's daughters; what few were apprehended from the thousands who took part were either caught by the tiny local police forces or turned in by informers willing to take advantage of large rewards offered by a Royal Proclamation of 2nd October 1843 issued by Queen Victoria. These rewards, plus pardons for any informant's own involvement, turned the tide and the wall of silence that previously greeted the authorities crumbled as some of Rebecca's daughters came forward to betray their own sisters for gain. During that tumultuous year, from November 1842 to late 1843, over 250 tollgates had been destroyed in west Wales, most of them several times, with the houses that went with them usually suffering the same fate. The riots, by Rebecca in west Wales and the Chartists elsewhere, also had the longer term effect of ending the age-old system of using the army for policing. Instead, permanent constabularies under the control of local authorities were created in their place, which quickly evolved into our modern county-based police forces.

Thomas Campbell Foster was a Times reporter who'd been sent from London to cover the disturbances. Writing his dispatch in Carmarthen on the night of Wednesday 19 July 1843, he added his view of how the military were coping with the task of supporting this 'frail civil power':

"Although the Dragoons are in the saddle every night scouring the country here and there, they happen to be always in the wrong place, and the work of outrage continues not only undiminished but with increased and increasing audacity. This is the state of things here and there will not be a single gate standing in the country if a different mode be not adopted to put an end to it. The government are pouring in troops. A detachment of artillery are marching by way of Brecon; a detachment of artillery are marching to Carmarthen by way of Swansea; the whole of the 4th Regiment of Light Dragoons are to be stationed in South Wales; three companies of the 75th Foot are to arrive in Carmarthen within the next two or three days; the Yeomanry [volunteer cavalry troops] are kept on permanent duty, and every military appliance of the government is exercised, yet not a single outrage has been stayed nor a single Rebeccaite captured.
.....They laugh at the display of power by the government." 14 (The Times, 22 July, 1843. Quoted in "And They Blessed Rebecca", Pat Molloy, Gomer Press 1983, pages 139–140)

Rebecca in Llandybie
The Amman Valley was free from incidents during the Riots. The valley's main economy, coal, was being transported to the docks at Llanelli on the newly built railway line, thus by-passing tollgates. The Llanelly Dock Company's railway had reached Pantyffynnon at the confluence of the Amman and Loughor rivers by 1840 and by 1842 had been extended up the Amman Valley to Brynamman, with stations at Cross Inn (Ammanford), Glanamman and Garnant en route. Nearby Llandybie did however experience some trauma during the year of turmoil. Llandybie was an important source of lime at the time of the Rebecca Riots and people would travel great distances by horse and cart to collect lime from numerous limeworks in the locality. Lime was essential to farmers in order to improve yields from their fields as it would improve the quality of bad soil. Not surprisingly the local Turnpike Trust, the Llandeilo and Llandebie, built their fair share of tollgates to cash in on this trade. But the Llandybie attacks had nothing to do with local tollgates and more to do with unscupulous landowners fencing off Llandybie's common land for their own use and thus denying it to local farmers.

... the common at Llandybie was the scene of three incidents arising from encroachments. A tenant of Lord Cawdor's had enclosed some acres a dozen years previously, but on the night of 29 July 1843 Rebecca and her daughters destroyed the fences. When these were re-erected they were again destroyed on the night of 23 August. Even more significant was the incident on the night of 28 September. An old woman [Mary Rees] had had a cottage built for her on part of the common. She was herself not very respectable for she had been in gaol for theft, and she was typical of the dwellers on the fringes of the common land. A number of disguised men entered the house on that night. They made her kiss a gun and swear she did not recognise any of them, then ordered her out of the house and pulled it down. Four men were indicted for this riot, and their trial at the Winter Assizes was prolonged. They all pleaded alibis, one producing a witness who swore that he had been with her 'courting her all night as is the custom of the country'. In the face of such evidence no jury could convict. [The Rebecca Riots: A Study in Agrarian Discontent, David Williams, 1971, pages 239–240.]

The End of the Affair
Another one of George Trevor Rice's letters, dated 29th April 1844 (by which time the disturbances had ended), gives a list of rewards to be paid to individuals who gave evidence enabling the authorities to bring convictions for crimes relating to the riots. (This list is 14 pages long.) The rewards offered were as much as £500 for a conviction at a time when wages for many of the demonstrators were just a few shillings a week so the incentive to turn someone in was great indeed (as was the pardon for an informant's own involvement). A typical farm labourer's wage could be as little as a shilling a day, with no pay at all for several weeks during the winter months.

"It is well known there is £500 reward under Queen's Proclamation for the conviction of any one of the offenders and a pardon for any accomplice not being the person who actually set fire to the premises, who shall give such information and evidence shall lead to the same result." [Letter of 14th January 1944.]

(According to Bank of England figures, the pound in 1843 had a present day purchasing value of £52.40, so a £500 reward represents £26,200 at 2003 prices.)

On one day alone £1,500 was paid in rewards:

"At the Carmarthen Quarter Sessions of 5th March 1844 no less than £1,500 was distributed, of which £120 was paid to one informer, Richard Williams, but what his services were does not appear." ('The Rebecca Riots', David Williams, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1986, page 286)

After the workhouse at Carmarthen had been attacked on 19 June 1843, Rebecca attracted the attention of the editor of the Times in London:

"He sent the talented journalist T. C. Foster to west Wales. Foster spent six months among the rioters; he won their confidence and his reports provided a valuable analysis of their motives." (John Davies, 'A History of Wales', Penguin 1994, page 380.)

The government, perhaps influenced by this sympathetic Times correspondent as much as the unusually astute military commander Colonel Love, were ultimately forced to respond to Rebecca's undeniable grievances. As a result of the report of a commission of inquiry into the riots, tolls on lime were reduced by half, with others standardised to cover seven mile lengths. County Road Boards were also established who took over the running of the tollgates from the much hated private Trusts. The Rebecca Riots had achieved their purpose. (In 1846, just two years after Rebecca had ceased her roaming, The Times sent T. C. Foster to Ireland, where his devastating coverage of the Irish Famine caused a sensation.)

So by July 1844, with the troubles now behind him, George Rice Trevor is busying himself with these more mundane, but no less important, matters. However, as a letter of 13th July 1844 shows, he is not too enamoured of the idea of electing the District Boards to replace the Trusts. The reasons he gives against elections, while not particularly convincing, are less significant than that he raises the matter at all: throughout Britain at this time militant Chartists were making significant political demands for democracy at all levels of society. As a member of the Tory squirearchy George Rice Trevor would certainly not have countenanced power being handed over to elected bodies, preferring the new road Boards to be run by what looks suspiciously like a forerunner of our modern Quangos:

"I have received your letter and the suggestions you have made with respect to he new Road Bill for South Wales and will communicate them to Mr. Saunders Davies.
......There is one amongst them, however, I think, we are not likely to adopt, namely in respect to the election of the district Boards, as I cannot think it advisable to revert to the principle of a popular election in that matter.
......The ratepayers are no wise interested excepting as Toll-payers, and they are prohibited by the power of the County board, being restricted to the imposition of a maximum, as shewn in the Schedule, at the end of the Bill, and which if exercised even to its fullest extent is but a reasonable amount of Toll.
......I think, and have before thought, it a good suggestion that the County Bridges should be brought under the same management, and will see what can be done in that respect. I hope we shall meet on Monday.

Believe me, very truly yours,
Geo. Rice Trevor."

The George Rice Trevor letters are held in various archives in Wales and can be found on the excellent website 'Tlysau' (Welsh for Jewels), with images of over 20,000 objects, photographs and manuscripts relating to Wales. Facsimiles of the Rice Trevor letters with transcriptions of their contents can be found on: Type Dynevor into the site's search box and 35 screen pages of letters will appear. In the meantime, to see twenty of the letters and more about the Rebecca Riots, click HERE. The letters, transcribed with explanatory notes by George Eyre Evans, were initially published as 'Rebecca Riots: Unpublished letters, 1843–44', The Transactions of the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society and Field Club, vol. XXIII, 1932.

1. Introduction
2. The Middle Ages and Dinefwr Castle
3. The Acquisition of the Lands
4. The Dynevor Title
5. Dinefwr Park
6. Policing Rebecca – The 4th Lord and the Rebecca Riots
7. The Twentieth Century and Ammanford
8. Summary
9. Sources


The high point of the Dynevor's fortunes appears to have been the mid-19th century with the major makeover of Newton House from an 18th century gentleman's residence into a high-Victorian, mock-gothic stately home. Even Llandyfeisant church was completely rebuilt from the ruins of the old medieval building, which would suggest a large retinue of retainers, estate workers and tenant farmers to worship there. In keeping with their status as a gentry family, the Dynevors would have had their own pew reserved for family members only. The DuBuisson family who owned the nearby Glynhir estate also had their own pew in Llandybie church. As we've already seen in the Introduction above, the family estates in 1883 consisted of 7,208 acres in Carmarthenshire, 3,299 acres in Glamorgan, besides 231 acres in Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire. Total: 10,738 acres, producing £12,562 a year income and equivalent to £573,596 a year at today's values. (When Richard Charles Uryan Rhys became the 9th Baron in 1962 the land that came with the title had shrunk to 2,000 acres.)

By contrast, when the 6th Baron, Arthur De Cardonnel (Rice), had died in 1911, he left in his will £72,383 gross, and £70,714 net. Multiply that by the 1911 conversion value of £54.85 (Bank of England figure) and the net value of the will amounts to £3,878,663 in today's money.

The early 20th century, too, must have seemed like a long summer afternoon that would never end. The southern part of the Dynevor's demesne, the Amman Valley, was booming thanks to that most generous of benefactors, King Coal, and the Dynevors sold land as if they had a bottomless well of the stuff. This was used to build the housing, roads, shops, places of worship, factories, coal mines and services for the rapidly expanding population. They came from all over Wales and beyond, from the English shires as well as the Welsh counties, but especially from Welsh-speaking Carmarthenshire, Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire and they ensured that the Welsh language dominated the area. (There was even a shift known as the 'Cardi' in Emlyn colliery, Penygroes, at one point.) All, Welsh or English, were drawn by the explosive growth in the coal, rail and tinplate industries that developed above the rich anthracite seams of the valley.

"Those were the days when coal was king and the valleys were the throne. For beneath the rugged mountains there was coal in abundance – steam coal for the navy, coking coal for the furnaces and anthracite coal for the hearth. And as the cry went out for coal and still more coal, the roads to the valleys were crowded with men in search of work and 'life'. They came from the countryside in the North and the West of the Principality and the shires across the Severn. And as they came they brought with them their way of life – the chapel and the choir, the Rechabite 'tent' preaching abstinence from drink, and the pub, the rugger ball and the boxing booth – all mixed up together. And as they settled in the valleys the cottages climbed even higher up the mountainside until the mining village looked like a giant grandstand.
...... The life of a collier was hard and brittle. The day's toil was long and perilous. Everyday someone would be maimed – and every year some valley would experience the agony of an explosion. Yet in spite of it all or, perhaps even because of it all, the men and women who came to the valley created a community throbbing with life. Thrown together in the narrow valley, cut off from the world outside, they clung together fiercely, sharing the fellowship of common danger. Life in the valleys has a magic of its own, and to us who grew up in the glow of its fires there comes a nostalgic longing – 'hiraeth' as they say in our mother language – of the fellowship of long ago."(Jim Griffiths, 'Pages From Memory', 1969)

So wrote Jim Griffiths (1890–1975), a Betws miner who rose to become the Labour MP for Llanelli, Minister of State for National Insurance and the First Secretary of State for Wales. These vivid words describing Ammanford at the beginning of the twentieth century come from his autobiography 'Pages From Memory' published in 1969.

This land in the south belonged to the Dynevors in what had once been a tiny agricultural corner of the Parish of Llandybie called Cross Inn, where the Amman and Loughor rivers join forces at the foot of the Betws mountain. The Dynevors owned so much of the district that when the residents of Cross Inn voted to change its name to Ammanford in 1880, one of the suggested names had actually been Dynevorville!

On the 1st of October 1880, the following article appeared in the local newspaper:

"It has been proposed to call CROSS INN, which is in the parish of Llandybie, in the County of Carmarthen, from this time forth, after the Right Hon. Baron, who owns the place, DYNEVOR.

By adopting a new name, it is hoped to get rid of all previous annoyances, and also, that the other Cross Inn may benefit by the change."

Notice that giveaway use of the word 'owns', more appropriate to 1280 and serfdom than 1880 surely, but revealing nonetheless. The proposal to rename Cross Inn to Dynevorville had come from one Lewis Bishop, Estate Manager to Lord Dynevor at the time, so hardly a disinterested party. Fortunately this somewhat vainglorious suggestion was rejected and, after several more public meetings, Ammanford it has been ever since.

The population of Cross Inn, which eventually became the administrative district of Ammanford Urban District Council in 1903, was tiny. The Reverend Rhys Powell was ordained in 1811 as the minister of Cross Inn Chapel (renamed Christian Temple in 1865) and he describes the population of Cross Inn as being around 300 during his term. Yet in just 100 years this would grow to 6,000 souls with the most spectacular growth being from 3,500 in 1901 to 6,000 in 1910. 'Kelly's Directory for South Wales' for 1910 describes Ammanford thus:

"The parish [ie Ammanford] is governed by an Urban District Council of 15 members, formed in 1903, under the provisions of the Local Government Act, 1894. The town is lighted by electricity supplied by the Ammanford Electric Supply. The church of St. Michael's and All Angels, erected in 1885, at a cost of £1,257.7s.7d. is an edifice in the Early English style, consisting of chancel, nave, vestry, and a bell cot, containing one bell. There are 200 sittings.
...... There are Wesleyan, Baptist, Congregational and Calvinistic Methodist chapels. In the parish are tinplate works and collieries. The Ivorites Hall is used for concerts, theatricals and public meetings, and will seat about 1,600 persons. A market is held here every Saturday. Brynffin is the property and residence of Lieut.-Col. David Morris. The Hon. W. F. Rice, Mrs. Jones of Carregamman, and W. N. Jones esq. J.P. are the principal landowners. The area is 878 acres; rateable value, £11,491 ; the population in 1901 was 3,500 and is now [ie in 1910] about 6,000."

By the dawn of the twentieth century the Amman valley coalfield had become so important to the Dynevor's fortunes that they soon had need to open a new office to administer the rent and sale of land to property developers, builders and businesses. The location chosen for their land office was not on their genteel, fox-hunting Llandelio estate, but just south among the collieries and tinplate works of Ammanford. Purpose built in 1914 on College Street, its strong-room had eighteen inch thick walls and heavy steel fire-proof doors where plans, deeds, registers and other legal documents and valuables could be stored. This was the office from which three generations of the Bishop family managed Lord Dynevor's extensive land holdings and business transactions until the 1960s, when large tracts of land were sold to pay death duties resulting from the demise of the 7th and 8th Barons in quick succession. The Dynevor Estate's office now had to close, there being very little land left to manage or business to transact, and it was sold as a private residence in 1966. (Source: W.T.H. Locksmith, 'Ammanford: Origins of Street Names', 2000, page 66.)

Clues to how much of Ammanford was once owned by the Dynevors can still be seen in some of today's street names, those fossil remains of past greatness by which a family's name can live on long after the passing of its family members. Thus we see Walter Road (after the 7th Baron Walter Fitz Uryan Rice, mentioned above); Margaret Street, after his wife, Margaret Childe-Villiers, eldest daughter of the 7th Earl of Jersey, whence also Villiers Road. Then there's Union Street named after their marriage; Talbot Road, after an earlier dynastic marriage to the daughter of Earl Talbot in 1756 (see above). Bishop Road is so-called after three generations of the Dynevor's estate managers surnamed Bishop, and Rice Street in Betws derives from the former family name of Rice. Iscennen Road comes from Lord Is-kennen, an earlier title used by the medieval ancestors of the Dynevors. Other vestiges of their presence, no longer found in Ammanford, were the Dynevor tinplate works and Dynevor Arms Hotel (both in Pantyffynnon); Cardonel Terrace, now absorbed into Pantyffynnon Road; Dynevor & Maesquarre colliery (Betws) and Dynevor Terrace (Tirydail). And, further up the Amman valley, the raven emblem on the Dynevor coat of arms furnished the name for the Raven Colliery, Raven Tinplate works (operating from 1881 to 1940) and Raven Arms Hotel in Garnant. (W.T.H. Locksmith, 'Ammanford: Origins of Street Names', 2000.) The family's former Neath Abbey estates bear further witness to past glories, especially in Skewen, where there was once a Dynevor Coal Company, a Cardonnel Tinplate Works (after the 6th Baron), and a Dynevor Foundry and Brickworks. There was also a former Dynevor Station on the main Swansea to London railway line, and a Cardonnel Halt on the Vale of Neath Line, while road names such as Dynevor Road and Cardonnel Road also reveal traces of former ownership.

The Dynevor's wealth in the past had come from agriculture; some from land they farmed themselves, but mostly in rents from their numerous tenant farmers. Ominously though, like most of the aristocracy and landed gentry, they didn't fully adapt to the new economy that was stealing up on them from every direction, what we now call the industrial revolution, except for some minor involvement in industrialisation on their Neath Abbey estates. Instead, they prospered in the short-term from the sale of their only assets – land – without realising that the supply was not endless. Some members of the aristocracy, it's true, did see which way the economic wind was blowing and went along with its drift, investing in this new way of doing business and evolving from landowners into industrialists in the process. Often this involved exploiting the mineral wealth such as coal, or iron and copper ore lying beneath their land. Many 'old money' families didn't take (or even notice) these opportunities that lay, quite literally, under their feet and suffered the consequences. More to the point, many industrialists soon became aristocrats themselves when they received titles by virtue of their huge wealth and power. The Darwinian imperative 'evolve or die' applies as much to human institutions and practices as it did to the long vanished dinosaurs.

The Dynevors did embark on limited industrial ventures, especially on their Neath Abbey estate, but these appear not to have survived the depression years between the two wars. Closer to home (home in this case being the Towy and Amman valleys) the Dynevors leased land and mineral rights to Richard Kyrke Penson to build the Cil-yr-ychen limestone quarry in Llandybie in 1857 (the splendid gothic kilns Penson built are still standing and can be seen from the main Swansea to Llandeilo A483 trunk road). This quarry inially produced limestone for railway construction:

The quarry was founded by Penson in 1857 on the basis of a 60 years lease with mineral rights of Dinas, part of the Cil-yr-ychen farm on the Dynefor estate, mainly with the aim of selling stone and lime to the Central Wales Railway. (CADW report for Cil-yr-ychen lime kilns, record number 10916, 1999.)

The railway-building era in this part of Carmarthenshire began in 1840 when the Llanelly Dock Company reached Pantyffynnon, at the confluence of the Amman and Loughor rivers, with a line for conveying coal, and it reached its peak in the 1860s when passenger lines were extended northwards. Llandeilo was reached from Ammanford (still called Cross Inn) by 1857, Llandovery in 1858, and the final connection with north-east Wales was made in 1868. The Llandeilo to Carmarthen line was completed in 1864. Lime was also produced for spreading on farm land, but this was an industry fatally tied to agriculture, and lime production declined in step with farming's slow death throughout the twentieth century. Lime burning ceased in 1973 and the quarry was bought out by the giant MacAlpine construction company in 1975, who ceased the production of lime in favour of hardcore for the nearby M4 motorway, and the quarry was finally closed in 2001 even for stone quarrying.

We also have a glimpse back in 1770 of an earlier attempt at industrialisation when an ancestor of the Dynevors was involved in a project to build a canal in Ammanford. In 1770 one William Fenton of Pantyffynnon presented a petition to Parliament in London seeking permission to build a canal from the Loughor Estuary at a point called 'Pencoed' which was the highest accessible point for ocean going vessels. The destination of the proposed canal was to be Pantyffynnon Mill at the confluence of the Amman and Loughor rivers. Nothing came of the venture but the petition, which has survived, concludes with these words:

"And it is referred to Mr. Rice, Lord Lisburne, &c.: And they are to meet this Afternoon, at Five of the Clock, in the Speaker's Chambers and have Power to send for Persons, Papers, and Records."

The Mr. Rice referred to was one George Rice, the local MP at the time, and whose son would become the 3rd Baron Dynevor in 1793. He appears not to have pursued these new industrial possibilities and the family continued mainly with the traditional (i.e. agricultural) way of securing their wealth.

The End is Nigh
But fast-forward to the twentieth century and the coup de grace to the Dynevor's fortunes seems to have come not from frittering away their inheritance, or at least not directly. Nor did it stem from another time-honoured cause, much loved by novelists, the spendthrift son who wastes the family fortune in gambling and other dissipations. Instead it came from the remorseless economic decline that followed the First World war. Population in the Amman Valley increased every decade from 1851 to 1931. But after the explosive growth between 1901 and 1911 (Ammanford alone grew from 3,050 to 6,074 in this decade) the influx of people into the Amman Valley coalfield slowed down somewhat but still kept growing for about twenty years or so. Until the depression of the 1930s, that is, when the population figures started to flatten out before entering an actual decline as people began to leave the area in search of work, a trend that has only been reversed in the last twenty years or so. The coalfield part of the Dynevors' land was concentrated in the south, in the Parishes of Llandybie, Betws and the Amman Valley. By now the Dynevors were relying more and more on the sale of land for their income, a healthy state while population grows, and people need land for homes, roads, workplaces and other buildings. As population declines however then so will the need for land – and therefore the revenues from land. The Dynevors must also have suffered a loss of income from agricultural rents as well, for the poverty in the middle of the century was terrible beyond anything we can imagine today. Here are the combined population figures for this region from the census figures of 1861 to 1971:

Census YearPopulation of Amman Valley and DistrictPopulation change over previous decade (%)
18714,636+ 5
18815,349+ 12
18916,805+ 27
190110,185+ 50
191118,584+ 82
192121,325+ 15
193122,313+ 5
195120,424- 8
196119,412- 5
197118,325- 6
Note: These figures are for Llandybie Parish, Ammanford Urban District Council, Betws Parish and Cwmaman Urban District Council. There was no census in 1941 due to the war.

We can see how the manpower in the coal industry reflected the decline:

Manpower in the Anthracite industry from 1911
1911 8,060
1931 8,540

Contrast this rapid population growth with Llandeilo, which had none of the resources that drove the industrial boom in the south of the county:

By the mid-19th century the vital statistics of Llandeilo were: Population, about 1300; 290 houses, 11 streets, 73 shops, 23 public houses; 4 chapels; and a church. In 1879 most of the properties in the town and the surrounding fields, which belonged to the Gulston family, were sold in anticipation of rapid development. All was set for a period of increased prosperity. Unfortunately this did not occur. Llandeilo, like most other small, country towns dependent upon agricultural trade generated by a scattered population, slipped into decline. In this respect the region's centre of gravity shifted south to the five anthracite areas of the region: the Amman, Gwendraeth, Neath, Dulais and Swansea Valleys. This fear for he decline of Llandeilo was voiced as early as 1858 by William Davies, a local businessman and bard, when writing about the modern amenities which were just beginning to make their appearance in Llandeilo.
...... Davies was an articulate promoter of Llandeilo. He wrote, "it may be fairly hoped that our men of substance will now, that all the conditions necessary for the sustenance of a successful trade in many of its forms exist in the precincts of old Llandeilo, either individually or jointly, bestir themselves to prevent the town, as a town, from being sucked of its means, or altogether swamped in the rapid growth of Llanelly and Swansea." And, it may be added, of Ammanford.
...... Local 'men of substance' did bestir themselves but the southern industrial magnet resulted in the rapid creation of towns, and even citie, from communities that in 1850 were smaller than Llandeilo. It is this arrested urban development that preserved Llandeilo as a rare, varied mixture of late Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings, and makes the town so instructive to the pedestrian today. (Walks Through History, Professor David Bellamy, Cardiff University and Ian S. Watt, Dyfed Wildlife Trust, Llandeilo, 1986.)

Had King Coal visited Llandeilo as he did nearby Ammanford, the influx of people into the town would have resulted in a building boom that would have swamped the town's character, probably even causing older buildings to be demolished to make way for the new. The Llandeilo you see today is a creation of late Georgian and Victorian Britain. The town did not encounter forces that resulted in the destructive redevelopment of many other old market towns. Its streets and buildings, unified by style and scale, are a unique encapsulation of the period. It is possible for pedestrians to re-create, in the mind's eye, the web of social, economic and religious forces that spread rapidly through England into Wales at the beginning of the industrial revolution. This may be set against the background of 1200 years of social history.

Paradoxically, the outbreak of war in 1939 brought a temporary halt to the decline of the Dynevor's fortunes when their Llandeilo estate was taken over by the army for the duration of hostilities:

"Offering Dinefwr Castle to the War Office in 1939 for the use of the army prevented the seizure and destruction suffered by many other noble houses. Despite the army quitting Dinefwr after the war, failing health [of the 7th Baron] led to the stagnation and decline of Dinefwr." (from the entry for RHYS, Walter Fizuryan, 7th Baron Dynevor, 'Dictionary of Welsh Biography', 2001, page 220)

As well as the Dinefwr estates in Llandeilo the family had an estate in Neath Abbey which included mineral rights and which they had acquired by one of several beneficial marriages, in this case of Griffith Rice, M.P. for Carmarthenshire in 1701–1710, who married Katherine, daughter and co-heiress of Philip Hobby of Neath Abbey. The 8th Baron, Charles Arthur Uryan Rhys, sold the Dynevor portion of the Neath Abbey estate in September 1946. This portion had amounted to 2,620 acres, extending from Cilfrew to Crumlyn Brook at Jersey Marine, and included 13 farms and industrial sites. During the 1930s the 8th Baron had also been one of the directors of the Richard Thomas and Baldwin tinplate works on the family's Neath Abbey estate.

Perhaps the Dynevors' fortunes recovered somewhat after the war; the Dictionary of Welsh Biography informs us that the 8th Baron began an extensive refurbishment of Newton House in the 1950s and a 'rationalisation' of their finances which involved the sale of estate properties. But then an adversary no-one can do much about in the long run suddenly appeared on the scene – the grim reaper himself, or in this case one of his henchmen who went by the name of death duties.

When the 7th Baron Dynevor died in 1956, his son Charles Arthur Uryan Rhys succeeded to the title to become the 8th Baron. He however died in 1962 (along with several other previous Lords he is buried in Llandyfeisant Church on the Dynevor estate in Llandeilo). The resulting duties from two deaths in quick succession plunged the estate into crisis. Charles Uryan Rhys, 9th Baron Dynevor, inherited the remaining holding of the Llandeilo estate, at the time (1962) comprising 23 farms and 2,000 acres, a ruined castle, a deer park with a herd of rare long horned white cattle, and substantial unpaid death duties. (Source: Large tracts of land were sold to pay off these death duties and even the Dynevor Estate's office on College Street had to close, being sold as a private residence in 1966. The sale of most of the family's land to pay death duties had rendered a land office somewhat superfluous. Death duties had hit the family harder, and more damagingly, than any prodigal son, real or imagined, could have done.

With most of their land already sold they had no option but to turn to their estate in Llandeilo and dispose of the family jewels, so to speak. Newton House was sold in 1974 with its surrounding parkland following piecemeal over the next thirty years, all of which ended up eventually in public ownership. The National Trust acquired the deer park and the outer park at Dinefwr in 1987. Newton House was purchased by the Trust in 1990 having been through several hands since first sold by Lord Dynevor in 1974. The East Drive was acquired in 1992 and the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund facilitated the purchase of Home Farm and Penparc in 2002.

We don't have details of the death duties that dealt such a fatal blow to the Dynevor's fortunes in 1956 and 1962, but the Third Earl Cawdor, who died 8th February 1911, left £633,328 gross in his will, but only £52,973 net. (Source: 'Complete Peerage', Vickery Gibb, 1916.) With the pound in 1911 worth £54.85 of today's purchasing value (Bank of England figures) that's £34,738,041 reduced to £2,905,569, a huge grab indeed by the state. As we've seen above, the Cawdors lost all their Welsh lands within just 50 years of this thunderbolt striking them and they only held on to their historic castle in Scotland by turning it into a tourist attraction (it even has its own golf course).

With hindsight, the major rebuilding of Newton House in the nineteenth century may have sown the seeds of the Dynevors' downfall in the twentieth. Many landed families at this time lavished vast amounts on their stately piles, buildings of dubious architectural merit in many cases (one word – 'hideous' – would serve for some of these monuments to Victorian bad taste). This often left families unable to maintain such vast properties if their fortunes suffered a reversal in the future, which is just what happened to the Dynevors who, along with almost the entire class of the landed gentry, were soon to disappear into the dusty pages of the history books. Herbert M. Vaughan (1870–1948) was one such member of this doomed class and he described the leading families of the gentry in his little book, 'The South Wales Squires' (published 1926). In a chapter entitled 'Men and Mansions', Herbert Vaughan certainly shares this view, whose sigh of nostalgia for this vanished world is quickly followed by a groan of despair:

"There is nothing more charming and restful than an old matured country house that reflects within and without the tastes of a succession of occupants. Somehow the different styles and periods of building and furnishing automatically tend to harmonize and the result is most pleasing to the eye and gives character to the whole ...
...... The mania for building, which once obsessed the Irish squirearchy, did not begin to show itself in a virulent form in South Wales till after the middle of the last (19th) century. More's the pity it should ever have arisen, for instead of avoiding the fatal mistake of the Irish gentry, the Welsh squires took to imitating their follies, with the result that today many a landowner in south Wales is lamenting the extravagance of his predecessors, who rebuilt or enlarged the family seat. Apart from the cost, nearly all these additions or rebuildings were carried out during a very low period of architecture, so that in most cases they appear false and alien to the scenery, traditions and requirements of Wales. French Gothic, sham Elizabethan, London Cubit-built or castellated in 'ye olde baronial style', all are equally abominable." (Herbert Vaughan, 'The South Wales Squires', 1926, pages 81–82)

The end of the 'squirearchy' – the rule of the country squire, or landed gentry – didn't end in one fateful event however, but had been happening slowly and remorselessly throughout the nineteenth century. Former squire Herbert Vaughan leaves us a description, from the horse's mouth as it were, of this strata of society and their demise. He defines a squire as follows:

"Now I consider that to be ranked as a squire in the proper sense of that term there are three qualifications necessary. First, there must be a mansion or residence; second, there must be a home-farm or demesne attached to the residence; and third, there must be an estate, no matter how large or how small, provided there are tenants of the owner of the mansion ... an estate with tenants is an absolute necessity to the true squire, who must therefore own an immediate personal interest in all land legislation, as well as in the ordinary matters of local administration." ('The South Wales Squires', page 4, by Herbert M. Vaughan, originally published in 1926; reprinted in 1988, with a forward by Byron Rogers, by Golden Grove Editions.)

Until the twentieth century at least, the Dynevors satisfied all three of these criteria, plus a fourth which Vaughan doesn't consider really necessary – wealth:

"The Welsh squire, as I conceive him, was rarely wealthy, although there was a certain proportion of opulent and sometimes titled landowners in Wales, who either sat in the House of Lords or who were usually elected – in the past, of course – to represent their constituencies in the House of Commons. Rather, my term is intended to apply chiefly to that once-numerous class of resident landowners in South Wales, whose incomes varied from £2,000 to £3,000 a year down to those whose estates produced an annual rental of between £1,000 and £500 ... And in this connexion it must also be borne in mind that the magistracy of the county bench was then confined solely to the landed interest. Until the present century [ie the twentieth] only those persons who owned a yearly income of £100 direct from land, or could claim a prospective income of £300 a year from the same source were eligible for the magisterial office, which meant that only squires, the eldest sons of squires, and yeomen who were fairly wealthy, could by statute be placed on the Commission of the Peace [i.e. become Magistrates] by the Lord-Lieutenant of the county." (Herbert Vaughan, as above, page 3)

Because the Lord-Lieutenant of the County was also its leading landowner, his motives for appointing local magistrates could not always be separated from his self-interest, nor the need to maintain the status quo – we've already seen the sweeping powers of the 4th Lord Dynevor during the Rebecca Riots. No-one in the nineteenth century could have even dreamed that the power of the large landowners would one day end, nor how soon that day would dawn:

"Indeed, Wales was remarkable for its preponderance of large, landed estates. Over 60 per cent of the principality, as recorded in the 'new Domesday Book' compiled by John Bateman in 1873, consisted of estates of over 1,000 acres. These estates were in the hands of only 571 landowners, a mere one per cent of the total owning land in some form. (Kenneth O. Morgan, 'Rebirth of a Nation: Wales 1880–1980', page 9, University of Wales, 1981.)

It wouldn't take long for all that to change. Before Herbert Vaughan, writing in 1926, gives us the histories of the leading South Wales squires, including the Dynevors, he first describes their death-throes:

"Until some forty years ago then the gentry or the squirearchy – call them what you will – were the real rulers of the country-side. They interpreted the law at Petty Sessions [i.e. magistrates' courts]; they were responsible for all local administration at Quarter Sessions [i.e. jury trials]; they constituted in fact a ruling caste, and on the social side the wives and daughters and mothers of these magistrates shared their rule. That far-reaching power of the Welsh gentry has now been completely broken, or rather removed. The County Council Act of 1887 (which by the way was the measure of a so-called Tory Government) was a blow that in Wales smote the whole class beyond recovery.
...... Henceforward all matters of local administration were placed in the hands of popularly elected bodies, and even the supervision of the county police had to be shared with the newly created County Council. The Parish Councils Act of a few years later, though not nearly so vital in its effects, helped to complete their discomfiture. There still remained the legal powers as exercised chiefly at Petty Sessions, but these too have been largely curtailed by the filling of the local Benches with ambitious members from a different social stratum. The prerogative of the Lords-Lieutenant also has been greatly diminished by the appointment of Advisory Committees, whose democratic members vigorously assert the claims to office of persons of their own standing ...
...... Thus the status of the once all-powerful squirearchy had already been reduced to a low ebb, when the crowning catastrophe of the Great War dealt the final and fatal blow. Owing to loss in income and heavy taxation, their land was and is being put up for sale in all directions; country-seats were sold or abandoned; whilst of the squires who remained in their old homes a certain proportion has taken again to cultivating the home-farms, which had for the most part been leased or let as accommodation land. These survivors of the storm have now become gentlemen-farmers, content to stand aloof for the most part from the public life of the [magistrates'] Bench or the County Council. As an influential class, then, the old squirearchy has been practically wiped out; only here and there do a few of its members still seek to leaven the mass of local politics. In other words, it is a positive fact that, for good or bad, the Welsh squirearchy is becoming a thing of the past." (Herbert Vaughan, as above, pages 4–5)

If all this was true in 1926, how much more so after the Second World War, when the Dynevors' land and fortunes were themselves wiped out? Herbert Vaughan had been a squire himself and 'The South Wales Squires', despite its sometimes self-pitying and self-justifying lapses, offers a real insider's glimpse into this once powerful but now long-dead social class, effectively moribund even in 1926. Their once-sumptuous mansions were exercises in conspicuous consumption long before that phrase was coined, and what few have escaped the bulldozers now lie in ruins, or survive only as hotels and old people's homes. Those few great houses that still stand in their original condition owe their second chance to the lifelines offered by public ownership and tourism.

Fortunately, and at risk of upsetting today's aristocracy and their admirers, the Dynevor estate in Llandeilo has been rescued from their wayward stewardship of recent years and is now available for the general public to admire, a far more democratic mix of folk than the Lords Rhys or Dynevor could have envisaged at any time in their long and eventful pasts.

If the Dynevors had suffered injury by the loss of their lands, insult was not far behind when the current Baron, along with about 700 other hereditary peers, was removed from the House of Lords in 1999. The Labour Government elected in 1997 had promised reform of the upper chamber of Parliament, a promise they swiftly enacted. The British House of Lords was until then a thoroughly antiquated institution, a completely unelected body of more than 1,200 people who nonetheless constituted the upper house of the British Parliament. Over 800 of these were hereditary peers who, by virtue of nothing except an accident of birth, were able to have a considerable influence on British politics and all the acts of parliament passing through their hands. But an electorate who expected reform to mean abolition of this left-over from the Middle Ages, and its replacement by an elected upper house, soon found it was their turn to be shafted by the government. Some 700 hereditary peers were, it's true, unceremoniously shown the door but 92 were kept, along with over 500 (unelected) Life Peers and 26 (unelected) Bishops, leaving a 'reformed' House of 731 Lords and not a single one of them ever subjected to popular ballot (as of February 2006 anyway) and with only a tiny elected number promised for some unspecified time in the future. So much for the pledge contained in the 1997 Labour election manifesto:

"The House of Lords must be reformed. As an initial, self-contained reform, not dependent on further reform in the future, the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords will be ended by statute."

Or not, as the case may be.

For a history of the attempts to reform the House of Lords see the BBC website on:

For the current make-up of the House of Lords see the website:

For a brief history of the House of Lords see the website:

1. Introduction
2. The Middle Ages and Dinefwr Castle
3. The Acquisition of the Lands
4. The Dynevor Title
5. Dinefwr Park
6. Policing Rebecca – The 4th Lord and the Rebecca Riots
7. The Twentieth Century and Ammanford
8. Summary
9. Sources


As we've seen above, the Rhys dynasty at its peak ruled over large parts of modern day Dyfed. All that remains of the mighty Dinefwr lands today, centuries later, is the small (though perfectly formed) Dinefwr Park in Llandeilo, none of it belonging to the Dynevor family, today's descendants of the Rhys dynasty.

Crossing Llandeilo's traffic-choked roads, in this no longer rural little town, few today realise how recently these residential surroundings were once pasture and woodland, criss-crossed by a network of tinkling streams and babbling brooks. Tarmac, concrete, bricks and mortar have since covered the fields with the fabric of an urbanized environment; the streams have been culverted underground and out of sight, now reaching their destinations in the nearby Towy and Cennen rivers unsuspected by the people who scurry about on top. But take a walk through Dinefwr Park and all this bustle can be forgotten for a few hours as, with just a little imagination, you can hear the sound of battle from a thousand years ago and be thankful that none of those arrows, spears or psychopathic killers called medieval knights is headed your way (and be especially thankful that the 15th and 16th century family from hell is now just a part of the Dynevors' history).

1. Introduction
2. The Middle Ages and Dinefwr Castle
3. The Acquisition of the Lands
4. The Dynevor Title
5. Dinefwr Park
6. Policing Rebecca – The 4th Lord and the Rebecca Riots
7. The Twentieth Century and Ammanford
8. Summary
9. Sources


The following sources have been used in compiling this brief survey of the Rhys/Dynevor family and Dinefwr Park:

— Dinefwr Castle in the Castles of Wales website on:
— Dinefwr Park in the Cambria Archaeology website:
— Dinefwr in the National Trust website: then click on Places to Visit.
— Castle Woods (Llandeilo) in The Wildlife Trust of West Wales website: then click on RESERVES followed by West Wales.
— 'The Lord Rhys, Prince of Deheubarth', Roger Turvey, Gomer Press, 1997. This short popular study of the Lord Rhys is the first book about this important 12th century figure since 1911.
— 'Sir Rhys ap Thomas and his Family', Ralph A. Griffiths, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1993. A detailed history of the Rhys ap Thomas family during the Wars of the Roses and the early Tudor period. The book also reprints the early 17th century biography of Rhys by his descendant Henry Rice.
— 'Dictionary of Welsh Biography', Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1959, with a Supplement in 2001. For entries on the Rhys/Rice families.
— CADW, the organisation responsible for the Welsh architectural heritage (Cadw means to keep in Welsh).
— 'A Visitation of the Archdeaconry of Carmarthen, 1710', published in The National Library of Wales Journal 1976, Summer XIX/3, by G. Milwyn Griffiths.
— W.T.H. Locksmith, 'Ammanford: Origins of Street Names and Notable Historical Records', published by Carmarthenshire County Council in 2000.
— 'Hanes Plwyf Llandybie' (History of the Parish of Llandybie), Gomer Roberts, first published in Welsh 1939, Engliish translation by Ivor Griffiths, 1986
— 'Pages From Memory', Jim Griffiths, Dent, 1969.
— 'Kelly's Directory for South Wales', 1910, on the website:
(This is interesting also for a snapshot of Ammanford in 1910, including an address list of the prominent private residents and businesses at the time.)
— 'The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, extant, extinct or dormant', (Volume 4) by G.E.C., New edition, revised and much enlarged by the Hon. Vicary Gibbs with the assistance of H. Arthur Doubleday, London, 1916.
— 'Burke's Peerage and Baronetage', 1999.
— 'Equivalent Contemporary Values of the Pound: A Historical Series 1270–2003', Bank of England, Sept 2003. To see a PDF file with these figures, click HERE.
— 'And They Blessed Rebecca: An account of the Welsh Toll-gate Riots, 1839–1844', Pat Molloy, Gomer Press, 1983.
— 'The Rebecca Riots — a Study in Agrarian Discontent', David Williams, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1971.
— 'Rebecca in Pontardulais' by Ivor Griffiths, on website:
— Letters of George Trevor Rice on website: Then type Dynevor into the search box. The letters quoted from above can be found on this website.
— 'Rebecca Riots: Unpublished letters, 1843–44', The Transactions of the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society and Field Club, vol. XXIII, 1932. These are transcriptions by George Eyre Evans of the Geoge Rice Trevor letters on the 'Tlysau' website mentioned above.
— 'Crime, Class and Corruption: the Politics of the Police', Audrey Farrell, Bookmarks (1992). See pages 51–69 for the history and role of the police in the mid-nineteenth century.
— 'Walks Through History', Professor David Bellamy, Cardiff University and Ian S. Watt, Dyfed Wildlife Trust, Llandeilo, 1986.
— 'A History of Wales', John Davies, Penguin 1994, pages 378–382 for the Rebecca Riots.
— 'The South Wales Squires' by Herbert M. Vaughan. Originally published in 1926; reprinted, with a forward by Byron Rogers, in 1988 (Golden Grove Editions). Vaughan had been a squire himself and 'The South Wales Squires', despite its sometimes self-pitying and self-justifying lapses, offers a real insider's glimpse into this once powerful but now long-dead social class, moribund even by 1926.
— 'Oxford Dictionary of National Biography' (DNB), 2004. The massive DNB is the authoritative repository of the nation's great and good (including its not so great or good), from Roman times to the present. First appearing in the late nineteenth century the latest edition was published in 2004, though anyone wishing to display it on their bookshelves will first need to get hold of £7,500 and then shelves strong enough to hold its sixty encyclopedia-sized volumes. Its 50,000 double-column pages contain entries for 55,000 people, including George Rice Trevor, fourth Baron Dynevor; Rhys ap Thomas and the Lord Rhys.

Note on Dynevor/Dinefwr: The English spelling 'Dynevor' has been used throughout to denote the modern Peerage of that name (when first created in 1780 it had been spelled 'Dinevor') and the Welsh 'Dinefwr' is used for the estate, such as Dinefwr Castle, the medieval township of Dinefwr and modern Dinefwr Park. Since you ask, the name 'Dinefwr' comes from 'Din', a hill or hilltop fortress, and 'efwr', which is the wild parsnip or hogweed plant. Or, if you go along with Herbert M Vaughan mentioned above, it means 'Din y Fawr' the hill of the Great (i.e. the various Princes who have occupied it).

1. Introduction
2. The Middle Ages and Dinefwr Castle
3. The Acquisition of the Lands
4. The Dynevor Title
5. Dinefwr Park
6. Policing Rebecca – The 4th Lord and the Rebecca Riots
7. The Twentieth Century and Ammanford
8. Summary
9. Sources

Date this page last updated: September 28, 2010