Spelling variants: Coomkerwyn, Cwm Carun, Cwmcerwn, Cwm Cerwyn, Cwmcerwn, Kombe Kerwn, Komberwin
Approximate English translations: Tub/Tun Valley
I’ve written a bit about Cwmcerwyn before in relation to the painted rock that was the catalyst for this project. Cwmcerwyn was a prominent farmhouse on the eastern slopes of Pembrokeshire’s highest peak; often called Preseli Top in the past, nowadays always called Foel Cwmcerwyn. The word “foel” is mutated from “moel” meaning “bald” but is also a common word in these parts for a bare or treeless summit (see also: Foel Drygarn, Foel Feddau, Foel Dyrch). Cerwyn has numerous related meanings, and while George Owen commented that the presence of many whiskey-distilling Irish folk in the valley in the late 16th century might have rendered the meaning of “cerwyn” as a whiskey-still appropriate, it seems likelier that the bowl- or tub-like shape of the valley was the inspiration for its name; though whether the valley or the farmhouse had the name first, we will likely never know.
This house has more history (at least more available history) than most in the area. There follows some detail from a book I took notes from in the county library. I was too stupid to take down the name of the book, but it was something like “Old Houses of Pembrokeshire”, and listed them by parish; in Mynachlogddu were Cwmcerwyn, Dyffryn Ffilbro, Pentre/Pant Ithel and Dol[a]emaen. Clynsaithman (Glynsaithmaen), Cwmcerwyn’s neighbour across Afon Wern in Llangolman parish, was also listed. I’ll note the name and author next time I’m in Haverfordwest.
Cwmcerwyn, was, according to the book, “Marked on Rees’s 14th century map” of the area, and mentioned in deeds of 1344 in relation to its ownership by St Dogmael’s Abbey. It was leased to David ap Rhys ap Owen on 12 October 1535, and later (along with most of the land in the area) assigned to John Bradshaw and his heirs “at an annual rent of 10 shillings”. Toward the end of the 17th century, the farmhouse becomes the home of Griffith Morris, “gentleman” son of Griffith Morris of Clynsaethmaen. He was “a baptist and a member of Rhydwilym chapel” located some way away, just outside the southern border of Llangolman parish. (It would be a while yet before Bethel chapel was built in Mynachlogddu). In 1693 Griffith, son of Griffith, married Elizabeth, daughter of Griffith Howel of Rushacre, Narberth. After this, they went to live in Cwmcerwyn. He died between 1732 and 1734. His son (of the same name) livd at “Cwmkerwyn Isha”. No house of this name survived to the 19th century records I’ve read; but perhaps it was an earlier name for one of the other houses in the valley: Cwmgarw, Bwlch Giten, Waun Clun Coch, Iethen or Tynewydd.
In 1786 “James Bowen Esq” owned “Cwm Carun” with one John Griffith as his tenant. On 5 April 1817, Daniel Owen of Cwmcerwyn was baptized, and on 30 January 1833 he was ordained Baptist minister of Pope Hill, South of Haverfordwest. Cwmcerwyn later became part of the Cwmgloyn estate (I don’t know the exact dates for this period). In 1909 it was described as a farm of 296 acres, rented by Morris Thomas, and was up for sale.
The above skips forward beyond where my non-cartographical records normally begin (i.e. 1841, with the first census), so I’ll now rewind back to that first rich snapshot of life in the northwest corner of Mynachlogddu parish. In 1841, James Llwelin, 40, was farming at “Cwmcerwn” with his wife Mary, 40, daughters Ann (16) Elizabeth (8) and Sara (4), and sons John (14) Thomas (12) and William (1). James was not there ten years later, however. In 1844 (at the time of the tithe maps) he was listed as the occupier of the land, with Morris Morris, Griffith Morris and Morris
Williams as joint owners. The account in ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’ mentions an eldest son called Charles, a sailor, who died in 1843 at 21 years old and was buried in the grounds of Capel Bethel.
But James Llewhellin (spelled slightly differently from the above) wrote his last will and testament on 22 May, 1848, aged 47:
“…to my beloved wife Mary Llewhellin [I give] all that I do now possess as long as she do continue a widow, but should she again marry, my aforesaid is to give to each of my seven children the sum of twelve pounds on or before her second marriage. … my wife and my son Thomas Llewhellin to be joint executors.”
The witnesses to this were David Thomas of Llangolman and Daniel Phillip of (the neighbouring farmhouse) Cwmgarw. James Llewhellin died later that year. In 1849, Anne Llewhellyn married either a John Thomas or a Thomas Jones – but can’t be traced in the region thereafter.
By 1851 Mary Llewhellin (born in Camrose, we learn) is “widow”, “farmer” and “head” of the house at Cwmcerwyn. Her remaining children are John (23), Thomas (21) and Elizabeth (16), all born in “Notton” (probably Nolton?); Sarah (13), born in Roch; William (11), born in Henry’s Moat (they gradually seen to be getting nearer!) and finally Frances (8), born in “Monachlogddu”. There’s also a William Owen, 15 living with them; a “farm servant” originally from Llanglydwen.
It’s noted in ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’ that English was probably the “language of the hearth” for the Llewellyns, as evidenced by James having been made a church warden within two years of moving to Cwmcerwyn. The majority of mostly Welsh-speaking Mynachlogddu had by now swapped the Anglican St Dogmael’s church for the “ty-cwrdd” Baptist meeting house at Bethel. The family were also, unusually for the time and place, literate, being able to sign their names on marriage certificates.
By 1861 Elizabeth is gone, and, if married, untraceable in the wider area (to 10 miles). Mary is a (still-not-remarried) farmer of 220 acres, employing two boys. Sarah, William and Frances are still living at Cwmcerwyn too, and three servants are also listed: John Edward (19, from Mynachlogddu), Dan Evans (16, from Henry’s Moat) and Anne Jones (a “house maid”, 14, from Morvil).
Mary and James’s eldest son, John Llewhellyn (now 33), is a farmer of 33 acres at Plasdwbl (Mynachlogddu), employing one labourer and one boy, and he’s married to Sarah (27, from Llangolman) and also providing a roof for Caleb Edwards of Llanglydwen, one of his servants, who is listed as a “cartman”. Their next eldest son Thomas (32) is a little (but not much) farther afield at Pengraig in Cilymaenllwyd, Carmarthenshire. He’s a farmer of 80 acres, married to Mary (37, from Mynachlogddu) with three children, Anne (7), Rachel (4) and James (2, named after his grandfather?), and a “stepson”, presumably Mary’s child, John Davis (10). They have two male servants, Caleb Edward (21) and Daniel Thomas (14), and one dairy maid, Sarah Jinkins (18). John Davis was born in Mynachlogddu, so one would suppose his place and situation of birth might be easily traceable on the previous census; but one would suppose wrong, in this case, it turns out. There’s a Mary David (30) at “Blue Page”* in Mynachlogddu, who is married, but whose husband isn’t in the house; indeed, she’s living with her mother-in-law and three of the latter’s grandchildren (presumably but not necessarily these are her children). But (in addition to the 2-3 year discrepancy in her age, which does sometimes happen in censuses) this Mary was born in Llangolman, whereas Thomas’s wife Mary is listed as born in Mynachlogddu.
By 1871, William (31) is head of the house at Cwmcerwyn. His mother (now 70) is still there, and never took another husband. Perhaps her late husband’s stipulation as to the massive payout to the children was enough to put her off; or perhaps she never met another suitable man. Either way, at first glance that legal stipulation might have seemed to be made in order to dissuade her from remarrying, but it’s as likely (perhaps much more likely) to have been made to dissuade a man of no means from marrying Mary for her money, and leaving the children with no inheritence. So, anyway: William, the third eldest son, becomes the new farmer at the house. His wife Mariah (of Meline parish) is 24, and they already have three sons: James (3, named after his grandfather), Evan (2), and John (1), and according to an account by one of their descendents in the local history book ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’, they were to have ten. There are also two servants living with them: David Bowen (18), and John Williams (16).
Sarah Llewhellin has, I think, married John John of “Lanisaf” (or Llainisaf?) in the same parish, and become Sarah John. If this is indeed her, she has two children: Thomas (1), and William (0). Frances (now 28) seems to have become Frances Morgans of Llanllogin Llanycefn. If this is indeed her (and the birthplaces match up), she has married Edward Morgans (25, farmer and butcher), and has three children: Margaret (4), Mary (1), and James Llewelyn (5); the latter presumably arrived before she met (or married?) her new husband. He is listed as “son” to the “head”, but whatever his origin, he is the third known namesake of James Llewhelyn among his grandchildren.
By 1881 William (now 41) is a farmer of 280 acres. Mariah, his wife, has by now birthed five more children: Mary (9), Thomas (7), Catherine (5), William (3) and Benjamin (1). James (13) and John (11) are still there too. Evan is not, and neither is William’s mother; the latter at least we can be pretty sure is now dead. In addition to the eight resident family members, there are two farm servants (“indoor”): David Davies (26) and Job Owen (17); and two “general” servants: Mary and Sarah Davies, both 16.
The 1891 census returns Evan to the household (maybe he was in a cupboard last time, or something). The other present children are Catherine (15), William (13), Thomas (12), Benjamin (11), Ann (9) and David Devonald (2). Sarah Griffiths (18) is the sole resident servant. James Llewellyn (now 23) has set himself up as a farmer at Portispant in Llangolman (with just one dairy maid, Mary Griffiths), and his younger brother John is at Wernddu in Meline, with a wife (Mary, 24), a baby daughter called Mary L, two servants (David Nicholas, 18, and Margaretta Thomas, 15) and a nurse, Mary Havard, 53.
Yvonne Evans, a descendant of the Llewellyns writing in ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’, informs us that William and Mariah moved to Newton near Rudbaxton (central Pembrokeshire) in 1894. And that (quoting the English translation!) “their eldest son, James, emigrated to the United States … [and] Evan went to Australia.” Other children of theirs went to America (and returned), moved to Northampton, moved to Trefdraeth (Newport, Pembs). This was at the time when the Parish was no longer able to sustain the number of inhabitants it had swelled to; and it has never reach the heights of population it enjoyed (or suffered) then to the present day.
In 1901, another Mynachlogddu family has moved in: David Harries (possibly originally from Capelbach, by Cwmgarw) is now the head of Cwmcerwyn, alongside his wife Anne. They have three children: Daniel (5), Lizzie (2), Morris (5 months), and a servant (16) called William Phillips. By the last (currently available) census in 1911, The Harrieses are still resident, with their three children and two new ones: Martha Ann (8), and William Albert (5). Since siblings Martha and Albert are said by Yvonne to have been the farmhouse’s final residents in the 1930s, I assume these were the latter two.
Cwmcerwyn is rare, among these lost houses, in having had only two families resident in the period of increased and freely available historical resources. (I.e. 1841-1911.) It is rarer still in having records (scant, but records nonetheless) that go back at least half a century beyond this. Had it survived to the modern day it would be a listed building; but as it is, it’s a ruin.
Cwmcerwyn is not on a public footpath. When I asked for permission from the farmers who now own the land to visit the ruins, they told me (having said I could go up there) “there’s nothing there now though”. Had they known that I’d recently visited the “remains” of Clawdd Ddu and Llech, they’d have been able to appreciate that the ruins of Cwmcerwyn would be alike to Machu Picchu in my eyes! Not only are the firm footings of several buildings still visible among the mature trees and scattered farm equipment, but the atmosphere of the place remains distinctly homely: the lane, which crosses over several fords, scattered on either side with fallen megaliths; the half-collapsed footbridge over Afon Wern; the stone walls, the nuggets of quartz; the patchwork of surrounding fields, carved out of the gorse and heather on the marshy, sloping mountainside; and the majestic presence of Foel Cwmcerwyn and Foel Feddau towering over it all. It’s a place of great beauty, and no small amount of sadness for those who still have a fondness for witnessing humankind’s often sympathetic historical relationship with the natural world.
There’s a poem in ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’, written by Martha Harries, one of the last residents of Cwmcerwyn. I won’t reproduce the whole thing here, for fear of playing fast and loose with copyright; but the last stanza speaks of both the uniquely tragic fate of Cwmcerwyn, and, in the final line at least, the sadness that is common to all of these lost homes:
“Awyrenna gyda’u bomiau,from ‘Cwm Cerwyn’ by Martha Ann Harries
Milwyr hefyd gyda hwy,
Amser rhyfel a’r ymarfer,
Nid yw’r cartref yno mwy.”
Rough “poetic” (as opposed to literal) translation:
Bombers flew in with explosives,
A time of manoeuvres, and war,
And soldiers following orders,
Now no home’s there anymore.
A Velky, around midnight on the first morning of October 2019.
* Blue Page, like the similarly named Orange Page, is a sometimes-mentioned but as-yet-not-identified Mynachlogddu mystery cottage, whose whereabouts I hope to get on to at a later date in this project. One or the other I suppose to have been an alternative name for “Gors Fach” on the common.