Since moving from Old Landskeria to New Landskeria (which at the time of writing stubbornly remains “New” by virtue of Old Landskeria still existing as an absentee estate of the Landskerians in spite of their attempts to suitably dispose of it) I have felt something akin to a rooting process beginning. It may be a phantom feeling; it’s hard to tell, since I’ve not had it before. Old Landskeria was our home for 5 years, and that was the longest I’ve lived in any one building by a fair bit. But I never thought of it as a permanent home. New Landskeria feels different, which is why I have spent most of the past 17 months (or most of the time I’ve not been grappling with spades, rakes, axes, pressure-washers, pens, chainsaws, etc.) with my head buried in books and, erm, computers, researching the history of the house, the nearby church, the parish of Mynachlogddu, the cantref of Cemais, the county of Pembrokeshire, and the ancient kingdoms of Dyfed and Deheubarth. To what end – other than death, obviously – I’m not sure. But it felt like the right thing to do. My copy of Norman Davies’s three-inch-thick history of Europe lies gathering dust on the shelf with my bookmark stalled at the point of the Industrial Revolution. Numerous novels and poetry books are similarly abandoned; those I was reading and those I was writing. I do not fret over such things anymore; one gets to an age and one has to do what one wants to; as much as is reasonable, possible, and considerate to one’s fellow folk.
That preambled, here is a list of things I’ve been reading in the above-mentioned general area of interest, with links to any copyright-free online versions I’ve found. I plan to add to this here as I add to it out there, and we’ll see how this goes. Needless to say that if anybody ends up on this page and has any recommendations for me, I would be very grateful.
(The list is vaguely chronological according to subject-matter as opposed to date of source’s publication.)
Mynachlog-ddu: a Guide to its antiquities by E. T. Lewis
Referenced in longer texts such as the aforementioned, this book contains detail concerning the (mostly) Preseli region prehistoric monuments to be found in (and near) the parish of Mynachlogddu.
Geographia II by Claudius Ptolemy
Circa 150AD, this is the first (AFAIK) written record of the people who lived here in sunny Pembrokeshire (then called the Demetae, by the Romans at least) and the places they lived in (okay, the large settlements mentioned are in modern day Carmarthenshire, but some coastal Pembrokeshire landmarks are referred to).
Neolithic and Bronze age Pembrokeshire by Timothy Darvill and Geoffrey Wainwright
One presumes this academic document (part of a greater whole, but what whole I’m not sure) also makes up much of Pembrokeshire County History, Volume 1 (priced prohibitively at £35) but due to accident or incident you can view it (including fantastic full-colour maps and images) free on the Bournemouth University website. I have seen no better single source for Pembrokeshire’s early and pre-history.
The Romans in Pembrokeshire by Dr Mark Merrony
A somewhat more recent source than Ptolemy’s, though dealing with the same era. This is a transcript of an excellent lecture given to the Pembrokeshire Historical Society in 2018. Some good stuff on a suspected roman road (Via Julia) which passed over the Cleddau Ddu at Rhydwilym, and on Flemming’s Castle / Castle Flemish – a suspected Roman villa between the villages of Ambleston and Puncheston.
De Excidio et Conquestu Britanniae by St Gildas
Circa 520ish. I haven’t actually read all or even much of this. But in it Gildas refers to the Demetians and their leader “Vortipore” whom he likens to a “spotted leopard” and calls a “tyrant”, and this is the only historical record of the locals from that era. Kinda makes you wonder about Gildas, TBH…
Early Welsh Saints by Daniel J Mullins
A good little book serving as a miniature “Lives…” focusing solely on those who spread the good news (if it was called that then) of Christianity from Gwent to Holyhead. Not much on our local church’s St Dogmael; but there’s not much anywhere on him, which might suggest he spent a lot of time living as a hermit. (That’s my view anyway.)
The Lords of Cemais by Dillwyn Miles
I don’t own this, but I got it out the library once and it provided a succinct but thorough account of the ruling folk of north Pembrokeshire from the Norman conquest onwards.
The History of St. Dogmaels by Emily Pritchard
This 1907 book is a very thorough historical record of the ruined abbey of St Dogmaels in northeast Pembrokeshire, and its lands, etc. (which included the entire parish of Mynachlogddu, then referred to as Nigra Grangia). Anything pertaining to the Tironensian monks – from the founding of the abbey in 1113(ish) by Norman invader turned pious philanthropist Robert fitz Martin, right through to when Henry VIII turned up and punched it to the ground – is included herein in as much detail as could be mustered from the Bronwydd estate manuscripts and elsewhere. It mentions (at least according to a later historian’s reckoning) my ACTUAL house, as was in medieval times, which is pretty amazing.
Descriptio Cambriae by Gerald of Wales
A native of Pembrokeshire, Gerald (Giraldus to his mates) was very enthusiastic about the county. A matriot more than a patriot, I suppose, as Welsh nationalism wasn’t really a thing among the gentry back then; what with most of them having come from France (which didn’t yet exist) this is understandable. Identity was both more local in scope and scale (as were many things, naturally) and, perhaps, more universal – at least to the extent of extending, for richer and more powerful folk, to the former Roman Empire and/or Christendom. This is, AFAIK, the earliest attempt to write about Wales as an entity, and the Welsh people as a polity. So I guess Giraldus was a proto-nationalist, after all. The Itinerary Through Wales, in which Gerald accompanies Archbishop Baldwin across the country in his attempt to drum up support for a crusade, is also well worth a look. It’s the source for the (locally) famous anecdote about a man near Moylegrove being devoured by tree-climbing toads, and includes some vaguely accurate geographical detail many years before anyone else is known to have tried to.
The Itinerary in Wales of John Leland
A recent find to me, though dating from the reign of Henry VIII: 1536-1539. A fascinating snapshot of the cultural and administrative shape of Wales at the time of the Act of Union, which effectively resulted in the annexation of Wales by England, and specifically facilitated the end of Marcher Lordships and commotes and their replacement by a county or “shire” system of geographical and political subdivisions, with parishes serving the same purpose on the smallest scale. Leland provides a much more thorough picture than Gerald was able (or inclined) to; although the scope of the work (encompassing all of England as well as Wales) does not allow for the detail of George Owen’s writings, some 60 years later. These writings – never intended, as far as we know, for publication of any kind – were edited and published first in the 1700s by Thomas Hearne, and again in the early 20th century by Lucy Toulmin Smith, whose edition is linked to here.
The Description of Pembrokeshire by George Owen of Henllys
Written in 1602 and sadly not published for almost 200 years, George Owen’s effort is akin to Gerald’s Descriptio in detail, and undoubtedly inspired in its character by the same, but the scope is firmly on his (indeed, their, our) home county. This really is a fantastic book. A semi-modernised edition exists, edited with a very useful introduction courtesy of Dillwyn Miles. (You can loan it from Haverfordwest library once I return it.) But reading it in its Elizabethan (via Georgian) original form ought to be both possible and very enjoyable for anyone with an interest in the subject matter. It covers geography, anthropology, architecture, geology, economics… it really is a joy to read. This must surely be the first detailed description of the geography of the county (both natural and human; not that the two are at odds necessarily – you know what I mean) and his nitpicking over the true sources of the county’s rivers (among other things) shows the birth of a truly scientific way of looking at these things; which virtue does not for one moment spoil the fun of the odd tall tale, notably the rumoured lack of adders in Eglwyswen parish, and the rain of hairy caterpillars that once plagued the countryside around Maenclochog…
A Historical Tour Through Pembrokeshire by Richard Fenton
Pembrokeshire native Richard Fenton’s 1811 work provides great detail of the landscape and society of early 19th century Pembrokeshire, as well as shedding light on both the history of the county and on the evolution of local historiography. Not content with simply walking around and writing about what he sees, Fenton relates stories and rumours about the history of local sites of significance, and even gets his hands dirty (well; probably other people’s) in excavating hillforts, cromlechs, tumuli, etc. Modern archaeologists might well contend that Fenton’s generation did as much harm as good in the field (boom-boom) of archaeology, but Fenton’s writings are useful, and very entertaining. The sections on Maenclochog, Temple Druid, and Foel Cwmcerwyn are of particular interest to me.
Pembrokeshire Parishes, Places & People: Cemais Hundred by Basil H J Hughes
This seems to be a self-published collection of sources, as it’s archived on a free website yet hard to find in physical form (though published in 2014). As well as a good deal of near-contemporary description, it incorporates extracts from hearth taxes, ecclesiastical records, and a number of relatively elusive historical texts – including A Topographical Dictionary of Wales (1849) by Samuel Lewis and Nooks and Corners of Pembrokeshire (1895) by H. Thornhill Timmins; which books respectively detail the industrial, ecclesiastical and residential inventories of Pembrokeshire’s parishes, and offer an updated “description” in the style of Giraldus or George Owen, though bearing more of a resemblance to what we might recognize as modern “travel writing”. All three of these have proved interesting and useful. The Timmins book features the first (AFAIK) written description of Cwmisaf’s woollen mill (then run by Phillip Jefferies). And no doubt many such details which will be important to (and maybe only to) people similarly obsessed by the minutiae of their local history. [The same author has compiled other volumes for each other Pembrokeshire hundred/cantref.)
Mynachlog-ddu: A historical survey of the past thousand years by E. T. Lewis
This highly specific 1969 book is well worth owning if you spend a lot of time in said parish, but probably a bit limiting if you don’t.
Pembrokeshire and the Woollen Industry by J Geraint Jenkins
This is specifically interesting to me as it mentions the disused mill in our garden and offers a few brief details of how and why it ran; pretty much one for people interested in wool and Pembrokeshire.
O’r Witwg I’r Wern – Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows: Mynachlog-Ddu, Llangolman, Llandeilo by Hefin Wyn
I’ve written previously about this book and the specific sections which were helpful in tracing the recent history of our part of Mynachlogddu. It’s a wonderful gift from the community past (and present) to the community future. Every parish should have one, and every collection should be stored online and added to periodically and funded entirely by the government. So obviously that’ll never happen. A similar volume exists (preceding this one I think) for the nearby parish of Maenclochog, with a similarly cumbersome title: Mamgu, Sian Hwel a Naoni/Mamgu, Vicas Howells and Madame Tussauds: Hanes a Hudoliacth Bro Maenclochog/Past and Present Magic of Maenclochog. I’ll get myself a copy one of these days. Both books contain essays and articles and short memoirs in Welsh and in English, with English summaries provided following full-length welsh pieces.
The Happy Ending by Leo Walmsley
This is an “autobiographical novel” and must thus be treated with the caution that that perculiarly tautological label inspires. Ostensibly it recounts Walmsley’s WW2 purchase, occupation, and restoration of the ruined mansion of Temple Druid on the border of Maenclochog and Llandilo parishes. Names of people and places have been changed, however so we are left to guess how accurately the events are described. And the “novel” elements are perhaps even less satisfactorily conventional than the “autobiographical”; there’s barely any plot or character development, for instance. However, in providing a snapshot of the rural Welsh community coping with the pressures of a war and the accompanying advent of a revolution in technology that would dictate changes to the economics and logistics of their agricultural (and cultural) lives, it is very interesting. One presumes the local community described is Maenclochog.
Battle of the Preselau by Hefin Wyn
This short volume details the post-WW2 attempts by the War Office to seize the upland area of North Pembrokeshire for the MOD, and the fierce (albeit pacifist) resistance with which the plans were met by locals. I believe this book is also available in Welsh, unlike many of the others.
. . .
Think that’s the end of the list, so far. If you have any books or articles you can recommend which might help me (or others) gain a greater understanding of local history anywhere on the sliding scale of locality from Wales down to Pembrokeshire, Cemais, the Preselis, Mynachlogddu, or that bit of my garden with the big rocks in it that I don’t understand very well, please leave a comment or get in touch with me in some other manner.