Spelling variants: Ietllech / Iet Llech / Yetllech / Yet Llech; Llech Isaf / Llechisaf / Llech Isha / Llechisha; By Hwp / By Hoop / Byhoop
Approximate English translations: Gate-[to]-the-Cromlech, Cromlech, Lower Cromlech, [I have no idea whatsoever].
“Llech” literally means “slate”, but can also in certain contexts denote a slab of stone or a boulder. In these house names it can be safely assumed to refer in shorthand to the adjacent cromlech, Llech-Y-Gwyddon. Let’s divert briefly into etymology.
“Llech” forms the latter part of the word “crom[-]lech” which word dates back at the very least to the 1500s and is the common Welsh word for a megalithic chambered tomb with a capstone; “crom” meaning bowed or arched. In English, “cromlech” was the go-to word in past centuries, but nowadays “dolmen” is perhaps more frequently used. Dolmen is thought to be from Breton (the “dol part” denoting a table or a flat board); but etymologists like to argue about this, and the Irish “dolmain” is also very close. Either way, the “men” or “main” part of the word must surely mean “stone” and is also present in the words menhir/maenhir, meaning “longstone” (literally, “stonelong” due to grammatical differences between Welsh and English). Compare also the name of the ancient Mynachlogddu farmhouse “Dolaumaen” which means “stone meadows” or “meadows of stone” and supposedly refers to a pair of standing stones on its land; this could as easily once have been “dolmaen” and referred to the cromlech itself, or (since it’s a bit far, and the known cromlech is closer to the ancient farm of Blaencleddau) perhaps it referred to another cromlech which is no longer there.
There are various traditions relating to cromlechs in the region, and they tend to be common across other regions where similar monuments are found. Often, they are said to be lairs or tombs for fearsome or magical creatures: wolves, hounds, witches, ogres, giantesses, heroes, or devils. The “Llech” that appears in the names of two (or possibly three) historical cottages just beyond Waun Cleddau in northeast Mynachlogddu is derived from the nearby (collapsed) burial chamber whose earliest known name is Llech y Gwyddon. A “gwyddon” can be a number of things, but is most likely an ogress or a witch: some mythical or supernatural female. As a side-note, there’s a Llech y Drybedd near Moylgrove, which is an intact three-legged Cromlech, and there’s a Llech y Lladron (robbers’ rock) in Brecon. Better cultural comparisons for this might be the “Tomba dei Giganti” of Sardinia, or the nearby Gwal-y-Filiast, meaning “Lair of the greyhound bitch”.
While today Mynachlogddu’s sole known cromlech invites little attention, for centuries past it would have been an important landmark, as well as a focal point for stories and superstitions. The 1888 OS map indicates that Iet-Y-Llech was situated on the opposite side of the field to the ruined cromlech, so we can deduce (or, frankly, guess) that “Llech” was on the plot to the south. The 1819 map suggests that Llech predated Iet, and this would explain the name of the latter. While “Iet” can sometimes denote a toll-gate, in this case it may well have simply meant that the newer of the two houses was situated precisely by the gate to the field where the cromlech lay. The sole 1841 census entry for a house called “Llech Isha” (Lower Llech) complicates matters slightly; but if this house fell out of use 170+ years ago, we could reasonably expect to see even less evidence of it on our maps than the other two. It might have been in the small plot opposite Iet-y-Llech, but it’s hard to say.
The geographical relationship between “Uchaf” and “Isaf” farms isn’t wholly reliably either north-to-south or uphill-to-downhill. Perhaps it’s more usually that the “isaf” or “isha” is subservient to or of less importance than the “uchaf” or “ucha”? In 1841 we have no “Llech Uchaf” but can assume that “Llech” itself is the one that “Llech Isha” is “isha” to. Had it lasted longer, perhaps “Llech” would have been referred to in later life as “Llech Ucha”. It’s closer to the parent farm of Blaencleddau, but no farther uphill, nor farther north; in fact, the opposite in both cases.
There is a will drawn up for a widow called Martha Morris who lived at Llech, dating to 1828, digitized in the National Library of Wales archive. In it she says:
“My two sons James and David shall retain all the goods and moneys they owe me, as their own property for ever … after paying all my legal and funeral expenses, [my money is] to be divided into four equal shares … one fourth … to my daughter Ann Morris… [the rest to my other four children: Stephen, Martha, Mary, and Rachel].”
None of these children are traceable in the parish from the start-date of the censuses (1841), so we can assume none of them took over her tenancy.
And so, to the censuses. The first year is often the most difficult, and 1841 is no exception here. David John, 60, a mason, is living in “Yetllech” with Ann John, 15, who may well have been his daughter; but no such detail is forthcoming from the first census. Ann Rees, also 60, and a woman of independent means, is living in Llech with (daughters?) Sarah (30) and Elizabeth (20) Rees. The former, but not the latter, is listed as a servant. The complicating factor is the existence of the aforementioned “Llech Isha”, never to be seen again, in which lives James Thomas, 61, an agricultural labourer (presumably at Blaencleddau) with wife Sarah (40), and and children David (7) and Sarah (3). By 1851 this family (minus David) are living in “Byhoop” and we learn, due to the added detail of the ’51 census, that David senior was born in Ceredigion. Since I have no more idea where Byhoop is or was than where Llech Isha is or was (less even) we could perhaps assume it’s the same cottage, renamed? E T Lewis mentions a “By Hwp” as one of the many Mynachlogddu mystery cottages, but offers no explanation for the words (which make no sense to me in English or Welsh) nor clues as to the location.
As for Llech and Iet in ’51: “Yetllech” is now home to Sophia Evans, an agricultural labourer’s wife, and her children Thomas (3) and Mary (0). Sophia’s husband is oddly not present; perhaps living onsite at the farm he’s working at? (i.e. not Blaencleddau; somewhere farther?) It’s an unusual situation, and one that led me down a merry path of false impressions, whereby I became briefly convinced that this Sophia Evans was the same Sophia Evans listed in Llanboidy in ’41, and later in ’71 and ’81, and that she’d run away from home to be with someone who then ran away from her. Given that we’re working with such a small amount of information it can be all too tempting to fill in the gaps with the imagination; or rather, to let the imagination run wild. I could have just skipped forward to ’61 for a clearer impression of the real sequence of events. But we’ll get there in a minute. Firstly, Llech in ’51 is still home to Ann Rees, “Widow of labourer”, 75, and one of her daughters, Elizabeth, now 30, who remains unmarried.
In 1861 we learn that Sophia has died, leaving her 35-year old agricultural-labourer widower William Evans in Iet-Y-Llech to care for their children Mary (10), David (8), Hana (5) and William (2). I haven’t bothered paying for access to all the legal documents, as the website I use is positively extortionate; but there is an indication that Sophia Evans was buried in 1861, some time before the census was taken. Incidentally, there is at the same time a 13-year-old boy called Thomas Evans (born in Mynachlogddu) working as a servant in Penlan, Whitechurch, Ceredigion, and I suspect he was their eldest, and probably hadn’t been out the house long. Llech is now home to Morris Williams, 31, agricultural labourer, born in the parish, and Margaret Williams, 31, born in neighbouring Llanfyrnach, and their children John (3) and Ann (1). None of these are traceable on any other census.
By 1871 William Beynon, farm labourer, 64 is at Iet-Y-Llech with his wife Mary (60) who is also a labourer. Names are entered for Llech for the last time (indeed, it doesn’t appear on the 1888 OS map, so I’ve had to guess its location). Those names are as follows. William Stephen, 35, Carpenter, born in Llanfyrnach. Martha Stephen, 33, his wife, from Capel Castellan. Anne, 9, scholar; James, 6, scholar; Margaret, 4; Martha and Mary, both 2. All of the children were born in the parish, and quite probably in the cottage itself. the family were in “Iet Fronlas” near Foel Drygarn in ’61 (i.e. at the last census) where they had an infant son called David who must have died in the interim, and also la 10-year old called Mary Stephen who one would presume to be their daughter, but for the fact that she is listed as “nurse” which apparently indicates she was someone else’s child who they were raising, probably for a fee. William Stephen is unusually easy to trace on the censuses, so we know he was from a big family, and that his father David Stephen (probably the namesake of his ill-fated first son) taught him his trade, alongside an older brother called John. We also know that by 1881 he is a “master carpenter” living in Castellan with wife Martha, and children Phoebe (9), Hannah (7), Rachel (3) and David (a new one, 1). The lack of Margaret, Martha or Mary might immediately seem ominous, but we cannot know for sure if they were dead, working away or simply living with someone else. Though the first two are untraceable in the vicinity (certainly up to 20 miles), Mary, it transpires, has gone to live with her grandparents David and Margaret in Llanfyrnach, and is now a twelve-year-old “scholar”.
That last paragraph was long. Do you still remember the Beynons? Maybe not. But they’re still at Iet-Y-Llech in 1881. She’s Mary, 70, and he’s William, 80, and after many years as a labourer he is now a farmer of 10 acres, which feels like a massive achievement. They’re both gone by 1891, but their daughter Ann, 37, single, a farmer, is the sole resident. Ann was 7 in ’61 (nice when the maths works out!) and living with her parents in Llwyn Piod on the other side of the parish. (At that time a 96-year old alms woman called Lettice Michael was boarding with them. We can safely assume she is dead by this point.) 20 years ago, Ann was a general servant to a farmer in Blaen Nevern, Castellan; 10 years ago Ann was a maid at Caermeini Isaf. However much she enjoyed her time at Iet-Y-Llech, the census does not reveal; but we do know that by 1911, Annie (as she’s now known) is a 57-year-old servant to an 82-year-old widower called Howell Rees at a place called Neuadd in Blaenffos.
We can assume unless evidence to the contrary is discovered that the two (or three) cottages around the collapsed cromlech on the eastern side of the Crymych road in northeast Mynachlogddu fell into ruin at this point. Today, several little rectangles of dry stone wall remain, with twisted trees sprouting from each. Sheep, horses, and cattle graze peacefully in the marshy surrounding fields and barely a trace of human life is noticeable but for the distant buzz of a tractor or whirr of a passing car.
A Velky, September, 2019.