Cwmisaf’s old sign, given a fresh coat of paint
Estimated reading time: one hour.
This is, of course, the most complete available history; not the most complete possible history. Following a bit of reading during the colder, darker months of 2017/2018, I am now in a position to offer a roughly researched and poorly edited history of the house known to the Royal Mail as Cwmisaf, Mynachlogddu; where at the time of writing I reside. Why anyone should want to read such a thing I will not venture to guess, beyond stating that I wanted to read it when I moved into the house last year, and was mildly irritated—though of course unsurprised—that no such thing was available to me.
For the casual (non-Landskerian) observer, this text offers a potted history of a monastic farmhouse in the Preseli region of rural Pembrokeshire; which later became an integral industrial element of the emerging parish of Mynachlogddu, chiefly owing to its association with the process of turning wool into cloth; and which later still became a half-forgotten satellite of the village it was once the centre of—herein I trace the story of Cwmisaf from its murky beginnings in Tudor Wales, right up to the present day.
I am hopeful of one day expanding this “history”; but until I find time to pore over ancient documents in the National Library of Wales, this is all you’re getting.
I am thankful to the writers and editors of the most useful of my scant sources, the following three books:
- O’r Witwg I’r Wern / Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows—edited by Hefin Wyn (2011)
- Mynachlog-ddu: A historical survey of the past thousand years—E. T. Lewis (1969)
- The History of St. Dogmaels Abbey: Together With Her Cells, Pill, Caldey, and Glascareg, and the Mother Abbey of Tiron—Emily Pritchard (1907)
I also made good use of the website findmypast.co.uk, the current monetizers of the UK government’s census-based data archive; who at least offer a free trial period, although they charge exorbitantly and obnoxiously for any further access to our collective national heritage/birthright beyond said trial period. Google was also useful to me, as no doubt I was to it.
So without further ado.
Cwmisaf, Mynachlogddu: the Completest History
A Pre-History: Before 1795
1. The Southern Stony Shore
“A small intrusion of coarse-grained, decomposed dolerite is exposed near Cwm Isaf Factory. When fresh, it is blue-green in colour, but is usually ironstained to a deep brown colour. It is usually so soft that it has been extensively used for making stone troughs which have been excavated from blocks of this dolerite. It is known locally as “Careg Nadd” (The sculptor’s stone).” — from ‘The Geology of the Prescelly Hills and Adjoining Areas in North Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire’ by William David Evans, MSc. (1940)
The rocks are presumably the oldest aspect of the landscape at Cwmisaf, and most have been exposed either by glacial impact, or by the force of the river: now called Afon Wern, in pre-modern times it was variously referred to as Clydach Australis, Combkaro, or Cwmcerwyn. There is a small quarry behind the house, reputedly used to extract stones for the building of both the house and the woollen factory; this quarry might also date to “Pre-History”; but prehistory being what it is, we have no way of knowing. There are a few megaliths scattered about, within and without the modern borders of Cwmisaf; but none look like they were (at least in their current situations) deliberately positioned by human hands.
The Cwmisaf Passage Tomb, which probably isn’t one
One notable menhir leans against a partially embedded and immovable-looking boulder on the Llangolman bank of the Wern near the old mill-race for Pont Hywel, just southwest of Cwmisaf. Another classic pointy-shaped longstone (over 6′ in length) lies in the tailrace of the Cwmisaf leat.
Beside the river, an arrangement of boulders we grandiosely refer to as “The Passage Tomb” (but which probably are no such thing) might more feasibly have been used as an animal pen or else contrived as a modern recreation of a Neolithic arrangement. About half of the rocks are small enough that they might have been pulled into place by one or two horses. At least one looks far too large to have been moved without machinery; but then so do most of the rocks in the ancient cromlechs and circles across Wales.
Regardless, these particular rocks are neither scheduled as an ancient monument nor likely ever to be.
Gorsfawr, over which we enjoy (but do not exercise) pasturage rights
The nearest scheduled ancient monument is the well-known Gorsfawr stone circle, formerly called Trallwyn, situated about a mile north on the bog whose peripheral waters form a stream which drains into the Cwmisaf leat. This circle is thought to have been arranged 5000 years ago, either as a meeting place or a burial site. (More likely the former.) If there was another, closer, prominent pagan site—perhaps on the location of St Dogmaels church, overlooking Cwmisaf—no evidence of it remains. The suitability of the area for the construction of several farmhouses, a church, a bridge, and a mill with a water-wheel, suggests it was probably one of the original (i.e. early medieval) settlements in the wider area; although there is no evidence of permanent habitation near Cwmisaf in the bronze/iron-age eras of the hillforts of Foel Drygarn, Bank Ddu, and naerby Castell Blaenllechog in Llangolman.
In terms of the village or parish, our little junction on the east bank of Afon Wern was Mynachlogddu on maps as recently as 120 years ago, though nowadays the signs place the village a couple of miles to the north, where the vast majority of new houses have been built in the past century.
The Preseli region of Kipp’s 1607 map of Pembrokeshire
“The bridge existed in 1598” we are told by the Sense of Place leaflets handed out to tourists. They cite no source for this claim, but William Kipp’s 1607 version of George Owen of Henllys‘s 1602 map of Pembrokeshire indicates a bridge over Afon Wern in its (approximate) current location; and E. T. Lewis writes that one of Cemais‘s 28 recorded bridges in that year (1598) was indeed Pont Mynachlogddu*, then called “Pontymanachlogddy y awrch super clidach Australis”—this being the case according to the aforementioned Elizabethan writer, Lord of Cemais, and appreciator of Irish whiskey, George Owen of Henllys.
The village on the Kipp map (pictured) is called something like “Menaghloggdhy” and Afon Wern is called “Cyddach Flu”. That first word seems to have fallen out of use in Welsh, but is similar to the Goidelic Celtic “cladach” meaning “stony shore”; the latter might well be an abbreviation as I cannot translate it; but it appears consistently alongside rivers all across the map, so we can draw obvious conclusions from that. I have seen a version of this map which was labelled as Owen’s original where Pont Hywel (crossing below the confluence of Wern, Cleddau and Glandy) is represented, and Pont Mynachlogddu is not; the opposite of what has happened here. Pont Hywel is generally thought to be older, but both are naturally suitable crossing places, and were thus likely to have been in use before the earliest preserved record indicates. The river-island belonging to Cwmisaf, which Pont Mynachlogddu uses to straddle the river, makes this an obvious location for a crossing. Even without the bridge, a low-flowing river would allow livestock to be driven across more easily than it would either to the immediate north or south, where the river is considerably deeper. I (in my finite wisdom as a non-expert on the history of bridges) would think some form of constructed crossing was here long before the 1500s; even if it were just made of felled treetrunks.
E. T. Lewis’s wonderful local history book
In 1081, at the time that Welsh myths were gradually overlapping with Welsh history, the Battle of Mynydd Carn took place somewhere in the county of Pemrbokeshire. Talfynydd and Carn Menyn (Mynachlogddu’s northernmost points, stretching into the Preseli Mountains) have been cited as the likely site by some historians; though others favour Templeton, south of Narberth.
If a bridge in this area was used by soldiers heading north to battle, to help decide the fate of the embattled Welsh kingdoms of Gwynedd and Deheubarth, it might well have been Pont Mynachlogddu or Pont Hywel—or even both if they got confused. Trahaearn ap Caradog’s Norman arbalisters might have set off from their base camps in the south of the county and arrived late, thus ensuring Gwynedd’s defeat. They probably didn’t, but if they—or indeed anyone else—did cross Afon Wern over the land that is now Cwmisaf during the year 1081, we cannot know whether a smoking chimney, or a turning water-wheel, or indeed a humble Celtic Christian chapel, clas, or hermitage, might have been visible among the foliage of the riverbank.
A couple getting married at St Dogmaels, Mynachlogddu, in 1906. Those trees are no longer there.
E. T. Lewis discusses the likelihood of a monastery having been located in the village (as suggested by its name: Mynach-log-ddu; approximately “Place of the Black Monks”) but concludes that the village name is likelier to indicate land pertaining to a monastery. Now, we know very well that Mynachlogddu once belonged to the Tironensian Abbey at St Dogmaels (more on that to come) but E. T. Lewis says there’s an outside chance the land might have previously been associated with a “clas”; a Celtic Christian monastery—perhaps located at Pentreglas or Fronlas in the southeast of the parish; whose names are more ordinarily supposed to relate to the Welsh word “glas”, meaning “blue”; which can also mean verdant (i.e. green, somewhat confusingly for English-speakers). The notion that the village name related to St Dogmaels’ “black monks” has always struck me as problematic, because although Benedictine monks wore black, Tironensian monks (who were the order at St Dogmaels abbey, and therefore presumably those seen in its outlying cells or chapels) wore grey. So in my view the village name must (in some form ) pre-date the founding of the abbey in St Dogmaels.
Village-name diversions aside, Cwmisaf’s “Pre-History” truly begins with the history of Mynachlogddu’s parish church; which is in itself unfortunately murky, and in turn begins with the history of the aforementioned parent abbey at St Dogmaels—the first daughter abbey of the Grey Monks of St Bernard of Tiron. It was probably some of those monks who referred to Afon Wern as “Clydach Australis”, the name George Owen used centuries later, employing the Latin suffix (meaning “southern”) either to differentiate the river from several other Clydachs in the Preseli region, or to demark the southern border of the land gifted to the Tironensian monks by the abbey’s founder: the Anglo-Norman Lord of Cemais.
2. For Saint Bernard and Saint Dogmael
“Robert Fitzmartin approached Bernard of Tiron and reserved from him a group of twelve [monks] under an abbot, Fulchard; these he settled in West Wales on the banks of the Teifi near Cardigan and constructed for them an abbey that became known as St Dogmael’s.” — from ‘The History of St. Dogmaels’ by Emily Pritchard, 1907
All that remains of St Dogmaels Abbey
Robert fitz Martin was the West English son of a Norman knight (called Martin de Tours) who came to England with William I during the Conquest. He supported Henry I in his military campaigns in Wales, and became the first Lord of Cemais; giving him jurisdiction over the central northern cantref of what was to become Pembrokeshire—the Anglo-Norman administrative division of an increasingly multilingual and multiethnic (and increasingly divided) Celto-Germanic region of Wales.
The land around Pembroke in the south became largely English-speaking, populated by Anglo-Saxons, Anglo-Normans, Norse Vikings, Welsh, Irish, and Flemings; while Cemais remained Welsh-speaking and was populated mostly by indigenous Welsh, but with an Anglo-Norman ruling class—and with significant periodical communities of Irish; notably (in Mynachlogddu) in Cwmcerwyn, or Cwm Garw, according to George Owen, writing in the early 1600s.
An artist’s impression of St Dogmael.
Although the St Dogmaels monks came from France initially (presumably thus speaking Latin and French) novices were soon recruited locally from North Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion. The abbey took its name from Dogmael or Dogfael, a 6th-century Welsh saint. Reputedly the cousin of St David—Wales’s patron saint—little else is known about Dogmael except that he requested his followers bathe daily in the Teifi river, whatever the weather—which sounds unpleasant. The order at the abbey followed the teachings of the similarly hard-line Bernard of Tiron, a Benedictine purist who founded his own religious community in rural France after becoming disillusioned with the luxurious standard of living enjoyed by established French monasteries. One hopes he might have approved of the new abbey’s location, at least. (And the standard of living at St Dogmaels Abbey would not be accused of equating to luxury for a good while yet.)
St Dogmaels was the only Tironensian abbey in Wales (and there were to be none in England). It’s believed that Fitzmartin chose the site deliberately because he thought it was the location of a former Celtic Christian “clas” which was known to have been raided by vikings a few centuries previously. Perhaps the dedication, as well as the location, was borrowed from the previous holy order.
St Bernard of Tiron presenting his model abbey
Once the “new” abbey was up and running, gifts flowed in. In 1118, Robert generously granted what would become “Mynachlogddu”, then part of the “black grange” or “Nigra Grangia” to the Tironensians. The grange at that time comprised 5 carucates, and two or possibly three chapels. One was on the southern slopes of Foel Cwmcerwyn in the north of the parish. One was on the southern slopes of Foel Dyrch in the east.
What later became the parish church was also likely to have been a chapel or a monastic cell of some kind before it served as a place of worship; but no written record indicates its genesis, so the details remain frustratingly elusive. E. T. Lewis speculates it may have been a 14th century oratory (a sort of private chapel) built by the abbot of St Dogmaels long after the abbey acquired the land. Of the other three chapels recorded in the area prior to the Reformation (identified by E. T. Lewis as Capel Cawey, Capel Bach Cwmgarw, and Capel Silin Cwmcerwyn) only scant ruins remain.
The centuries following the founding of the abbey in St Dogmaels saw much conflict in Pembrokeshire, including numerous attempts by the Welsh to take back control of Cemais (and the rest of the region) from the Norman Lords. References to Mynachlogddu are few. King Edward I refers to the “Manor of St Dogmael” (a synonym for Nigra Grangia) in a letter to Burgo de Neville, his “Justicia” in West Wales, in the context of making sure the revenues from reclaimed lands ended up going to the rightful(!) people. Gerald of Wales described the “rivers Cledheu” in his Descriptio Cambriae (1193) as rising in the Preselau; but alas he began his description of the Eastern branch (Y Cleddau Ddu) at “Lahaden”, about 8 miles downriver of Afon Wern. Gerald travelled through Cemais in 1188 with Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, gathering support for the Third Crusade, and picking up strange tales about man-eating toads, &c. He even spent the night in St Dogmaels Abbey on his last day in Pembrokeshire; but alas there is no record of him ever visiting Mynachlogddu.
Amusingly, though perhaps unsurprisingly, the first written descriptions of the land around Cwmisaf come not from a scholar, nor from a travel writer, but from an audit of church land conducted remotely—from the Holy See in Rome—for the purpose of raising money for a crusade against the Saracens in the Holy Land. The references occur in the “Taxatio Ecclesiastica Angliae et Walliae Auctoritate” ordered by Pope Nicholas IV and dating to 1291. This document (in translation, courtesy of Emily Pritchard) mentions Mynachlogddu explicitly (and perhaps Cwmisaf, implicitly) for the first time:
“The Abbot of St. Dogmaels hath the town of St. Dogmael with its appurtenances; namely Crugau Gryffydd Mynachlog Ddu five carucates of land with rents of three mills for grinding and one fulling mill.”
3. Dissolution and Mutability
It’s unclear whether the dedication of Mynachlogddu’s parish church to St Dogmael has any significant bearing either to the saint himself having ties to the immediate area, or (which seems likelier) to the church (or chapel, as it was) enjoying a special relationship with its parent abbey that was not enjoyed by its many other holdings around Cemais—or farther afield in Pembrokeshire, Ireland and Devon. Dogmael is thought to have lived and died in the 6th century, as previously mentioned, and is presumed to have been mostly active in North Pembrokeshire. But whether Robert Fitzmartin gifted Mynachlogddu to his new abbey because of a known connection between the two, or simply because the farmland in this peripheral part of his cantref was comparatively poor, we can but guess.
For several hundred years the scattered community that made up Mynachlogddu (variously recorded as the Manor of St Dogmaels, Nigra Grangia, Manoglokdewe, Menecregh the Black Grange, and many things between) was the property of the Abbey, and thus only recorded in their records, none of which are known to have survived. George Owen of Henllys (writing in the early 1600s) says that the inhabitants of Mynachlogddu “untyll of late years within the memory of men now living … did christen and burye in the parishes adjoininge”; so, although like most medieval churches, St Dogmaels in Mynachlogddu belonged to the Catholic faith prior to the Dissolution, it seems its life as a parish church might only have begun with the advent of Anglicanism.
The first whisperings of a name connected to a building, or to a piece of land, between the church and the river, are provided to us as a direct result of Henry VIII and his frustration with the Catholic Church and/or his own reproductive powers:
“And of viij viij rent of a tenement in the township aforesaid called Maenochlog ddu y tharch so demised to Howell ap Thomas ap Owen … And of xvj rent of ij tenements with appurts called Lounder monoglolc dwg in the hands of Ludovic ap Jevan by indenture sealed with the convent seal given the xth October the 27th year of the reign of King Henry the 8th.”
The above barely legible sample from “Rents of assize, Manoglokdew” as reproduced by Emily Pritchard was a tiny fragment of a mass administrative harvesting of ecclesiastical financial data by the state of the day. “Lounder” is instantly recognizable as “Llandre”; the name of both the upper and lower (uchaf and isaf) farms on the road heading north from the church. The other tenement mentioned (Maenochlog ddu y tharch) is said by E. T. Lewis to be synonymous with Cwmisaf—and also with “Manoglodye y llothie”, a tenement mentioned in a “bargain and sale of lands” document held in the Noyadd Trefawr Estate Records and dated 75 years later (1611).
Milking parlour at Cwmisaf; possibly also the Old Mill
The former claim is partly explained by Pritchard’s own footnote in which she informs the reader (albeit without showing her reasoning) that “tharch” in this context means “ddechrau”—i.e. start, or beginning. Cwmisaf is on the border of the parish, and thus, arguably at the beginning—provided that you happen to be coming from Llangolman. If you were coming from Eglwyswen or Cilymaenllwyd, it would be at the end, or “y gorffen”/”y diwedd”. Having said that, it is also at the location of the church, so perhaps has a claim to being the “beginning” of the parish in a chronological or even in a spiritual sense. “Llothie” I’m even less clear on; either in terms of what it means**, or why E. T. Lewis decided that it meant Cwmisaf (and was thus synonymous with “… y Tharch”). Alas, the Noyadd Trefawr Estate Records document which contains the reference is safely under lock and key at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth, and they have thus far fiercely resisted my attempts to pay them £10 for a scanned copy of it.
Assuming, as seems reasonable, that these two historians more-or-less knew what they were talking about, the above tells us that there was a distinct property (probably a farmhouse; specifically a Tudor monastery farm) on the current location of Cwmisaf at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries—when the chapel (as it was then) and its “houses, buildings, tithes and sheaves” were leased by the crown in 1537 to Moran John of Llangadock. It also tells us that the property had a recognizably different name only 75 years later. And yet another name 164 years after that, by the time it had become an irrefutably identifiable historical location. The name “Cwmisaf” meaning “lower valley” clearly identifies our land in relation to the rest of Mynachlogddu; or the Nigra Grangia, as it was. The house and its associated fields are situated at the lowest point in the parish, where the river that is now called Afon Wern flows south rapidly over rough rocks, down toward the Eastern Cleddau, or Cleddau Ddu. The fields south of the house (which are still legally accessible via an unmanaged public footpath) were once part of “Cwmisaf” which was in turn (before being so named) part of the Manor of St Dogmaels.
Unless “llothie” is an extinct Welsh word for “cloth”, “weaving”, or “fulling”, no evidence exists of the presence of mechanized industry at Cwmisaf during the “Pre-History” period. It’s a perfect location for a water-wheel, as later centuries proved; the voluminous, fast-flowing Wern provides power for most of the year, and the naturally formed river-islands did half the work of digging out a mill-race or a leat long before anyone ever had the idea. A mill-pond would certainly not be required; although I have very recently discovered the remains of some kind of concrete weir several hundred metres upriver; probably dating back no more than a hundred years or so.
There might feasibly have been a corn mill here once; there were, after all, three of them to be found in the parish at the time of the Taxatio. Likelier yet is that this was then (as it was later) the location of Mynachlogddu’s fulling mill, to process the material rewards of the monastic grange’s many sheep farms. Whatever the truth of the matter, we can be sure nobody had the time or inclination to write it all down. Or that if they did, the text does not survive.
Cwmisaf while up for sale in 2017: note “The Shop” adjoining to the right, and the wall to the fore, which is said to be the only remaining wall of the Old Mill.
My own potted theory about the names Mynachlogddu y Tharch, and Mynachlogddu y Llothie is that the Cwmisaf farm was once synonymous with the word “Mynachlogddu” and only became gradually qualified as “y [something]” as the scattered farmsteads to the northeast gradually became recognizable as a community of sorts in late medieval times, and thus the name “Mynachlogddu” expanded in scope to embrace a wider area. Many villages in rural areas (West Wales included) are synonymous with their oldest or central farm dwelling; this is more easily recognizable in newer villages whose progenitive farm houses often share the names of baptist chapels; or in the English-speaking communities where almost every “-ton” village has a house called “-ton Farm”.
So perhaps Cwmisaf only acquired its new name (first seen on the census records in the 1800s) once the emphasis of the village had gradually shifted toward the northeast of the parish, away from its origins at the church (once an oratory for the grey-robed Tironesian abbot of St Dogmaels, or maybe even a clas or a hermitage housing one or more black-robed Celtic Christian monks).
The lands in the area changed hands many times over the centuries after the Dissolution. The deeds were often traded between men from London, while most of the tenants who farmed the land probably came from the same local stock who lived here during the Abbey’s tenure. In 1737 the bridge was repaired, but other than that, the next few hundred years were quiet ones from the perspective of local history.
The 1660 “Monachlogddy Hearth Tax”, however, does provide us with one name notable for appearing alongside a professional occupation which would become synonymous with Cwmisaf in later years: David John, weaver.
Modern Times: 1795-2017
1. The Coming of Cwmisaf
A woodworm-riddled beam in the loft still bears the date “1795” along with some initials, which are impossible to connect to a name. If it wasn’t inscribed in that year, it certainly looks like it could have been. And if any other part of the house which now stands pre-dates this, there is nothing to say so.
Maybe the lower part of the house was around for a few hundred years before the second storey was added. Maybe one of the dilapidated stone sheds in the garden was the original farmhouse—Y Tharche, or Y Llothie.
What we can be sure of is that a sizeable chunk of the valley’s east side was hacked into (presumably over quite a long period of time) and a house was built in the recess, accessible by a similarly gouged-out track, which is narrow, but mercifully short by local standards. There is what looks like a holloway down by the river, leading from a ruined milking parlour with relatively modern metal remnants toward the sloped, boggy-edged fields to the south of Cwmisaf. There are some walls which we are told by locals once belonged to the old mill building that was pulled down in the mid-twentieth century. And there is the leat, which still flows under Pont Mynachlogddu, down under the drive, and out onto the rusty water-wheel, which has not turned for over half a century.
Cwmisaf’s old gate, found behind the milking parlour
It’s worth noting that the surviving house at Cwmisaf was (apparently) erected the year the baptist chapel at Bethel opened its doors to nonconformist worshippers, several miles to the north. It’s entirely possible, therefore, that the residents of Cwmisaf followed the majority of the Welsh-speaking populace of the area in turning their back on the Anglican St Dogmaels church in favour of the Welsh-language sermons at Bethel.
The next chapter of Cwmisaf’s history is mostly provided by a combination of snippets from travel writing, and census data; the latter gathered for a century (approximately) from 1841-1939. The following paragraph about Mynachlogddu is from ‘A Topographical Dictionary of Wales’ by Samuel Lewis (1839):
“There are two slate-quarries, two mills, and a small woollen manufactory. The Eastern Cleddy river has its source here, and is joined at the extremity of the parish by two brooks named Glandy and Wern. The living is a curacy, endowed with £1000 royal bounty; present net income, £180; patron, Lord Milford: the tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £52. 10., payable to the curate. The church, dedicated to St. Dogmael, and situated at the extremity of the parish, was once connected with a monastery, and is capable of containing 2000 persons, but without seats: it is not remarkable for any architectural details, and has been left in a very neglected state.”
2000 people in the church?! Surely this is meant to be 200. That aside, the woollen manufactory must be at Cwmisaf, and must be the old mill building. There is no indication of how long it had been there at the time, but we must be thankful to Mr Lewis for this snapshot which provides the earliest conclusive proof (in conjunction with the maps and censuses) of the presence of a mill at Cwmisaf; and while we still frequently refer to the more modern building as a “mill” I’m not certain any actual milling took place in either building, and local maps mostly refer to the building adjacent to Cwmisaf’s rusty water-wheel as a “factory”, as seems common in this area.
The 1841 census, taken just a few years after the above was published, might tell us who was working the woollen manufactory when Lewis compiled his book; but certainly not who built Cwmisaf, or first lived here in 1795. One John John (farmer and clothier, originally from Cilymaenllwyd, just over the border in Carmarthenshire) was master of the house (entered into the register as “Cwmisha”), and living with his wife Martha (both aged 30, and thus not born when the house was built) and their one-year-old daughter Hannah (written as “Hana”). Also entered onto the census at the address was a William Roblin (clothier, 30), Stephen Prethroe (spinner, 30), Ana John ([?], 20) and Moris John (wool carder, 15); the latter two likely being children, if not nephews/nieces.
E. T. Lewis says John John was at Cwmisaf in 1820; but this would have made him only ten years old. He also says a James John was there in the 1870s as a fuller. This does not agree with my research, and I can only conclude he got the names the wrong way around, and perhaps John John inherited the farm and factory businesses from his father James John? As for fulling; it’s probable that both cloth-making and fulling were undertaken at Cwmisaf; but it’s the former than tends to be listed on the censuses—perhaps because it sounds more respectable.
The “Monachlogddu” tithe map (dated 1848) calls the building at Cwmisaf a “Tucking Mill” (tucking being synonymous with fulling) and lists the names of the fields which were farmed, but not actually owned, it turns out, by John John; those amounting to some 15 acres. The owner was either “James Reverend James” or “Jones Reverend James” (or both if it’s the same person?) who also let nearby land (mostly on either side of the Pont yr Haiarn [Iron Bridge] Road to David Thomas of Llandre Isaf. We can assume this vicar lived in the Vicarage, as they tended to. Old maps indicate this used to be on the patch of land now occupied by Parc y Banc, just up the road from Cwmisaf. The “Trellan” vicarage father east, toward Tynewydd, was not present on the 1888 ordnance survey map, and has the look of a Victorian building.
The fields occupied by John John, immediately surrounding the mill and stretching south along The Wern as far as the Cleddau Ddu, were listed as follows:
Tucking Mill & Lands
272: Burgage [A medieval term for a streetside manorial field enclosure] (pasture)
276: Fron ucha [Upper hillside] – arable
283: Park canol [Central field] – pasture
284: Park y bank*** [Bank field] – arable
285: Park y berth [Bush field] – arable
286: Waun [Marsh/Moor] – pasture
287: Park issa [Lower field] – pasture
As an aside, the Rebecca Riots kicked off in 1839, instigating a trend spreading from the Preselis eastward of common Welsh folk donning women’s clothing and destroying toll-gates. These attacks followed preliminary meetings at Glynsaithmaen—just a few miles upriver from Cwmisaf, but on the other side of the Wern, and thus in Llangolman parish. 28-year-old John John might have been present at those meetings alongside Mynachlogddu’s own Twm Carnabwth; then again, he might have been too busy grieving for his father James John, or too busy working in his woollen factory/tucking mill—or simply too prosperous to be driven to such desperate acts.
Anyhow, no other descriptive or narrative sources relating to Cwmisaf come our way for half a century, but the regular censuses provide snapshots of the house and business through time. The first (1851) Ordnance Survey map of the area, though not as detailed as future editions, clearly shows the “Woollen Factory” beside Afon Wern, and the village/parish name “Mynachlogddu” directly above the church. Plas-y-Meibion, the big house up the road, had probably only relatively recently appeared, but its drive then came out toward Llangolman on the Pont Hywel road. (Nowadays it comes out on the Mynachlogddu road, and last time it was up for sale they listed its address as Mynachlogddu; which is a nice idea, but factually incorrect.)
In 1851 (the year the map was published) John John was still at Cwmisaf (or “Cwm Ishaf”) and listed as a “clothier, wool spinner and carder”. Martha was a “wife”, and Hannah (now 11) was a “scholar”—but not at the village school, because it didn’t open till 1903†. The other Johns are gone (died or married or moved away?) and so are Prethroe and Roblin. In their place are Martha Phillip (house servant, 18), John David (wool spinner, 16), and Edward Mathias (wool carder, 13). Thus the population of the house has dropped from 7 to 6; although the population of Mynachlogddu as a whole was by now 502—a high point from which is would fluctuate, but gradually drop to half that number by the 1960s, possibly never to return. At the last census, the population was finally close to reaching those dizzy heights once more; but nowadays the number comprises the “community” of Mynachlogddu and Llangolman, not just the parish itself.
Ten years later, in 1861, the house name is finally spelled “correctly” (i.e. in standardized Welsh) fand John John (now 50) is a “Farmer Of 35 Acres Employing One Labourer And One Boy Clothier and one manufactory”. Also recorded at Cwmisaf in 1861: Martha John (Farmers wife, inexplicably now 10 years older than her husband, despite them being the same age as one another 20 years ago), Hannah John (farmer’s daughter, 21), Walter Davies (visitor and wool-weaver, 60), John Lewis (cartman, 21), Mary Davies (servant, 18), David Lewis (hand-loom wool weaver, 16), and Thomas Perkins (apprentice [?], 14). Back up to 7 then—with an 8th squeezed in temporarily.
In 1871, when the house (and maybe also the factory) was nearly 100 years old, John John was entered into the census as the head of the household for the fourth and final time, this time as a “Clothier and Farmer of 50 acres”. Martha was a “Clothier’s wife”, and since John had lost 5 years (he is now 55) and she had gained 12, she was by now 17 years older than the man she used to be the same age as. Being the wife of a farmer/clothier will apparently do that to you. Also listed are Martha James (farm servant), Arthur George (farm servant), Harry Thomas (farm servant), and John Evans (spinner). What’s more, after 30 years (in which John aged 25, and Martha aged 42), William Roblin in back living and working (as a “Clothier) at Cwmisaf. Life has been kind to him, although not as kind as it has been to John; he has aged just 28 years in the past 30, and is now 58. Joking aside, some of this can be put down to a lack of written records, poor memory, censuses being conducted at different times of year, etc. But it does seem quite a significant discrepancy in the case of John and his wife. Maybe she was always older? Or maybe he genuinely forgot how old they both were and had a more favourable opinion of himself? We will probably never know.
Nor do we know whether John² remained a tenant farmer all his life; but his successor at the Cwmisaf factory by 1881 (and there might have been another in the between-census years, but if there was we have no way of knowing) was one Philip Jefferies, 42, originally from Swansea, reporting his trade as “wollon manufactorer” (“cloth” is inserted with an arrow as an afterthought in-between the two words). Sarah Jefferies (46) is the “manufactorer’s wife”, and their home is also home to Sarah’s daughter Martha Morgans (employer with manufactory, 16), and their children in common: Emily Jefferies (scholar, 12), Florence Jefferies (scholar, 10), Margaret Jefferies (4), Phillip Jefferies (3), and Jane Jefferies (1). At the same time one Ivan James was living with his family in one of the two “Bank” cottages next to the church (empty 10 years prior to this census, and to be demolished just 7 years after this date) and his occupation is listed first as “fuller”, which is crossed out and replaced with “clothier (tailor)”; so it sounds like he worked at the factory too. Did the factory still do both fulling and weaving? Probably. But people preferred to be known for the latter. Maybe the latter involved more skill, or was a less-automated process, and thus took more time?
Adjoining Cwmisaf on the other side of Bank on this census are two properties called Sciborwen and Sciborfach. I mention this only because they do not appear near Cwmisaf on other censuses, and I can find no evidence online or in E. T. Lewis’s book of them existing in Mynachlogddu at any point. “Ysgubor” (pronounced almost identically to “scibor”) means barn, so one barn was small (bach), and the other white (wen). They’re hard to find on maps and other censuses, so it seems most likely that they were real barns on the property of Cwmisaf, or Plas y Meibion—or one of the nearby Llandre farms—temporarily made into dwellings for local workers and their families. Anyhow, one of these buildings contained a “wollon weaver” called Daniel Davies in 1881. However small the factory might have been, it seems to have been providing employment for a few locals at this time.
The above map from 1888 shows that St Dogmaels Church is now twice the size, having been extended with a second nave as a result of either an explosion in the size of the congregation or a windfall from an unknown benefactor. The buildings of Cwmisaf are also very clear (south of St Dogmael’s Church), with the village name printed again in the same place, albeit for the last time†*. Cwmisaf’s house is there (below the . in the 522.3) complete with its rear extension (added at some point in the last 100 years), and so is the Shop, adjoining to the south. The alleged Old Mill is directly in front of it (or southwest), and the Pig Sty/Chicken Coop is farther west, as are a couple of other buildings; one of which remains as a dilapidated milking parlour, the other of which (adjoining the smaller sty/coop) is now just a crumbling U-shaped stone wall (but might have once been a rudimentary barn).
After studying this map for the 100th time, it occurred to me that the leat as depicted on here does not correspond to the version of events I’d previously associated with the lay of the land. Perhaps in 1888 the “Old Mill” was not in fact a mill at all, and served as a barn or cowshed. Perhaps the Milking Parlour (as it certainly became later) was the Mill. It certainly looks like it takes the whole flow of the leat (or at least part of it) past its West wall; which fact might explain the deep cut through the land from this point down to the river, which I had previously accounted for by general surface drainage combined with overflow from the Wern during heavy flow. Either the Milking Parlous is the real Old Mill, or part of the natural river flowed that way in the past, and the “leat” of those days was a much shorter one following the last half of its current journey.
From the following description we might surely imagine that the working buildings of Cwmisaf were better able to be viewed from the bridge back then, and thus that fewer mature trees were to be found in the immediate area:
“We approach Monachlogddu, the landscape assumes a thoroughly Welsh appearance. A clear trout-stream, that comes rippling and dancing down the glen from the dark brown ridge of the moorlands, is here put to turn the wheel of a little flannel-mill. In response to our request, the goodman describes in broken English the simple processes of manufacture, and explains the movements of his archaic machinery. Then, after a glance at the lowly parish church, dedicated to St. Dogmael, we bid adieu to the village of the Black Monastery, and take to the road.” — ‘Nooks and Corners of Pembrokeshire’ by H. Thornhill Timmins (1895)
Phillip Jefferies, who put himself down as bilingual on the 1891 census, would have been disappointed to learn that four years later his English was considered “broken” by Mr Timmins; not to mention that his machinery was considered “archaic”. If you read up on manufacturing processes at this time, the “power looms” that were yet to be introduced to Cwmisaf were by now commonplace across much of Britain; but then, based upon the general trends of the woollen trade in Pembrokeshire and the UK/Europe in general, for the majority of its existence, the machinery at Cwmisaf would have been making cloths and blankets primarily for the local populace. So what if it was archaic? It did the job.
Back to the 1891 census, the second and last that saw Phillip Jefferies as master of Cwmisaf. Phillip and Sarah were still there, with their children Margaret Jefferies, Phillip Jefferies, Jane Jefferies, and Jonathan Jefferies. Florence and Emily were both old enough for their disappearance from the family home to be expected, so we can hope it did not happen under tragic circumstances. Of the aforementioned children, Margaret (14) was old enough to be “knitting stockings” as an occupation, and Phillip Junior (13) was an “apprentice”, while the other two (11 and 9) were scholars (perhaps at Bethel; perhaps at the church; if not, somewhere farther afield). Phillip’s stepdaughter Martha Morgans (now 24) was still living with the couple, and amusingly has her occupation listed as “winner and spinner” on the text entry on findmypast.co.uk, but I’ll leave you to decide whether that’s what it really says:
By the 20th century, the Jefferieses had left Cwmisaf and were spinning and knitting wool in a house on Wallis Street in Fishguard. None of the children they had together were there, but Phillip’s stepdaughter Martha Morgans, 34, was still living with them, and by now had somehow produced a 3-year-old son whom she had named “Phillip J”.
2. David James’s Factory
Cwmisaf woollen factory when I first saw it, April 23, 2017
In another of those happy coincidences that saw Cwmisaf (the house) being erected the same time as the first baptist chapel opened in the village, the new factory building was to begin operating the same year a permanent primary school was established in Mynachlogddu.
There is a small marble block in the factory building among the detritus of previous occupants’ hobbies (lenses, optics, radio parts, etc.) engraved with the date 1902. Presumably it used to be mounted somewhere within or without; probably on the south-facing central wall, above the double doors, which looks like the only part of the factory’s structure that has been significantly modified since it was built.
You might recall (or you might not) a “David John, weaver” being recorded as living in Mynachlogddu in 1660, courtesy of the Hearth Tax. We don’t know where he lived; but the implication is that wherever he did live, had a hearth. Two and a half centuries later a man with a similar name was to bring Cwmisaf into the future, or at least the present, with the construction of a sizeable two-storey power-loom woollen factory with a 12′ water-wheel. And just on the other side of the leat was a smaller building (formerly either a barn or a fulling mill) which would (according to later maps) be converted into a sawmill.
So, David M James (woollen manufacturer) and wife Maria J James, both 31, were recorded in the 1901 census as living at Cwmisaf with David’s sister Mary (15) and their two children, William (7) and Hannah (6). But E. T. Lewis tells us that James (originally from Lampeter Velfrey) and his wife (from Nevern) acquired the factory back in 1893 when both were very young. Either it was going cheap, or one of them had some money from somewhere. The intervening years were hard on the Jameses, as the graveyard at Bethel chapel in Mynachlogddu testifies; in 1900 they lost two infant children in quick succession: Annie (4) and Dinah (3). Nevertheless, in spite of these tragedies, they accumulated, in time, enough capital to modernize the local woollen business with the construction of a large factory building that would open its doors in 1902 and provide employment and services to the local community for just under half a century. By the time of the final (currently available) 1911 census their son William has changed his name to the Welsh form of Gwilym†** and proudly declares his profession as “Weaving Welsh flannels by powerloom”. Hannah still lives with them too, as does their new child Benjamin Ll James, born shortly after the last census and thus now 9 years old. Both Gwilym and Benjamin wrote their names in the factory building in later years; the latter many times, and his extravagant handwriting can still be seen on the beams in pencil and crayon—most of it quite legible. The writing tends to be in English. Languages were only recorded in the censuses from 1891 onward, and although initially most of the farming families spoke only Welsh, by the early 20th century, the few remaining monoglots in the area tend to be old farmers or infants; strongly suggesting that Welsh was still the language of the home, but that English was creeping in as the language of education and business. Mind you, who knows: perhaps just as now we are encouraged by the authorities to say we speak Welsh even if we know only a handful of words, the reverse might well have been true back then.
Because the census of 1921 isn’t yet available for public consumption, this is where we start relying more heavily on books—particularly the second and third of three I credited at the beginning of this blog-post. David M James, says E. T. Lewis, was a district council representative, and a President of the Pembrokeshire Baptist Association; in addition to a farmer and factory-owner. The early decades of the 20th century seem to have been profitable for the Jameses, and although I’m not yet sure whether all their immediate family survived those turbulent years, they kept Cwmisaf operational until it was sold in 1943 to a Tenby businessman called A. Sweet. After the Jameses sold it, it only lasted five years before closing, and before the land and buildings were acquired by a farmer who grew up in the neighbouring farmhouse: Hughie George James of Llandre Isaf. I had presumed the brevity of Sweet’s tenure was probably down to changes in global textile markets, but a local lady who was alive and working at Llandre Isaf at the time told my wife that Mr Sweet suffered a personal tragedy when his back was broken by a bull; so, presumably unable to farm, he probably sold the place to Mr James shortly thereafter.
Hefin Wyn’s local history collection ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern’ provides us with a couple of reminiscences specifically concerning Cwmisaf, both of which are in Welsh, and both of which I will translate short passages from.
The first concerns the factory as seen by a local boy who had moved to the Swansea valleys aged 3, and visited Mynachlogddu in the summer holidays. Unfortunately undated, it can be broadly placed between 1926-1938.
“When my family weren’t working, we lived in Bryncleddau every August. We were free there; as long as we took care not to disturb Mr Campbell who ran Tyrch Quarry. I’d play with little boats, with my friend Ben James, Cwmisaf, in the baptism pool. And we’d catch fish by diverting the water that ran the fulling mill; the fish would be left floppling about in the little pools there. All we had to do then was scoop them out into a bucket.”— from ‘Whilber Rowland Penrhiw’ by the Reverend John Young, from ‘O’r Witwg i’r Wern, Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows’ edited by Hefin Wyn (2011)
The possible dual flows of the leat (N to S). The right side of the fork by the Factory (green) still flows; the left side by the Milking Parlour/Fulling Mill (orange) doesn’t. The house is also shown in red, and the no-longer-existing Sawmill in yellow.
I’m sure there was no baptism pool at Cwmisaf, and that this refers to the one up near the chapel. But the sentences concerning the catching of fish speak to the complicated system of sluices and overflows that line the leat north of Pont Mynachlogddu; and might also have involved the remaining pools in-between the Milking Parlour (or possibly the True Old Mill) and the outflow of the tail-race from the factory’s leat.
Diverting the water might have been achieved by the operation of some mechanism then, though now it would involve removing armfulls of branches or depositing piles of rocks and moss. And who knows whether any fish might be lured in the process? I saw some small ones (probably bullheads) last autumn but have yet to see evidence of the shoals of migratory sewin and salmon that apparently provided poachers with such tempting fare as recently as the early 20th century.
The reference to “Ben James” initially confused me, as David’s son “Benjamin Ll James” ought to have been 18 years older than John Young, and thus probably too busy to be making paper boats or catching fish with him. But E. T. Lewis lists another “Benjamin L James” as a grandson of David (the son of Gwilym, a local informs me) who must have been of a similar age at that time, and is thus a more likely playmate. John Young eventually became a baptist minister in Ammanford, Carmarthenshire; while young Ben James took the same calling, and was (by 1969) serving in Briton Ferry in the same county.
May & Gruff on their wedding day
By far the richest portrait of life at Cwmisaf in any era comes from Ben James’s sister, born Mary M James. I’m told both she and Ben came to live at Cwmisaf with their paternal grandparents after their mother died, leaving Gwilym James with four (I think!) children; too many to raise on his own.
At the outbreak of the Second World War when the 1939 register was compiled, Ben (aged about 19) was perhaps fortuitously “incapacitated by illness”, and Mary (about 22) was an “unpaid household assistant” at Cwmisaf. Mary’s surname in the register has been crossed out in a different colour pen and replaced with “Morris”, and we know from her own recollection (and from the above photograph) that she was married to local man Gruff Morris on August 14, 1941, and that they soon moved to Meriden, Coventry, to work in a factory. We are very lucky to have her short but vivid description of life in this corner of the parish at that time. Much of it concerns social life centred around Bethel chapel and Sunday school, but I’ve included those parts relating more closely to home life; a translated and edited extract from her 2011 recollection (published just two years before her death in Exeter at the age of 96) follows:
“I was brought up in Cwmisaf, just below the church, in Mynachlogddu parish, during the 1920s and ’30s. My family kept a woollen factory, and I still have one of the blankets that was made there on my bed. Though I have lived in Meridien since 1941, I still think of Mynachlogddu as home … My uncle Bill George kept ‘Railway Stores’ in Maenclochog, selling a little of everything edible, for the families and their animals. Because everyone baked their own bread at that time, he also sold a lot of flour. He lived with “Granny Plasdwbl” (Mari George, his mother) in the yard of Allt-y-Gog [down the road from Cwmisaf]. His sister Martha and brother-in-law Ama Owens lived there too.
“During the 1930s, before the Second World War, many ‘gentlemen of the road’ would call at Cwmisaf. (It was no use calling them ‘tramps’.) There was Twm Martha Fach from Maenclochog, and Ben Abergweun … another was Twm ‘Barrels’; he’d call at each house offering to mend umbrellas. But the favourite was Twm Shot from Ceredigion, who ‘walked the road’ in the summer; but went home to his address in Llanybydder, I think, in the winter.
“I’ve a clear memory too of a caravan being parked over the winter at Plas-y-Blodau crossroads, in which Mrs Evans and her children lived. They called everywhere with their basket, begging for hay for their horse and potatoes and vegetables for them. She had two lovely daughters called Annie and Jennie—and a lad too, though I never saw him. Mrs Evans smoked a pipe full of Ringers Shag, and everyone knew which direction she was coming from by the clouds of smoke. She would while away each Saturday night at Glandy Cross Inn … On my wedding day to Griff in Bethel chapel, who should I see in the gallery but Annie and Jenny! They gave me a big rice-pudding bowl as a wedding present; and that was the last time I ever saw them.” — from ‘Y Badell Pwdin Reis’ by May Morris, from ‘O’r Witwg I’r Wern / Ancient Wisdom and Sacred Cows’ edited by Hefin Wyn (2011)
Just two years after May Morris (as she was later known) left for England, Cwmisaf was sold, and since very little is known of the short, war-time period in which it was owned by A. Sweet, this really seems to be the end of an era for the factory. The modern building remains, and is in pretty good shape. But the smaller sawmill (once a fulling/tucking mill, or a barn) was knocked down at some point in the mid-twentieth century, and only one of its walls still stands.
I know nothing about “Ben John”, the lad pictured in the black-and-white photograph on the Mynachlogddu community website; except that he has a very local-sounding name, and that the proportions of the loft he sits in mark it out as either the older of the two factory buildings—the one no longer with us, which was apparently by this time a sawmill—or the Shop (the shed adjoining the house to the south); it is certainly not the larger factory building that still stands by the leat; nor the milking parlour, which might have been a fulling mill. Still with me? Great!
No one I’ve met in Mynachlogddu is old enough to really remember the factory when it was running; though their parents might have. A note on the Trallwyn Holiday Cottages website provides an insight into the role it played in the community:
“There used to be a mill down by the Church and I remember Roland [Francis] telling me how his family would take the fleeces from the sheep down to the mill…and a few months later bring back shirts and caps and other clothing…so different today!” — Trallwyn Holiday Cottages website: http://www.simplystonecottages.com/historytrallwyn.html, 2014
The following brief excerpt from a mid-century history journal also provides some context:
“Mynachlogddu. Cwm Isaf. Run in conjunction with a thirty acre smallholding. In the 1940s their products—tweed, knitting yarns and flannel—were sold at Fishguard market.” — ‘Pembrokeshire And The Woollen Industry’ by J Geraint Jenkins, from ‘The Pembrokeshire historian’, journal of the Pembrokeshire Local History Society (1959)
The war years did not immediately halt the production of woollen products at the mill (WW2 at least; for WW1 we have less to go on) though the increasingly internationalist world that unfolded thereafter would be the death of the Welsh textile industry. A visiting farmer from Brawdy way told me his uncle Dilwyn James worked at the factory during the war. E. T. Lewis also lists a couple of (unfortunately undated) names associated with the factory in its later years: Brynmor Davies of Rhydwilym (who worked there as a boy), and Amaziah Griffiths of Penrhos (up by Gorsfawr stone circle)—the latter went on to be active in the woollen trade around Pembrokeshire, and I was told by a visitor with a relative who worked in the factory that Amaziah was the manager.
B James, June [6th?], 1797
Finally, the graffiti on the beams and crumbling plaster of the factory commemorates some of the folk who worked there (or maybe just visited) in its later years. Gwilym James adds “Esquire” to his signature, dating it March 2, 1910.
Ben[jamin] Ll. James signs his name many times (1914, 1918…), once confusingly on a day of the week that did not fall on the claimed date in that year, and once, perplexingly claiming the year to be 1797.
Some other signaturees include B L James, 1942, (as distinct from B Ll James, usually signing much earlier); Ryta Edwards, Pont y Glasier [Eglwyswrw]; Beryl Morgan; Joan Francis, who “left on July 2”; Eirlys [?]; and George Kirkkan.
PEGGY DAVIES GATE
Peggy Davies (who often signs with the word “Gate”, presumably placing her as a resident of Gate Farm, Llangolman) is by far the most frequent signaturee. Her only dated entry looks like it says 1947 (the same year as one Ryan John signed) which would be in the latter years of A. Sweet’s ownership. The pencil etchings on the beams by the first generation of James children tend to be earlier than these that are cut into the plaster with compasses. My theory is that most if not all of the latter were probably done after the factory became derelict. As a teenager I spent plenty of time in derelict buildings writing my name on the walls, and I’ve no doubt teenagers did just the same in the decades (and centuries) before Elvis Presley supposedly invented them.
H. G. James
Hughie George James (1910-1982) owned Cwmisaf for twenty years between ’48 and ’68. He was a Mynachlogddu farmer and probably bought the house because it was next-door to where he grew up, and because it came with 30 acres, which perhaps he could add to any he might have inherited from Llandre Isaf. Hughie was no direct relation to the Jameses of Cwmisaf, according to local sources, and I was also told that he had no children. One local resident who remembers Hughie said the Old Mill was still up while he lived at Cwmisaf; maybe still functioning as a sawmill, maybe derelict. Another local (a nephew of his) told me it was Hughie who put in the drainage and electricity, and thus prevented the house from going the way of other rural houses whose glory days were over, and falling into ruin. I was also told Hughie ran the New Mill as a Corn Mill for a while, and later as a carpentry workshop, while keeping chickens in the ground floor. It also seems very likely that he installed the metal harnesses in the milking parlour (AKA the Older Mill).
The ’48-’53 Ordnance Survey map is not worth including here as it shows no differences from the turn-of-the-century map except one tiny detail: the addition of a small square by the church, signifying the telephone box, which remains but is no longer in use. The shapes of the buildings at Cwmisaf are less distinct than they are in the 1888 map, so we cannot see whether the small extension incorporating the utility room (also where the water and electric come in) and the bathroom was yet there, but it seems likely from what I was told that these were put in during Hughie James’s tenure, and that the next owners raised the roof above to a flat roof to accommodate a complete bathroom.
Hughie James moved to Maenclochog in 1968, selling Cwmisaf to a retired couple from outside the area, and with it:
“such rights of pasturage over a certain piece of undivided land called Gorsfawr containing 385 acres or thereabouts and also over other common land about one mile distant therefrom as has hitherto been held and enjoyed by the owner for the time being of said premises.”
Van Doorninck in 1950 as Commander of HNLMS Evertsen
Damiaen Joan van Doorninck was a Dutch WW2 naval officer and POW who escaped Colditz, and—according to a testimony by one of his comrades given to the BBC—used to entertain himself during his captivity by breaking into the German officers’ quarters to use their private lavatories. After the war he commanded a Dutch destroyer called HNLMS Evertsen (D802), previously known as the HMS Scourge (G01) when it was owned by the British. I’m pretty sure he was at the Battle of Pusan Perimeter, and quite possibly also involved in the West New Guinea dispute, after the ship was converted to a fast frigate.
Both he and his wife Susan had been married once before. Damiaen married Henriette Sophia Wilhelmina, baroness d’Aulnis de Bourouill, (with whom he would have two daughters) in 1933; and they divorced in 1948. Susan van Doorninck was previously married to Swiss lawyer/diplomat August R. Lindt (apparently a relative of the famous chocolate-maker) as detailed in this blog post about their 1937 travels in the Persian Gulf. I’m not sure when they separated or divorced; but August ended up in New York working for the UN after the war (later marrying a Romanian socialite and would-be art collector), and Susan had moved to the UK by 1948. I am told (by a grandchild of the couple) that Susan and Damiaen had two children together: Adam and Catherine. Adam (then Lindt) was naturalised as a British citizen in Torquay, Devon (where Susan’s father Lionel had died two years previously).
The veranda that Damiaen built to the fore of the house. This photograph, from the ’80s, also shows the concrete pebbledash render, which was probably added in the ’50s or ’60s. The house was probably lime-rendered before.
The van Doornincks moved to Cwmisaf together in 1968 (6 years after Damiaen began receiving his pension, according to this Dutch website, and after the ship he had commanded was scrapped). Mr James had made the house attractive to the couple in their advanced years by installing electricity, water, and a complicated surface drainage system that nobody would ever maintain—at least not up to the year when we bought the house. Electricity was also extended to several sheds, and to the old factory building; and while the downstairs of the factory seems like it’s been used as a bit of a rubbish dump down recent decades, the better-kept (and rendered) first floor is littered with old optics, spyglasses, radio parts and electrical devices—I had presumed them to be the tools of Damiaen’s various hobbies, but his granddaughter, who kindly sent me many stories of this era, says many of these also belonged to the couple’s son-in-law, her father, who visited often and rebuilt the demolished Old Mill wall in front of the house. A brief selection from her email follows:
“Damiaen was so regimental/routine. We knew exactly what was happening and when, when we would visit Cwm Isaf. He was also a very loving and kind man. We had nibbles at 6pm every evening. Dinner at 8pm, Saturday would be steak and kidney beans, Grandmother would make a chicken soup for starters and a Lemon syllabub for afters. [Damiaen] oversaw the steak and beans. He had porridge every morning with an inch of salt on top! He watched the news at 7pm and no one could make a sound! It was a B&W portable, with a terrible reception! Being at the bottom of the valley’s didn’t help, he would mumble and swear in Dutch.”
Having battled with the terrible internet since we moved in, I can sympathise with the latter sentiment.
There were stacks of papers found in the mill, but most are well-rotted. There was a lightly annotated 1932 Dutch poetry book called Tuin Van Eros by Jan Engleman. One very short poem has a single word in pencil in the margin: “Klank!” (Apparently a comment on the quality of sound.)
Probably General Dunsterville’s favourite picture of himself. He never visited Cwmisaf, but how could I resist posting this picture?
History’s women are generally harder to place than the men, even outside of the difficulties presented by name-changes following marriages. Most tend only to be recorded within the context of their relationships with the men in their lives, so if that’s what I write about here, it’s only because that’s what is readily available. That said, Susan Margaret van Doorninck pops up on Google from time to time in the context of her father’s diaries and the Kipling Society. Her father General Lionel Dunsterville was once tasked with stemming the flow of Bolshevism through the Caucasus, and briefly (in 1918) took the oil-rich city of Baku, today the capital of Azerbaijan, from the Ottomans during the First World War†***. (He published a book about his exploits in 1920.) But long before all this he was the inspiration for the character “Stalky” in Rudyard Kipling’s boarding-school novel “Stalky & Co“. Lionel had also kept a diary throughout his life, which apparently provided invaluable biographical information about Rudyard Kipling, and which Susan later helped the society to compile.
As for Susan’s life before Damiaen, her granddaughter also offered some insight which Google could not:
“Susan had a lot of stories about India … She would also boast about her affairs and exciting life. I believe [she and Damiaen] came back to either Torquay or the Isle of Man. Lionel was an important part of the Isle of man, I don’t remember how. But both of those places were mentioned. Stories that were often repeated, 1) She got bit on the bum by a scorpion, when sitting on a toilet in India. 2) She never liked curry until she was on the ship coming back to England. She’d make my Dad cook her curries when we stayed. Susan was in Switzerland with Lindt when my Grandfather Escaped from Colditz with Fowler and went to neutral ground, Switzerland. The rest, as they say, is history!”
Once they’d moved to Mynachlogddu, Damiaen and Susan lived at Cwmisaf for the rest of their lives; and, as far as I know, these years were less eventful than their lives in the earlier part of the 20th century. (They could hardly have been much more eventful.) A small plaque in St Dogmael’s church commemorates them, and their devotion to the church; though I cannot tell what it used to be attached to, and now it lies loose on a shelf. One neighbour mentioned that she used to go swimming in the river with Susan. A carpenter I met who used to live nearby recalls drinking tea in the now dismantled conservatory (or veranda) at the front of the house, and Hughie’s nephew mentioned that some filmmakers once came to Mynachlogddu to talk to Damiaen about Colditz. Damiaen’s granddaughter recalls that the BBC spent a lot of time with Damiaen.
Damiaen’s life ended on 24 September, 1987, 19 years after he moved to Cwmisaf; and Susan’s ended on 25 March, 1994, six and a half years after her husband passed away, and 26 years after she moved here.
In 1980 a Grant of Easement was drawn up allowing the Welsh Water authority access to the land immediately north of Pont Mynachlogddu to install (and subsequently to maintain) a water pipe. However, this agreement was drawn up between the Authority and the Phillipses at Llandre Uchaf; not the van Doornincks. So it seems highly likely that the parcel of land adjoining the souce of the leat was at some point sold off, along with the rest of Cwmisaf’s former farmland (about 28 acres), either by Hughie James or the Van Doornincks.
Defunct old drainage (or water?) system at Cwmisaf
What also appears likely to the point of certainty is that the small section north of the river was bought back by the previous owners, John and Margaret McDonald, who bought Cwmisaf in 1995. I met John briefly after we bought the house (I had been sneaking a look around the garden, and he was arriving to read the electricity meter) and he mentioned that he once had plans to get the wheel on the factory building turning again, and gave me advice on how to get water flowing down the leat again.
Perhaps it was him who built the miniature waterwheel I found abandoned among brambles in the area between the Factory and the river? Perhaps it was Damiaen (a naval officer, after all) who deposited the disembodied ship’s foghorn in a rotten tree stump up by the concrete shed? Just a small sample of the many questions I will probably never have an answer to. I gave Mr McDonald my mobile number, but he didn’t give me his, and I didn’t ask for it. When you sell a house, you normally want to turn your back and think of it no more. You certainly don’t want regular phonecalls from the new owners asking how this-and-that works, or why this-and-that is infested with bats, etc.
For many years the McDonalds had been living and working on a farm (with a moo-moo here, etc.) in Lamphey, South Pembrokeshire; so Cwmisaf’s story had been in the hands of the tenants they let it out to. I know some of their names, but not all; and not the exact dates of their comings and goings. Once we start dealing with living people it feels less like history and more like snooping; though there’s probably very little difference. This is probably the right point to bring this very long blog-post to an end. I don’t think I will publish any additional entries in this vein, but I hope to return to this and edit it should new information come to light, or should additions, retractions or corrections be offered or demanded by anyone who stumbles across it.
Enjoying the foghorn which I suspect was salvaged from the HNLMS Evertsen (D802) following its scrapping
We bought Cwmisaf in 2017 and I moved us in at the end of August—with the help of my mother, my uncle Michael, and three men from Clunderwen. Meanwhile Victoria was away in Norfolk with the children, her mother, and her sisters, scattering her father’s ashes on a beach in Great Yarmouth.
Who knows how long we will be here? Not forever, certainly; so I hope this text is of some interest to whoever comes next, whether I know them or not.
As a final thought: the legally defined boundaries of what is now registered as Cwmisaf are currently under the jurisdiction of the Landskerian parliament, with the house retaining the name “Cwmisaf” for administrative and ceremonial purposes, but the land as a whole also using the name New Landskeria, and “Landskeria” for short. The Landskerians occupy the land as a stateless micronation, with a view to declaring a republic at such time as legal and administrative powers allow, and thus declaring the whole of Cwmisaf a sovereign microstate. Claims over land previously belonging to Cwmisaf (referred to as Greater Cwmisaf; but crucially not Greater Landskeria) are few at this stage; however there are several contested territories immediately adjoining the boundaries of Landskeria to the south and north, where the trajectory of a barbed wire fence, and the lack of willingness by the council to maintain a road surface (respectively) have conferred a de facto burden of ownership upon the Landskerians, which we will dutifully shoulder. Similarly there are numerous river-islands along the Wern which seem neither to fall naturally into Llangolman nor Mynachlogddu parish; these are being observed closely, and where it seems right in natural-legal terms, the Landskerian parliament will propose subsumption into the Landskerian jurisdiction.
All glory to the republic, doubt over all.
A Velky, 2018.
(Most recently amended or updated: 13/04/2019)
* the bridge is normally called Pont Mynachlogddu, and sometimes called Pont Cwmisaf. It was once, erroneously I suspect, referred to on a 1980s legal document pertaining to the Water Board right of access to a pipe as “Ddolwen Bridge”.
** A few guesses as to what “Llothie” might mean:
1) llo + tŷ = calf + house = a cattle farm; perhaps to distinguish it from the more common sheep farms?
2) lle + tŷ = place + house = a lodge or roadside inn. Feasible but unlikely.
3) [g]lo + tŷ = coal + house = coal house. There was coal-mining in Pembrokeshire in the early 1600s; but not in Mynachlogddu, so they probably wouldn’t have a house full of it, or indeed built out of it.
4) llath + tŷ = rod/beam + house = sawmill. The “a” sound (also the “ə” sound represented in Welsh words by a “y”) is sometimes rendered as an “o” in old spellings.
5) llaeth + tŷ = milk + house = dairy; it’s quite possible it was the only one in the immediate harea.
None of the above seem better than rough guesses. For my money, 3 is the least likely, then 4, then 2, then 1; leaving 5 as the least-least likely. (I won’t say “most”.) “Llaethdy” is an actual word for a dairy in this area, and bears as much resemblance to “Llothie” as “Mynachlogddu” does to many of its historical renderings. But this remains a very amateurish stab at etymology. At least a “dairy” does not tie the history of Cwmisaf’s farming down to cows, for whose popularity in this upland area at that time there is no ready recommendation. I have, in fact, learned on a popular BBC TV history programme that sheep were more commonly milked at this time than cows; and who am I to argue with the TV?
*** Cwmisaf’s nearest neighbouring house is now “Parc-y-Banc”, built at some time in the past 50 years. It was built in the field called “Burgage”, but this was presumably deemed an unsuitable name for a new house in a predominantly Welsh-speaking neighbourhood.
† E. T. Lewis says that prior to 1846 there was no regular school in the area. Rev John Griffith held one (probably at Bethel) around 1789. From 1846 there were schools at Eglwyswen (on the way to Crymych), Maenclochog and Llanfyrnach. There was also (“mid-century”) a man called John Morris educating children in the parish church; and beating them, according to a poem (in Welsh) written by one of his pupils. The children had to go to church on Sundays, even if their parents went to chapel(!)
†* Future editions, and indeed road-signs, place the village itself a couple of miles north centred on the collection of mostly newer houses that were built around the smaller bridges on the Crymych road, by the post office and the baptist chapel.
†** Or whoever wrote it in the census could be persuaded not to translate it into English? Who knows how these things work…
†*** It would be remiss of me not to mention at this juncture that only 96 years after General Dunsterville took Baku, the Eurovision Song Contest would be held there for the first time. And no, I do not think I am straying from the point here.
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