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An Historical View of Iscoed

By D. Gerald Jones, Q.F.S.M., B.SC.

On an eminence, commanding unrestricted views of beautiful Carmarthen Bay and the picturesque village of Llansteffan, with its historic castle, is situated the dilapidated mansion named Iscoed, Ferryside. Once the centre of an 800 acre estate, it was the chosen retirement home of Peninsular War hero General Sir Thomas Picton, who went to live there in 1814. His stay was unfortunately very brief, for when Napoleon escaped from his island prison on Elba, the Duke of Wellington recalled Picton to the colours. He was given command of the 5th Division and reserves, and left London on the 11th June 1815. A week later he was killed at Waterloo on the 18th June 1815.

Historically, Iscoed lay in the commote of Cydweli outside the castle and borough of Cydweli lands. It was, like Carnawllon, predominantly peopled by free tribesmen. In charge was the beadle, with the responsibility of collecting dues to the Norman lords at Cydweli Castle. In this commote the administrative areas in the 14th and 15th centuries included Iscoed and Uwchcoed. The first charge mentioned in the account of the beadle of Iscoed Moris was a sum paid by the community to be relieved of the responsibility of supporting the sergeants of the peace. Rent of assize was also paid and represented commuted dues and services. The major payments were the great and small commorth, payable every third year on the first day of May. The commorth was, in origin, a tribute of cows and assessment passed from the kindred to the holding. Iscoed was divided into ten cow units (vaccae). The tenants of each unit were jointly responsible for the price of a cow (5s.) in the great commorth. This due had increased to 6/8d in the 15th century. Many of these units are still identifiable, e.g. Vacca Ithole (Idole), Vacca Kelly march (Cilymarch), Vaccade Treflymsy (Trelymsi), Vaccade Kelthetese (Gellideg). The small commorth did not bear any apparent relationship in amount to the larger payment; it was described as "money with these cows".

Cwm Mill
The tolls from corn ground at the lord's mills in the commote were farmed out for considerable amounts. The only two mills mentioned in the bedelry of Iscoed Moris in 1400 were at Pibwr and Tryscyrch (near Llangyndeyrn). According to the Duchy of Lancaster Survey of 1609-13 these mills were confined to the tenants of Maenor Gunnor (Llangunnor), but Maenor Iscoed Moris had two other mills, one at Morleis and the other at Melyn Y Cwm (Cwm Mill, Ferryside). The survey records that Cwm Mill was in the possession of Francis Mansel Esq. of Iscoed, farmer, who paid 20s rent to James I. In 1761 the rent of 10, duty 2-6s and heriot 5s was paid by the tenant of Cwm Mill, William Moris, and covered the year ending Michaelmas. A water-powered flour mill was in full operation here until World War I.

A survey plan by John Lewis, commissioned in 1851 by the owner of Iscoed, John Picton, M.D., shows an ingenious arrangement to control the water from the Cwm stream, supplemented by a brook from Iscoed wood and a local spring. A steady water flow in the mill-race was maintained to drive the mill-wheel by closing a sluice gate across the Cwm stream. This created a large upper pond and when milling operations were required a small sluice (location still existing) was opened, giving access to a channel under the road and leading to the lower pond. This fed the mill-race. A tavern, built on this site in 1852, remained open until 1937. In the early 1920s an electric generator powered by the mill provided the village of Ferryside with its first electricity supply. A modern service garage is now located at Cwm Mill and still carries the name.

The Duchy of Lancaster survey also records fixed salmon traps on the river Tywi at Ferryside in the tenure of Francis Mansel Esq. of Iscoed. The traps were made of willow in a V shape, and were mounted on poles with the large end of the trap facing the incoming tide. The trap was termed Gored - a name which is still used today by the Ferryside fishermen for a stretch of the beach. The following traps are recorded:

  1. Gored Jany rent 6/8.
  2. Gored Abbot Previously owned by the Abbey of Whitland, rent paid for the year 1606 10s.
  3. Gored Fach rent 2/-s.
  4. Gored Shilly (decayed).

The Mansels of Iscoed
The Iscoed estate, with its headquarters at Iscoed Farm, was built up and developed over many centuries. The earliest records of the inhabitants of Iscoed include reference to Thomas Sutton of Haythog, who married Gwenllian, daughter of the illustrious Sir Rhys ap Thomas, Abermarlais. Their daughter, Ann Sutton married Owain, the second son of Trahaiern Morgan, Mortlysgwm, (Muddlecwm). A descendant of this marriage, Catherine, daughter and co-heiress of Rhys Morgan, Iscoed, married Sir Richard Mansel. The Mansel family became one of the most prominent in South Wales. Philip Mansel was one of the followers of William the Conqueror, and the first Mansell in Wales settled at Oxwich in Gower. Sir Rice Mansel of Oxwich was granted the demesne of Margam Abbey when the monasteries were dissolved by Henry VIII. His grandson, Sir Francis Mansel, created a baronet by James I in 1621, married Catherine, daughter of Henry Morgan, Muddlescwm. The Iscoed and Muddlescwm estates thus passed to the aforementioned Sir Richard Mansel.

The beautiful stained glass windows of the Parish Church of St. Isfael, Ferryside commemorate members of the Mansel family. On the left side of the altar is a large elaborate marble plaque surmounted by the Mansel coat of arms. It commemorates the death of Catherine Mansel (wife of Sir Richard Mansel of Iscoed) who died 27th January 1631, and records her affection for her large family, her kindness to friends and her generosity in charity to the poor. The large three-part stained glass window above the altar carries the initials W. M. and M.M. and the arms of the Mansels, viz. Argent, a chevron between three maunches sable, the motto being Quod Vult, Valde Vult. The maunches represent sleeves of a kind worn by medieval ladies and are thought to allude to the Mansel name.

On the low stone seat surrounding the chancel are two carvings. On the left is an impaled shield with the Mansel arms on the dexter half and a rampant Welsh dragon on the other. The carving on the right side consists of a shield bearing a rampant Welsh dragon. The first stained glass window in the north transept is the work of Charles Gibbs, senior, 148 Marylebone, London. It is in three parts, each with a quotation in Welsh above, "Eiddynt yw teyrnas nefoedd"; on the left, "Y Bugail Da"; and on the right "Duw cariad yw". The window commemorates "Lt. General Robert Christopher Mansel, Knight of Hannover, Colonel of the 68th Lt. Infantry who died April the 8th 1864 aged 75 and was buried near the camp at Shorncliffe where he so ably commanded for several years". He was born at Iscoed in 1789. The second stained glass window is on the eastern wall of the north transept. It is a double lancet bearing a coat of arms and records the death of Richard Mansel Phillips in 1844 at 16 years of age. The church suffered some bomb damage in World War II and a plain glass window replacement now surmounts a brass plate on a window-sill in the north transept wall, which has the inscription, "In memory of Isabella Mansel, widow of the Rev. Lort Mansel, D.D., Minsterworth, and eldest daughter of Rt.Rev. William Lort Mansel, D.D. Bishop of Bristol and Master of Trinity College Cambridge, died 31st July 1866 at Tenby aged 76. Resurgam".

Iscoed Mansion
Throughout their occupation of Iscoed the Mansel family graduually expanded the farm building into an impressive three storey stone-built house. It has ten bedrooms with a large lounge and extensive kitchen with direct access to servants' quarters. It is in good condition and is fully used today.

Following the 18th century trend the seventh baronet, Sir William Mansel (1738-1804) he unsuccessfully contested the Parliamentary election of 1790, against J. G. Philipps, Cwmgwili decided to build a far more elaborate home more suited to his family and social status. A local brickworks at the Morfa, Ferryside, was used to provide the pinkish bricks for his new mansion, the clay being mined at Morfa Uchaf on his land. Work commenced in 1792 and the completed mansion was approached through a magnificent archway, which was decorated with three very large iron cannon balls.

The main building, with a large forecourt, was of three floors:

  • Ground floor double drawing rooms, a large dining room with folding doors opening into a morning room, conservatory, large
billiards room, smoking room, housekeeper's room, sitting room, pantry, kitchen, scullery, larder, dairy, lavatory.
  • First floor - six bedrooms, two dressing rooms, two lavatories.
  • Second floor seven bedrooms and lavatories.
  • North Wing five large rooms.
  • South Wing ten rooms.
  • Outbuildings a large stable, coach-houses, harness room, cow houses, piggeries, calves' cot, carpenter's shed and a fine range of farm buildings.

The outbuildings were surrounded by large gardens, an orchard well stocked with fruit trees, a large glasshouse and a peach-house.

The Pictons at Iscoed
The imposing new building was occupied by Sir William Mansel and his family for only a few years. Sir William died there in 1804 and was succeeded by his son, Sir John Bell William Mansel, Maesteilo, who sold the property to Sir Thomas Picton. A letter (dated May 1812) at the Carmarthen Record Office has this note, "General Picton has purchased Iscoed, Iscoed Ucha, Bronyn and Cwmbwri for 30,000". General Sir Thomas Picton was born at Poyston, Pembs. on August 24th 1758, one of a family of five boys and seven girls. His great military achievements are well-known; here it is sufficient to say that after the capture of Badajos on the 2nd May 1812 in the Peninsular war, Lord Liverpool paid a glowing tribute in the House of Lords to Picton's prominent and gallant leadership in the battle. Ill-health (mainly malaria), coupled with wounds received at Badajos, caused him to take a long rest. He purchased the Iscoed estate and described it as being "certainly one of the most beautiful places in the Principality, combining all the advantages of woods, water and diversified scenery".

But he could not remain inactive for long, and rejoined the Peninsular army in the early spring of 1813. Following a successful campaign an armistice was signed on the 18th April 1814, and Picton, after announcing his intention of retiring permanently to Iscoed, soon took up duties as member of Parliament for Pembroke. He enjoyed country pursuits and became seriously interested in farming. When Napoleon escaped from Elba on the 1st March 1815 and marched to Paris, the Duke of Wellington was given command of the allies. Picton having set his affiairs in order, as he had a premonition that he might not survive the campaign, embarked on the 12th June 1815 at Ramsgate and was soon in action. On the 16th June he engaged at Quatre Bras, where he suffered two broken ribs. He concealed his injuries, however, and strapped up and padded by his servant, he resumed his command at Waterloo on the 18th June, when he was killed instantly by a bullet in the head whilst leading a bayonet charge which shattered the French ranks.He was buried in St. George's, Hanover Square, London on the 3rd July 1815, his remains being removed on the 8th June 1859 to the crypt of St. Paul's Cathedral, where they lie a few yards from Wellington's.

Picton was a bachelor and bequeathed the Iscoed estate to his younger brother, the Rev. Edward Picton of St. Brides Major, Glamorgan, who on 17th December 1789, had married Charlotte Maria Browne, the widow of Cadwalader Browne of Ffrwd, Llangyndeyrn. Having settled in retirement at Iscoed, he was appointed a justice of the peace and nominated a deputy-Lieutenant of the county. As the parish church of St. Isfael was located over two mile's south-west of Iscoed, he built a new chapel-of-ease in the centre of Ferryside village and only one mile from his home. The building, with its round tower, was set upon a north-south axis, but over a period of 50 years it became very dilapidated and had to be demolished. A new church was built in 1876 on a traditional east-west orientation. The Rev. Edward Picton presented a full length portrait of his distinguished brother, painted by Sir Martin Shee, to the County of Carmarthen and this can still be seen in the crown court room of the Shire Hall, Carmarthen. He died without issue at Iscoed on the 26th August 1834, aged 75 years, and was buried in Liansaint churchyard, south of the tower. His widow, Charlotte Maria, died on 4th March 1840 and was also interred at Llansaint.

The 1844 St. Isfael Tithe Schedule records that the Iscoed estate was owned by John Picton, M.D. and included nine farms and other properties. He was not a Picton on his father's side. His mother, Jane Picton, married Colonel F. Williams, who commanded the light troops of her brother's division at Waterloo. John Picton was born in 1807 and on inheriting Iscoed was appointed a justice of the peace. He was succeeded by his cousin, Major J. Picton Beate of Prince Edward Island, Gulf of St. Lawrence, Canada. He became known as J. Picton Picton and his eldest son, Francis Picton Picton, who lived for many years in Prince Edward Island, eventually succeeded his father as owner of Iscoed estate. His sister Lucy Eleanor Picton, who had married James Brogden, FGS (born 1832) inherited the estate on the 19th May 1903. An earlier James Brogden, M.P. had coal-mining interests in the Gwendraeth Valley and had subscribed to the construction of the Kidwelly and Llanelly Canal early in the nineteenth century.

The older inhabitants of Ferryside, some of whom worked on the Iscoed estate, remember Mrs. Brogden with great respect, except for one custom. She kept a pack of ten large Irish staghounds and twenty Bloodhounds around her when walking in the village. The result was sheer terror, especially for parents. Over many years the Brogdens expanded the well known pedigree herds at Iscoed. These included blood stock horses, cattle, pigs and poultry. There were regular sales of surplus stock and these were attended by dealers and gentry representatives from all parts of the United Kingdom. Details of these sales (with original auctioneer's catalogues) are available at the Record Office, Carmarthen, e.g. "A select stock sale of Pedigree cows and heifers from the celebrated herd at Iscoed at the Boars Head Carmarthen on Saturday 4th of August 1894", announced by auctioneer, John Francis. Sale prices included Bay mare 70 guineas, Jersey cow 20gns, Gart mare 30gns, ewes 3gns. Mrs. Brogden established a good relationship with her tenants. Their rent was standardised at 1 per acre, payable to her agent, John Jones, Brooklands, Ferryside, every six months, the occasion being celebrated with a lunch and drinks either at the White Lion Hotel or the Ship Inn. A turkey was usually provided in June and a goose at Xmas.

The last of the Pictons at Iscoed, Lucy Eleanor Brogden, and her daughter Mary Caroline, authorised the sale of one half of the estate (430 acres) at the Ivy Bush Hotel, Carmarthen, on the 27th June 1914. The sale catalogue lists the following lots:

1 Tresilwood Farm; 2 Building site at Tresilwood; 3 part of Tresilwood land; 4 Panteg Farm; 5 Bryncochbach Farm; 6 3 fields part of Panteg Farm; 7 1 field part of Panteg Farm; 8 Bronyn Farm; 9 Rotten Pill Farm; 10 3 fields part of Rotten Pill Farm; 11 6 fields part of Trecor Farm; 12 3 fields part of Trecor Farm; 13 - 1 field part of Ffynon Ynyd Farm; 14 1 field part of Trecor Farm; 15 Garden at Greenfield House Ferryside; 16 Field adjoining Tripenhad Farm; 17 2 fields part of Trecor Farm; 18 - 2 fields part of Trecor Farm; 19 Ystrad House and attached cottage Ystrad Fach; 20 House and garden, Millbrook near Cwm Mill tavern; 21 Garden of Ystrad Fach; 22 2 fields part of Trecor and cottage Penybont; 23 2 fields opposite Rotten Pill Farm; 24 Meadow part of Rotten Pill Farm; 25 Freehold marsh adjoining Muddlescwm Farm, Cydweli; 26 51 freehold building plots.

Most of the farms were purchased by the sitting tenants. The remainder of Iscoed estate (including those lots not sold in 1914) were for sale at the Ivy Bush Hotel on 9th June 1917. The lots were:-

1 2 fields, part of Bronyn Farm; 2 "The delightful Mansion known as Iscoed, together with the charming grounds, excellent pasture land and woodlands, containing in all 159 acres"; 3 Trecor Farm 30 acres; 4 Field, part of Tresilwood Farm; 5 Iscoed Home Farm 99 acres; 6 Millbrook House and gardens; 7 Portion of field O.S. 486 part of Fynnon Ynyd Farm; 811 Building sites.

This sale marked the end of an estate managed by many generations of gentry and left the area, especially the village of Ferryside, without their long established leadership.

Iscoed mansion was conveyed to Harry Dawkin Evans on the 6th March 1919. He was a Llanelli coal exporter, with major interests in France. He spent a great deal on repairs and modernisation of the mansion, but the severe depression in the coal business resulted in his bankruptcy, while the mansion, land, park and garden buildings were under mortgage to Barclays Bank. Thereafter the mansion was leased to well known personalities, including Mr. Tregonning, the Llanelli industrialist, prior to his removal to Portiscliff, Ferryside. In the meantime, Iscoed Home Farm had been purchased by Mr Joseph Thomas and on the 11th January 1936 he also purchased Iscoed mansion and lands (totalling 94 acres) from Barclays Bank.

The mansion was requisitioned for ARP purposes during World War II and was a general store for gasmasks, clothing and bedding. After the war it was let into flats for local people awaiting the construction of Council houses in Ferryside. The lead was stripped from the roof and the beautiful building and its substantial fittings were vandalised. Within a year it was a ruin except for the South Wing which is now owned and occupied by Mr Anthony Jones.

At a meeting of the Carmarthenshire County Council Planning sub-committee on the 11th September 1957 no objection was raised to an application by the owner, Joseph Thomas, to demolish Iscoed mansion. The Ministry of Housing and Local Government however made a provisional preservation order, and decided to hold a local enquiry at County Hall, Carmarthen on the 18th September 1957. A letter from the Welsh Office dated 4th October 1957 stated that the Minister had come to the conclusion that it would be unreasonable to resist the proposed demolition of the building by the owners and that the provisional order had now elapsed. This report was approved by the full Council on the 5th November 1957. No action was taken, however, as Joseph Thomas died on the 19th April 1959, at his daughter's home 3, Pale Cottage, Ferryside and his children then sold the properties.

On the 23rd February 1973 Iscoed Home Farm was sold to Mr William Euan Wallace, Bognor Manor, Newbury, once mentioned as a friend of H.R.H. Princess Margaret. Two years later the farm was purchased by Mr John Davies, a Llandybie industrialist. The driveway to the farm was conveyed to Susan Mary Davies, wife of John Davies, on the 6th November 1975. Iscoed mansion gardens, farm buildings and stables were sold to John and Valerie Rogers, Tor y Mynydd, Ferryside on the 6th December 1976 by Mr Euan Wallace. Mr John Davies, the owner of Iscoed Home Farm, has taken a step towards re-establishing the ancient Iscoed estate by purchasing Tresilwood Farm and Cwmbychan Farm. The mansion, however, remains sadly ruinous and its future has been the subject of planning consideration for some years. But following the intervention of the present Duke of Wellington, whose interest had been enlisted by Mr Richard Goodridge, Carmarthen, the mansion was listed as a Grade II building of special interest in 1982.

Note: Pictures illustrating Iscoed mansion appeared in The Carmarthenshire Historian, vol. X, pp 80-2.
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