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Carnawllon, Commote of Uncertain Name


The Celts, who began to occupy Britain nearly 2,500 years ago, were organised in small kingdoms, and in time the land was divided into Cantrefi (Hundreds), at first, perhaps occupied by a hundred families and, later by a single tribe. Each cantref was normally divided into two or more commotes. The kingdom of Ystrad Tywi, which comprised much of what was Carmarthenshire, was divided into the Cantrefi of Cantref Mawr, Cantref Bychan and Cantref Eginog the latter being divided into the commotes of Carnawllon, Cydweli and Gower.

By the time of the Welsh King Hywel Dda, the cantref had lost much of its original significance and the commote was established as the chief unit of administration. The commote was recognised and used by Hywel Dda in his codification of existing Welsh law at Whitland in 927 A.D. The codified laws were approved by the Pope in 930 A.D. "These laws, based on the principle of personal responsibility, governed Wales entirely until Edward I's Statute of Rhuddlan 1284 and a substantial portion of the laws continued to be effective until the reign of Henry VIII. By the Act of Union, 1536, county boundaries were established. Carmarthenshire was divided into Perfedd, Caeo, Cathinog, Elfed and Derllys with the addition of the three commotes of Carnawllon, Iscennen and Cydweli. This is the only instance in the Act of the retention of ancient metes and bounds of territorial divisions.

The importance of the Lordship of Carnawllon has been largely ignored by historians. This ancient area progressed with the industrial revolution and in it developed coal, iron, copper, steel and tinplate industries, giving rise to present day Llanelli. The other two units of Cantref Eginog, namely Cydweli and Gower remained largely rural. It should be noted that despite the dominance of Norman Cydweli Carnawllon maintained its identity and has always been recorded separately.

By order of James I a survey of the Duchy of Lancaster lordships in Wales was carried out between 1609 and 1613. His Majesty's surveyor, Gerald Bromley, recorded the boundaries of Carnawllon as follows: "The jurors do present and say that the Boundaries, limits, and mere stones of the said commote of Carnawllon lie situate as follows viz begineth at the entrance of a river called Dulais into another river called Loughor, and so boundeth from that place upon the parishes of Penbrey and Llangendeirne as far as the bridge called Ponty-Berran, and so forwards by the side of the river called Gwendraeth Fawn to Blaenhirwen, and so from a place called Llidiad Hirwen all along Mlynydd Mawr as far as Llech-yffin, and there hence to a place called Cwm-y-Rhosdu, and so to a river called Cwm Gwili, meeting with a brook called Nant Gilfach-y-Mynydd, and so to Rhyd-y-Bar, and so hence to a brook called Fferrus, leading directly to the river called Loughor, and so the said river Loughor bounds' till it meets the river called Dulais aforesaid."

If this is traced on a modern map it will be seen that it coincides with the present day boundary of Llanelli District Council, excluding Burry Port, Penbre and Cydweli.

The name of a property is often changed under new ownership, unless there is strong reason for maintaining the same identity over centuries. Welsh history has to a great extent been recorded by foreign scribes who had little, or no knowledge of the language, and their attempts at spelling Welsh placenames have produced many variations. In the case of the Lordship of Carnawllon, original documents or certified photostat copies from the Public Record Office, National Library of Wales, Carmarthenshire Record Office and the Public Libraries of Llanelli and Carmarthen have shown the following variations in the spelling of Carnawllon:

1100 Cornoguatlaun Vitae Sancti Cadoci (Latin)
1148 Carnwathlan Cartae et Munimenta de Glamorgan (Latin)
114866 Karwthathlan Ewenny Priory deeds (Latin)
1215 Charnywyllawn Brut-y-Tywysogion (Welsh and Latin)
1221 Kardwardlan Patent Rolls Henry III (Latin)
1313 Carnwathlan Cawdor 21/631 (Norman French)
1343 Karnewolthin Charter Rolls V.15 Edward III (Latin)
1405 Carnwalthan alias Carnwathlan Patent Rolls 6 Henry IV (Latin)
1441 Karnewalthan Patent Rolls 19 Henry VI (Latin)
1541 Carnollon Derwydd deeds 237 (Latin)
1544 Kaernowllon Derwydd Deeds 261 (Latin)
1591 Carnowllan Public Record Office (Elizabeth I) (Med. E)
1705 Carnawllon Cawdor 90/7505 (English)
1759 Caernawllon Cawdor 2/22 (English)
1780 Carnawllon Cawdor 55/6220 (English)
1813 Caernawllon Cawdor 2/75 (English)
1841 Carnawllon Census 1841: Ordnance Map (1st edition) (English)
1865 Carnawllon Cawdor 2/245 (English)

These are only a few examples, but they show the numerous changes, in particular the transposition of diphthongs which have occured with the passing of the centuries. Today only one place, to my knowledge, carries the name Carnawllon. It is the farm Carnawllon Fawr, Ponthenri, where I was born. I am probably biased in accepting the present day name, which has been recorded and used for nearly 300 years. The spoken form used locally is Carnawllon or Carnwllon and surely has some bearing on the original form. The word appears to have two elements, Carn (Cairn) + a personal name common in early Welsh Gwallon, cf. Caswallon and Cadwallon.

Invasion and Revolt
Following the departure of the Romans in 383 A.D. the Three Commotes of Carnawllon, Gower and Cydweli were occupied by Irish invaders, who were defeated in the north and west by Cunedda and his sons. By tradition, King Arthur sent Prince Urien Rheged to free the Three Commotes; he succeeded and was given the land from the river Tywi to the river Tawe as a gift.

Constant disputes occurred over the ownership of the Three Commutes. Litigation developed between the rival ecclesiastical claims of St. Davids and Llandaff, but the Bishops of Llandaff capitulated and Carnawllon has since been a part of the diocese of St. Davids.

The Norman victory in 1066 was followed by a gradual occupation of the whole country. Stiff opposition in Wales resulted in slow progress but the Norman baron Maurice de Londres conquered Carnawllon in the reign of Henry I. Even so Norman influence was restricted to their fortress castles, whilst the Welsh were able to follow their traditional way of life. The inhabitants of Carnawllon remained free tribesmen. Between the years 1139 and 1148 Maurice de Londres made a grant of the churches of Carnawllon to the Priory of Ogmore (Ewenny).

The Welsh organised a succession of revolts against Norman oppression. When Henry II died at Chinon in 1189 Lord Rhys of Dynefor defeated the enemy and regained Carnawllon for Deheubarth. Unfortunately one of his sons Maredudd ap Rhys was killed at Carnawllon on the 2nd July 1201 by the Normans of Cydweli. He was laid to rest at St. Mary's Church, Cydweli.

The castle of Carnawllon was burnt and totally destroyed by Rhys Ieuanc in the 1215 revolt. Its exact location has not been established but the strongest claim is the Old Castle Farm, Llanelli. Although six centuries had passed since its destruction the first Ordinance Survey Map (1831) records a camp of ancient times on the banks of the old course of the river Lliedi. The farm, coalpit and tinplate works all carried the name Old Castle.

When the mantle of national leadership fell on Llywellyn the Great, he reconquered Wales and held it united until his death in 1240, but Henry III regained Carnawllon and ruled it as crown property. The revolt of Llywellyn II was supported by the inhabitants of Carnawllon in 1257, but the area was retaken by the Normans.

Edward I completed the conquest of Wales in 1282. In the Statute of Rhuddlan 1284, Carnawllon was retained intact as a separate administrative unit but the tenants had to pay tribute to the crown. The commute was divided into the maenors of Hengoed, Llannon, Llanedy and Berwic. Military service was a condition of land tenancy and a quota of 200 men from Carnawllon and Cydweli fought with Edward I in Flanders in 1297 and in the total rout of the Scots at Falkirk in 1298.

The vast areas of land were slowly cleared and cultivated. A 14th century rental of the commote records that the tenants were grouped into units, each of which contributed a cow towards the triennial rent (cymmorth mawr). The officials appointed to collect the rentals often charged a personal levy, which they retained.

The accession of Henry IV brought Carnawllon, as part of the Duchy of Lancaster, into the hands of the crown. Early in Henry's reign, the last Welsh military rebellion started with the proclamation of Owen Glyndwr as Prince of Wales in 1400. As he was a direct descendant in the female line from Rhys ap Tewdwr of Deheubarth, the free tenants of Carnawllon flocked to his banner in the fight for freedom. By 1403 he had freed Wales and kept this freedom, with willing support throughout Wales, for a period of ten years, but the pressure and military might of Henry V proved to he too great and Wales was again subdued. At least 36 tenants in the commote of Carnawllon died in the campaign and their lands were offered on lease, but in only eleven cases was the lessee the heir of the deceased tenant. Several holdings were also amalgamated into the hands of a single tenant.

The Last Phase
Although Henry VIII's Act of Union (1536) annexed Wales to England, the hundred of Carnawllon was still retained as an administrative unit, and when the first elected County Council was authorised by the Local Goverment Act, 1888, the Three Commotes Carnawllon, Cydweli and Iscennen remained as a legal entity (until the mid-1960's) with its own specifically appointed Coroner.

Carnawllon thus survived as a unit for at least 1500 years of our turbulent history.

The commote name survives now only in Carnawllon Fawr Farm in the Gwendraeth Fawr valley about threequarters of a mile north-east of Ponthenri. Bounded to the north by Mynydd Llangendeirn and to the south by Mynydd Sylen, the valley has a ridge in the centre rising to 300ft. Carnawllon Fawr farm, with its 97 acres, straddles this ridge which runs from the Gwendraeth Fawr river in the north to the Hafren stream in the south. The northern half of the farmland slopes steeply to the Gwendraeth Fawr river and is partially covered by the wood of Allt-y-screch.

The early Celtic Iron Age people left evidence of their life mainly in the hill forts, and I believe that a small promontory fort existed on field No. 237 called Y Banc. A deep ditch has been drawn across the narrow part of a rock projection overlooking a ravine on the steep slopes of Allt-y-screch, so named due to the clear echo received from a call in the valley beneath the hill. My Mother informed me that her Father had found several iron arrow heads in the bank above the ditch, but they were not retained. A fresh water well still exists on the site.

The whole farm is situated above the finest quality anthracite coal and because of the ridge numerous outcrop seams have been worked from early days. Land was constantly reclaimed from the scrub woodland and a shortage of timber for fuel was inevitable. Coal began to be used as a fuel in the 16th century. Carnawllon, being crown property, the landed gentry had to obtain a lease to mine the coal. A 21 year lease was issued by the crown to Phillip Vaughan, gentleman, on the 25th June 1606 to mine or quarry the fields of Carnawllon and the remainder of the Three Commotes at a rental of 20 shillings per annum.

The Cawdor collection in the Carmarthen Records Office contains many coalmining leases and sub-leases. One such lease, dated 4th September 1705, records that "Richard Vaughan leased Dyffryn Bach field for and in consideration of the sum of Five pounds three shillings lawful money of England to him in hand payd yearly rent all that field or parcel of ground now divided into two called by the name of Dyffryn Bach, part and parcel of a messuage of lands of Richards Vaughan called Carnawllon, now or late in the possession or occupation of John Rees, farmer, contiguous and next adjoining the river Gwendraeth Fawr."

On the 3rd July 1725 a lease granted by "John Vaughan Esq., Shenfield Place, Essex to Walter Rees, gent, for 99 years to extract, sink, dig, loose and cart away at Carnawllon for eight pounds a year at or in the Town Hall of the County Borough of Carmarthen on May Day and Michaelmas Day, also six shillings duty and a further sum of thirty shillings or the best beast at the choice and election of the said John Vaughan. All colliers, workmen, labourers and other persons in his or their power to grind all the family corn at the mill of the said John Vaughan at Capel Evan. No damage to be done to grass, corn or hay of tenant, or if so, payment be made."

The rental of the estate of John Vaughan, Golden Grove for one year ending at Michaelmas 1759 shows the following tenantry: Thomas Harry, Carnawllon, rent 21-10-0, in respect of a messuage, barn, stable and cowhouse with 16 fields containing about 55 acres and about 10 acres of underwood; Margaret Harry, part of Carnawllon, 8-5-0 rent, 8 fields containing about 25 acres; David John, part of Carnawllon, 3 rent, for cottage, garden, 3 fields, about 12 acres.

A land survey carried out for Charles Vaughan in 1780 shows the amalgamation of several farms to form the Carnawllon Estate. These were Carnawllon Fawr (154 acres), Carnawllon Fach (21 acres), Capel Evan, Fancy & Hen Felin (151 acres), Pentremawr (48 acres), Pentrebach and Dyffryn Bach (33 acres). The Carnawllon Estate is also recorded in the Golden Grove maps for 1782.

A detailed map of Carnawllon Fawr farm drawn by Thomas Lewis in 1785 shows features which have long disappeared, e.g. an old lane near the Hafren stream and two coalpits which were in operation. The access road to the farm led directly to the old mill (Hen-Felin). The farm buildsng is in a different location, whilst cottages are shown at Cwmquarre, Bath (3) and Efail Fach, It was of great personal interest to find that most field names had remained unaltered for 200 years to the present day. According to the 1841 census, there were 14 adults and 21 children living in the farm and five cottages; the adults were classified as 2 Farmers, 2 Colliers, 10 farm servants and labourers. The Cawdor estate, in 1912, sold Carnawllon Fawr to my grandmother Mrs Ann Williams and her two sons, John and David.

I would like to record my appreciation of the prompt and kindly assistance given by the staff at the Carmarthen Record Office, the National Library of Wales, and Carmarthen and Llanelli Public Libraries.
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