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The Heritage of Lletty Mawr

By Thomas Lloyd

Few people today hurrying through that quaintly named village of Upper Tumble on the busy road to Llanelli would have time to notice the little lane running off to the right, just beyond the junction of the Cross Hands and Drefach roads, which bears the name of Llety Road. Far less are they likely to wonder what such name portends or what house, so clearly indicated, lies at its end. And even then a leisured traveller, with time to wander down and look, would like as not be disappointed, for though the house which gave this lane its name still stands, he may not spot it among the modern houses. For only an eye practised in the skill of seeking out old stones could see, beneath those bright green tiles and neat red chimney pots, the old stone walls that are the ancient house of Lletty Mawr.

The Thomas family of Lletty Mawr have left no mark on the stage of national affairs, nor, even locally, could one easily point to any monument to their industry and name; and yet they, as members of that great body of lesser gentry families (now all but vanished), were not without their place of importance in shaping locally the nature and the temper of their times and those that followed. This short essay then, in response to the recent cri-de-coeur of Major Francis Jones1 aims to rescue from oblivion one more such family of whom by chance a few scant memories and last possessions remain of all that once represented and proudly proclaimed the name of Thomas. For such indeed is the measure of the times, when the finest portrait of a lordly ancestor lends him little surety now of the earthly immortality he so dearly craved, while all the rest is scattered and forgotten.

The ancestry of the Thomas family can be traced back to Elizabethan times to one Trahearne ap Thomas, recorded at Lletty Mawr in 1597. In keeping however with the aspirations of the last century, when future prospects were the brighter for a longer past, the family tried to push back the curtain of history and link their thread of ancestry to the brisker days of chivalrous medievaldom and the iron race of armoured knights. The Thomas family believed they were descended from one Sir Hugh Trahearne who fought for England in that great battle of Poitiers in France in 1356 in the course of a campaign in which the famous Welsh longbow left its piercing mark.

Sir Hugh's wife was a daughter of Sir Matthew ap Ellis of Overleigh near Chester and their son Owen married Matilda, daughter of Thomas Winstanley of Winstanley in Lancashire. Their son, another Ellis, married Isabel Colegreave, daughter of Roger, Lord of Hargreave, Tarvin and Tattenhall near Chester. He is recorded by William Camden as being alive in 1490 and it is this Ellis that the Thomas family claimed as forbear to Trahearne ap Thomas of Lletty Mawr.

He cannot on any count have been the father of Trahearne, as they may have thought, and there is in fact no evidence at all to connect this old Cheshire family with that of Lletty Mawr, save the linking name of Trahearne. The truth now cannot be known but the Thomases themselves never provided a credible link and thus the adoption of these ancestors and their coat of arms (bearing three herons to illustrate the name Trahearne) looks strongly to be no more than just that — an illicit, spurious but advantageous adoption, intended in the way that so many other families did as their lot improved, to give them added dignity and status.

Coincidentally — or in the light of the above perhaps not — the story goes that the Black Prince spent a night at Lletty Mawr during his Welsh campaign (the house stands right on the old Roman road), yet if one adds together all the nights that he and Henry VII and Cromwell are alleged to have slept in Wales, there would hardly have been time for any substantive history to have been performed at all and this particular attribution matches the family claims to ancient ancestry a little too closely, for not only do we find Sir Hugh fighting for the Black Prince in France but lo! he has actually slept in the house the family is later to occupy.

However that may be, we arrive in the world of fact with Trahearne ap Thomas, living at Lletty Mawr at the close of the reign of Elizabeth I. He had a son named Rhys, mentioned in a deed dated 1608 now in Cardiff, who in 1610 married Ellen daughter of John ap William of Mydfrwch in Glamorgan and his son Thomas born two years later married Margaret Bowen of Marchoglwyn, south-east of Pontyberem.

The old house of Marchoglwyn in which Margaret grew up still stands, a ruin clad in ivy, small and thick walled, a place as full of age and interest as the image of its marvellously evocative name conjures up in the imaginative mind, for Marchoglwyn means "the Grove of Knights". Before the house still stand two gaunt stone gateposts, tall sentinels, guarding their master's house and round the walls it is recorded that there once were carved a series of stone heraldic shields — perhaps still there even now, beneath the cloak of ivy. How small this little pile of rocks appears today, this knightly hall where swords once hung and minstrels sang so long ago — no problem finding ancestors here! Behind the house, the grove itself still stands where Margaret Bowen played as a child nearly four centuries ago.

Thomas died in 1670 and was succeeded by his son, another Rhys, who married Sarah Powell of Pentreardd, a farm in the parish of Llanedy nearby. Their son, also Rhys (1680—1759,) likewise married locally — to Mary King of Mansant, a farm to this day near Kidwelly, and they produced a total of thirteen children, of whom three, among those that survived the perils of infancy, deserve mention in this record:-

  1. Rhys, born in 1710, was the eldest son and in due course inherited Lletty Mawr upon his father's death. However, he never married and upon his death in 1777 Lletty Mawr passed to the next surving son, David.
  2. David, mentioned above, was the fifth child born to Mary in seven years and his story is taken up below.
  3. Morgan the tenth child (born 1729) married Frances, daughter of Henry Goring of Frodley Hall, Staffordshire. Henry was clearly a man of action, since he had raised his own troop of horse to fight the Old Pretender in 1715. He had paid all the expenses for this himself but received not a penny of compensation from his ungrateful country and, thus impoverished, was forced to sell his estate in 1730. If Morgan therefore, with little hope of benefiting from any inheritance under his father's will, had been looking for a wealthy heiress, Frances Goring was clearly not the person to ensure him of his leisure. From such an inauspicious start however, there sprang from Morgan and Frances a family which long outstripped the senior branch of the Thomases and indeed still exists to this day.2 Their son Rhys assumed the surname of Goring Thomas and settled down at Plas Llannon and Gelliwernen in Llannon (only a few miles from Lletty Mawr); his descendants were well known and respected members of the community, as may be recalled from the two contiguous streets in nearby Llanelli still known as Goring Road and Thomas Street and the inn known as the Thomas Arms. His son, also Rhys Goring Thomas, became high sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1830 and fathered yet another Rhys, who married Emily, the daughter of R. Janion Nevil1 of Llangennech. The high sheriff's youngest son, George Gilbert Treherne (1837—1923) was responsible for reviving the ancient family name by adopting the surname Treherne in place of Thomas; he became a distinguished local historian and was the first president of the Carmarthenshite Antiquarian Society.3 In the last century the family embarked on plans to build a rather grander house at Gelliwernen, but the walls never rose beyond their builder's height before the red light of financial stringency held them back from the ruin that so many other families rashly consigned themselves to in heady flights of grandeur and rivalry.4 A recent Goring Thomas was to be found living in Henley-upon-Thames after the last war and rose to be Mayor of the town. Whether there was any ancestral link with the nearby town of Goring or whether this is mere coincidence is unknown.

To return to David, mentioned above, we find that in 1752 he had married Deborah Rhys of Brynmynydd, Llangendeirne and that, as a marriage settlement, his father had purchased for them the house and farm known as Llwydcoed, between Upper Tumble and Llannon, in which to live, Lletty Mawr then being something of a full house and never having been of any great size in any case. David's father had bought this property from the Stepney estate and it was recorded in the estate map book of 1721 as being of 221 acres and tenanted, by coincidence, by one David Thomas. Thomas Kitchin also marks it on his county map of 1755, under the disguise of Keven Llwydcot. This was therefore by no means a trifling acquisition and clearly marks the rising fortunes of the family.

Llwydcoed still stands in part and is inhabited as a farm, little known and quite without concession to the present age of formless concrete and garish plastic, shunning publicity, a place of ancient charm where the secrets of times past still hang heavy in the air. Only narrow backroads lead there now and a rocky drive, uninviting to the precious, fragile motor-car. Llwydcoed nestle's under its hill, hidden, with its back to the world, till the drive finally swings round into the yard and there it rests: tall chimneys now where smoke will never rise again, old windows blocked up long ago revealed anew by peeling paint, a dated stone up high, proclaiming a proud builder's work in the economically and cryptically chiselled characters: D.D. 1774. How little could this David Davies have known, as he raised this house from the dust in the quiet Welsh countryside, that there were being laid across the waters (no doubt with the assistance of some fellow countrymen) the foundations of a nation that within two years would burst upon the world and forever sway the course of history. But then Llwydcoed never looks to have taken much notice of the times of change that history brings.

The present occupants will tell you if you call that once this was a monastery and that in a grove beside the house the monks or others once were hanged — an impossible claim without a shred of evidence, and, yet one can but wonder how such tales came to be and be passed from son to son before the glowing hearth — although Dissenters under David Penry had in fact met here long ago.

The house that David Davies marked as his still stands: the rather grander effort of young David Thomas beside it came down long ago, its tall square Georgian chimney stacks still pointing stiffly upwards like the last ribs of a wrecked old ship, succumbing slowly to successive gales. A finer home indeed than Lletty Mawr and clearly well appointed. Scrabbling in the ruins I came upon an old oak panel, quaintly carved with a fern arising from a vase. I was glad to be able to persuade the owners to take it indoors from where it lay, a little too close to the woodpile.

Who David Davies was we do not know. Even his name is only handed down as part of the tradition of the house, but his presence here needs to be explained when it is realised that the Thomas family were living here at the same time. Assuming he was not merely the builder, he was most probably the tenant brought in by David Thomas when it was clear he was going to inherit Lletty Mawr upon his brother's death, which was to occur in 1777. David Davies' house abuts the Thomas house in an unusual manner, sharing a common wall but quite separate and built without the grandeur of its neighbour.

David and Deborah had a son and heir called John, no doubt born at Llwydcoed in the late 1750s. Whereas in the previous generation the family had advanced their status by the acquisition of all important land, now John Thomas was able further to enhance the family name and social standing by marriage to a daughter of the Davies family of Llandovery — a bride from a far off town in comparison to the preceeding generations, who had cast their net no further than the next parish. Such a match could not have taken place unless the bride's father had seen solid benefit in it, for the Davies family of late had attained a position from which they could afford to be choosy.

The end of the eighteenth century was heralding a period of great social change, marked by the rise of many new wealthy families, made possible through the media of improved trade and communications, a growing empire, fledgling industry and banks. The old established gentry, though strong on prestige and rich in land (but often now mortgaged to the hilt), was losing its unshakeable claim to local privilege and seats in Parliament and did not eschew, in many cases, marriage into newer wealth and so create an alliance of ancient name and modern means. For example, John Thomas' own brother-in-law to be, having become an influential doctor in Llandovery, married an heiress of the long-established Saunders family of Ty Mawr and Pentre in Cardiganshire, thus founding the leading family of Saunders-Davies, who held high office, including a Parliamentary seat for many years thereafter. So now Anne Davies, the townsman's daughter, became a member of the ancient landed family of Thomas, whose ancestors, as John no doubt explained, sprang from the gallantry of the field of Poitiers.

John and Anne had two children, whom they christened John Davies (b.1789) and Anne Davies (b.1796). Although owning both Lletty Mawr and Llwydcoed, it appears, not surprisingly perhaps, that they lived at the more comfortable Llwydeoed, for in several surviving books belonging to them appears the inscription "John Thomas Llwydcoed August 26th 1812". Both father and son, however, had fine bookplates engraved (discussed further below) and here, for formal purposes, they describe themselves as being of Lletty Mawr, an indication that this was still the family seat.

For John Davies Thomas, the future must have looked bright - brought up in a well built home, heir to two respectable estates, crested silver on the table, influential relations on his mother's side, attending Oxford for his education and — evident from the few remaining books of history and poetry that he left behind - the possessor of an inquiring and cultured mind. A platform and training fit for a man to make his mark on public affairs and put the name of Thomas on the map. Yet from this verge, as British armies marched to stunning victories across Europe, aided by the neighbouring genius of Sir Thomas Picton, at this almost triumphant moment, brought about through the endeavours of all those previous generations, all was lost. Young John died at Oxford in 1812 in the very flower of youth, aged 23. Not for him the glory in death that earned Picton a nation's proud salute, but an unsung demise and an ageing father burying his only son, the fame of Poitiers useless now in the wilderness of wasted hopes.

Arms Almost as if by irony however Anne, the surviving daughter and a not inconsiderable heiress now, became in 1819 the wife of Thomas Lloyd of Bronwydd, an ancient and powerful Cardiganshire house whose owners held the rights and title to the Lord Marchership of Kemes, inherited from the Owens of Henllys and Lloyds of Penpedwast in Pembrokeshire and by this time the last surviving of these ancient Norman lordships, the exact privileges of which (principally the right to appoint the mayor of the borough of Newport in Pem¬brokeshire) had become more than a little uncertain with the passage of time. Thomas Lloyd was high sheriff of Cardiganshire and deputy-lieutenant of the three counties now forming Dyfed. The eldest son of the marriage, Sir Thomas Davies Lloyd, was for many years the member of Parliament for Cardigan and received a baronetcy from the Queen: and thus it was that as the history of this family of Thomas closed forever, so, through Anne, its final scion, the hopes and endeavours of all her ancestors found expression in honours of the highest rank, like the final twinkling of a burnt-out star, and with none of her own family alive to see it.

Sir Thomas Lloyd, no doubt with the aid of his mother's money, tore down the solid old house of Bronwydd and erected at great expense instead the towering Victorian sham castle which he felt more appropriate to his times and status and here rested the final possessions of the Thomas family. Yet no safe haven of refuge was this, for with the great social upheavals of the Great War era only two generations later, the vicissitudes of fortune now saw Bronwydd too a roofless ruin, the son and heir a tragic victim of the Somme, possessions scattered far and wide and memories grown dim. Lletty Mawr and Llwydcoed were sold off with the demise of the estate.

Anne Lloyd lived to great age, dying in 1889, aged 93. Her life had spanned a great era of British history, one of her most cherished memories being a trip to London aged 20, to see the Duke of Wellington's victory parade after Waterloo. A curling photograph of her in old age still survives, as does the message which she desired be given to her grandchildren:

"Remember as our Lord said, 'Lo, I am with you always'."

And thus it was with the Thomas family, as with all families it always has been or one day will be.

NOTE: The two bookplates reproduced here are found in several books which passed to the Lloyds of Bronwydd upon the marriage of Anne Thomas to Thomas Lloyd. In due course, they were added to the fine library built up by their third son the Rev. Rhys Jones Lloyd, a notable Cardiganshire vicar, who died without issue and left most of his books to his nephew, Col. John Lloyd of Park Henry Dryslwyn, whose son Col. Audley Lloyd, brought them to Court Henry, which he had inherited from his aunts, where they now rest.

The books belonged first to the ill-fated John Davies Thomas, who fixed his bookplate to the inside cover. After his death, his father seems to have assumed ownership of them, as he glued his bookplate over his son's. In due course Rhys Jones Lloyd added his bookplate on top again and the earlier two only came to light recently. Neither are listed in Francis Green's list of Carmarthenshire Bookplates in the Transactions of the West Wales Historical Society, Vol. IV (1914) and only that of John Thomas, senior is found in Sir Evan Jones' great collection in the National Library, indicating how little time poor John Davies Thomas had to use them before his untimely demise.

The arms of the Thomases are an interesting example of heraldic punning or canting, as it is called, being based on their supposed ancient forbears, the Trahearnes, whose name is reflected in the three herons (or herns) and the heron crest. The arms on the right hand side of John Thomas' bookplate are those of his wife, being Davies impaling Morgan (her own maternal family).
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