Some Observations and Reflections
By Major FRANCIS JONES, C.V.O., T.D., D.L., F.S.A.,
Wales Herald of Arms Extraordinary
My introduction to Trefenty came in an unusual way. After the first World War, a kinsman of my father's, whose family had been engaged for several generations in the coastal seaborne trade, replaced his sailing vessel with a small steamship which would have less reliance on the uncertain element that so often had determined the course of her predecessors. At the time of which I write the vessel called at numerous ports and wharves between Liverpool and Bristol carrying mixed cargoes, but mainly flour for a well-known firm dealing in that commodity. I was fortunate to be able to spend part of my summer holidays on board, and those voyages — the greatest thrill of my boyhood days — remain among my most fragrant memories of those distant times. To the captain and his mariners such voyaging was but a means of subsistance, to me it was adventure, discovery, romance.
On this particular occasion I came aboard from the quayside at Haverfordwest. We then sailed on the ebb along the broad Cleddau and put in at Milford Haven for the night. On the following day we reached Tenby. Our next port of call was to be St, Clears. It was a beautiful day, the elements friendly, we reached Laugharne ahead of the estimated time, and there rode quietly for an hour or so in order to gain full advantage of the flow, for the river Tâf is tidal, and St. Clears could not be reached unless the waters were in our favour. As we cruised up river the captain drew my attention to various landmarks, navigational guides that ensured our safe progression along the comparatively narrow waterway. While the craft was negotiating a slight bend below Brixtarw I pointed across marshland on the opposite bank to a knoll on which a tall weather-tiled double-gabled house stood within a coppice, a smiling statue in a green cloak. I was intrigued by the delectable cameo. What is it called? Trefenty, I was told. We chugged on for some further two miles until we came safely alongside the wharf at Lower St. Clears.
Late on the following day we were outward bound, borne leisurely on the calm bosom of the Tâf. As we rounded the final bend I looked inland and saw again the tall house, the roof and chimneys, and the uppermost branches of the guardian trees, bathed in the light of the evening sun — pure poetry, a Welsh englyn
come to life. Over fifty years were to roll by before I saw Trefenty again.
During the subsequent years I devoted my energies to antiquarian research, involving among others such topics as ancient families, historic houses, heraldry, customs and traditions, and in so doing inevitably made the acquaintance of Trefenty, but in an academic sense. Before discussing my findings, perhaps it will be convenient if I include first a precis of the history of the parish of Llanfihangel Abercywyn, so that Trefenty may be placed in its tenurial and topographical setting.
Comprising 6149 acres, the ecclesiastical parish of Llanfihangel Abercywyn lies six-and-a-half miles to the west of the county town of Carmarthen. Shaped like the capital letter Y, it is bounded by the rivers Cywyn, Gynin, and Tâf, and occupies the western part of the headland known in ancient times as Penrhyn Dyfed. On the east, beyond the Cywyn, are the parishes of Llandeilo Abercywyn and Llangynog, on the north are Meidrim and Llangynin, on the west St. Clears. Devoted wholly to the pursuit of agriculture, the land rises gradually northwards to reach its highest point of 450 feet just to the southeast of Castell Gorfod. Among the main farms in this river-nourished parish are Trefenty, Pentowyn, Rushmoor, Glasfryn, Wenallt, Foxhole, Lower Court, Pant Dwfwn, Asgood, Trecadwgan, Plas y Gwer, Wern and Esgair. Of these, the five first named were former gentry residences, centres of modest estates once characteristic of the rural scene in Wales.
Near the southern tip of the headland, on a knoll, 142 feet above the estuary, and about 500 yards from the bank, stands Trefenty, well-placed among the 350 acres of attached farmland. Generally the fields are large and on gently sloping ground, so that we need not be surprised to learn that in 1870 "the popular sport of hare coursing at Trefenty gave exercise and recreation of a very enjoyable description". To the south-east, just below the buildings, are the remains of the original parish church, which ceased its ministrations in 1848 when a new and more central church was built through the generosity of Mr. R. Richards of Trecadwgan, near the Carmarthen—St. Clears road (now M4).
To recognise the oldest parts of the ruined fane is difficult, owing to extensive additions and repairs that have been made to it in course of the centuries. More intriguing are the sepulchral slabs in the graveyard, carved and ornamented with human figures and designs, memorials to members of a family of consequence of the late 12th or early 13th centuries, who had probably lived at Trefenty or at the mound-and-bailey castle on the west side of that house. In quite recent times these monuments are said to mark the graves of "pilgrims" who died on their way to, or from, the shrine of Dewi Sant, which has led some romantics to refer to them as "pilgrims' graves", and the church as the "pilgrim church". But it must be emphasized that no reference whatsoever to pilgrims being associated with this church occurs in any record, document, or tradition, and the authors of tours, topographical and antiquarian works prior to 1860 are wholly silent on the matter. The observation about the "pilgrims' graves" made in the Carmarthenshire volume of the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments, "It is to the revival of interest in Welsh antiquities, and the publication of guide books to Welsh districts, that we probably owe the birth of the legend", is as accurate as it is shrewd. The church has been abandoned for over a century and a quarter, and the local prophecy that should the graveyard ever be neglected the parish would be visited by a plague of snakes, remains unfulfilled. During the later period few worshippers came to the church of Llanfihangel, mainly because of remoteness, particularly during wintry weather. On one occasion, the congregation consisting of only the vicar, and pious old Mr. Evans of Llandeilo (his own church being then in disrepair), who always attended accompanied by a faithful sheep-dog to whom he was devoted, the vicar is said to have introduced into the prayers this extempore distich-
O Dduw, maddeu i ni ein tri
Ifans Llandeilo a finne a'r ci,
which I have ventured to translate as
O Lord, may forgiveness for us three be found
Evans Llandeilo, myself, and the hound.
We might note here some points of similarity between the old churches of Llanfihangel and Llandeilo, just over a quarter of a mile apart — both are situated near the river bank at the southernmost tip of their parishes, both are built alongside important manorhouses, and both are in complete ruin.
(b) Historical Sketch
The district surrounding Trefenty has a long and interesting history. From early days the territory that now includes the parish, formed a comote known as Ystlwyf (later, Oysterlow) in the large cantref of Gwarthaf in the kingdom of Dyfed which remained under its own rulers until the 10th century when it was absorbed into the kingdom of Deheubarth ruled by Hywel Dda and his descendants. It must be remembered that Dyfed included, not only what became Pembrokeshire, but west Carmarthenshire so far as the Dark Gate (Porth Tywyll) in the town of Carmarthen.
Evidences of early settlement in Llanfihangel Abercywyn are provided by remains of earthen fortifications in a field belonging to Penycoed farm on the banks of the Gynin, while the name of the farm Castell y Waun in the east of the parish suggests the former existence of a similar outpost. A maenhir in one of Trefenty's fields probably marks the resting place of a bygone worthy, as does another in a field called Cae Maenllwyd on Lower Court farm.
Of all these remains the most significant is the large moundand-bailey castle immediately west of Trefenty house, a site of tactical importance for it dominated the river valleys embracing the headland as well as the seaward approaches. An early record calls it Gastell Aber Cavwy, but the last word is considered to be a scribal error for the word Taf-wy, that is, 'the castle at the estuary of the river Tâf'. The mound is about 25 feet high, with summit diameter of 75 feet. As the surrounding land has been under cultivation for many centuries, the fosse
has partially disappeared. The bailey, extending towards the curtilage of Trefenty, measures 150 feet long by 90 feet wide. The fortification was built by the Normans in the beginning of the 12th century, possibly on the site of an earlier Welsh castell. In the year 1116 Bledri ap Cadifor of Cilsant, interpreter between Welsh and Norman, was entrusted with the defence of the castle for Robert Courtemain.
Undoubtedly the most important area of the parish was around Trefenty. Here stood the castell, alongside it the homestead of Trefenty, and a few hundred yards away the parish church. Such churches were often built in the vicinity of the most important dwelling in a parish, and may explain the situation of the church of Mihangel in this remote spot. Incidentally, the formation of ecclesiastical parishes in southwest Wales was the work of Bernard, Norman bishop of St. Davids from 1115 to 1148, and in all probability it was during those years that the boundaries of Llanfihangel Abercywyn were defined.
The Normans maintained the bounds and identity of the comote of Ystlwyf (Oysterlow) so that its boundaries remained unchanged, for more often than not, the conquerors did little more than change the overlordship and system of tenure. As we shall see, the comote continued to be known as such, while its tenurial jurisdiction was that of a feudal manor or lordship.
Despite Norman penetration, the comote was often held by Welsh princes. In 1171 King Henry confirmed The Lord Rhys in possession of Ystlwyf, and some time after 1188 Rhys granted certain lands within the comote as an endowment to Whitland Abbey. During the 13th century it continued to be held by the princes from time to time, and also by the Earls of Pembroke. After the war of 1282 the comote formed part of the county of Pembroke under the jurisdiction of the earls. In 1390 John Joce was appointed steward of "the lordship of Oysterlow"; six years later the King granted "the comote of Oystrelowe" to his consort, Queen Isabel as part of her dower; in 1415 eight archers from the comote fought at Agincourt; in 1462 extensive lands which included "the lordships and manors of Osterlowe, Trayne Clynton, and St. Clears" were granted by the Crown to William Herbert, later Earl of Pembroke. Eventually it reverted to the Crown, and in 1520 the King appointed John Thomas ap Philip one of the 'dapifers' of the King's Chamber (son of Sir Thomas ap Philip of Picton Castle) and John Lloyd one of the pages of the Chamber, to be Stewards and Receivers of "the manors or lordships" of Llanstephan and Oisterlowe, with a salary of 100 shillings per annum out of the issues of the said lordships.
In all medieval records Oysterlow continued to be described variously as comote, or lordship, or manor, lying in the county of Pembroke, that is within the Earldom. Part of the comote was held by the monks of Whitland Abbey, but at the Dissolution reverted to the Crown, and thereafter was leased to various people. In 1587 it was described as the "manor or grange called Usterlowe alias Escloigh [Ystlwyf] late parcel of the dissolved monastery of Whitland".
Wales was radically restructured in 1536 when the jurisdictions of the marcher lordships were abolished and the land divided into shires on the English pattern. Cantref Gwarthaf and all lands included in that area, were adjudged to be a part of the newly-formed shire of Pembroke, but strong objections were made to this arrangement, with the result that six years later the cantref was transferred to the shire of Carmarthen. The parish of Llanfihangel Abercywyn was then placed in the administrative Hundred of Derllys, and so continued to our times.
(c) Subsequent owners of Trefenty
In 1590 the lordship of Oysterlow was granted by Letters Patent to Sir John Perrot. This included the woodland of Cardiff Forest (also called Cardeeth) lying between Whitland and Pont y Fenni, where a farm called Forest still exists. Sir John Perrot of Haroldston near Haverfordwest, born in 1530 belonged to a well-established and influential family in west Wales. He took a prominent part in public affairs and became well-known at Court. Edward VI created him a Knight of the Bath, and he was one of the four gentlemen who bore the canopy at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. High appointments followed — member of the Council of Wales and the Marches in 1571-73, Lord President of Ireland 1584-88, Privy Councillor in 1589. However, he was rash and impetuous, finally, unwise conduct led to his arrest, and in April 1592 he was tried, found guilty of treason, and sent to the Tower where he died later in that year before sentence could be carried out. As we learn from the trial, he had been given to somewhat picturesque utterances, and Dean Swift tells us, "Sir John Perrot was the first man of quality to have sworn by God's wounds
. . . . The oath still continues and is a stock oath to this day". It is amusing to reflect that the hall of remote Trefenty once resounded to this verbal confection. It became contracted to Zounds!
By his first wife, Anne daughter of Sir Thomas Cheyney of Shurland, Kent, Sir John Perrot had a son and heir, Thomas. Fortunately he had powerful friends, and soon after his father's death, the forfeited estates were restored to him, and later he was knighted. During his younger days he was very much the Elizabethan beau, and Nichols in Progresses of Elizabeth,
volume II, page 319, describes his extravagant appearance at the Tilt-yard in 1581, as follows — "Sir T. Perrot and Master Cooke were both in like armour, beset with apples and fruit, the one signifying Adam, the other Eve, who had hair hung all down his helmet".
Some unusual features attended Sir Thomas Perrot's marriage in July 1583 at Broxbourne, Hertfordshire, to Dorothy Devereux daughter of Walter, Earl of Essex, by Lettice Knollys his wife. One source states that he married "under extraordinary and mysterious circumstances", an account of which will be found in Strype's Life of Bishop Aylmer.
His father-in-law, who had been created first Earl of Essex in 1572, owned large estates in Wales, with a seat at Lamphey in south Pembrokeshire, and when he died in Ireland in 1576, his body was brought to Carmarthen and buried at St. Peter's church on 26 November when the Bishop of St. Davids preached the funeral sermon from Apocalypse XIV, 13.
By Dorothy his wife, Sir Thomas Perrot had an only surviving child, Penelope. The exact date of his death is not known, but it took place shortly before 1595, for in that year the widowed Dorothy married Henry (Percy)
9th Earl of Northumberland, known as the "Wizard Earl" because of his involvement with astrology and alchemy, and according to one observer he was "passionately addicted to tobacco-smoking". For some years she lived an "unquiet life" with this capricious nobleman, but, reconciled, became his "most untiring petitioner and advocate". Happily, Dorothy enjoyed the friendship and support of the Queen, and in May 1605 was god-mother to the Princess Mary. She died in August 1619, the Earl in 1632.
Penelope Perrot sole heiress to the paternal possessions, married a member of an old Cornish family, namely Sir William Lower of St. Wynnow's, M.P. for Bodmin in 1602, and for Lostwithiel in 1603, in which year he was knighted. He settled at his wife's residence, Trefenty. At this time the estate in Carmarthenshire consisted of the grange of Oysterlowe and thirty properties, comprising 2600 acres. In a law-suit of 1605 one Edward Yates of Buckland contested the right of Sir William Lower of Trefenty and Penelope his wife to "the herbage of the wood called Cardiff Forest in the grange and farm of Usterlo".
A distinguished scholar and astronomer, Sir William Lower carried out many observations and experiments at Trefenty. He co-operated with Thomas Harriott
, another noted astronomer and an expert mathematician who brought out the first English telescope in 1609, about a year after Galileo. During that year Lower made careful observations of the moon and drew a rough map of its surface, fortunate in having assistance from a neighbouring landowner, John Protheroe of Nantyrhebog, who, as well as being an enthusiastic student of the heavens, had established a small glass factory near London and so could produce lenses for telescopes and like instruments. Furthermore, Protheroe was blessed with remarkable eyesight which proved a valuable asset in the astronomical studies that engaged much of his time.
Early in 1610 Lower and Protheroe made a further study of the moon's features, greatly helped by a small Dutch telescope that Harriott had sent to them. In a letter to Harriott, Lower wrote that he had detected certain lineaments of the moon, adding "I must confess I can see none of this without my cylinder: yet an ingenious younge man that accompanies me here often and loves you and these studies much, sees manie of these things even without the helpe of the instrument, but with it sees them most plainielie, I mean the younge Mr. Protheroe".
On 12 April 1615 Sir William Lower died at Trefenty. Not many years later his friends died, Harriott in 1621, and Protheroe (who had been one of Harriott's executors) in the latter part of 1624.
As dower the widowed Penelope received £400 per annum charged on "the grange of Oysterlow in Abercowyn Llanfihangel". She did not remain a widow for long, and in 1619 married Sir Robert Naunton of Letherington, Suffolk, Secretary of State to King James, and Master of the Court of Wards. Sir Robert, knighted at Windsor in 1614, a favourite of the first two Stuart kings, had a distinguished career as author, scholar, courtier, diplomat, and Member of Parliament. He died on 27 March 1635. By Penelope he had an only surviving child, a daughter.
It is not known whether the twice-widowed Penelope returned to Trefenty. As the result of her Royalist sympathies during the Civil War, she was invited by Parliament in 1645 to compound for her estate assessed at worth £800 per annum. She died some time after this, and was buried with her first husband Sir William Lower. By him she had two children, Thomas and Dorothy.
The son Thomas Lower had been posthumously born on 8 December 1615, some eight months after his father's death. He seems to have spent part of his life at the family's Cornish home, St. Wynnow's. On 1 May 1637 he mortgaged the grange of Oysterlow to the Earl of Pembroke and the Earl of Carbery. A survey made of the grange in 1650 shows that it was then held by Lord Carbery at a yearly rent of £28.1.6 It later reverted to the Trefenty family. During the Civil War Thomas Lower was a Royalist, and in February 1647 obliged to compound for the grange of Oysterlow and for lands in Cornwall. He died unmarried on 5 February 1661, and the estates passed to his sister, Lady Dorothy Drummond.
The sister, Dorothy Lower, was born in 1607, and before she was ten years old she had married Maurice Drummond, Gentleman Usher of the King's Chamber. He was knighted at Hampton Court on 10 July 1625. Dorothy also held a Court appointment, and in 1627 was a Lady of the Queen's Privy Chamber. Sir Maurice died in 1642. Dorothy spent a widowhood of some 35 years. In 1661 she inherited from her brother the Trefenty estate then consisting of the messuages and lands of Trefenty, Lower Court, Pant Dwfwn, Asgood, Astis, Park yr Abbot, Park Newydd, a tenement and a mill, a house and shop, and four un-named tenements and lands, with a rental of £386.
Although she had spent most of her life in London, Dorothy did not forget her Carmarthenshire patrimony, and of all the owners of Trefenty is the only one whose name is still invoked in the parish of Llanfihangel Abercywyn, at least once a year. By indenture executed on 20 May 1673, Dame Dorothy granted to Piers Butler and Richard Caryll an annuity of £10 charged on her properties called Asgood, Aestis, and Park yr Abbot, to be distributed among the poor of the parish after her decease. Several years after she had died, the two said trustees discussed the charity with her daughters and coheiresses, and by a deed made on 30 May 1695 they confirmed the charity as a perpetual rent-charge to be paid by "such person or persons as from time to time should be farmers or tenants of Treventy and St. Clears, both in the said parish, by and with the advice and approbation, nevertheless, of the parson of the said parish". The tenants responsible for producing the money at that time were Daniel Evans of Trefenty, and John Halford of Pentre (the 'St Cleare' of the deed). The Lady Drummond Charity, as it is known, continues to operate.
Some leases granted by Lady Dorothy included the yearly duties and services that figured prominently in similar transactions of the 17th and 18th centuries, Thus, in 1670 she leased four farms comprising 630 acres in the parish of Llanfihangel Abercywyn, to Edmund Thurlow at a rent of £73, and rendering to lessor 4 capons at Christmas, 4 horseloads of lime or 2 shillings in lieu, a day's reaping at Trefenty by 4 men or 2 shillings in lieu, and the best beast or £5 by way of a heriot when due. Another lease was granted in the same year to Morris William, of a tenement of about 50 acres at a rent of £80, and rendering one day's ploughing at Trefenty or one shilling in lieu, one day's harrowing or six pence, a man for one day to reap corn or six pence in lieu, a couple of capons at Christmas or 2 shillings in lieu, the best beast or 30 shillings as a heriot when due and furthermore to bestow two hundred of lime in stone, being six barrels to the hundred, upon land on the tenement first broken or ploughed up.
Lady Dorothy Drummond died about 1677, in which year her will was proved. She had four daughters among whom the family estates were divided. Only the eldest needs concern us here, Penelope Drummond, who married Edmund Plowden of Plowden Hall, near Lydbury, head of a long-descended Roman Catholic family in Shropshire; he also owned an estate at Aston-le-Walls in Northamptonshire. His younger brother, Francis was Comptroller of the Household to King James II. Edmund Plowden died in 1677 at the comparatively early age of 37, and Penelope, who lived latterly in London, died in 1699. They had five sons and a daughter. Of the sons, four became Jesuits, and only one, William Plowden, remained "in the world" and served as a Colonel in the Life Guards of King James II, thus inheriting the estates, although a younger son. The only daughter, Dorothy Plowden, noted for her luxurious hair which measured five cascading feet, married firstly Philip Draycott, secondly Sir William Goring.
From this time onwards the Trefenty estate remained in possession of the Plowdens who resided wholly at their English residences, and Trefenty continued to be let to substantial farming tenants. They also continued to be lords of the manor and grange of Oysterlow, of which Trefenty was the capital messuage, and to appoint stewards and other manorial officials from among local people. The acreage of the Trefenty estate had remained fairly constant, and in the Landowners' Return, printed in 1873, William Henry Francis Plowden (died in July 1870) is recorded as owning 1285 acres in Carmarthenshire, yielding an estimated rental of £5746. About that time Trefenty was sold to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and remained in their possession until 1920 when, in accordance with the Welsh Church Acts following the Disestablishment, the ownership was transferred to the University of Wales, the present landlord. The Plowdens, descendants of the earliest-known owners of Trefenty, still reside at their attractive Shropshire seat.
(d) The House, Environs, and some tenants of Trefenty
The house of Trefenty occupies a small plateau-like elevation, 142 feet above sea-level, commanding a splendid prospect of the surrounding countryside. It is flanked by lawns on the north and west sides, with traces of a former ha-ha separating them from the meadow beyond. The outer perimeter of the lawn on the south side had been enclosed by a wall which was removed in the period 1888-1906. Immediately to the east is a large walled garden, and beyond that, modern outbuildings.
The stone-built, three-storeyed residence, with the main entrance on the west front, probably dates from the early 17th century. Until recently the southern gable-end was weather-tiled, and the removal of the tiling revealed windows that had been blocked, doubtless to reduce the incidence of window-tax of earlier days. The wall has now been cemented, alas. An imposing structure, with walls of great width and strength, the house possesses a puzzling feature. As it now stands it is a double-pile house with seventeenth-century characteristics, except that the roof valley between the piles is broad, with four chimney stacks grouped together in the centre, whereas in the usual double-pile house the chimneys are placed in the gable-ends. Unfortunately, in the 1950's the interior was remodelled and modernised so radically (it is now divided into three 'houses') as to render it impossible to determine with certainty the original plan and arrangements.
For the accompanying drawing of the house as it is today I am grateful to the artistry of Mrs. E. M. Lodwick which has contributed so notably over the years to our appreciation of the landscape as well as preserving a pictorial record of the ancient buildings of Carmarthcnshire.
No early plans exist to guide us, and the earliest-known map, at least which provides the outline ground plan, is the tithe map of the parish, surveyed and drawn in 1841. This delineates the mansion, and a short distance immediately to the south of it, two groups of outbuildings. Those at the southwestern end consisted of one fairly large building (still existing with a ground and upper floor, two dormer windows, and fireplaces) once used as a dwelling probably for servants; and three smaller structures, one of which is described as "smith's shop". The group at the southeastern end, below the walled garden, also consisted of four buildings, two being fairly large. Flanking the mansion beyond the lawn on the north, grew a plantation.
Between 1841 and 1888 radical changes had taken place. All, save one, of the buildings on the southwestern side were taken down, their foundations today being overgrown with grass. Traces of the smithy remain. The group on the southeastern side was wholly demolished, the site now covered with rough grass and rushes. Following the demolition, a large and imposing range of outbuildings was erected on a virgin site immediately to the east of the walled garden, and continue to fulfil the purpose for which they were built, and, indeed can claim to be among the best in the country. I am indebted to Mr. R. T. Lenny of John Francis, Thomas Jones, and Sons for the outline ground plans of Trefenty and its buildings in 1841 and 1888.
On the 1841 map the Plowden properties in the parish are listed as Trefenty (301 acres), Foxhole (179 acres), Dole Wirion (9 acres), Gwanfy (8 acres), Pant Dwfwn (371 acres), all in the tenancy of John Waters, and Lower Court (401 acres) in the tenancy of William Thomas, the whole amounting to some 1269 acres at that time.
Trefenty and neighbouring farms were fortunate inasmuch as their limekilns could be supplied by coastal vessels. The tithe map shows a limekiln at Pont ddu on the Cywyn, and another to the north of Foxhole on the Tâf. And there may have been others, for one of Trefenty's fields is still called Parc yr Odin. The marshlands along the river banks had to be protected from erosion and inundation particularly from high tides. Canon Conrad Evans has quoted a record of 1675-6 among the Plowden archives, which states that numerous boatloads of stone were brought "to the severall causeways aft Treventy made for the preservation of the marsh from the sea".
Generally, the tenants of Trefenty were men of substance. On 20 August 1661 Dame Dorothy Drummond, widow, granted a lease of 21 years of Trefenty to John Evans of Talybont in the neighbouring parish of Llandeilo Abercywyn, and William Smith of Llanfihangel Abercywyn, gentlemen. This John Evans was one of the three sons of David Evans of Llechwedd Deri in Cardiganshire, High Sheriff of that county in 1641. David's two younger sons settled in Carmarthenshire, Rees (who married Anne Lloyd of Plas Llanstephan) at Talybont where he died in 1697, and John who lived at Talybont before coming to Trefenty in 1661. John Evans paid £1.14.0 in respect of a subsidy in 1673, being the highest payment in the parish, and in 1688 was High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire — the only time that the appointment was held by a resident of Trefenty. His will was proved in 1691. Much later, on 5 November 1745 William Plowden, esquire, granted a lease of 21 years of Trefenty (then 256 acres) to John Jenkins of the same parish, yeoman, at a yearly rent of £87.
In 1778, Trefenty and Foxhole tenanted by John Jenkins and Lewis Evan respectively, were advertised to let as good farmhouses with convenient outhouses in good and tenantable repair, with upwards of 450 acres in excellent heart; on each farm there was a limekiln situated within 20 yards from the river banks where coal and limestone could be landed for their use. The Waters family took the farms, and continued the tenancy of Trefenty in John Jenkins for a few more years. Prior to this advertisement the house seems to have required repair, for on 5 July 1778, John Philipps of Carmarthen, agent for Plowden, wrote to the owner that Trefenty had been "repaired since you were there, excepting a few yards of the tyling which is to be done". This suggests that Plowden had visited the house, perhaps staying there on short visits off and on.
The Waters family came into local prominence in the latter part of the 18th century. Members of the family farmed some of the largest farms in the district — Gardde, Rushmoor, Pant Dwfwn, Foxhole, Trefenty, and in the first part of the 19th century, Sarnau, where they built a small attractive residence. They came to Trefenty about 1778, and on 20 August 1816 Edmund Plowden gave a lease (probably a renewal) of Trefenty, Foxhole, and Pant Dwfwn, for 62 years to Thomas Waters, and in 1798 he obtained a lease of Llandeilo Abercywyn farm from Philip Protheroe of Bristol, so that he had become one of the largest farmers in the county. He prospered sufficiently to establish a private bank, "Thomas Waters and Sons", at Carmarthen. When Thomas died in 1819 at the age of 70, the bank passed to his sons, one of whom, John, lived at Trefenty, becoming a burgess of Carmarthen in 1818 and later a Justice of the Peace for the county. Alas, as a result of the depression from about 1828 onwards, the bank foundered, in 1832 had to suspend payment and the firm was declared bankrupt. After this, John Waters lived wholly at Trefenty where he died on 6 February 1852 at the age of 64. He was the last to be buried in the old churchyard of Llanfihangel Abercywyn.
(e) Some episodes in Trefenty history
In the Antiquities of Laugharne
(1880) Mary Curtis has this to say about "the farmhouse called Treventy which occupies the site of a monastery. I visited this house which is large and substantially built, the walls enormously thick, bearing marks of great age ... I have been told that the dairy only is part of it [monastry]; that the kitchen before it was altered was a curious place. It is divided into two, and appears more ancient than the rest of the house. There was a while ago in front of the house, a passage with a roof to it, along which funerals had a right to pass to the church; out of it they have formed two rooms. At the back of the house I observed some walls looking very old. About ten minutes' walk from this farm, on the St. Clears side of it, is a small cottage very ancient, the walls exceedingly thick; it is called 'Treventy Gate'." She adds this about Trefenty mansion — "Opposite the front of the house, the river way, are earth works; here tradition says a battle was fought" — this is the castell of which I have spoken earlier.
Reference to the funeral practice is contained also in D. E. Jenkins's Life of the Rev. Thomas Charles, B.A., of Bala,
published in 1908. He wrote, "Another custom of the parish is the old passage in the farmhouse of Treventy . . . . Funerals weddings, and the ordinary congregation had to pass through on their way to Church, and each individual had to present his (or her) name to the tenant of Treventy on passing through. There was no public way passing the Church, and the owner of the Manor of Oysterlowe Grange had no desire to forfeit his right and allow the public to claim a right of way; and this, probably was an ingenious contrivance whereby each person might be kept conscious of the private ownership of the path down to the Church. Even the horses and their litter had to pass with the body through the limits fixed by the old thick walls and the white-wash". In 1841 the path to the church is shown well eastwards of the house and outbuildings, and in all likelihood the custom had been discontinued before that time, and Miss Curtis tells us that the passage had existed "a while ago". Memory of it still lingers, but Mrs. Thomas the present occupier tells me no traces whatsoever remain.
Another tradition refers to an underground passage once leading from the house to the church, and thence to Llangynog church several miles away. But this class of tale is "common form", and similar tales are told of numerous mansions in Great Britain and on the Continent.
Perhaps most beguiling of all, is the local memory concerning an unconventional circumstance attending cheese-making at Trefenty. About the years 1860-64, Mr. Plowden permitted a shepherd to keep two cows on the demesne. Their milk enabled him to make cheese which he sold to augment his scanty wages. As he could not afford to buy a cheese-press (peis)
the enterprising fellow went to the deserted churchyard and took a few of the fallen headstones, and with deftness and ingenuity fashioned the necessary article, which despite its homely construction proved thoroughly efficient. Farmhouse cheeses in those days were large and circular, often well over a foot, even two feet, in diameter, as delicious to the taste as nutritious for the system. Now, one of the stones used by the adroit shepherd bore the inscription "In memory of David Thomas", and those words came out clearly etched on the cheeses. He carried them to St. Clears and was not long before he attracted customers, one of whom having read the inscription on his purchase, observed "You have resurrected this cheese from Llanfihangel churchyard!" This caused much mirth, and thereafter the succulent produce of Trefenty became known throughout the district as "the Resurrection Cheese" — caws yr Atgyfodiad.
Indeed, Trefenty must be unique among Welsh mansions inasmuch as it has given a metaphor to the language. In olden days of gentry and farmer occupation, the households at Trefenty were particularly numerous, a circumstance advertised in striking manner on washing-day when the hedgerows and bushes around the house were bonneted with garments of many colours and varieties. And so, when a housewife has an unusually large "washing", she is said to have a golch Trefenty.
As families are now much smaller, and as mechanical inventions have reduced dramatically the number of servants required on farms, washing-day is no longer burdensome, often hardly noticeable, but the saying golch Trefenty
is still heard, when for some reason the "washing" reaches formidable proportions.
My chronicle is ended. Castle, manorhouse, knights, courtiers, astronomers, gentry, farmers, bankers, passage, tunnel, Resurrection Cheese, wash-tub and all, I bid you adieu. Over the centuries there have been many transformations. On several occasions the ownership of Trefenty has changed hands, finally to become the fee simple of the University of Wales, an institution dedicated to the educational and intellectual progress of our people. But the land, that indestructible asset, continues unchanged. Trefenty's husbandmen still plough the fields and scatter the seed and garner the grain, still rear cattle and sheep, whose increase is devoted to human sustenance. Outwardly, the old mansion preserves in large measure its traditional appearance, adorning an environment of hill, woodland, meadow, and stream, canopied azure and vested vent, a vignette of loveliness. My visit during last July was, in a way, a fulfillment. As I gazed seaward from the sward
below the buildings, a scene from the past suddenly came alight, and I fancied I could see a vessel gliding on the placid flow, on her deck an ancient mariner, and at his side a bare-headed youth pointing excitedly towards the gray pile on the distant knoll.
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I am grateful to the following for useful local information:
Mr. & Mrs. A. E. Thomas of Trefenty; The Revd. Canon Conrad Evans, vicar of Llanfihangel Abercywyn; Mr. R. T. Lenny of Messrs. John Francis, Thomas Jones & Sons, Carmarthen; and to Major W. K. Buckley, M.B.E., for his comments on this essay in manuscript form.