DISORDER-THE COURT OF BWLCH Y GROES-RECORDS OF COURTS-THE RED BRIGANDS OF MAWDDWY-BARON OWEN-THE FEUD WITH NANNAU, THE CHURCH PEWS-DAI LLWYD AND BOSWORTH FIELD-RESTORATION OF ORDER-THE SUPPRESSION OF CYMMER, THE DISPOSAL OF ITS ESTATES-JOHN POWYS-ROBERT MULTON-HUGH NANNEY-CYMMER RENTALS IN 1536-THE DOLGELLEY RECTORS AND-LLANELLTYD CURATES-AFTER THE DISSOLUTION-THE WOOL TRADE OF DOLGELLEY-TUDOR HOUSES -VAVASOUR POWELL.
THE whole of the period till the Tudors came was a period of very considerable disorder throughout Wales, owing to the devastation caused by Glyndwr's struggles and by the Wars of the Roses.
There was very little trace of government; no one tried to govern, and people took the law very much into their own hands.
Such government as there was in the neighbourhood lay in the hands of a kind of popular court, which met at intervals on the top of Bwlch y Groes, and meted out an efficient justice to those who broke its mandates.
Stories of these days of disorder are common enough in Merioneth, but there is a singular absence of information regarding Dolgelley and Llanelltyd. The story of the murder of the poet Gruffydd ap Adda in the streets of Dolgelley, which has no romance in it, belongs to the XIVth century; but it is typical of what occurred in the land in those weary days. We have some records of occasional Merioneth courts of the period, and they are mainly taken up with stories of cattle lifting and murder. One such, for instance, is an accusation against one William ap Jenkin ap Iorwerth, who, in 1514. was charged with having terrorised Dolgelley to deliver up to him £40/- worth of calves, at the lowest estimate a matter of 400 head.
The most striking story, though, of this time of disorder is that of the rise of the Red Brigands of Mawddwy, who, no doubt, levied toll on Dolgelley, as they did elsewhere; but their story is not concerned with Dolgelley itself, until we come to their last daring exploit, for the victim of that was a Dolgelley man, Baron Owen of Llwyn, a farmhouse which now stands close to the railway station, and which Baron Owen-a Baron of the Exchequer, appears to have bought from the more ancient occupiers.
When the Tudors came to the throne, they tried to restore order, and succeeded in doing so, not only in Wales, but in England also, and naturally enough the Red Brigands came under their notice.
Baron Owen was deputed by Queen Mary to suppress them, and he raided their territory, seizing and hanging some 80 or 100 of them out of hand, without any show of trial.
A year later, in 1555, the survivors of the gang took their revenge. They seized Baron Owen on the way to Welshpool and slew him, with the result that more energetic measures still were taken to suppress the bravos.
The name of Baron Owen serves to introduce mention of a feud which was waged in those days between his family and the family of Nannau. Each probably thought the other was presuming too much in claiming to be the exclusive arbiter of Dolgelley life, -there have always been aspirants to that position in Dolgelley-and they passed a good deal of their time in breaking each other’s heads, destroying each other's property, and indulging in the pastime of mutual cattle -lifting. It was the direct cause of a long and bitterly waged feud between the inhabitants of Dolgelley and Llanfachreth, which continued well into the XVIIIth century. A source of terrible offence to the Owen faction was the existence in the parish church of a family pew of the Nanneys, so placed as to give the latter clear precedence in the sacred building. Accordingly, one day, some partisans of the Owen faction broke into the church and hacked the pew to pieces with axes, and, not content with this, they arrived at church on the following Sunday at a very early hour, and when the owners of the pew made their appearance, they found the enemy in full possession of the wreck, breathing defiance and armed to the teeth with pistols and daggers, ready to fight for the splinters.This state of disorder lasted at least for a century and a half, and has carried us well into Tudor times, so that it becomes necessary to hark back a little.
The victory of the Tudors at Bosworth field was very largely due to the Welsh people, who rose almost in a body to support Henry VII. We have no information as to the part played by the residents of the immediate neighbourhood, but there is little doubt that they sent every man they could to follow Dai Llwyd, who traversed the land under the standard of the Red Dragon.
With the coming of the Tudors great changes took place. Order was restored, partly by the strong hand, still more because the Welsh people saw in his triumph their triumph.
The Tudors repaid the debt they owed to Wales in some ways munificently, and Dolgelley among others gained by becoming emancipated and free.
But one thing they did of infinite harm to the neighbourhood, and that was the suppression of Cymmer Abbey. It was suppressed, not because of any scandal attached to it-for there was no scandal-,but because, as it has already been noted, its estates and incomes were so small, and it was asserted that there were too many small religious houses in the land.
Not that hereabouts there were any, save Cymmer. There were none nearer than Valle Crucis, 40 odd miles away.
The estates were seized by the Crown, and property granted for religious and social service passed into the hands of laymen for their own private advantage.
We may trace in outline, so far as we can, what happened to these estates, for there is much misapprehension on the subject. and some injustice is done in virtue thereof.
To begin with, the two chief grantees were one John Powys, believed to be originally a resident of Llanegryn, and one Robert Multon.
In the year 1521, the Abbot of Cymmer leased a small tenement at Rhyderiw to one of the Powyses, who were, apparently, small farmers. John Powys, one of the family, was attached to Henry VIII.'s household-he was not the only one from Llanegryn -and when the dissolution came, he seems to have secured for himself the post of steward of the Abbey property under the Crown. In a short time, he became lessee of the Abbey itself and some of the abbey land for 50 years. Then, apparently, the rentals due from him were granted to the Earl of Leicester but, on the Earl's death, they were resumed by the Crown, and, in some way or other, Edward Powys, the son of John Powys, became the owner, whether for cash or not, it is impossible to say.
Subsequently, towards the end of the XVIth century, Edward Powys' heir seems to have sold most of his interests to Sir James Pryse of Ynys y Maengwyn, in whose family the Abbey and adjoining lands remained for many years. Eventually it formed part of the dowry of a daughter of Ynys y Maengwyn, when she married into the Nannau-Hengwrt family, whose representatives are now the owners.
The farm of Dol-y-clochydd and one or two other small properties he conveyed to others, from whom the present owners have inherited or bought them.
Robert Multon was the other principal grantee. He was an Auditor of the Exchequer, and had conveyed to him the whole of the Abbey lands in Llanfachreth. This property changed hands frequently, until it was eventually bought by Hugh Nanney of Nannau.
This Hugh Nanney, it may be mentioned as illustrative of the fact that even under the Tudors there was considerable contempt for the law, took it upon himself to cut down a forest of oak trees in the Ganllwyd valley. The forest belonged to the Crown, and Hugh Nanney's bitterest grievance was that an unscrupulous enemy had informed against him! However, as a penalty he was mulcted in an enormous fine, which, being unable to pay, led to his being imprisoned for many years as a state debtor in the Fleet.
The only instance I have found where local residents acquired any of the Cymmer lands direct from the Crown was in the reign of Edward VI, when Baron Owen's father and Richard Nanney of Nannau became lessees for 21 years of three smallholdings in Dolgelley and one in Nannau. Probably at a later date they bought the lessor's rights as well.
With the dispersal of its property, the old Abbey the pride and glory of Merioneth, was allowed to fall into decay, and it stands now a melancholy witness to the destructive side of the Reformation. Few gained by its destruction; the people lost, and lost heavily.
It was actually suppressed in the year 1536, and four years later the value and income accruing to the Crown were reviewed. It was then found that the annual value of the site of Cymmer Abbey, tithes houses and mills amounted to £2/15/4; the incumbencies of Llanelltyd, Llanfachreth and Llanegryn to £5/13/4, £6/18/4 and £13/13/4 respectively, plus corn-rents to the extent of 24 crannocks and 2 hops of wheat. The outlying possessions had been very considerably reduced in comparison with the estates as existing in the time of Llywelyn, and the following details are given of the income thereof: -lands and tenements in Cwm Cadain, £3/2/-, in Dolgelley, £2/8/4, in Llanelltyd, £10/15/2, in Llanfachreth, £2/18/-, in Rhydcriw, £3/5/4, and in Trawsbryn (i.e. Trawsfynydd), £5/-. In addition, the chapel of Kydis (?) accounted for 10/- and the fines and perquisites of the Court for another 10/-.
It is often asserted that in the later pre Reformation days the Church had become neglectful of its spiritual duties towards the inhabitants of the land Whatever partial truth there may be in such assertions, they are entirely untrue in regard, at any rate, to that portion of Merioneth, which lay within the Diocese of Bangor; but we need only concern ourselves here with Dolgelley and Llanelltyd.
There was a continuous succession of rectors in Dolgelley; and the names of the last three pre Reformation ones were Lewis Glynne. John Lloyd and Laurence Orell. Apparently at the Reformation one Hugh ap Robert became Rector, but, in the reign of Mary, he was deprived of his living on the ground of having married, and he was replaced by one Elis ap Richard. It is not clear whether, on the accession of Elizabeth, he was reinstated.
In Llanelltyd the last Roman Catholic priest of whom we have mention is the chaplain Ioan ap Hywel ap Hywel who was officiating there in the year 1504. The names of practically all are Welsh, and that is typical of the whole of Merioneth; and whatever may have been the case elsewhere in Wales, the late pre-Reformation Catholic clergy were very distinctively Welsh.
After the Reformation, there was a regular supply of rectors in Dolgelley; but Llanelltyd appears to have been left entirely without a curate-the incumbent of Llanelltyd was a curate, and not a vicar, up to last century-until the year 1604, nearly three-quarters of a century, when one Thomas Jones was licensed to serve the parish.
A similar state of things seems to have happened in Llanfachreth. In 1542 one William ap Robert succeeded Morgan Hughes; but from that date to 1614 there is no record of any incumbent being appointed to the parish.
The charge of neglecting the spiritual needs of the people could be brought with much more truth against the Reformed Church than against its predecessor.
From the dissolution of Cymmer until the outbreak of the Civil Wars, little mention is to be found of Dolgelley and its immediate neighbourhood. The wool-trade, on which in later days Dolgelley flourished, was springing into existence; but the quality of its products was not good, and regulations were passed in the reigns of James I. and Charles I. to control it. In 1602 mention is made of its markets, which, having been originally constituted irregularly, had become fully recognised; and it was undoubtedly the principal market-town in the west of Merioneth.
The Elizabethan period was noteworthy for the building of many houses in Merioneth by well-to-do people, and this movement, a sign of more settled conditions, continued through the reigns of the early Stuarts.
These houses are extremely beautiful in their own way. Such houses were built at Nannau and Hengwrt, but the old houses have long since disappeared to make room for more pretentious structures. Perhaps the most beautiful house of this period left is that now known as Plas Hen, the forerunner of the modern Caerynwch. It is a little gem in its way, and though it has been somewhat altered, it still possesses most of its original marks of beauty. Another house, since altered in part, of the period is Llwyn, another the old house of Helygog, and yet another is part of Vaner Farm. The house generally referred to as the Abbot's house, is a post-dissolution house, made no doubt with stone abstracted from the Abbey.
THE SO-CALLED ABBOT'S HOUSE, CYMMER
It has a very fine example of a "great hall" or “neuadd," now used as a sort of lumber room by the occupants of Vaner, with a glorious old fireplace and the remnants of a minstrel's gallery.Glyn, a matter of 1½- miles from Dolgelley along the Towyn road, also retains some features of. a building of this time and in fact many of the farmhouses in the neighbourhood belong to this architectural period.
The Puritan movement hardly reached the country in any shape or form; and the only incident of any importance is an alleged visit of the rather intemperate Vavasour Powell, who, in 1646, is alleged to have been arrested and put in jail in Dolgelley to await trial. The incident, however, does not appear to be well attested.