Caerllwyn cottage
Westminster Speleological Group

The club although London based has now been at Caer-Llwyn for nearly 45 years!. It was 1st. Noticed by our current president in the mid 60’s when he was posted as a young Chemist by Dunlop’s to the Dunlopillo factory on the estate, he found it as a ruin on a lunchtime walk. We rented it from the Richard’s family in Brecon for a peppercorn rent until it was offered to us for purchase in the early 90’s. We love the place and for many of us it has become almost a second home.

   We are listed by Royal Commission as a ‘Drovers Cottage’. It is probably true to say we are one of the oldest and significantly unaltered buildings in the area, retaining many vernacular features. We are down once a month or more, and if any local people interested in history would like to come and look at the interior    I’m sure we could arrange something. Andy Sewell Information sec. WSG.


The article below is a extract from The Bulletin the journal of the Westminster Speleological Group and was written by Duncan Minty and is reproduced here with their kind permission 

A Short History of Caerllwyn

By Duncan Minty

While our understanding of Caerllwyn’s history can never be precise, its past can be traced back with some degree of certainty for a couple of centuries. What emerges is not so much a history of a single building,but more a historical view of the surrounding area,with the two brought together by the people who lived there.For Caerllwyn, two features of the surrounding landscape have been influential. The first is Fan Foel,rising steadily behind the cottage and beside which the village of Penderyn has rested for many hundreds of years.The second is the common, Hirwaun Wrgan,that lies spread out to the south of the cottage, across the valley towards Craig y Llyn. Both have A rich history and it is against their background that the emergence of settlements like Caerllwyn can be set, beginning with a momentous battle.

Some Early History

At about the time the Normans invaded England,Gwrgan held the lordship of Morganwg (present day Glamorgan) and tradition has it that Gwrgan bestowed a large piece of ground at Hirwaun as common land to the people, it being named Hirwaun Wrgan in his memory.Upon Gwrgan’s death, the lordship of Morganwg passed to his son Jestyn, who soon found himself in conflict with Rhys ap Tewdwr, the lord of Deheubarth, a powerful kingdom in south west Wales.The cause of this conflict is said to have been Jestyn’s refusal to acknowledge the overlordship claimed by Rhys, but another account says it arose from the desire of Rhys to possess Nest, Jestyn’s wife, a woman of rare beauty.Jestyn, in urgent need of assistance, sent Einon apCollwyn, a Welshman who had connections with the Normans in England, to seek military aid. Einin brought the much needed help in the person of Robert Fitzhamon, who, with his 12 knights, 24 esquires and 3,000 men-at-arms, landed at Porthkerryin 1090 or 1091. The combined Morganwg and Norman army met Rhys ap Twedwr’s army on Hirwaun Wrgan, the first encounter of the battle taking place at a part of the common that became known as Ton Rhys, that is, Rhys’s turf. Jestyn and Fitzhamon then retreated a short distance from Ton Rhys and after a sharp and bloody battle, inflicted a crushing defeat on Rhys. So began the Norman conquest of Glamorgan.The death of Rhys, the later betrayal of Jestyn by Einon and Jestyn’s subsequent defeat by Fitzhamon told elsewhere. What this battle meant to the resurrounding area was described several centuries later by Theophilus Jones, Archdeacon of Brecon, who in his 1809 ‘The History of Brecknockshire’ wrote :


Hirwaun Wrgan, or at least a great part of it, where the battle

was fought between Justin ap Gwrgan and Rhys ap Tudor, in

which the latter was defeated, is situated within this parish : it is

an extensive boggy common, extending from two to three miles

east and west ; not only this plain, but almost the whole of

Penderin, still bear memorials to this conflict. Bodwigad, as it is

now called, and which the almost unlettered sculptor, in the

church, has still corrupted further into Bodwiggied, or the

mansion of the wigs, was anciently Bôd waun y gâd, the abode or

mansion on the field of battle ; a valley also which runs across

the parish is called Cadlan, meaning much the same, and is

studded with Carneddau, two of them are certainly military

memorials, one of which is about twelve or fourteen yards round,

having a foss or dryditch about it, the other is above twenty yards

in circumference and nine feet high, there are also at least forty or

fifty smaller heaps of stones in the fields adjoining the hill.

Maps drawn up in the 1870s shows the site of a battle some four hundred yards to the south of Caerllwyn, at a place now covered by the factories of the Hirwaun Industrial Estate.Ton Rhys itself is shown even nearer, lying just beyond the small bridge, at the point where having turned right, you would now go under the Glyn Neath by-pass. A little further afield, Cwm Cadlan, the valley of the battlefield, is littered with warlike names and it may have been there that, in the pursuit of Rhys’s men after the main battle, much slaughter took place.In the two hundred years after this great battle, the area around Caerllwyn was to see several swings of power between the Norman lordships and native Welsh rulers. The Normans’ rule was far from secure,so much so that the reemergence of native power sa Senghenydd hold sway southwards to within a few miles of Cardiff.The Norman lordships of the March, such as those of Glamorgan and Brecon, became frontier kingdoms in miniature, defending their territory against local native rulers, the greater Welsh kingdoms such as Deheubarth, and against each other, the latter requiring formal peace treaties in order to cease.Set amid these warring factions, the area would have seen and suffered from more than the usual sways of military fortune for that time. Those living around Fan Foel would have been subjects by tutelage or possibly by kin, to a native ruler, who in turn would have been subject to whichever Lord had control of the area at the time.Small hamlets with a few outlying farms were characteristic of settlement in Anglo-Norman Wales. The hilltop church above Penderyn, of which traces go back to the earliest Norman times, would have given just such a focus to farms such as Bogwigiad and Trebanog. Much of the peasant housing however, was fragile and impermanent and would have been frequently rebuilt and realigned.In time, the Norman lordships consolidated their hold on the area and with the stability that this peace brought, the forests of upland Glamorgan would have been seen by an expanding population as an attractive source of food, fuel and building timber. It is likely to have been from this period, between 1300 and 1400, that the southern side of Fan Foel saw more permanent settlements established.It was to be another battle, this time fought far off in central England, that opened up another era of change for the upland regions of Glamorgan. In 1485, the battle of Bosworth saw the War of Roses end with Henry Tudor victorious. With Henry and his supporters’ long association with Wales, the following hundred years saw a great energy emerge in the economic life of Wales, with much of it concentrated on the wool trade and on exploiting the mineral resources. In the second half of the 16th century, iron ore began to be mined around Rhigos. The iron furnaces that sprung up as a result depended on more than just local ore. From nearby hills such as Fan Foel would have come a plentiful supply of timber for making the charcoal to fuel the furnaces, while local water supplies to work the bellows which produced the blast were just as important. The success of the iron foundry at Rhigos was helped by the long war with Spain keeping demands for military ordnance high and by restrictions imposed upon the manufacture of iron close to London.The charcoal fired furnaces being worked within a few miles of Caerllwyn slowly began to eat away at the surrounding woodlands. This pushing back of the tree cover opened up new land for grazing or cultivation, allowing for a growing number of small agricultural holdings. This appetite of the furnaces for wood became too great and as easily accessible supplies began to dwindle, so did the mining the area could support. It became a shadow of its former self and farming became the bedrock of the local economy,centred around the church and village market at Penderyn.

Caerllwyn just after the tin roof had been blown off in 1972. Notice the thatch found under the tin sheet, the chimney at the top of the

near gable end wall, the original tiny kitchen window, the absence of a back door and the two pitches to the rear roof, evidence of the kitchen as a later add-on.The original loo bucket room is on the left

A Place on the Map

Penderyn’s fortunes have been much influenced by its two mansions, Bodwigiad and Trebanog, meaning the mansion in the field of battle and the dwelling on the summits respectively. Both had connections by marriage with leading families in Brecknockshire and the church of Penderyn was traditionally under the control of the lords of Brecon.The rector of the church at Penderyn would have been supported by vicarial tithes, paid in kind by the parishioners around Fan Foel and Cwm Cadlan with crops, wool, milk and the like. These payments in kind were progressively substituted with monetary payments, this tendency being stimulated by land enclosures, particularly in the 18th century. At times such as the end of the 18th century, when William Morgan was both rector of Penderyn church and owner of the mansion at Trebanog, the control both spiritual and secular over those working the land around Fan Foel is clear.Enclosures were often carried out to improve the land and its yield, and had they proceeded without the commutation of tithes into money, the religious and lay owners of the tithes would have received an automatically increased income. Acts of Parliament were therefore passed over the years to get rid of the obligation to pay tithes, culminating in the Tithe Act of 1836 which commuted them once and for all into monetary payments.The very nature of enclosure and the commutation of tithes helped create delineated and identifiable plots of land that were being brought into cultivation or used for habitation. This long process of enclosure would have helped formalise the site upon which Caerllwyn now stands and perhaps even the name itself, as we’ll now see.The word Caerllwyn has one thing in common with many Welsh placenames - it has been mangled by the English. Spelt in this way - Caerllwyn - it could mean the same as its namesake in Gwent, that is, the ‘high place of the encampment’. With such a great battle having been fought nearby, this produces a marvellous red herring. Spelt in its old way - Cae’r-llwyn - it has the meaning in keeping with its surroundings - the‘field of bushes’.Estate maps of the late 18th century for neighbouring farms such as Pentwyn and Tylau Morgrig show names of a similar origin - Cae’r Coed, Cae’r Wayn
and Cae Pwdwr for instance. That each field carried a name reflects the closeness, through dependence, of the farming families to their small holding.Another process of delineation and mapping in the beginning of the 19th century provides us with the first evidence of the cottage’s existance. This was the first edition of the Ordnance Survey, drawn at a scale of one inch to the mile and published in 1830. The map for the Penderyn area was in fact based upon a survey carried out in 1814. That survey identified a site with a name they noted down as Carlwyn, similar in shape to that of the present day and containing two buildings positioned in much the same way as today. The line of the present day road is clearly identifiable, although instead of turning right on reaching the river, towards the present bridge, the track crosses straight over by way of a ford.The tithe map for the Lower Parish of Penderyn was produced in 1840. The site of the OS’s ‘Carlwyn’ is shown as plot 223 and has the same two buildings as its predecessor. The accompanying apportionment lists the ownership, size and use of each tithe plot. It shows plot 223 as part of the holding of Trebanog Ucha, this farm being shown on the tithe map, rather confusingly, in the same place as Tai Cyplau. Trebanog Ucha is owned by Morgan Morgan Esq. (more of whom later) and occupied by Jenkin Williams. Plot 223 is not actually named as Cae’r-llwyn, being recorded simply as a building. As it is not shown as a homestead, like other farms around it, we can assume it was unoccupied at that time.It is likely that in the period between the 1814 OS survey and the 1840 tithe map and apportionment,Cae’r-llwyn was abandoned as a homestead. Two events may have precipitated this : firstly, the 1830’s saw what was to be that century’s worst depression and many farm labourers would have lost their jobs and therefore their homes ; secondly, resistance to the expense of the Poor Law may have seen some local farmers closing down their marginal tenanted properties in an attempt to temper the rise in rates experienced in that period.

                     The 1830 First Edition Ordnance Survey map of the area around Caerllwyn, taken from drawings made about 1814. ‘Caerllwyn’ is dead centre

 People at Caerllwyn

The first record of who lived at Cae’r-llwyn is found in the census. These began in 1841, but in that year, there is no recognisable entry for Cae’r-llwyn, indicating that it was uninhabited It is in 1851, on the night of the 30 March, that the next censor recorded the following people residing at ‘Carllwin’ : John Morgan, a 79 year old widower and farmer of 4 acres; his son Rees aged 34 and daughters Mary and Margaret, aged 39 and 27; plus a visitor,John Jones.The Morgan family can be traced back to the 1841 census, where they were recorded as living in‘Trebanog Ishaf’, the farm a short distance from the present bridge. It is in the record of the 1861 census that Cae’r-llwyn’s past connects more definitely to its present. It shows ‘Caerllwyn’ as home to a large family, that of Phillip and Mary Richards. Phillip is aged 39, an iron miner and native of Penderyn. Mary is aged 44, shown as an ‘iron miner’s wife’ and a native of Ystradfellte. With them were living eight of their nine children: David, Mirian, Richard, John, William, Philip, Gwenllien and Ann. The eldest, Thomas, was absent that night. Their family bible is with the present day Mary Richards.The elder children had been born in Rhigos, while the younger three had been born in Penderyn. Phillip aged 6 and Gwenllien aged 4 are recorded as being ‘scholars’, so they must have been receiving some form of education. The sons from nine year old William upwards are shown as the sons of an iron miner – it is likely that they were working in some way by that age, probably alongside their father. Mary Richards had been born in 1816, to the Morgan family that was subsequently to move to Tai Cyplau,the farm across from Cae’r-llwyn. After she married Phillip, the family lived in Rhigos, leaving there for Cae’r-llwyn around 1853. It is possible, but unsubstantiated, that Mary was related to the 79 year old John Morgan living at Cae’r-llwyn in 1851 and that Mary and Phillip moved to Cae’r-llwyn after he died.Ten years later, at the time of the next census in 1871, Phillip and Mary are still at ‘Carllwyn’, with David,John, Phillip, Gwenllian and Ann. It is known that Thomas had become a cashier by then, at a colliery over in the Rhondda and that Marian had married.Richard had died five years earlier.The 1881 census shows Mary Richards, now aged 64, living at ‘Caerllwyn’ with her children Phillip, aged 28 and Ann, aged 22, both unmarried. Some time before 1881, Mary and Phillip’s daughter Gwenllian married Morgan Morgan and returned to her mother’s former home some one hundred yards opposite, Tai Cyplau. There, she raised a family of five daughters, Ann, Mathilda, Mary, Elizabeth and Sarah and three of these daughters figure prominently in how WSG came to occupy and hold on to Cae’r-llwyn. On the night of the census in 1891, we find Mary Richards, now aged 75, still living at Cae’r-llwyn , on this night with Gwenllian’s daughter Ann. The family story is that each of the five Morgan daughters took it in turn to spend the night with their grandmother in Cae’r-llwyn. It is this Ann, some 78 years later in 1968 and now aged 89, that was to rent Cae’r-llwyn to the Westminster Speleological Group. Mary Richards was to die in 1906, being buried alongside Phillip in the graveyard of Penderyn Church. Of Gwenllian’s five daughters, Elizabeth and Sarah were to die young. Ann never married and worked as a dressmaker until retiring to live in Cae’r-llwyn bungalow, built in 1936. Mathilda married and had one daughter, the Mary we know, who inherited Cae’rllwyn upon her Aunt Ann’s death in 1977, aged 98. Gwenllian’s fifth daughter, Mary, had three children, Gwen, Merlin and Betty. Merlin (the present Mary Richard’s cousin) married Stella and they lived in Cae’r-llwyn bungalow into the late 1980s. The present Mary Richard is the great-granddaughter of Mary and Phillip.Towards the end of the 19th century, Tai Cyplau had been sold by the Morgan family, who continued on there as tenants instead. After Mary Richards died in 1906, Cae’r-llwyn was rented out. It is known that Jean Phillips lived there for many years between the two world wars. In the 1940s and 1950s, a railwayman, Mr Stephens, lived there until passing away. It was probably his railwayman’s coat that was found between layers of the roof when winds ripped it open in 1972. There are a few pictures of Cae’r-llwyn before WSG took up residence in 1968. One is of Ann Morgan standing at the front gate. This gate is only a few feet across and there is a hedge going back from it towards the left hand side of the cottage door. The other is of the rear of the cottage, taken up high from across the stream. The two separate roofs of the cottage and kitchen can be clearly seen. The history of Cae’r-llwyn is an unremarkable one, for it is like that of many other old cottages along the top of the Valleys. While it has had its periods of decline, several people over the years have found good reason to repair it and live there - Phillip and Mary Richards for their large family and a group of cavers as a club hut. How much of the present fabric dates back to these earliest times, nearly two hundred years ago, is impossible to say. It is reputed to be the third oldest building in the area, after the Red Lion and the barn lying against the road at Pontcefnffordd farm. We should do what we can to ensure that in 2200, someone can look back on another two hundred years of the cottage, whoever that may be.