A History of Thornbury Castle

Tudors

Thornbury Castle is a magnificent retreat located in South Gloucestershire that is proudly proclaimed to be the only Tudor castle to presently operate as a hotel, a unique novelty that serves as a powerful selling point. As someone who recently stayed at the castle I can personally endorse Thornbury as an incredible place to visit and should be added to the bucket list of all who read this.

Thornbury Castle from the Tudor Gardens

Thornbury Castle from the Tudor Gardens

 

The History

In July 1510 Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham, obtained a royal licence to undertake work at his manor of Thornbury, located on the edge of the Cotswolds. The manor had been in the Stafford family for generations and the ambitious duke sought to transform his pleasant retreat into a palatial home without rival anywhere else in the kingdom.

The proud and arrogant Buckingham was a descendant of the Plantagenet kings of England and had an impeccable bloodline through which he was not only well-connected, but also exceptionally wealthy. Nonetheless he had effectively been exiled from holding any power at court due to the pre-eminence of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and the king’s favourites such as Charles Brandon and William Compton. With an egotistical desire to attract attention and with money to burn, Buckingham set about a building campaign that would ensure his castle would be the grandest noble home in the kingdom.

The reasons for Buckingham’s desire to base himself at Thornbury, as opposed to one of his many other estates throughout England, are unclear but may be connected in part to his childhood. The duke’s father, Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, had been an ally of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, in 1483 and helped Gloucester claim the throne as Richard III. Within months the 2nd Duke turned against his king and launched a farcical rebellion to unseat Richard. After the collapse of his uprising the duke was captured and summarily executed in Salisbury.

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The young Edward Stafford’s uncertain future was somewhat secured when the seven-year-old’s wardship was given to Margaret Beaufort in 1486, the mother of the new king Henry VII and the esteemed matriarch of the Tudor Dynasty. It is a possibility Margaret placed the young boy at Thornbury Manor, a claim lent credence when taken into consideration the marriage of the duke’s mother Katherine Wydeville to Jasper Tudor, Duke of Bedford and uncle to the king. It is known that Jasper based himself at Thornbury and would die there on 21 December 1495. His ghost is stated to roam the property.

After a childhood spent in close companionship with the royal family, Edward Stafford emerged into adulthood as a strong-headed and ostentatious character fully aware of his noble grandeur. It was such a boastful disposition that would inspire Thornbury Castle which was designed to rival the king’s own Hampton Court Palace as the greatest home in the kingdom.

Attempting to upstage the king however was not a recommended tactic. Work was still ongoing in 1521, more than a decade after it had commenced, when the arrest of the duke suddenly caused tools to be downed and construction halted. The duke’s crime had been to rouse suspicion of treason in the mind of the increasingly paranoid king he had attempted to upstage – Henry VIII.

By 1521 the king was entering his 30’s and had yet to produce a legitimate male heir. Thoughts were slowly beginning to form about the event of a succession crisis and many were allegedly turning their heads towards the Duke of Buckingham, who it may be argued had a greater claim to the throne than Henry VIII. A foreign ambassador stated admiringly ‘my lord of Buckingham, a noble man and would be a royal ruler’.

The Thornbury Tower

The Thornbury Tower

Furthermore the duke possessed substantial wealth, evident from his transformation of Thornbury into a palatial home. The king’s finances meanwhile were in disarray and the treasury empty. The combination of these factors left Buckingham exposed to the king’s ruthless nature, which erupted in April 1521 when the duke was summoned to court and placed in the Tower of London. His downfall was swift; he was charged with intending to kill the king and executed on Tower Hill on 17 May. His wealth and property, including Thornbury Castle, was seized by the crown and became King Henry VIII’s.

After this period the castle was occasionally used by the king’s daughter Mary, who would regularly stay in Thornbury during her teenage years whilst she was a student of the Bishop of Exeter. It was during the summer of 1535 however that the castle received notoriety when Thornbury played host to King Henry VIII and his new queen Anne Boleyn for 10 days. The pair arrived on 14 August and departed to Acton Court on 22 August, the 50th anniversary of the Tudors accession to the throne at Bosworth Field. Whilst at Thornbury Henry was visited by a delegation from nearby Bristol who brought him 10 oxen and 40 sheep whilst Anne was presented with a gilt cup containing 100 marks of gold.

Thereafter the premises gradually fell out of favour, even after it was restored to the Stafford family who nonetheless never regained their former position. By the 19th century the ruined estate was in the hands of the Howard family, ironically kin to Anne Boleyn, and renovated as a home for a minor branch of the family. It was further restored in the 20th century by various owners and eventually reopened to the public as a hotel.

 

The Castle Today

The castle today still possesses many features which would have been recognisable to King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn during their progress in 1535. The main surviving wing of the castle is what would have been the southern range, which would have been the heart of Buckingham’s project.

The rooms that today constitute the Lounge, Library and Dining Rooms were a core part of the Duchess’ Bedchamber and Drawing Rooms. The Lounge possesses wonderfully wooden panelling and a giant fireplace which would have played a crucial role in warming the rooms. The intricate five-bay window in the middle of the room floods the room with light during the day and would have done the same five centuries ago. The octagonal dining room, replete with arrow slit windows and another fire place, would have been a bedchamber and occupy the ground floor of the castle’s great tower. These rooms as a whole would have hosted Anne Boleyn in August 1535, now utilised by the hotel as an atmospheric area to enjoy wining and dining.

The Lounge, formerly part of the Duchess' Apartments

The Lounge, formerly part of the Duchess’ Apartments

 

The Duke's Bedchamber

The Duke’s Bedchamber

 

The second floor of the great tower contains a room christened the Duke’s Bedchamber and it is within here Henry VIII slept during the same stay. The room is accessible via a spiral staircase and is also an octagonal chamber with fireplace and impressive views of the gardens. Elsewhere the castle is a myriad of corridors and doorways to wander through and explore, each room respectfully furnished in the Tudor style.

Outside the castle the Tudor gardens are stated to be the earliest extant example of 16th century gardens in the UK, and offer a great view of southern range’s rear. Particularly noticeable is the five-bay oriel window in its glory, the tower along with the ruined gallery which had previously connected the bedchambers to the nearby church, and the chimneys atop the range. These chimneys are a particularly noteworthy feature of Thornbury Castle, replicated only at Hampton Court.

Early Tudor Chimneys

Early Tudor Chimneys

Thornbury Castle is a truly a Tudor masterpiece that offers an unrivalled experience to the visitor. In total there are 26 luxurious chambers to stay in, many with four-poster beds, plus an award-winning chef and extensive wine cellar to enjoy. With its impressive array of heavy oak doors, breathtaking architecture and picturesque gardens, Thornbury and its captivating history is certainly worthy of a visit from any 16th century aficionado.

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History of Welsh Flags

History

As a nation with a long and storied past it is no surprise to discover that Wales has a myriad of flags, symbols and banners that represent the Country itself. Some are famous, some are forgotten and some are obscure yet all have intriguing origins and meanings. Today both Welsh people and those from other climes are all greatly aware of the national flag of Wales, “Y Ddraig Coch” (The Red Dragon). Yet what my experiences teach me is that very few are aware of the history of the flag or even the alternative Welsh flags we have flown throughout the history of our nation.  With this in mind I have decided to provide you all with a rundown of the differing flags which at one time or another been raised in tribute to our small country in the hope of educating our future generations. After all to some flags are mere material, yet to others they are the embodiment of national identity and pride and are thus an important part of our history.

Y Ddraig Coch

When discussing flags of Wales, one must start with the most recognisable and famous banner the country possesses, “Y Ddraig Coch”. To many people, including the average Welshman, this is the only flag the nation has and many will be surprised to learn just how recent official recognition of a seemingly ageless flag was. Accepted as an official flag by the British Government only in 1959, the flag consists of a passant Red Dragon on a Green and White background, often considered a field. Although only just over 60years old, the flag and its significance has been felt by the Welsh people for centuries. The Red Dragon itself was thought to have been brought to these lands by the Romans but it’s first clear connection to Wales came with its involvement in the mysterious Welsh prophecies. Allegedly the Wizard Myrddin (commonly known as Merlin) told a story of an underground duel between a White Dragon and a Red one, the white beast representing the invading Saxon warriors whom were attempting to suppress the native Welsh people. Merlin allegedly prophesised that the White Dragon would dominate at first but would eventually succumb as the Red Dragon and thus the Welsh people would rise up and vanquish their enemy. This link between Merlin and the Red Dragon was further lend credence if not actual historical fact by the association of the Red Dragon as a flag symbol with the mythical Arthur, King of the Britons. What is not shrouded in historical cynicism is that the banner was definitely used by the Gwynedd King, Cadwaladr, whom has a reputation as one of the greatest Welsh leaders of the era.

With the symbol confirmed as a representation of the Welsh people it became further entrenched in the consciousness of a people when first Owain Glyndwr raised the so-called “Red Dragon of Cadwaladr” during his revolt against English rule and then his distant kinsman Henry Tudor won the English throne at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. Henry was a Welshman whom invaded England via a Welsh-landing from France and had almost uncontested support from his people in his quest to conquer the English throne and end the dynastic Wars of the Roses. Henry had combined his Tudor livery colours of Green and White with the Red Dragon of Arthur, Merlin, Cadwaladr and Owain Glyndwr to create an iconic image and it was this banner which was carried triumphantly into St Paul’s Cathedral on Henry’s march through London. Even so, it remained half a millennia longer before the flag received official patronage from the British Government amidst pressure from Welsh nationalist groups. In 1959 one of the world’s most loved flags came into official existence and has since then been seen in possibly every part of the world as patriotic Welshmen always ensure they pack their flag with their luggage on their travels, never a group of people to pass up the opportunity to show off “Y Ddraig Coch”. Whether it is Rugby, Music or Politics, the Welsh flag is without doubt the most potent symbol of Welshness and national pride and is often viewed in every place possible. A visit to any shop in the country will unleash a torrent of products enshrined in the Red Dragon, from food goods to magnets and from teddy bears to clothes. For a nation so small, Y Ddraig Coch is a flag of enormous appeal and affection and held in high esteem by Welshman and outsider alike. As the only officially recognised flag to be flown from Governmental buildings within the country, it is without doubt the most widely seen flag representing the people of Wales.

The Flag of Saint David

England has the flag of St George whilst Scotland is proudly represented by the saltire of St Andrew, both of which are immediately recognisable around the globe as representative of the countries which use them. Together with the more obscure cross of St Patrick which represents Ireland the three flags make up the iconic yet controversial Union Jack flag. Therefore one could reasonably expect the national flag of Wales to be of the respective national saint, David, in keeping with local consistency. Yet the St David’s cross is a banner that has suffered from a lack of familiarity with those whom inhabit the country of David, let alone recognisable to those further afield. Aesthetically the flag constitutes a simple yet effective design of a yellow/gold cross on a black background, enabling it to stand out and be more effective than the dull-by-comparison St George’s cross. The flag itself has cropped up in a few public places in recent times as Welsh nationalism and national pride grows with each passing generation, eager to stamp their own identity on a crumbling British union. The flag has played a prominent part in marches and parades celebrating St David’s day every 1st March and was even featured temporarily as part of the club badge of Cardiff City Football Club in an overt display of their Welshness in an English-dominated scene. The St David’s cross was also used as the basis for two recent Rugby shirts that has probably increased awareness of the flag more than any other concerted campaign ever could. In 2008 the WRU released a Golden away jersey for the national Rugby team that featured the Flag imprinted on each arm together with a press release explaining how the shirt was inspired from the flag of St David. The other instance where the flag was used in sport was when Rugby League’s first Welsh franchise Crusaders RLFC used the entire flag as the basis for its first kit to again overtly display their heritage in a previously-English environment.

For a flag  that is now arguably unrivalled as Wales’ second (unofficial) flag, the history is sketchy at best. The fledgling Church in Wales, of which the diocese of St David’s is an integral part, disestablished itself from the larger Church of England in 1920 and it seems that the flag was consequently flown atop Anglican churches in Wales to display their affiliation. Throughout the diocese’s under control of the Church of England the St George’s cross was readily flown above the constituent churches and around 1939 it seems that a flag was created from the historic St David armorial arms of a yellow cross on a black background…but reversed. Whilst the usage of the black cross on a yellow background as a flag seems to be solely used from 1939 to 1954 atop Church in Wales, the colours of yellow and black have always traditionally been linked with the Saint as highlighted by the aforementioned Armorial arms which still represent the diocese in the area. St David was devout Christian whom lived well and taught the new ways of Christianity to the pagan tribes of Wales from his monastery on the banks of the modern city which takes his name. As a famous and well-loved figure from Welsh history, indeed the only patron saint of the nation, the flag has in itself also taken on connotations of Welsh nationalism as briefly explored earlier and its visibility continues to grow throughout Wales.

The Church of Wales flag

Similar in meaning and source if not in design to the banner of St David, the Church of Wales flag is the official emblem in usage in Wales to differentiate the organisation from their neighbourly Church of England. Stylistically the flag consists of a Gold Celtic cross nestled on a blue cross and a white background. The flag was inaugurated in 1954 and was created to specifically replace the reversed St David’s flag mentioned above to represent the Church of Wales within their remit. Unlike the previous two this flag is arguably unknown amongst the vast majority of Welsh natives, especially in these days of low Church attendance. Theologically, the Church in Wales is part of  the Anglican communion in Wales although in sharp contrast to its larger and dominating neighbour the Church of England it has retained an admirable disestablished stance since 1920. With a strong tradition of non-Conformist Christianity throughout Wales there was always a sense of Conflict towards the Church of England itself from the Welsh whom in particular felt marginalised and oppressed by Church policies.  The Welsh church act of 1914 was thus passed amid controversy and the Church in Wales was legally separated from the Church of England which it remains to this day, the Welsh church being disestablished from the state whilst the Church of England remains inextricably linked. Today this flag is often found atop of Church in Wales properties although even then it competes with the local diocese flags, again resulting in lower recognition of a dazzling banner.

Glyndwr/Aberffraw Flag

Owain Glyndwr. Patriot. Hero. Freedom Fighter. Welshman. Every native Cymro is aware of the name Owain Glyndwr as he was the romantic hero who stood up in the face of oppression and took the fight back to the English whom had conquered and subdued the nation of Wales a century prior. Glyndwr had raised a rebellion in 1400 and within four years had crowned himself Prince of Wales and the inheritor of the defunct Welsh royal family. The royal kingdom’s of Wales prior to being rendered extinct under the might of the English crown had been a fractured bunch, varying Kingdoms rising to power for an intermittent period before being replaced or usurped by another. What helped Glyndwr win the loyalty of his men and to validate his claim to the throne was that he was descended from three of the main royal families and was thus the apparent personification of a true Welsh prince. The flag today widely known as the Glyndwr banner was in fact derived from the hereditary flag of the previous princes of Wales although Glyndwr’s version had one clear and aggressive difference. The flag of the native princes from the powerful Gwynedd-based House of Aberfraw consisted of four passant lions on a quartered red and gold background. One prominent user of the flag was Llewelyn the Great whom in 1216 was lauded as the Prince of Wales after gaining acceptance and homage from his rival rulers. The flag in itself had been utilised by the kinsmen of Llewelyn’s from at least the 11th century and was in all probability considered an official flag of Welsh royalty. The importance of this flag is such that after Edward I of England conquered the nation in 1282 and  instilled his own eldest Caernarfon-born son as the Prince of Wales it was this flag that became the de-facto representative banner of these foreign Princes of Wales. Since 1911 this flag has again been utilised by the foreign Princes of Wales as their Coat of Arms before they succeed to the Crown of England. Prince Charles in the 1960’s began to use the Aberfraw banner with his heraldic coronet placed directly onto the middle of the flag as his representative banner and in 2008 the flag itself holds a prominent role in the official Royal Badge of Wales.

Perhaps because of its usurpation by the Royal Family of England as their own symbol of claim on the Welsh Kingdom, it is the aforementioned version of Glyndwr’s banner that has subsequently become a potent symbol of Welsh nationalism amidst Independence-related insignia. As mentioned above the Glyndwr flag has one major difference to the Aberfraw flag and that is that as opposed to being passant, the four lions are on their hind feet in an aggressive rampant pose. Although the real reasons for this are no longer evident, many experts in Heraldry point out that as per Glyndwr’s triple ancestry the rampant lions are evident in the respective arms of both his mother and father’s princely ancestors and combined with the colours and style of the Aberfraw flag create an ultimate Welsh flag. As a result of Glyndwr’s patronage of this flag in the last two decades it has increased in usage across the nation by proponents of a free Wales and can be seen in a myriad of places, arguably now the second most popular flag of the country and growing. Most Welsh sporting events will have a smattering of Glyndwr flags amongst the fans whilst such organisations as the Urdd Eisteddfod and Town Halls have been known to fly the flag particular around 16th September, a date put forward by Welsh nationalists as a candidate for Glyndwr day. As political symbol’s go, the message behind the Glyndwr banner is a clear one. An independent Wales.

Golden Dragon

Whilst the above flag of Glyndwr’s has become widespread in modern times, it was the Golden Dragon that Glyndwr famously raised in his battles against the English armies. Near Caernarfon on 2nd November 1401 Glyndwr’s forces were positioned on Tut Hill when Glyndwr raised up the legendary Golden Dragon flag in defiance of English rule, best encapsulated by the domineering fortified Castle which lay before them. The Flag itself was essentially as its name suggests, a Golden Dragon in a rampant pose which in Welsh was referred to as Baner Y Ddraig Aur. Although obscure by today’s standards and only known by fervent nationalists with an active interest in history, this would have been considered Glyndwr’s premier flag at the start of his rebellion and certainly carried a plethora of overt symbolism. A previous Prince of Gwynedd whom Glyndwr was seeking to replicate in his actions was Owain Gwynedd whom was associated by Welsh bards with Golden Dragons and although a reputable link by Glyndwr it was from a different kind of Leader that Glyndwr was seeking to really exploit. Since the turn on the 11th Century the legends of the Ancient Briton King Arthur were never far from Heraldic poetry within Wales as the bards prophesised about a new leader to take up Arthur’s mantle and banish the invaders from the lands of the Britons. In the intervening period the Britons had become identified as the Welsh whilst the Saxon’s and Normans were gradually melting into an English race. The Welsh people often fantasised about the Mabdarogan or Son of Prophecy who would fulfil the bards predictions and free the people. It was no surprise for Glyndwr, scion of three Royal Families, to find himself cast in this role and much like his later distant kinsman Henry Tudor embraced this development by encouraging the link. The Golden Dragon was the standard that was linked to the ancient Briton warrior Uther Pendragon whom would be better remembered in history as the father of Arthur. In the early Welsh language the translation of Dragon was (and in fact still is) “Draig”, and this was a word that was considered to mean a Warrior. With the epithet “Pen” meaning Chief or Great often added to Ddraig to suggest a great or chiefly Warrior the status of Uther Pendragon is in little doubt. Thus a banner that displayed both Glyndwr’s heritage, prophecy and hopes found itself immortalised in the guise of a Golden Dragon.

Welsh Republican Tricolour

A flag in which not only is its design but also its intended meaning illustrated in the accepted name of the flag, the Welsh Republican Tricolour is a minor flag that has caught on with a subsector Welsh Nationalists whom wish to display their antipathy towards the English Monarchy through Republican motives. With legitimate native Princes extinct with the downfall of Llewelyn the Last in 1282 and Glyndwr’s mysterious disappearance at the start of the 15th century, Wales herself doesn’t have a realistic pretender to a Welsh throne and therein lies the dilemma for modern nationalists. Should the nation gain independence the new, forward-thinking entity it will become will surely not revert to a form of State-ship that has long been considered outdated. Welsh republicanism therefore has a credible basis from which it has slowly began to grow and has been further emboldened by ancient Celtic ties to Ireland where of course Republicanism has been a core concept throughout the 20th century. Based on the Irish and French designs, the Welsh tricolour is a simple design using the already-established national colours of Green, Red and White and sometimes appears with a Socialist/Communist star on the white section to display further political motives. The star has also been stated to denote a memorandum to all those patriots that have died for Wales. The flag itself was used by the Welsh Republican Movement that seceded from the mainstream Plaid Cymru in 1949 in an internal dispute over policy. The Republicans believe that more should have been done with regards to Socialism within the nation as opposed to rural affairs and the Welsh language and aimed to become a major party. Although fervent in its ideals the party failed to catch the support of the general public and faded from national consciousness in the 1960’s although the flag they conceived continues to be occasionally spotted, in particular in the new modern world of the Internet and in that arena of nationalism, the sporting event.

Yr Eryr Wen

The “Eryr Wen” flag was a flag that first came to prominence in the 1960’s with the rise of violent nationalism in Wales through the advent of the Free Wales Army. Translating as the White Eagle, the dramatic flag consists of a stylised and simple design purporting to the be the White Eagle on a ominous black background. The flag’s connotations were subtle and therein lay the attractiveness of the flag. The black background was used to put the full focus on the white eagle design which was said to carry two meanings. The aforementioned Owain Gwynedd, as well as being linked to Golden Dragon’s by the bards, was attributed a coat of arms that consisted of three eagles whom were displayed with their wings spread wide on a green background. Owain I of Wales is considered by historians and nationalists alike as one of the greatest Welsh princes and his wars with the English King Henry II are still fondly remembered by Wales’ patriots and no doubt the corrupting of his coat of arms into a modern white stylised design was a way for the members of the Free Wales Army to display their objectives. The FWA were created by Julian Cayo-Evans in 1963 and were created to raise awareness of the fight for Welsh republicanism, their lust for self-promotion gaining them much publicity in an era of Celtic reawakening. The flag began to be prominently displayed by the followers of the FWA and was used and is still used by those of a Nationalist mentality to display their political viewpoint and is instantly recognisable to other comrade’s of a similar outlook. Whilst the FWA themselves were rendered extinct with a plethora of arrests and convictions in the late 60’s the flag is still seen by other individuals purporting to be taking up the mantle of Welsh resistance to Colonial British rule and as well as flags can be seen on badges and graffiti occasionally in rural Wales.

The Griffith Family of Talley…A 250-Year Chronicle.

History

Late 18th century Wales was a period of relative calm when contrasted with the continuous upheavals of previous generations. The fall of the Tudor Dynasty, Civil War, the continuous changing of monarchs with different religions causing dissent in the Kingdom, it was a hectic era. Importantly for the peace of the natives, Welsh revolt against the English crown had largely subsided and the people went about their daily lives.

A significant change in the country during that this period was the Welsh Methodist Revival which prompted great religious and social changes. Traced back to the religious conversion of Howell Harris in 1735, he began a movement of non-conformism along with David Rowland and the noted poet William Williams Pantycelyn. They were thus the de facto founders of the Presbyterian Church in Wales, which would eventually disestablish itself from the state-supported Church of England in 1851. This branch of Methodism grew quickly in the northern Carmarthenshire area where the founders were so influential with their preaching, which were emotional outbursts based on the gospels and enthusiastic hymn singing.

It was in 1770 that Peter Williams published the first Welsh bible to be printed in Wales, which became immensely popular in the Carmarthenshire area where it was published. Most families had a copy and it helped to keep the area away from becoming anglicized.  The chapels also become that social hub for the communities, a gathering place for the villagers to come together and pray.

The Methodist revival claimed to preach to the heart of its followers rather than the reasoning of the mind, it encouraged the people to concentrate on saving their souls from eternal damnation. Customary pastimes, amusements and interests were regarded as devilish traps, painting a picture of a serious society overburdened with a continuous sense of sin and guilt. The Methodist’s considered human existence only as a preparation for death and the after world, the salvation of the soul. It was a dull and strict ideology.

It was with this in the background and during the time of King George III that William Griffiths lived, residing and operating the Tre-Wern farm between Talley and Llansadwrn. The rolling hills and vast fields of the Cothi Valley provided ample fields for such men as William to set up their enterprise. Talley or Tal-y-llychau, which aptly means “heads of the lakes”, is a village roughly 7 and a half miles from the town Llandeilo in the heart of Carmarthenshire, particularly noted for the medieval ruins of the once majestic Talley Abbey.

The Abbey was unique when it was constructed, in being the only one of its kind to be constructed for the monastic order of the Premonstratensians. It was also noted for being the place where the Lord Rhys Ap Gruffydd, the historic Welsh prince, settled in the 1180’s. His great-grandson Rhys Fychan would be buried in the grounds in 1271. With Henry VIII on the throne during the 16th Century, his spectacular fallout with the Vatican led to the English crown seceding from the Holy Roman church. The temperamental and supremely powerful ruler instructed his close ally Thomas Cromwell to destroy the famous Abbey’s, the legacy of this ‘Dissolution of the Monasteries’ evident on the historic and picturesque site next to the Talley lakes.

An entry in the “Topographical Dictionary of Wales”, written in 1844 by an S. Lewis suggests that the small community had over a thousand residents surrounding the two impressing lakes that gave the place its name. Lewis goes on to describe the parish as a “continued succession of hill and dale, sideland and mountain top, and is rather woody”, picturing a rural scene ideal for agriculture and farming, much like today without the ease and quickness of modern transportation.

The two lakes next to the abbey are just as spectacular as any to be found in South Wales, but are often overlooked in favour of the more well-known bodies of water that are often more accessible to tourists. The lakes used to be used for fish farming to support the monks. After the aforementioned dissolution, the stones from the ruined Abbey were used to build much of the present village including the chapel that now resides next to the historic structure.

Born in Llandeilo in 1772, William Griffiths spent the majority of his life tending to his Tre-Wern farm, on the vast green landscape between Talley and nearby Llansadwrn. The farm was around 20 acres and it was here that he not only grew his crops and worked, but also where he raised his family. William married a local girl named Anne and by 1801 she gave birth to their daughter in Llandeilo, the nearest town. They named the child Sarah.

Anne was born to Margaret and Walter Thomas and was the granddaughter of Margaret John. Margaret John seemingly married twice, first to David James in nearby Caio in 1735 from which their daughter was born and after her husband’s death in circa 1743 she remarried. Margaret John, Davies and then finally Thomas passed away in 1797 at the age of 77 and is buried in Llansadwrn church. Similar to her grandmother, Anne Griffiths lived until she reached 73, a respectful age for the time, dying on April 17th, 1849. She was laid to rest at the picturesque Talley church, in a graveyard sandwiched between the lakes and the abbey. Reaching the twilight of his long life, the widower William left Tre-Wern and went to live with his daughter and her husband, who were by this time raising their own family.

Born at the beginning of the century in Llandeilo, Sarah Griffiths grew up with her parents at their Tre-Wern farm helping out the family business whilst planning for her own future as a wife and a mother. Her teenage years would have been spent learning of her mother how to create a home for when she got married. Lessons would have been in cooking, housework and vital skills of the time such as knitting stockings or basket weaving, all of which would contribute to the survival of the household. In some cases, the woman would sell these products to supplement the husband’s income to further provide food. Women would also join in the farm work, helping out of the primitive wooden ploughs or even riding on the horses and other farm animals to help sort out the crops.

A report in 1776 by a person who was visiting Carmarthenshire showed that the people of the Llandeilofawr area lived on a diet of barley or oaten bread and cheese, with meat maybe once a week. It wouldn’t be until a couple of decades later that potatoes would become a dietary mainstay for the poor working classes, an easy vegetable that could be grown in any form of soil.

At the end of the 18th century the earnings of small farmers remained very low, especially considering the work on the fields tended to be long and arduous. Most days were from 6am to 6pm in the warm summer months and then from dawn to dusk in the brisk and chilly winter. The typical housing conditions were also poor, even amongst the better class of farmers. Many of the cottages the families resided in often consisted of single rooms with mud walls, unpaved floors and thatched roofs.

After meeting and marrying a local carpenter from the nearby hamlet of Laine, Sarah settled down and began a busy decade of raising her children.  Her husband David Davies was born in 1798 and initially kept up his previous job as a carpenter, putting the great natural resources to use and making everyday items such as chairs and tables. Some time between 1841 and 1851, David came into the possession of 60 acres of farmland. Llwyncelyn, as the farm was known, stayed in the family for over a century, serving as the home for over three generations. It is in fact still a working farm 150 years later. Their children had already been born by the time David moved his wife and offspring to the farm, undoubtedly a time of excitement for the young ones as moves often tend to be. Their eldest child, William Davies, was born 1827, soon followed by Hannah in 1834, Joshua in 1838 and Elizabeth in 1839.

The first four decades of the century, 1800-1840, were tough years for the people of Carmarthenshire. The growth of the population increased competition for farms and agricultural employment. The wages were low, food prices were high and the rents were also rising uncontrollably. A succession of bad harvests, importation of foreign corn, a slump in the overall price of livestock and a number of disastrous floods had left many of the regions farmers on the verge of destitution and hopelessly bankrupt. With food already scare, the country finally erupted into chaos when new tollbooths were built on the roads crisscrossing the county. The tolls were charging exorbitant rates for the farmers to pass daily, rates that just weren’t feasible during these financial tough times. The riots against the booths soon erupted into a nationwide rebellion, and went down in history as the ‘Rebecca Riots’.

The middle of the century proved turbulent and joyous for the Davies family at Llwyncelyn, with the children growing up and branching out into lives of their own. Joshua got married to Rachel, a woman the same age as him who was a daughter of the Richards family of Cymbyr farm and who would have had a similar upbringing to her new husband. Together they had three children; Mary, Elizabeth and Rachel, who took her name after her mother. Joshua’s sister Elizabeth also met and married a person known in the local community, David Thomas from Llansadwrn. As her parents drifted into old age, she took over the everyday running of the family premises, playing the dutiful wife role as well as giving birth multiple times.

Tragedy struck in the first half of 1866, when the elderly family patriarch William Griffiths passed away on May 1st.  He lived to the remarkable age of 95, especially when taking into account the limitations of medicine available to the poor working classes in the early Victorian age. He was laid to rest at Talley Church and next to his wife Anne.

His granddaughter Elizabeth was pregnant during his traumatic episode and Sarah Thomas was eventually born on the 27th October 1866. Death wasn’t far away however, David Davies passing away just two and a half weeks after the birth of his granddaughter Sarah. He died on November 15th aged 68. He would also be buried at the local Talley Church, not far from his in-law’s. It would prove to be a dismal end to an emotional rollercoaster of an autumn.

Only a few years later the Thomas and Griffith’s were again back at the Talley Church they had frequented so often, this time laying to rest William Davies. He had passed away during the night of October 13th, 1870, almost four years later than his father and the grandfather for whom he was named after. He would not however reach the age his resilient ancestor did, leaving the world aged only 43.

During this up and down period, Elizabeth overcame the triple blow of losing her grandfather, father and brother to successfully mother a brood of children with her partner David. After the birth of their first child Sarah, a year later she celebrated her first son Benjamin Thomas (1867), rapidly followed by John (1869) and David (1870), who was named for both his father and grandfather, the two men who meant the most in his mother’s life.

After the birth of three strong boys in a row, Elizabeth again confounded the odds by giving birth to four girls successively. Jane Thomas was born in 1872, Anne in 1874, Eliza (Lizzie) in 1876 and the youngest of eight Mary in 1881, when Elizabeth was 42 years old. Like the rest of their ancestors, the children were born in Talley, the lack of capable travel not allowing a pregnant mother to travel too far from the home to give birth.

Elizabeth Thomas’ life was punctuated by the highs of giving birth to a number of children and the lows of losing a host of her loved ones prematurely. In her mid 40’s she encountered the terror of every mother, her youngest daughter Mary, the baby of the family, dying at the tragic age of just 6 years old. It was April 20th 1886. A heartbroken Elizabeth lived for another 18 years, passing away in the cusp of a new century on the 22nd September, 1904. She was aged 65 and was survived by the rest of her children, a small mercy in a lifetime defined by the deaths of those closest to her.

37 at the time of her mother’s death, Sarah had already left the family farm at Llwyncelyn, Talley to set up her own home with her husband and children. Her husband was a man originally from Pembrokeshire rather than the Talley are previous generations had tended to marry from, highlighting the increasing ease of travel as the 20th century began. John Edwards was born in 1872 and was around 6 years younger than his wife. His father was allegedly Thomas Evans, the name that would appear on his marriage certificate, suggesting John was in fact an illegitimate son. Illegitimacy was a taboo subject at the time of John’s birth and would remain so in the eyes of the law until the Legitimacy Act was passed in 1926 allowing bastard son’s to inherit equally from their parents. This may have been a stigma for the young John growing up and made his productive years troublesome. It could also have played a role, along with job opportunities, in him relocating from the area of his birth.

At the time of his betrothal John was also employed at a farm, ideal considering his marriage into a family of proficient farmers. Having moved from the coastal county of Pembrokeshire further inland and into the Pontardawe area, John was working at Nantygaseg Farm in Cwmgors, employed as an agricultural labourer. This would have been tough strenuous work but although the pay was low-wage, the job was important for John to provide for his burgeoning family. Soon after their marriage the first child was born, Sarah naming the child Elizabeth in honour of her mother and a pleasant lasting memory for the woman who would pass away a short while later.

The 27th June, 1901 also brought the couple their first son, continuing a family tradition from the maternal side of the family by naming him David Robert. Mary soon followed in 1906 and the youngest child Tom Emrys two years later completed the Edwards family.

In the same tragic way of her mother, Sarah would also suffer the heart wrenching pain of losing not one, but two children whilst they were still young. Mary passed away in 1912 aged only 6, whilst Elizabeth managed to reach adulthood and indeed have two surviving children and a husband. She was only 21 when she died from tuberculosis. Before her untimely death she married Thomas Dawkins Williams and had two children, Sally and William John, whilst a third continued the horrible family curse and died whilst still in infancy.

Only a short time after her children’s births, and indeed it was whilst they were still babies Elizabeth contracted the contagious lung disease of TB. Despite the BCG vaccine having been recently discovered it would be another 20 years before it would be put into production. Even then it would be hard to get for the lower classes. In the early years of the 20th century, Britain was suffering from a TB pandemic, a disease that was known to be particularly virulent amongst the working classes straddling the poverty line. It was commonly referred to as the “endemic disease of the poor”. It was the middle of this hysterical panic that Elizabeth succumbed to the symptoms of the horrible disease, and due to the economy of the time was tragically buried in a pauper’s grave in Cwmllynfell Chapel.

Elizabeth’s eldest son, David Robert, married when he was 35, reasonably late compared to the tradition at the time. He was wed to Catherine Matilda Jane, a daughter of the George family from Solva, Pembrokeshire. The George’s had operated a woolen mill at Porth-Y-Rhaw on the coast since the middle of the 19th century, which would remain in business until the death of Matilda’s father in 1955.

David Robert, known popularly as Bob and his wife Tilly were wed on the 30th October 1936 when both bride and groom were in their mid-30’s. They would suffer two painful losses in their first four years of marriages, their daughters Mair and Mary dying shortly after their births, in 1938 and 1940 respectively.  During the war Tilly finally gave birth to two children who would survive their infant years; Grace was born in 1942 and followed two years later by Muriel, by which time she was already 43 years old.

Bob originally spend his early years, much like the rest of south Wales, underground working the treacherous mines. It was hazardous conditions with a constant worry of disaster. A former churchwarden, Bob was also for many years branch and benevolent secretary of the British Legion and was thus granted his life membership certificate in 1944. As he got older he switched careers, becoming a locally respect member of his community as a Justice of the Peace. He was first elected to Llandeilo Rural council in 1946, serving over 25 years and becoming the third in seniority on the council.  He was also chairman of the council in 1957-58 and also became chairman of the council’s rent arrears committee, before being placed on the Commission of Peace for the county of Carmarthenshire. Serving in the executive of the Divisional Labour party, Bob had also been secretary of the council’s Labour group for many years as well as secretary of the Brynaman, Cefnbrynbrain and Ystradowen joint wards. After living to see the births of his grandchildren Paul and Catherine Salter by Grace and her husband John, and Gail, Michelle, Gregory and Alethea Davies by Muriel and her husband Randall, Bob passed away on the 8th December 1971. He was 70 years old and was buried in Cwmllynfell, the community he had served well throughout his life.

His living wife Tilly remarkably survived her husband by almost 30 years, spending the twilight of her life surrounded by numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren, something she once professed she thought she’d never see. Tilly passed away in a Swansea hospital in October 2000 aged 98 after being admitted originally with a broken hip. She was buried alongside her husband at Cwmllynfell chapel, a place where she had regularly played the organ.

His younger brother Tom Emrys Edwards was born on April 17th, 1908. He was born in the Brynmelyn Cottages which were opposite the colliery high up on the Gwryd mountain. Not enamoured with school, Tom Emrys would often miss school in order to work on the farm by his parent’s new residence. The farm, on the Rhosfa area just outside Rhosaman, was a more pleasurable venue for the young boy rather than the stifling surroundings of the classroom although he never lost his capability for maths and numbers. Upon reaching adulthood, he began working at the Bryn Enllys colliery in nearby Ystradowen, employed as a foreman on the coalface. Respected by his colleagues, he helped out a great number of them from exploitation by using his natural ability for mathematical sums by calculating the amount of bonuses each individual was due from the owners. Many workmates often praised his helpful attitude for ensuring they took home a decent wage to support their families. Tom Emrys was also present during the 1926 strike that occurred in Fishguard, working for the only time in his life to that point away from the coalface as a labourer. After falling foul of his bosses concerning his disobedience regarding his stature as the mouth of the workers, Tom Emrys initially worked for a short period in a concrete works before obtaining a role at the Ysgu Colliery, also in Ystradowen. Falling ill, he ended his working life and concentrated on returning to health whilst vacationing in his caravan in Aberaeron for parts of the year.

Having met and married Margaret Moses, Tom Emrys also settled into fatherhood, his wife giving birth to Mary Elizabeth (Bessie) in 1928, Charles Garon and then John Elwyn in 1932. Losing his wife in 1934 at the young age of 28, Tom Emrys lived out his live raising his young family before passing away at the age of 69 on the 21st January, 1978.

Today the original Griffiths family has dispersed and multiplied into numerous small knit family units, each individual in name and location, all linked irrevocably by their common ancestors William and Anne Griffiths. Today the blood and legacies of the Griffith family lives on in the many branches of their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.