The village is named after the Cistercian Abbey (Cwmhir Abbey) built here in 1143. It was a daughter house of Whitland Abbey, and constructed at the behest of 3 sons of Madog, the then Prince of southern Powys. The first community at Dyvanner (Welsh: Ty faenor, “Manor House”) failed because of the intervention of Hugh de Mortimer, Earl of Hereford but in 1176 the Rhys ap Gruffydd of Deheubarth reestablished the Abbey on land given by Cadwallon ap Madog. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries in March 1537 only 3 monks lived in the abbey.
The abbey was slighted in 1644 during the English Civil War although some ruins still remain.
There is a memorial stone to Llewellyn the Last, the last native Prince of Wales, whose body is buried here.
Places of Note
The Church.The village church of St Mary was rebuilt in the neo-Byzantine style by Mary Beatrice Philips in 1866. She was a grand daughter of Francis Philips who purchased the Abbeycwmhir estate in 1837 with money from the cotton-trade. It replaced a church built in 1680. Soon after the Victorian church was built, the Rev. Francis Kilvert visited.
The Public House. The Happy Union Inn is a grade II listed building. The age of the building is something of a mystery together with its name and unusual pub sign. The present owner is the 3rd generation of his family to run the pub.
The Hall. An Elizabethan-style house built in 1833 by Thomas Wilson the then owner of the Abbeycwmhir estate. It replaced a smaller tudor-style house. It is open to the public.Pubs/Bars in Abbeycwmhir:
Abbey Cwm Hîr - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
It occupied a secluded situation in a romantic valley, deeply embosomed among lofty hills and abrupt precipices, once covered with forests of oak, but now almost denuded, affording only pasturage for mountain sheep, and exhibiting some stunted trees, the roots of which have penetrated between the interstices of the slate rock which composes the substratum of these hills. In the year 1231, a friar of this house having occasioned the defeat of the garrison of Montgomery by Llewelyn ab Iorwerth, Prince of North Wales, by conveying to it false intelligence of the position of the latter, King Henry III., on approaching with the English army, set fire to the grange of the monastery, in revenge for the friar’s treachery, and was proceeding to burn the abbey itself, when it was saved from destruction by the payment of three hundred marks by the abbot.
It suffered considerable injury, in 1401, from the furious resentment of Owain Glyndwr; and the society, at the Dissolution, consisted only of three monks, the revenue being estimated at £28. 17. 4. In the 37th of Hen. VIII., the site was granted to Walter Henley and John Williams; it afterwards passed into the family of Fowler, and subsequently became the property of Thomas Wilson, Esq., who, with materials from the abbey ruins, built a small but elegant house in the Elizabethan style of architecture: the estate has been since purchased by Francis Philips, Esq., the present proprietor, who has much improved the neighbourhood.
The venerable ruins, which some years ago were rendered more conspicuous by clearing the ground, consist principally of portions of the four walls of the unfinished abbey church, inclosing a space two hundred and thirty-eight feet in length, and sixtyfour in breadth, and varying in height from four to twelve feet above the ground. The pedestals, with part of the shafts, of a range of twelve clustered pillars, of peculiar elegance, still decorate the walls; and within the area was a range of massive pillars on each side, separating the nave from the aisles: the bases of three of these are yet remaining, from which it appears that they were nearly square, with flutings for a cluster of three shafts at each angle of the pillar, with a single lateral shaft between the angles.
At the east end are the remains of two doorways, which appear to have been deeply recessed, and of great beauty, with clustered shafts; and on the north-east side of this extensive building are vestiges of a similar arrangement. The ground about the ruin contains fragments of richly carved freestone, of which the ornamental parts of the building were constructed, and in many of these the details are as perfect as when first sculptured: a gravestone was lately found among the ruins, bearing an ancient inscription in rude characters, recording that a person of the name of Mabli was there buried.
The parish is bounded on the south and southwest by the parish of Nantmel, on the east and northeast by that of Llanbister, on the south-east by Llandewy, on the north-east by Llanano, and on the west by St. Harmon’s. It is intersected by the road from Kington to Aberystwith. The area is 7000 acres, of which part is common or waste: the land is chiefly in pasture, and the scenery, which is diversified with portions of oak timber and plantations of fir, is picturesque and beautiful.
The two hamlets of which the parish consists, and which unitedly maintain their poor, constituted, till within a recent period, the upper division of the parish of Llanbister, to which the church of Cwm Hîr was a chapel of ease; they were disunited by agreement, the inhabitants giving up their claim to occupy certain pews in the church of Llanbister, on being exonerated from contributing to its repairs. The living is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £800 royal bounty; net income, £61; patron, Mr. Philips. The tithes have been commuted for a rentcharge of £235. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, is a plain edifice of moderate dimensions, containing 120 sittings: it has a small belfry at the west end, under which a gallery was erected in 1830, at the expense of Mr. Wilson, who also presented an organ; in the chancel are two mural tablets, to the memory of Sir Hans Fowler and another member of the same family.
There is a place of worship for Baptists at Bwlch-y-Sarnay, in which a Sunday school is also held; and a day and Sunday school in connexion with the Church, established in 1842, is chiefly supported by Francis Aspinall Philips, Esq., son and heir of the proprietor of Abbey Hall. A tenement called the Vron, in the parish of Llanbister, is charged with the annual payment of ten shillings to the poor of this parish.