Bethgelart (Bedd-Gelert) - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
BETHGELART (BEDD-GELERT), a parish, in the union of Festiniog, partly in the hundred of Eivionydd, Eivionydd division, and partly in that of Isgorvai, Arvon division, of the county of Carnarvon, and partly in the hundred of Ardudwy, county of Merioneth, North Wales, 13 miles (S. E. by S.) from Carnarvon; containing 1397 inhabitants. This extensive parish, anciently called Llan-Ybor, contained a priory, founded, according to some writers, about the year 1198, by Llewelyn the Great, in gratitude for the preservation of his infant son from the attack of a wolf, which, during the absence of the family upon a hunting excursion, had entered the house, and which his favourite greyhound Gelert had killed, while attempting to seize the child in its cradle. According to the well-known legendary story, Llewelyn, on his return from the chase, perceiving the mouth of the dog stained with blood, hastened to the nursery, and finding the cradle overturned, and the floor streaming with blood, rashly concluded that his son had been killed by the hound, and instantly drew his sword and stabbed the faithful animal. But on removing the cradle, he found his child unhurt, and sleeping quietly by the side of the wolf, which the watchful Gelert had killed. Stung with remorse, Llewelyn erected a tomb over the dog's grave, not far from which the conventual church was afterwards built; and from this circumstance the place obtained the appellation of Bedd-Gelert, or "the Grave of Gelert." But Mr. Rowlands has traced the existence of this monastic establishment to a period long anterior to the above, even prior to the reign of Owain Gwynedd, from whom it received an endowment of lands, &c., which was augmented by Llewelyn.
Having been nearly destroyed by fire, about the year 1283, the priory was repaired by Edward I., assisted by Anianus, Bishop of Bangor, who granted ample indulgences to all that should contribute towards the rebuilding of it; and who, in his edicts for this purpose, describes it as being, with the exception of those of Bardsey and Bangor-Iscoed, the oldest religious establishment in the principality. It flourished till the time of Henry VIII., who annexed it to the abbey of Chertsey, in the county of Surrey; and the priory was subsequently, together with that establishment, given by the same monarch to Bisham Abbey, in the county of Berks. Its revenue, at the Dissolution, amounted to £69. 3. 8. There are still some remains of the building, the parochial church being considered to be the conventual church; the architecture corresponds to the date of the re-edification under Edward I., and on the southern side traces of foundations have been laid bare at different times, indicating, no doubt, monastic buildings. All the lands in the county of Carnarvon belonging to the ancient priory, were granted by King Edward VI., in the second year of his reign, to Robert and Henry Bodvel.
This parish forms an extensive mountainous district, bounded on the north by the parish of BettwsGarmon, on the north-east by Dolwyddelan and Llanrhychwyn, on the south by Ynyscynhaiarn, on the south-east by Llanvrothen, on the west by Llanvihangel-y-Pennant, and on the north-west by Llandwrog and Llanwnda. It comprises an area of 26,716 acres, chiefly pasture and mountain sheep-walks, and abounds with strikingly romantic scenery, diversified with lofty mountains of various elevation and character, luxuriant vales, expansive lakes, woods containing almost every kind of timber, with groves and plantations of larch and other trees of the richest verdure; and comprehending an almost endless variety of prospects of surpassing interest. Its limits reach to the summit of the towering Snowdon, including nearly the whole of its southern side and base, as well as the mountains Moel Hebog, Aran, Graig Gôch, and Mynydd Mawr, with part of Siabod, all of which, though secondary to Snowdon, are mountains of lofty elevation.
The village, which is small, but in which an excellent inn has been built, on account of the increase of visiters to this interesting neighbourhood, is delightfully situated at the confluence of the rivers Glâslyn and Colwyn, which rise in the adjacent mountains. To the north-west of it the road passes near the small lakes Llŷn-y-Cader and Llŷn-yDywerch, beyond which is the broad lake Llŷn Cwellyn, at the base of Mynydd Mawr, a mountain of precipitous elevation, which in this part, receding in a curve, forms a bold and rugged barrier to this fine sheet of water. The lake is more than a mile and a half in length, and about three quarters of a mile broad; the water is beautifully transparent, and abounds with char, a fish peculiar to mountain lakes. At the extremity of the lake, and upon a bold rocky precipice in the mountain, is Castell Cidwm, a natural fortress which served to defend this important pass into the regions of Snowdon, where, from the earliest ages, the native Welsh found a secure retreat, in cases of extreme danger, and a rallying point for their efforts in repelling the invaders of their country. To the west is the mountain pass called Drws-y-Coed, in the parish of Llandwrog, where are some productive copper-mines; and beyond are two fine lakes adjoining each other, called Llŷniau Nantlle, from which the summit of Snowdon is seen, through a vista between the intervening mountains, with singular grandeur of effect.
On the north-east of the village, an opening between the mountains forms the beautifully romantic pass of Nant Gwynant, memorable for the sanguinary battle fought between the forces of the Earl of Pembroke and those of Ievan ab Robert, in the reign of Edward IV. Along this delightful vale, the name of which implies "the vale of waters," passes the road to Capel Curig, extending for five or six miles through a continued succession of richly varied scenery, unsurpassed for picturesque beauty and for sublimity. In some parts are seen clear and expansive lakes, reflecting the sides of the lofty mountains by which they are inclosed; in others, luxuriant meadows and fertile plains, intersected by numerous rivulets; and in others, craggy cliffs over which the mountain torrent forms frequent cataracts, together with barren rocks, and the most dreary sterility. A mile up the valley, is the isolated rocky eminence called Dinas Emrys, celebrated as the spot where Vortigern is said to have assembled his council of wise men, or magicians, in 449, and also as the residence of the renowned Merlin. The summit of this rock forms an extensive area, defended with walls of loose stones, and accessible only on one side: the entrance appears to have been guarded by two towers, and within the area are the foundations of circular buildings of loose stones, the walls of which are about five feet in thickness. On the margin of Llŷn Gwynant, one of the principal lakes in this romantic vale, are the ruins of a small ancient chapel, called Capel Nant Gwynant, that belonged to Bethgelart. The road to Capel Curig extends beyond the point of the mountain Siabod, where it joins the pass of Llanberis, through which a road to Carnarvon was opened in 1831.
To the south of the village is the pass of Pont Aber Glâslyn, which is somewhat narrow at the entrance, and becomes gradually more contracted by the approach of the mountains, leaving scarcely room for the river, which rushes with violence along its rocky channel. The scenery in this vale is rudely magnificent: the mountains rise to an amazing height, and towards the vale present a series of huge precipices, towering above each other at irregular intervals, with rugged masses of projecting cliffs, threatening every moment to detach themselves from their lofty heights, and fall into the vale. At the extremity of the pass is a bridge of one arch, thirty feet in the span, thrown over a chasm of tremendous depth, between two steep precipices; the bridge bounds the counties of Carnarvon and Merioneth, and forms the principal communication between them. This spot is celebrated as the place where the princes of Meirion received the sign of the cross from Baldwin, Archbishop of Canterbury, when he was preaching the crusades throughout the principality. Near it is a cataract, formed by a mountain torrent obstructed in its descent by shelving ledges of projecting rock. The lake Glâslyn, or the Blue Lake, so called from the transparency of its waters, is the source of the river of that name; and within the parish are numerous other lakes, besides those already described, among which may be noticed Llyn Dinas, Llyn Llydaw, Llyn yr Adar, and Llyn Duwaunydd. Of the several beautiful mansions and estates, the chief are, Plâs Gwynant, at the head of Llyn Dinas; Bryn Gwynant, situated on an acclivity overhanging Llyn Gwynant; and Dôlvriog, where considerable plantations have been formed within the present century by W. M. Thackeray, Esq., M.D., in a most beautiful valley, rich in wood and water.
Slate is quarried; and a little to the south of the village, and near Pont Aber Glâslyn, copper-ore has been found in great abundance. The copper-mines were originally worked many years ago; but the copper was so intermixed with other ores, as to render it very difficult of separation with any advantage to the proprietors. About the year 1800, the high price of ore induced some adventurers to renew the works, from which great quantities of ore were obtained; but they were again discontinued, and remained in a neglected state till 1819, when they were re-opened. From that period many hundred tons were procured annually for some years, but no mines are now worked. Fairs are held in the parish on August 18th and September 23rd.
The living is a perpetual curacy, endowed with £800 royal bounty; net income, £90: the patronage and impropriation belong to Mr. Priestley, whose tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £130. The church, dedicated to St. Mary, and formerly connected with the priory, is a neat and spacious structure, 77 feet in length and 26½ in breadth. It is built in the early English style; in the north wall are two lofty sharply-pointed arches, which communicated with a north aisle, and at the east end is a handsome lancet-shaped window of three lights. In the village is a place of worship for Calvinistic Methodists, who have three others in various parts of the parish. A day school is partly supported by subscriptions among the dissenters, averaging about £7 per annum, and partly by payments from the parents of the children. There are also four Sunday schools, gratuitously conducted by the dissenters, affording instruction to several hundred persons of both sexes. W. Wynne bequeathed a rent-charge of £2. 13., for providing coats for six poor men of the parish, and other uses. Maurice Wynne, also, gave a rent-charge of £2. 13. 4. for educating one boy in the school at Bangor; and Mrs. Jones, in 1743, bequeathed £50, directing the interest to be distributed annually among ten widows; but these two bequests are supposed to be lost. Some beautiful quartz crystals are found in the mountains in the parish, more particularly in Snowdon, of a clear diamond-like transparency, and in the form of a regular hexagonal prism: they are known by the appellation of Welsh diamonds. In the township of Nantmor resided two distinguished bards of the fifteenth century, Rhŷs Gôch o Eryri, the favourite bard of Owain Glyndwr, and Davydd Nantmor, both of whom were natives of the parish, and were interred in the churchyard.