Llandovery - From 'A Topographical Dictionary of Wales' (1849)
LLANDOVERY, an incorporated market-town, and the head of a union, in the parish of Llandingat, hundred of Perveth, county of Carmarthen, South Wales, 27 miles (E. N. E.) from Carmarthen, and 187 (W. by N.) from London, on the road from London through Brecknock to Carmarthen; containing 1709 inhabitants. The present name of this place is an obvious corruption of its ancient Welsh appellation, Llan ym Ddyvri, or Llan ym Ddyvroedd, signifying "the church among the waters," and derived from the situation of the church on a level promontory between the river Towy and the stream formed by the union of the rivers Brân and Gwydderig, which here falls into the former river. By some writers the town is supposed to have had its origin in the establishment of a Roman station within a quarter of a mile of its present site, an opinion which is strengthened by the discovery of numerous Roman coins, bricks, and fragments of pottery: but it is equally probable that, like many other towns in South Wales, it owes its origin to the erection of its castle. The early history of the castle is very imperfectly known. Its foundation, however, may be ascribed to some of the Norman settlers in this part of the principality, to enable them to retain the territories which they had usurped from the native proprietors. The first authentic historical notice concerning it occurs in the reign of Henry I., about the year 1113, when it was occupied by Richard de Pons. In 1116 it was attacked by Grufydd ab Rhŷs, who burned the outer ward, and slew part of the garrison; but he sustained so great a loss in this attempt to reduce it, that he was disabled from pursuing his advantage, and compelled to abandon the siege. In 1158, Rhŷs ab Grufydd, one of the most powerful chieftains of South Wales, laid siege to the castle, of which he made himself master; and on the death of Meredydd ab Rhŷs, in 1201, it was seized by his brother Grufydd ab Rhŷs, upon whose death in the following year it fell into the hands of his brother Maelgwyn. In 1204, Rhŷs, son of Grufydd ab Rhŷs, attacked the castle, in order to recover it from his uncle Maelgwyn, and succeeded in obtaining possession, but did not long retain it; for Maelgwyn, assisted by Gwenwynwyn, Prince of Powys, soon wrested it from him: Rhŷs, however, subsequently succeeded in his efforts to recover it.
In 1208, Rhŷs Vychan, brother of Maelgwyn, having entered into hostilities with his nephews Rhŷs and Owain, obtained from the English monarch a supply of troops, with the aid of which he invested Llandovery; and the garrison of the fortress, seeing no prospect of relief, surrendered to him on condition of being allowed to depart with their arms and property. Rhŷs and his brother Owain, however, complaining to King John of the violent proceedings of their uncle, that monarch sent to demand the fortress of Llandovery, with the dependent territory, for the support of the young chieftains; and Rhŷs Vychan neglecting to comply with this demand, Rhŷs, aided by a party of English auxiliaries, recovered possession of it by assault in 1214. It appears, nevertheless, to have been repossessed by Rhŷs Vychan; for, in 1226, it was surrendered by him to his son, by whom he had been taken prisoner, as the price of his liberation from captivity. After the entire subjugation of the principality by Edward I., the castle became vested in the English crown, and was garrisoned by the king; but, during the absence of that monarch in France, an alarming insurrection was excited in South Wales by Rhŷs ab Meredydd, who, for his instrumentality in the subjugation of his country, had been knighted by Edward, but who now, among other fortified places in this part of the principality, besieged and reduced this castle. Few particulars are henceforward recorded of it till the time of Queen Elizabeth, when it is mentioned as being in ruins. The vandalism of some of the occupiers of the Castle inn, only two generations back, reduced it to its present condition: the remains occupy the summit of a rocky eminence on the western bank of the river Brân, and consist of part of the keep and the intrenchments by which the works were surrounded. It does not appear to have been of very great extent, and seems to have been suited rather for effective defence than domestic comfort.
The town is pleasantly situated in the upper part of the Vale of Towy, on the banks of the river Brân, and consists principally of four streets meeting nearly at right angles. Leland describes it, in the reign of Henry VIII., as "poor built, of thatched houses;" but since that period great improvement has taken place, and the houses at present are well built and of respectable appearance. The streets are partially paved; the town was lighted for the first time with oil in the winter of 1831, and is abundantly supplied with water, which, passing over a gravelly bottom, is beautifully transparent, and of excellent quality. About a mile above the town the river Towy is crossed by a stone bridge of one arch, eighty-three feet in the span, built by William Edwards, the ingenious self-taught architect of the celebrated Pont-y-Pridd; and a handsome iron suspension-bridge has been erected over the same stream, about half a mile west from the town, on the road to Llandilo-Vawr, by subscription, the interest to be paid by a toll; the first stone was laid by Colonel Gwynne, April 18th, 1832. The appearance of the neighbourhood is enlivened by several gentlemen's seats, and the streams in this part of the county afford good sport to anglers. A road of modern construction, which leads from Llandovery eastward towards Brecknock, winding through a deep valley round the base of the Black Mountains, exhibits a succession of the most romantic scenery.
The trade is inconsiderable, consisting only of what is necessary for supplying the consumption of the town and its vicinity, which are inhabited by several families of great respectability. The press of Mr. William Rees, of Llandovery, has produced some valuable works connected with Welsh literature and antiquities. The market, which is well supplied with corn, and with provisions of all kinds, is held on Saturday, in a market-house, and in a commodious area under the town-hall. Fairs are held on April 17th, June 5th, August 2nd, October 22nd, and November 16th, for horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs.
The inhabitants were first incorporated by Richard III., January 26th, 1485. That monarch confirmed to them all the liberties and free customs they had previously enjoyed, and granted to the bailiff and burgesses, who were to be styled "the Bailiff and Burgesses of the Borough of Llanymtheverye," the "burgages and lands lying, in length, from the water called Tewye to the water of Devye, and in breadth from the water of Fulbroke to the ditch of Krenchey, with their appurtenances to the said town anciently belonging. For these possessions the corporation was to render to the king and his successors, "for every burgage twelve-pence, and for every acre of land within the bounds twelve-pence, for all services and demands." This charter, from the language of which it appears that Llandovery had been long an important borough, held by the lords of the place, and more recently by the kings of England, was confirmed by Henry VIII. in the 22nd year of his reign, April 5th, 1531, and by Queen Elizabeth in her 32nd year, July 10th, 1590. Under its provisions, a bailiff was to be elected by the burgesses from among themselves every year, on the Thursday before the feast of St. Michael. He was to be escheator and coroner, and to "hold his hundred from month to month," and have before him the determination of all disputes, as well real as personal, according to the English laws, felony alone excepted; and upon his appointment, the bailiff was to choose one serjeant-at-mace, and the burgesses another: but no other officers than these are mentioned in the charter. The corporation, however, not acting exclusively upon the regulations thus laid down for the government of the place, made new rules and instituted additional offices; and until the passing of the Municipal Corporations' Act, the corporate body consisted of a bailiff, recorder, town-clerk, two macebearers, six constables, and a number of burgesses. Their duties were of a very limited nature, the municipal form of government having become almost disused. A bailiff was, notwithstanding, elected under the terms of the charter, who acted as coroner, and committed offenders to the lock-up house; a recorder was chosen by the bailiff and burgesses, a town-clerk by the lord of the manor; and two mace-bearers, and six constables, one for each of the six wards into which the borough was formerly divided, were also elected: but the jurisdiction, both criminal and civil, had long fallen into complete desuetude.
By the act 5th and 6th of Wm. IV. c. 76, the corporation is styled the "Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses;" and consists of a mayor, four aldermen, and twelve councillors, constituting the council of the borough. The council elect the mayor annually on November 9th from among the aldermen or councillors; and the aldermen triennially out of the councillors, or persons qualified as such, one-half going out of office every three years, but being re-eligible: the councillors are chosen by and out of the enrolled burgesses, annually on November 1st, one-third retiring from office every year. Aldermen and councillors must each have a property qualification of £500, or be rated at £15 annual value. The burgesses are, the occupiers of houses and shops who have been rated for three years to the relief of the poor. Two auditors and two assessors are elected annually on March 1st by and out of the burgesses; and the council appoint a town-clerk, treasurer, and other officers on November 9th. The county magistrates hold petty sessions for the hundred, every Saturday, in a room over the lock-up house; and Llandovery is one of the polling-places, appointed under the Reform Act, in the election of a member for the shire. A county debt-court is also fixed here; it was established in 1847, under the general smalldebts' act, and its powers extend over the registration-district of Llandovery. The town-hall, erected in 1752, at the expense of the corporation, is a commodious building, containing rooms for the transaction of the municipal business, under which is an area for the corn market. There are several places of worship for dissenters, of which those belonging to the Independents and Calvinistic Methodists are spacious and handsome structures, each capable of containing upwards of 2000 persons.
The Welsh educational institution, or college, in the town of Llandovery, was founded by the munificence of Thomas Phillips, Esq., of Brunswick-square, London, and was opened on the 1st of March, 1848, under the superintendence of the Ven. John Williams, M.A., of Balliol College, Oxford, archdeacon of Cardigan, and late rector of the Edinburgh Academy. The object of the founder is stated to be, "the dissemination of useful and practical knowledge in Wales, and to raise both morally and intellectually the character of the people;" in other words, "to benefit the rising generation in Wales, to bring out, encourage, and cultivate their native talents, and, as far as can be done, to give a complete education on moderate terms to those willing students who hitherto have not been enabled to receive an accurate course of instruction, in classical and mathematical knowledge, without travelling in search of it beyond the bounds of the principality." In order to this, and more especially to enable young men desirous of so qualifying themselves, to become learned and efficient ministers of the Church in Wales, Mr. Phillips has endowed the school with more than £4600 in the three per cent. reduced and consolidated annuities. The interest of this sum is paid to the head-master or warden, who is bound to educate twenty scholars, natives of the dioceses of St. David's and Llandaf, without the payment of any fees, and is allowed to receive as many additional pupils as may be willing to pay for the advantages of the same course of instruction. The scholars on the foundation are expected to devote a certain portion of their time to the accurate study of the Welsh language and literature, and are taught to recognise its great etymological value in connexion with the study, not only of the learned languages, but of all the dialects of western Europe. The free education is given as the "reward of conjoined capacity, diligence, and accurate knowledge:" no regard is paid, in the choice of the scholars, to the worldly circumstances of their parents; the aim of the founder, of the trustees, and of the principal, being to raise the tone of education among the middle classes, to establish it on a sound basis, and not merely to give eleemosynary instruction. The school is already attended by above eighty pupils from all parts of the kingdom. The terms at present are, for the junior classes, eight guineas per annum; the senior classes, ten guineas; and board and lodging are to be obtained for very reasonable charges in the town and its vicinity. It may be added that Archdeacon Williams, the warden of the institution, has been appointed an examiner of the candidates for the Welsh scholarships founded in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge as a memorial of the services rendered by the late Earl of Powis to the Church in Wales.
The premises in which the school is now held being quite unfit for the purpose, and merely temporary, a suitable structure is about to be erected for the masters and scholars. At a public meeting held at Llandovery, on the 27th of June, 1848, and presided over by the Bishop of St. David's, a committee was appointed to promote a subscription for erecting buildings; and in the course of a few months, in answer to the first appeal, confined to Wales, a sum exceeding £3500 was received by the committee, proving the existence of a numerous and influential class willing to advance the interests of the institution. A second appeal was afterwards made; and ultimately, a general appeal to those unconnected by property or blood with the principality, the total sum required being £6000. With this amount the committee propose to raise "a building, not only convenient and suited to the purpose, but also an architectural ornament to the beautiful scenery by which it will be surrounded; and moreover, to set aside a sufficient sum of money to keep it in repair." A site has been presented by Lady Hall, of Llanover, Monmouthshire. Among the subscriptions received in answer to the two first appeals were those of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, £100; the Bishop of St. David's, and D. Jones, Esq., of Pantglâs, Carmarthenshire, £200 each; D. A. Saunders Davies, Esq., M.P., £150; the Hon. Colonel Rice Trevor, M.P., the Ven. Archdeacon Williams, the Rev. W. Jenkins Rees, of Cascob, Radnorshire, John Jones, Esq., of Blaennôs, and Edward Loyd, Esq., of the city of Manchester, £100 each; William Chambers, Esq., and William Chambers, jun., Esq., of Llanelly, jointly £100; Major Williams, and his sister-in-law Mrs. Williams, of Aberystwith, £50 each. Nine other donations of £50 were received from the Dean and Chapter of St. David's, the Principal and Professors of Lampeter College, Lord Dynevor, Sir Josiah John Guest, Bart., M.P., Howel Gwyn, Esq., M.P., Crawshay Bailey, Esq., Charles Bishop, Esq., of Dollgarreg, Theophilus Rees, Esq., of Llandovery, and his brother Mr. William Rees, already mentioned in this article. The Rt. Hon. John Nicholl, M.P., presented £30; John Johnes, Esq., £30; &c., &c. Nearly all these liberal donations were made in answer to the primary appeal of the committee appointed for the erection of the buildings.
A National school was commenced in the town in the year 1816; but in 1822 the department of it for the instruction of boys was discontinued, for want of funds, and from the irregularity of attendance; and the girls' department was abandoned, from similar causes, in 1846, the only school of a public kind then remaining being an infants' school. New schoolhouses, however, have since been erected in connexion with the National Society, at an expense of £800, of which £300 were raised in the neighbourbood: they are capable of accommodating upwards of 300 children. A British school has subsequently been built, capable of accommodating the same number of children. Of the several Sunday schools held in the town, two are in connexion with the Established Church. The Poor's Grove, a tract of woodland, about sixty acres in extent, situated within a mile of the town, and said to be worth £1000, was left to the poor burgesses of Llandovery, many centuries since, and is noticed in the charter of King Richard; the poor of the town cut fire-wood indiscriminately, although it is believed the right strictly belongs to the burgesses only. The poor-law union of which this town is the head, was formed Dec. 15th, 1836, and comprises the following eleven parishes and townships; namely, Cayo, Kîlycwm, Llandingat, Llangadock, Llansadwrn, Llanthoysaint, Llanvairar-y-Bryn, Llanwrda, and Myddvay, in Carmarthenshire; and Llandulas and Llanwrtyd, in the county of Brecknock. It is under twenty-one guardians, and has a population of 14,726.
The Rev. Rees Prichard, Vicar of Llandingat, but better known as "the Vicar of Llandovery," was a native of this place. He is celebrated as the writer of a work called Canwyll y Cymry, "the Welshman's Candle," but more generally known under the title of Llyvr y Vicer, or "the Vicar's Book," comprising 210 poems on religious subjects, written in the Welsh language, and with so much simplicity of style as to be perfectly intelligible to the most uncultivated understanding. This highly useful work is generally learned by heart by the Welsh peasantry, and forms a companion to the Bible in almost every cottage in the principality. Mr. Prichard bequeathed a house, and land of the value of £20 per annum, for the foundation of a free school in his native town; but through a legal flaw in the will, which appears to have been taken advantage of by a descendant of the vicar's, the intentions of the testator were not permanently carried out. This venerated man was born in the year 1575, and, after a life devoted to the welfare of his parishioners in particular, and the religious improvement of his countrymen in general, died in 1644.