Welsh Icons - Towns & Villages






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Llanrhychwyn is a hamlet in the Conwy valley, in North Wales. It lies less than a mile to the south of Trefriw, and a mile to the NW of Llanrwst. Today neighbouring Trefriw is a large village with a population of over 1300, but in the time of Llywelyn Fawr (Llywelyn the Great), Llanrhychwyn was larger than Trefriw itself, which consisted simply of "a few houses here and there" (quote from "Hanes Trefriw", by Morris Jones). Indeed, even today both Trefriw and Llanrhychwyn lie within the Parish of Llanrhychwyn.

The adjacent Gwydir Forest would have provided work for many of the inhabitants. A number of metal mines were located in the forest, and the heyday of metal mining here was between 1850 and 1919. The forest also provided wood, and both timber and metal were transported from the forest to the quay at neighbouring Trefriw, from where it was shipped downstream to the coast.

Llanrhychwyn takes its name from Rhychwyn (sometimes recorded as Rhochwyn), son of Helig ap Glannog, the prince who lived at Llys Helig before it was inundated by the sea, and nowthe subject of myth and legend. Rhychwyn had several brothers who established churches and became saints, including Celynin, who established the old church at Llangelynnin, near Henryd, further down the valley.

The church
Llanrhychwyn's main claim to fame is its church, which many claim is the oldest in Wales, it allegedly marking the site where Rhychwyn originally established his church in the 6th Century. The church is known locally as Llewelyn’s Church, and the oldest part dates from the late 11th century, which means that it is marginally older than the old church at Llangelynnin.

Llywelyn the Great, Prince of Gwynedd and de facto Prince of Wales, had a hunting lodge in Trefriw, and he married Siwan or Joan the youngest daughter of King John of England in 1204 or 1205. From here they walked up the steep hill to Llanrhychwyn church, but she in time grew weary of the trek, and as a result, in about 1230 Llywelyn endowed a church on the site where St Mary's, Trefriw now stands. Llywelyn and Siwan are portrayed in a remarkable stained-glass window in the church.

The church has many interesting features including a very old square font, and a very early example of stained glass in the east window. It has remained largely altered for centuries, and it sits within an ancient churchyard. It is still lit by candlelight.

These days, services are only held in Llanrhychwyn church during the summer months, and on special occasions. If locked, the key is available from Tu hwnt i'r Gors Farm, nearby. (photographs)

Morris Jones also records in Welsh that this church was "built by Llywelyn for [his wife's] use, and for the use of the inhabitants, for their kindness towards him, and that he donated a number of farms from the parish of Llanrhychwyn, naming them as the parish of Tref Rhiw Las. It got this name from the slope on which it stood."

Famous inhabitants
A popular belief, based on a misinterpretation of a line of poetry in the Red Book of Hergest by eighteenth and early nineteenth century antiquarian scholars, is that Taliesin (c. 534–c.599), the 6th century Welsh bard, and the earliest poet of the Welsh language whose work has survived, was an inhabitant of the area, living on the shores of Llyn Geirionydd and buried there. It has even been claimed that he was also born in this area, but it is far more likely that he was born in Powys, as demonstrated by his poems to Cynan Garwyn, King of Powys.

Robert Williams (Trebor Mai) (1830-1877) was born near the parish church and grew up in the village. He later moved to Llanrwst and became one of the most famous poets of his day, being particularly admired for his mastery of the englyn.

John Roberts (1828-1904) was a native of neighbouring Trefriw, and he used that name in his job as a printer and bookseller. In Eisteddfods he would assume the bardic name of Gwilym Cowlyd, and frequently levelled criticism at the Gorsedd for being too Anglicised. In 1865, he founded a separate festival to rival the big National Eisteddfod, and called it Arwest Glan Geirionydd (‘Music Festival on the Banks of the River Geirionydd’), and the meeting point was the Taliesin Memorial by Llyn Geirionydd.

Richard Owen Roberts, the father of Gwilym Roberts the story-teller, was born in Llanrhychwyn.

(Note that some sources retain the older spelling of Geirionydd, i.e. with two n's)

A popular walking area
Today many walkers pass through Llanrhychwyn on their way to or from the Gwydir Forest, a popular area of lakes and forest walks. The lane through Llanrhychwyn continues from Trefriw or Llanrwst (via several gates) to Llyn Geirionydd, one of the most popular lakes in the area. Over the hill (Mynydd Deulyn) from Llyn Geirionydd is Llyn Crafnant, reached only by car from Trefriw, and regarded by many as one of the most beautiful spots in Wales. Most of the tourist traffic passing though Llanrhychwyn is totally unaware of the historical significance of the hamlet, and indeed the road itself does not actually pass the old church.

One of the "Trefriw Trail" walks passes Llanrhychwyn Church.

Historical references
The following quote is taken from "The National Gazetteer of Great Britain and Ireland" (1868), transcribed by Colin Hinson ©2003 -

    "LLANRHYCHWYN, a parish in the hundred of Nant-Conway, county Carnarvon, 1 mile N.W. of Llanrwst, and 11 miles E. of Llanberris. It is situated in a vale surrounded by hills, and watered by the river Conway. Here are slate quarries and a lead mine. The village is a rude and primitive place, adjoining the wood of Gwydir. The living is a curacy annexed to the rectory* of Trêvriw, in the diocese of Bangor. The church is dedicated to St. Rhychwyn. The charities amount to about £1 per annum. The Welsh bard, Taliesin, resided at Llyn Gerrionydd, in this neighbourhood."

The following quote is taken from "A Topographical Dictionary of Wales" by Samuel Lewis, 1833 -

    "LLANRHYCHWYN (LLAN - RHYCHWYN), a parish in the Uchgorvai division of the hundred of NANTCONWAY, county of CARNARVON, NORTH WALES, 1 1/2 mile (W. by N.) from Llanrwst, containing 565 inhabitants. This parish, which is exceedingly mountainous, contains an abundance of pyrites, worked by a company from Liverpool, who ship the produce at the adjoining quay of Trevriw, on the river Conway, which forms the eastern boundary of the parish, and is navigable from its mouth below the town of Aberccnway to Trevriw. There are also three extensive slate quarries within its limits, at the distance of about one mile and a half from the shipping-place, in which upwards of one hundred persons are employed : lead-ore has like-wise been obtained here, and some small veins are now being worked. Numerous varieties of quartz crystals are found, some of them of a beautiful amethystine colour, and of considerable value. The living is a perpetual curacy, annexed to the rectory of Trevriw, in the archdeaconry and diocese of Bangor. The church, dedicated to St. Rhychwyn, is situated among barren mountains, at a considerable distance from any houses, and, from the rudeness of its architecture, appears to be of great antiquity : it is vulgarly observed of this simple structure that it was erected prior to the invention of the saw and plane, since no indication of the use of these instruments can be discovered in any part of the edifice : in the east window are the remains of some handsome stained glass, with a mutilated date, which seems to have been MCCCCXXII. Near Capel Curig, at the extremity of the parish, is a place of worship for Calvinistic Methodists. Taliesin, the celebrated British bard, who flourished about the middle of the sixth century, is stated to have resided in this parish, near a small lake, or pool, called Llyn Geirionydd. The average annual expenditure for the support of the poor is £ 121. 18."


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