The Quest for Cymer-in-Edeirnion and its Barons

From Medieval Plas Uchaf to Eighteenth Century Gwerclas and beyond


Jenny Lees         

December 2018

Cymer was the ancient name for the area around the confluence of the Rivers Alwen and Dyfrdwy (Dee), in the former parish of Llangar and within the ancient hundred of Edeyrnion (or Edeirnion)

The Barons of Cymer were a branch of the Barons of Edeyrnion, descended from Madog ap Maredudd, last Welsh Prince to rule the whole of the ancient Kingdom of Powys

Madog died around 1160 and his illegitimate son Owain Brogontyn, who may have lived at Rhug in around 1200, was said to be daughter of “Maer Du” of Rhug
Owain Brogontyn was granted lands in Edeirnion and Dinmael, then these were further divided between his sons Bleddyn, Gruffudd and Iorwerth– according to “partible inheritance”.
Owain`s son Bleddyn obtained Dinmael and part of northern Edeyrnion centred on Rhug, while his son Gruffudd inherited the southern part of the commote around Llandrillo and was ancestor of the Hendwr family

Owain's third son Iorwerth gained Llangar and part of Gwyddelwern, then Iorwerth`s son Elise became first Baron of Llangar(township) while his brother Gruffudd was Baron of Cymer.

Ref:A.D.Carr: The Barons of Edeyrnion, 1282-1485, Part 1 and 2: Journal of the Merioneth Historical and Record Society Vol.4, (1963 and 1964)

Some early Barons of Edeyrnion received the rights of Pennaeth (Welsh Barony) -by 1284 Gruffudd ap Iorwerth`s baronial rights were confirmed by royal charter.


The Barons could hold local courts and one was once held at Cynwyd, which seems to have been the commotal centre by the later middle ages (45 taxed tenants in 1292-3)
Their court may have been  at Bryn yr Orsedd (gorseddfa can mean law court or assembly) and was possibly where Bryn Eryr stands today. There was also a nearby field called Cae Llys.


Cynwyd`s court was still remembered by people known to a John Davies in 1716. But no court records remain as they were apparently  burnt during an 18th Century baronial quarrel!


(Ref:J.Beverley Smith and Beverley Smith ,Llinos(2001) History ofMerionethVol.2:The Middle Ages)

The home of the earliest Barons of Cymer is still a mystery!


It was once thought that Gwerclas Mound was the medieval castle mound of the earliest Barons, but this is now thought to be “of prehistoric origin”- possibly later used as a “prospect mound”.


However, Plas Uchaf seems to have been home to the Barons of Cymer from the early 1400s to around 1600.


Henry, English Prince of Wales, reported his army`s retaliatory destruction of “the fine and populous country of Edeirnion” consequent to the 1400 Owain Glyndwr rebellion


No pre-1400 houses have yet been found locally

Cynwyd Village

Plas Uchaf medieval hall house, now owned by the Landmark Trust and dendro-dated 1435

Plas Uchaf was originally known as Plas o Kymmer or Cymer and is a cruck-framed medieval hall house.


Its great hall was originally open to the roof, with an open hearth and a louvre to let the smoke escape.


A first floor was added in the 16thC,  but as the Elizabethan ceiling and panelling were later stripped out and sold, the inside roof looks as it would have done in the 15th Century.

Ref. For full details of its history see Plas Uchaf(2016) byJenny Lees on http://discoveringoldwelshhouses.co.uk/library-h/denbigh_histories.html

Cymer township also included Hafod y calch, lying between Plas Uchaf and Gwerclas, and known historically as Hafod or Havod.


Hafod was apparently once a place of some local significance
It had a gentry pew in Llangar church by the 1600s.


Hafod has special mention in a 1747 Assignment re Rhug`s Demesne lands, and it was listed by name in the early Llangar Parish Records.

Hafod y Calch-with  Georgian facade facing towards Telford`s toll road (A5). The oldest part is hidden within the Victorian façade to the rear of the image

An architectural historian has suggested that Hafod y calch has a marked downslope siting which is reflected in a series of changes of level internally.


This siting is thought to be characteristic of the late medieval cruck-framed upland farmhouse.


No cruck-trusses have  survived but the present range is thought to occupy the footprint of the medieval house.


Ref: House history of Hafod y calch(2013) by Jenny Lees on
http://discoveringoldwelshhouses.co.uk/library-h/denbigh_histories.html

View from the north showing marked downslope siting of Hafod y calch

Hafod`s site was important for lime at an early date.


In the 1950`s geologist E.Neaverson observed the surface workings of a medieval quarry - just south of the present quarry/house.


He speculated that its limestone had been used for the mortar of 13th Century Carndochan castle.


At Gwerclas and Havod rocks in 1849 about 50,000 bushels of lime were produced annually. It was burned with peat and spread on farmland.


Hafod quarry was still worked until the late 1960`s  and is of considerable interest to geologists.

Arms of the Barons of Cymer

 

By around 1600, 11th Baron of Cymer Hugh ap William had moved from Plas Uchaf to the site of the present house of Gwerclas.


The family now became the Hughes of Gwerclas, adopting the English tradition for surnames
Their arms can be seen on the facade of the present 1767 house, which largely replaced an older house on the site.


The three severed heads are from the Arms of Ednyfed Fychan (NOT representing heads of Englishmen killed in 1282 by Baron of Cymer Gruffydd ap Iorwerth when he raided Oswestry!)

Ref: For more details see Gwerclas house history (2015) by Jenny Lees is on http://discoveringoldwelshhouses.co.uk/library-h/denbigh_histories.html
 

Baron of Cymer Humffrey Hughes the 2nd fought in the Civil Wars for the Royalists at Rowton Moor - and was listed as of “Querkle” (Gwerclas!).
His fascinating Probate Inventory (1682) included a “Hall with silver tableware and 4  pieces of Gold” and a Great Parlour with an old virginall case.
Some interesting details of early local farming practices are contained in the Memorandum Book (1662-74) of Baron Humffrey Hughes of Gwerclas.
Ref:Meirionydd Record Office (Z/M/572)Memorandum Book (1662-74) of Humffrey Hughes, Gwerclas.

Looking towards Hafod y calch and Gwerclas from ancient Llangar church

Humffrey Hughes, High Sheriff of Merioneth1670

In his Memorandum Book (1662-74) Humffrey gives us detailed information on crops grown and wages paid by the Gwerclas estate
He also gives invaluable details of the births, deaths and marriages of his extended family, providing an interesting record of intermarriage with other gentry families such as the Masmor family of nearby Maesmore Hall
Ref: Transcription by Merfyn Wyn Tomos (2014)A Memorandum Book (1662-74) of Humffrey Hughes, Gwerclas, Journal of the Merioneth Historical and Record Society, Vol. XVII, Part I, pp 1-25

Hugh Hughes, 16th Baron of Cymer and  his wife Dorothy Yale (from the Yale family of Plasy yn Ial) had no surviving sons.


So their daughter Dorothy married Edward Lloyd of Plymog yn Ial,Llanferres and the family name  now became Hughes Lloyd.


In 1767 Hugh Hughes Lloyd built the splendid present house at Gwerclas, described by Marcus Binney as “an errant version of a Palladian villa. 

Façade of the 1767 house at Gwerclas

Margaret Lloyd, wife of Hugh Hughes Lloyd ofGwerclas, wrote a series of letters to her close friend Elizabeth Baker.


Elizabeth Baker was  personal secretary to Hugh Vaughan,of Hengwrt and later Nannau, near Dolgellau.


Margaret`s letters cover life in the 1770s - from the social round of North Wales gentry and talk of politics to local farming practices and schemes to help the poor.


I am hugely indebted to my colleague Pam Buttrey M.A. for bringing these letters to my attention!


Ref:NLW, Elizabeth Baker 183 to 232: Letters written between1772 and1775 by Margaret Lloyd to Elizabeth Baker. Fifty letters from Mrs Margaret Lloyd of Gwerclas to Mrs Baker.

Arch at Gwerclas leading to cobbled yard and service wing

Extracts from my  transcription of Margaret Lloyd`s fascinating letters are online in my Gwerclas house history for DOWHG.


The article “Quest for Cymer Part Two – Some 18th Century Confidences” is availably in Hanes Bro Clwyd Winter 2017/18.


See also “Near Calamity at the Corwen Races” in Cynwyd Scrapbook Two (online at Publications page http://discoveringoldwelshhouses.co.uk/library-h/page51.html
And “Confidences of an Eighteenth Century Baroness: Part Two” is in Cynwyd Scrapbook Three (Dec 2018).

Rhug as it would have been when Margaret and Hugh Hughes Lloyd visited from Gwerclas

Another dwelling in Cymer township was Plas Isaf, now a beautiful Grade 2 Listed farmhouse and barn lying between Plas Uchaf and the modern A5
In 1642-3 Robert Wynne Pyers Gent, of Plas Issa was “buried in church” - burial within the church itself suggests that Robert was of high status within the parish.
Robert was actually descended, via Robert ap Gruffydd of Maesmor, from Owain Brogontyn`s son Bleddyn - who had  inherited Dinmael and part of northern Edeyrnion centred on Rhug.


Ref: “Plas Isaf- Another Edeyrnion Dynasty: Part One” is online in Cynwyd Scrapbook Two and Part Two is in Cynwyd Scrapbook Three.

In the  early 19th Century the Hughes Lloyds of Gwerclas were struggling to preserve their baronial inheritance.
Although Richard Hughes Lloyd`s estates included Plymog and Bashall as well as Gwerclas, the family`s fortunes were completely drained by a series of court cases involving London criminals and an illegitimate heir.
Following Richard`s death in 1823, most of Gwerclas estate was purchased by Rhug.
The Sale Catalogue and Schedule is a valuable source of information, as the Gwerclas holdings had encompassed much of the village of Cynwyd and its mills, as well as numerous local farms. 


Ref:XD2/ 3887:Sale catalogue of property of the late Richard Hughes Lloyd and XD2/3888:Schedule of Gwerclas Mansion and Demesne land.

From 1832 or earlier the Williams family lived at Gwerclas and were to play an important part in local life.
In the 1841 census Edward Williams is listed as Head, Farmer (aged 45) - married to Elizabeth (35) with children Martha (9), Margaret (7), Elizabeth (6), Emma (5), Maria (3) and William Ednyfed(2).
They also had a twenty year old Governess Maria Edwards and servants Hariet Roberts (15) Jane Jones (20) and Elizabeth Davies (16).
This image of the family is a personal communication from Gwenda Williams, who is a relative of William Ednyfed Willams` wife Sarah Catherine Gill.

From 1836 the Hughes family history continued outside Gwerclas:
John HUGHES, Esq of Westminster, Barrister-at-Law born in 1805, married his cousin Dorothea, the eldest surviving daughter of Richard Hughes Lloyd, at Llanferres in 1832.
And in 1841 John wrote  to a Mr Taliesin Williams, MerthyrTydfil, asking “ if ancient Welsh manuscripts being edited comprise any relating to the stock of Owain Brogontyn,” and offering the pedigree for Hughes of Gwerclas.
John`s son Talbot de BASHALL HUGHES was born at Gayton Mansion in 1836 and was in the Ensign Cape Mounted Riflemen.
In1851: A tablet previously in Llangar church but moved to Cynwyd church in 1897. commemorates the death of Colonel Edward Salesbury Lloyd at Nakodah on 24th January 1851

Jane Rees pictured while in service at Gwerclas (image courtesy of Gwenan Mair Roberts)

Sadly, only the magnificent farm buildings now remain from the once important estate of Glan Alwen.
But Burke's Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry tells of a Humffrey ap Elisau“of Glan Alwen in Llangar and Maerddu in Gwyddelwern”.
His son, Captain William Humffreys was in the army of King Charles 1st during the Civil War and sold the Glan Alwen estate in the 1640`s to his wife`s brother, Edmund Meyrick of Ucheldre.
A family who later adopted the surname Davies were associated with Glan Alwen for the three centuries following the 1643 Will of Griffith Ap David Ap Evan, Glan Alwen, Cymer
(Further details in “Once upon a time at Glan Alwen”in Cynwyd Scrapbook Three).

In the 1960s Plas Uchaf was sold to a Bala owner - after removal of the Elizabethan beams and panelling it was left derelict for ten years!
However, thanks to the concern of Peter Smith, then Secretary of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, it was purchased by Merioneth County Council.
Plas Uchaf was then very extensively restored and is now let for holidays by the Landmark Trust charity.
Ref: Peter Smith and Ffrancon Lloyd (1964-5) Plas-Ucha, Llangar, Corwen, Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, Volume 12

We don`t know who built Hafod`s Georgian east “wing” that looks across the confluence to Llangar church and the Berwyn
But in 1777 a John Willliams, Gentleman, maltster,died in very affluent circumstances at Hafod, also owning income from  the Vicarial tithes of Corwen, where he was buried
Then by the end of the 19th C Rug estate made Hafod into a very substantial Victorian farmhouse - with more outbuildings such as a new cart shed-granary and bakery-brewhouse.
Ref: Will of John Williams, St Asaph Probate Records SA/1777/71

                                                                 Rhug Estate`s cartshed-granary at Hafod

In the late 1960s Hafod`s life as a working farmhouse  was  affected by an arson attack on its outbuildings, but the farmland of Hafod y calch and Gwerclas is still worked by the Jones and Tudor families today..
The lime quarry was worked until 1967 and now the quarry pits are full of trees, but the limestone “outlier” is of considerable interest to geologists on account of its structure and fossils.
Hafod y calch, Gwerclas, Plas Uchaf and Plas Isaf are all Listed buildings, and restoration of these historic properties has continued with careful retention of their original features
Image: Attic window in former servant`s bedroom at Hafod y calch(Jenny Lees)

Acknowledgments:

Cynwyd residents past and present and their relatives


Margaret Dunn and all my colleagues in our Discovering Old Welsh Houses group


The members of Cymdeithas Hanes Edeyrnion and Ruthin Local History Society


All the Archivists from Rhuthun, Dolgellau, Caernarfon and the National Library at Aberystwyth
For further references or information please contact me on leesjenny@gmail.com

 

Jenny Lees


This is just to thank everyone who has helped make my discoveries possible!