CEREDIGION HISTORICAL SOCIETY

Devils Bridge History

Devils Bridge history, archaeology and antiquities. Is a historic village in Ceredigion, formerly Cardiganshire, West Wales. Situated between Aberffrwd and Ysbyty Cynfyn.

Table of Contents
1. History
2. Map
3. Links

Devils Bridge, Ceredigion, West Wales – a small historic village in the former county of Cardiganshire

Devils Bridge History Pictures
Site plan Castell Bwa Drain
Site plan Castell Bwa Drain

Since 1909 the Ceredigion Historical Society has published articles written about the archaeology, antiquities and history of Ceredigion, many of these articles printed within the Ceredigion Journal, are about the history of Devils Bridge.

The society has also produced three county volumes, under the name of the Cardiganshire County History series, these knowledgeable, learned, comprehensive and scholary publications record the history of prehistoric, early and modern Cardiganshire.

1. Devils Bridge Local History

This small but complex landscape area that lay within Strata Florida Abbey’s Cwmystwyth Grange in the Medieval Period. The grange, by at least the end of the Medieval Period, was divided into farms that were leased out. One such farm – Rhos-tyddyn – lay in this area (Morgan 1991).

Upon the Dissolution of the abbey the farm along with others in the grange probably passed into the hands of the Herbert family, and eventually became part of Thomas Johnes’s Hafod estate. Though settlements such as Rhos-tyddyn Farm existed, it is likely that in the Medieval Period, and for centuries after, this area would have consisted of marginal land with woodland on the steeper slopes.

It does, however, lie on an important north – south route-way, and includes the crossing point of the Mynach – Devil’s Bridge. The earliest phase of the surviving bridge may be of Medieval date. The importance of the route-way was emphasised in 1770 when Devil’s Bridge became the junction of two turnpike roads. From the west a turnpike ran up from Aberystwyth, over into Cwmystwyth and eventually to London.
From Devil’s Bridge a second turnpike ran northwards to Shrewsbury (Lewis 1955, 41-45; Colyer, 1984, 176-182).

A visit to the Mynach waterfalls and the Devil’s Bridge was a vital part of any tourist’s itinerary in the late 18th and 19th centuries; the presence of the turnpike roads ensured that these attractions were not difficult to miss.

Thomas Johnes constructed an inn to serve the tourist trade, and the extant building – the Hafod Arms Hotel – was later rebuilt in ‘Swiss Cottage’ style by the Duke of Newcastle (Walker 1998, 304), a subsequent owner of the Hafod estate.
The garden of the Hafod Arms is recorded on the Welsh Historic Gardens Database. The vast numbers of paintings, drawings and engravings, published or unpublished, attest to the popularity of the falls in this period.

A few houses and cottages developed close to the hotel, some perhaps for workers in the lead mining industry, but as the tithe map testifies the settlement in the 1840s was still very small.

The Vale of Rheidol Railway, which opened in 1902, with its eastern terminus at Devil’s Bridge, was built to serve the leading mining industry, but rapidly became a tourist route. The railway and the continuing growth in the tourist industry has allowed Devil’s Bridge to develop into a small village with shops, a school and small-scale housing estates. Apart from the railway, industry in the area comprised a lead smelting works, which closed in 1834 (Bick 1983, 30), and a small hydroelectric scheme of the first half of the 20th century.

Description and essential historic landscape components

This area includes a sloping terrace at 200m – 250m on the south side of the Rheidol and that part of the Rheidol and Mynach valley sides which include the Mynach falls.

Devil’s Bridge (Pontarfynach) village, located on the sloping terrace, is a straggling settlement centred on the imposing listed Hafod Arms Hotel and the listed ‘Devil’s Bridge’ itself.

Most of the older houses in the village date to the mid-to-late 19th century and are built of stone, which is cement rendered or left bare. They are of two storeys in the regional Georgian vernacular style – gable end chimneys, central front door, and two windows either side of the door and one above. Some have strong Georgian elements rather than vernacular traits.

Other older buildings include 19th century chapels, the single storey corrugated-iron station building of the Devil’s Bridge railway and several ‘temporary’ buildings such as ticket offices and cafes built to serve the mid 20th century tourist industry. These are distinctive and unusual elements of the landscape. Modern houses and bungalows have been constructed within and on the fringes of the village.

The village has been built over former enclosed, though poor quality land. Boundary banks of some of these enclosures are visible in non-developed areas. Some roadside boundaries, particularly close to the Hafod Arms Hotel, consist of mortared or dry-stone walls. Below the listed bridge is a complex series of paths and tracks leading to various viewing points for the falls. Though not examined in detail, it is possible that some of these paths date to the late 18th or early 19th century.

Apart from the celebrated bridge, the surviving structure of which may date back to the Medieval Period, the recorded archaeology comprises standing buildings or industrial remains.

To the south this area meets unenclosed land and to the east the squatter settlement of Rhos-y-gell. To the north and east lie the steep wooded slopes of the Rheidol and Mynach valleys.

By Dyfed Archaeological Trust – Historic Landscape Characterisation of Devil’s Bridge

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Ty’n-Y-Castell upland area, located north, west of Devils Bridge

As with surrounding landscape areas the early history of this area has not been researched, but by the 18th century it was in the possession of the Nanteos estate. An estate map of 1819 (NLW Vol 45, 31), showing Tn’n-y-castell and Faen Grach, depicts a landscape of small fields with some intermixing of land. This latter piece of evidence is of interest and suggests that the landscape may have evolved from a sub-divided, or open, field system; a system that was in the final stages of consolidation and enclosure in the early 19th century. Apart from the consolidation of intermixed lands, this landscape has not changed dramatically since the survey for the estate map.

Description and essential historic landscape components

This small landscape area lies in a sheltered hollow on the edge of a plateau at c. 250m above the valley of the Afon Rheidol. It is characterised by a system of small irregular fields of improved pasture that are divided by earth banks and hedges. Unlike neighbouring landscape areas the hedges in this area are intact, and though overgrown they are still stock-proof when augmented by wire fences. The hedges, together with occasional hedgerow trees and small stands of deciduous woodland, lend a wooded appearance to the landscape that contrasts with areas to the south.

A fairly dense grouping of farms and other houses characterise the settlement pattern. Cement rendered stone with slate roofs are the traditional building materials. Most houses date to the mid-to-late 19th century, are relatively small, of two storeys and in the typical Georgian vernacular style – gable end chimneys, central front door, and two windows either side of the door and one above. Some houses have been extensively modernised and extended or rebuilt. There is also at least one modern house and an early 20th century corrugated iron (tin) cottage. Farms have two to three ranges of stone-built outbuildings and small modern agricultural buildings.

A disused stone quarry lies in this area.

This is a distinct historic landscape area, and is in sharp contrast with areas to the south, which are generally treeless and bereft of hedges. To the north lies the steep and heavily wooded valley side of the Rheidol

By Dyfed Archaeological Trust – Historic Landscape Characterisation of Ty’n-Y-Castell

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Rhydpererinion upland area, located west of Devil’s Bridge

As with neighbouring areas the early history of this area has not been investigated, and little is known. However, unlike some of its neighbouring areas, it was not part of a grange of Strata Florida Abbey. By the 18th century it was divided between the estates of Crosswood and Nanteos.

Early 19th century estate maps (NLW Vol 45; 30, 31) show a landscape of scattered farms, each surrounded by small fields, with larger enclosures and unenclosed sheep-walk further out. Apart from some sub-division of the larger fields and enclosure of parts of the sheep-walk, this pattern had changed little by the time of the tithe survey of 1847. Gradually over the remainder of the 19th century the remaining unenclosed land was converted into fields.

Description and essential historic landscape components

This is an undulating plateau area ranging in height from 270m to 290m. Most of the ground now comprises improved grazing, but there are peaty hollows and rougher grazing on steep slopes. All the land is enclosed or has been subjected to enclosure, but fields on the higher slopes and summits now tend to be farmed as large units sub-divided by wire fences. Some of these fences follow the course of old, low earth banks. On lower ground small irregular fields divided by earth banks are present. Hedges that top the banks are generally in poor condition, overgrown, rarely stock-proof and supplemented by wire. As a general rule, the closer to the farmhouse, the better the condition of the hedge.

Dispersed dwellings, but with a closer grouping than that found in the area to the south, characterise the settlement pattern of this area. There are small, loose settlement clusters at Mynydd Bach and Capel Trisant.

Traditional buildings are stone built with slate roofs. Walls on houses are either cement rendered, bare stone or painted, and bare stone on farm outbuildings. Houses, including farmhouses, are small and almost entirely date to the mid-to-late 19th century. They are of two storeys and in the typical Georgian vernacular style – gable end chimneys, central front door, and two windows either side of the door and one above.

Vernacular traits such as low eaves, small windows and one chimney larger than the other are more common than more formal Georgian elements. Two or three houses are strongly vernacular. Stone-built outbuildings are generally confined to one or two small ranges, with some attached and in-line to the house. Several farms are no longer working. Working farms have small ranges of modern agricultural buildings. A small listed chapel is at Trisant. There are a few modern houses and bungalows.

Stone quarrying has been carried out in this area, and along the southern boundary are the remains of lead mining activities associated with Frongoch mine.

The recorded archaeology in this area is not diverse, and consists of post-Medieval sites, houses and cottages and minor industrial remains.

This is not a particularly well defined historic landscape area. Areas to the south and north are characterised by a more dispersed settlement pattern and larger field patterning. Frongoch also contains distinctive mining remains. To the east, poorer-quality, lower-lying ground contains a squatter settlement.

By Dyfed Archaeological Trust – Historic Landscape Characterisation of Rhydpererinion

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Rhos-Y-Gell upland area, located south of Devil’s Bridge

Historically, at least the eastern part of this area, if not all of it, lay within Strata Florida Abbey’s Cwmystwyth grange. The Crosswood estate purchased the granges of Strata Florida in 1630. Through a process of exchange, the former grange lands in this area became part of the Hafod estate in the late 18th century.

The very poor quality of the land in this area ensured that it remained unenclosed until the relatively modern period. The tithe survey of 1847 (Llanfihangel-y-creuddyn) shows the area settled with a scatter of cottages and small enclosures. A Hafod estate map of 1834 shows cottages along the eastern limits of this area. Morgan (1997, 213) states these were squatter cottages and there is no reason to doubt this. They were probably built and the land enclosed in the late 18th and early 19th century. A schoolroom was built here in 1852 and a chapel was constructed 1872.

Description and essential historic landscape components

This wide, open valley – a wind gap between the deeply incised Ystwyth and Rheidol valleys – lying between 230 and 270m is characterised by a dispersed settlement pattern and poor quality grazing land.

It is an area distinct from the surrounding areas of improved grazing, and consists of a field system of small, irregular enclosures containing rough grazing, peaty hollows and rushy ground with a few scattered patches of improved pasture. The field system is now becoming redundant; old-field boundaries of low banks are now almost entirely derelict. Hedges are overgrown and derelict. Wire fences now form the main stock proof barriers, which usually follow historic boundaries. Beech tree windbreaks have been planted, and small conifer plantations are present.

The settlement pattern is of dispersed cottages, smallholdings and small farms – 100-200m apart. Stone is the traditional building material. This is left bare on some of the farmhouses and some farm outbuildings and is generally cement rendered on smaller dwellings. Slate is the universal roofing material. The farmhouses are small and date to the mid to late 19th century and are in the typical Georgian vernacular style – two storey, gable end chimneys, central front door, and two windows either side of the door and one above. Most have strong Georgian traits rather than vernacular elements.

The outbuildings of these farms are very small and often consist of just one range attached and in line to the house. Modern agricultural buildings where present are also small. The numerous cottages of this area are traditionally small, late 19th century and one, one-and-a-half or two storeys. Many have been extended and modernised, or recently rebuilt. There are numerous deserted cottages and farms scattered across the landscape.

The recorded archaeology mostly comprises abandoned cottages and smallholdings, but a metal mine and mill are also present, with time-depth to the landscape provided by a possible Bronze Age round barrow.

The limits of this area are well defined. To the west and south lie areas of dispersed farms set in improved grazing with the remains of lead mining. Unenclosed land lies to the east and Devil’s Bridge (Pontarfynach) to the northeast. The steep-sided, wooded valley of the Rheidol is situated to the north.

By Dyfed Archaeological Trust – Historic Landscape Characterisation of Rhos-Y-Gell

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2. Devils Bridge Location Map

View Larger Map of Devils Bridge

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  • Coflein, discover the archaeology, historic buildings, monuments and history of Devils Bridge, Ceredigion
  • Historic Place Names, learn about the field names and house names in the community of Devils Bridge
  • A Pint of History, read about the history of Ceredigion pub’s, inn’s and local taverns of Devils Bridge
  • People’s Collection Wales, share your stories, memories and photographs of Devils Bridge

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Some ideas to share your Stories below!

Have a memory and your not sure what to write? We have made it easy with some prompts and ideas, just think about this place and the importance its had in your life and ask yourself:

  • What are my personal memories of living here?
  • How has it developed and shops changed over the years?
  • Do you have a story about the beach, community, its people and history?
  • Tell us how it feels, seeing photographs and images of this place again?
  • Tell us your favourite memories about this place?

The aim of the Ceredigion Historical Society is to preserve, record and promote the study of the archaeology, antiquities and history of Ceredigion. That objective has remained the same since the foundation of the Society in 1909, though its name was changed from Ceredigion Antiquarian Society to the Ceredigion Historical Society in 2002.

See:
Index | Towns in Ceredigion | Villages in Ceredigion | Historic Sites in Ceredigion | Ceredigion Listed Buildings | Ceredigion Scheduled Monuments | Ceredigion Parks and Gardens | Research Organisations
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