Ceredigion Historical Society

Penbryn History

Penbryn history archaeology and antiquities. Is a village and community in Ceredigion, West Wales. Situated between Tresaith and Llangrannog. Penbryn is located in the valley of the River Hoffnant, which leads to Penbryn beach.

Table of Contents

1. History
2. Penbryn Beach
3. The Sea
4. Map
5. Links

Penbryn History Pictures

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 Penbryn.

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. History

List of nearby historical features in the landscape:

Castell Nadolig Hillfort, findspot of the late Iron Age Penbryn Spoons, Caer Pwntan Hillfort, Gaer Lwyd Hillfort, Castell Bach Promontory Fort, Castell Blaen-Igau Defended Enclosure, Ty-Hen Defended Enclosure, Dyffryn Saith Enclosure, Castell Pridd Round Barrow, Corbalengi Stone Inscribed Stone, Garreg Standing Stone, Crug Coe Cairn, Bryn Dulas Cropmarks, Croes-y-Bryn Cropmark, Dyffrynbern Cropmark, Penmorfa Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Glynarthen Welsh Independent Chapel, Brynmoriah Welsh Independant Chapel, Tan-y-Groes Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Tre-Saith Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Capel-Gwndwa Baptist Chapel, St Michael’s Church, St John’s Church, Pillbox, De Havilland Queen Bee V4788, Felin Brithdir Corn Mill, Felin Saith Corn Mill, Felin Wnda Corn Mill, Felin-Ganol Brithdir Corn Mill, Tresaith Limekilns, Former National School, Penbryn Beach Mine Workings, Wnda Bridge

The community of Penbryn, includes the villages of Tresaith, Brynhoffnant, Glynarthen and Tan-y-groes.

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2. Penbryn Beach

Penbryn Beach, now owned by the National Trust, is one of the finest beaches in West Wales. It is an uninhabited bay located at the mouth of the tiny River Hownant (or Hoffnant) that runs rapidly to the sea from its source at Brynhoffnant about two miles inland. The narrow gorge-like valley below Llanborth Farm is known as Cwm Lladron (the Robber’s Valley) for undoubtedly Penbryn was a favourite landing place for landing illicit cargoes principally from Ireland until the early nineteenth century. Howell Harries, one of the leaders of the Methodist Revival in the eighteenth century visited Llanborth in 1743 and 1747 and on both occasions preached against what he described as the Liberty of stealing wrecks, cheating the King of things excised and their inhuman behaviour towards poor shipwrecked sailors … that men better fall amongst Heathens than here’. To him Penbryn was a dark country’. Illicit goods such as wine from Bordeaux, spirits and salt from Wicklow, tobacco and tea were brought in in considerable quantities by French and Irish vessels as well as in locally owned vessels. The inhabitants of the Hownant Valley earned for themselves a dubious reputation.

The area around Penbryn beach consists mainly of shales, mudstones, slate and sandstone overlaid with coarse boulder clay with the westward flowing streams incising deep valleys in the surface of the low plateau. The beach itself, dominated by sheer cliffs is almost a mile long and the coastal plateau (y morfa), until land improvement in recent years, was largely rough pastureage. Due to lack of shelter the cliff edged morfa is almost devoid of tree growth, with the exception of gorse bushes and stunted hawthorn trees their branches bent inland by the force of the prevailing westerly winds. Here on the coastal platform to the north of Penbryn Beach prehistoric man had his settlements and the Gaer Ddu (the Black Fort) and the Gaer Lwyd (the Grey Fort) occupied dominant positions overlooking the Hownant Valley. In later centuries the land that was tilled by our Iron Age ancestors was utilised as common land by the poor people of the area for growing potatoes. Below the coastal plateau, the valley sides are too steep to be economically utilised and they provide a panoramic view of wild scrubland with outcrops of bare rock, numerous disused stone quarries, scree slopes, bracken, gorse, thorn and copses of deciduous trees. In those copses, the sycamore tree that can withstand the destructive power of salt laden winds, predominates although ash, oak, alder, beech and other trees occur. In the valley near Llanborth, the river Hownant, like the other westward flowing streams of Southern Ceredigion, cascades into a waterfall before it enters the gorge of Cwm Lladron. On the platform above the waterfalls there was once a small hamlet and the stream provided power for driving a water mill for grinding corn until the nineteen twenties. The small building on the right hand side of the road as you enter the car park was the kiln (yr odyn) for drying corn while on the left hand side an enclosed space was utilised for herding stray animals (y llan). The farmhouse at Llanborth built around 1860 replaced a substantial mansion of considerable importance that dated back to at least the Middle Ages.

By J. Geraint Jenkins

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3. The Sea

It is difficult to imagine in the tranquility of Penbryn Beach today, that in the past the beach was a centre of considerable commercial activity. In the days before efficient roads were built and before the railway arrived in West Wales, the inhabitants of Southern Ceredigion tended to look outwards to the open sea rather than inland to the hills of Wales. Transport by sea was by far the most efficient means of carrying goods and people to and from this isolated corner of Wales and from the Middle Ages until the last century, Penbryn Beach was the scene of considerable maritime activity. Even after the disappearance of trading vessels from Penbryn, the seafaring tradition amongst the people that lived nearby still lived on and found expression in all quarters of the globe.

Under Queen Elizabeth I, strong measures were taken to suppress the piracy off the coasts of Wales and this led to a careful survey of ports, creeks and landing places in Wales. In 1565 the Royal Commission appointed to carry out this survey on behalf of the Privy Council noted that Cardigan Bay possessed no ships barks or vessels, but certain fisher boats of the burthen of 4 or 5 tons at the most, and these maintained by poor fishermen for the only use and exercise of fishing.’ Undoubtedly the mariners of Cardigan Bay at that time were part-time fishermen, part-time farmers who rarely ventured from the sight of land. The principal fish caught was the herring and it is said that vast shoals of this fish came close to the shores annually. Indeed so many fish were caught by the men of Southern Ceredigion that huge quantities of salted or smoked herring were exported to other countries, principally Ireland. Ships, most of them Irish, began to visit the area, not only to transport the harvest of the sea but also to bring in nets for herring catching, casks for salting the catch and boats but most important of all, salt for preservation. The port of Cardigan that was to develop into the most important of all Welsh ports in the eighteenth century also administered landing creeks at Aberporth and Penbryn. The Penbryn creek was in the charge of a yeoman farmer David ap Ieuan David ap Hoel. Although it was Irish ships with Irish crews that took the lion’s share of the sea trade along the Southern Ceredigion coast, by the early eighteenth century the inhabitants of the region, the residents of the Hownant valley amongst them, began to take an interest in seafaring. They now began to wander further than the herring fisheries that were always within the sight of land and began trading; taking their products to Ireland as well as along the coasts of Wales. Of course, these mariners required ships that could be utilised for this budding trade and oddly enough Penbryn Beach saw the construction of at least one vessel in the mid-eighteenth century. The construction of wooden ships did not require a great deal of equipment; it could be carried out virtually anywhere where there was a level piece of ground in fairly close proximity to the sea. Usually a saw pit for the preparation of timber was necessary, a store of oak timber had to be built up but the construction itself, that could take up to six months to complete, was performed in the open air. Keel blocks were laid on a level patch of ground and locally grown sawn oak planks were installed on the frame of the vessel and with the provision of a single mast a seaworthy smack could be constructed. In 1770 a resident of Penbryn utilised a flat patch of land at Penllain Maesglas at least half a mile away from the beach for building a 24 ton smack The Blessing. This primitive shipyard in the corner of a field near the present caravan site at Manorafon was located well away from the beach and undoubtedly the vessel had to be hauled on rollers along the rough trackway leading to the foreshore. Little is known about the Blessing but she was undoubtedly used for taking salted herrings and salted butter across the sea to Ireland, bringing in salt and the other requirements of the rural community.

During the eighteenth century, the people of Southern Ceredigion were taking more and more interest in seafaring and products other than the requirements of the herring fishing industry were being brought in. For some time Penbryn participated in this trade to the extent that a limekiln for burning lime that was greatly favoured as a fertiliser for the acid soil of the area, was constructed near the beach. All traces of this kiln have now disappeared, but it was located near the bungalow known as Nyth y Fran, near the mouth of the Hownant. Limestone was obtained mainly from Caldey Island and South Pembrokeshire and although some farmers obtained lime by undertaking the hazardous and expensive journey to the kilns of Llandybie in Carmarthenshire, most of them obtained the product from the coastal lime kilns. The limestone was brought in and burnt in a kiln ready for sale by the cartload to the farmers.

Another product brought into Penbryn and the other creeks of Southern Ceredigion was culm; an anthracite dust fuel intermixed with clay that was normally used in most of the local households until 1939. The main sources of supply were Saundersfoot and Hook in South Pembrokeshire, Pembrey in Carmarthenshire and Swansea. In discharging culm, as in the unloading of other commodities, attempts were always made to get the vessel sailing once again on the following tide. Time was extremely precious, the open beach was a dangerous place to moor a vessel and coastal activity had to cease in November for the raging seas of winter put an end to all sea-going traffic until early March.

The vessels used for the coastal trade were mainly single-masted small smacks of under 30 tons. The vessels had to be designed in such a way that they would sit on the sand when the tide receded. The smacks, each one manned by two men and a boy, were therefore squat and flat bottomed.

The heyday of the coastal trade in Southern Ceredigion extended from about 1770 to 1860 and although Penbryn Beach was extensively used for landing cargoes during the earlier part of the period, its remoteness and difficulty of access meant that it gradually lost out to the sheltered creeks at Aberporth, Tresaith and Llangrannog. There was little shelter at Penbryn and there was no suitable site on the foreshore for the construction of a warehouse or flat land for the construction of a coal yard. The entry to the beach has never been an easy one for in addition to being extremely narrow, constantly shifting sand dunes are a hazard. Coastal activity therefore, declined and some of the mariners that sailed from Penbryn Beach moved their centre of operation to more accessible harbours along the coast. Around 1840 for example, Capt. Joseph Jenkins of Plasbach, near Llanborth Mill, master and owner of the smack Rachel decided to move from Penbryn to a cottage near the foreshore at Llangrannog which by that time was at its height as a flourishing port.

Although by the 1840s few ships visited Penbryn Beach to land cargoes, the seafaring tradition still lived on and many families that lived in proximity to the beach were concerned with shipowning. For example, the 77 ton schooner JESSIE registered in 1858 was owned by the Griffiths family of Treddafydd Farm who owned 34 shares out of a total share allocation of 64. Other farmers in the locality owned most of the remaining shares and the master was Capt. John Griffiths-y Capten Bach (the small Captain) whose home was also in the Penbryn area. The full ownership of the vessel was as follows:

  • David Griffiths, Treddafydd, Farmer 8 shares
  • Evan Griffiths, do. do. 8 shares
  • Elizabeth Griffiths, do. 8 shares
  • Sarah Griffiths, do. 8 shares
  • John Griffiths, do., Master 2 shares
  • Samuel Jones, Merchant 4 shares
  • David Evans, Ffosyffin, Farmer 4 shares
  • John Davies, New Inn, Publican 4 shares
  • John Jones, Glynraur, Farmer 2 shares
  • Mary Jones, Cefngranod, Farmer 2 shares
  • Evan Owen, Trepibau, Farmer 2 shares
  • Lewis Parry, Liverpool 4 shares
  • Ben Jones, Pwntan Newydd 2 shares
  • David Owen, Nantymawr, Farmer 2 shares
  • Timothy Timothy, Rhydser, mason 1 share
  • Thomas Griffiths, Miller 1 share
  • David Jones, Dyffrynbern, Farmer 2 shares

A number of other vessels were owned by Penbryn people during the 19th century. Among them were the following:

  • CLEDDAU BELLE. A schooner of 114 tons built at Milford in 1871. The principal shareholder was John Jones of Ffynnonwen.
  • LEANDER. A schooner of 59 tons built by John Harries of Aberaeron in 1859. The vessel was purchased in 1882 by John Jones of Ffynnonwen from an Aberystwyth shipowner.
  • WRESTLE. A schooner of 87 tons built at Porthmadog in 1859. The vessel, owned by Evan Jones of Penrallt, was wrecked in the same year and all hands perished.
  • ELEEMOSYNA. A schooner of 63 tons built at New Quay in 1843. The vessel was captained by Thomas Jones of Tafarn Sarnau and was lost in North Foreland in 1863.
  • JAMES & MARY. A Tresaith vessel, a schooner of 86 tons built by David Owen of Cardigan in 1858. The principal owner was James Evans of Dyffrynsaith together with a number of Penbryn farmers.
  • MARGARET ANNE. A Tresaith ketch of 29 tons built by John Williams of Cardigan in 1877. The vessel was lost off St. Anne’s Head in 1919.
  • NEW HOPE. A Tresaith owned smack of 25 tons built at Tresaith in 1827. The vessel was lost in Ramsey Sound on 9 October 1845.
  • Ruth. A smack of 16 tons built at New Quay in 1840. Sailed until the 1870s.
  • LARK. A smack of 18 tons built at New Quay in 1839. The vessel was broken up in 1879 after becoming waterlogged on Llangrannog beach.

Of course many residents of the Penbryn district had interest in ships sailing from Llangrannog and Aber-porth and the masters of some of them were residents of Penbryn.

Until the last quarter of the nineteenth century with the improvement of roads and the expansion of the railway network as far as Cardigan and Newcastle Emlyn, the Irish Sea was a highway rather than a barrier. The villages on the shores of Cardigan Bay were centres of an important seafaring trade and going to sea was a major attraction to the inhabitants of the coastal zone. Foreign ships often travelled the western seaways and on certain occasions storm force winds caused these ships to anchor in the shelter of Aber-porth Bay. On one occasion on a stormy night on the 13 December 1816 a French vessel that has sought refuge near Aber-porth dragged her anchors and was wrecked on the rocks of Traeth Gaerlwyd, the bay to the north of Penbryn. The cargo of French wine that the vessel carried was soon confiscated by the local inhabitants to such an extent that seven of them died of alcoholic poisoning and a number were excommunicated from membership of the local chapel. With pain he states’ said a contemporary observer that a large body of the neighbouring peasants assembled (and not withstanding the praiseworthy efforts of Mr. Price of Pigeonsford and other gentlemen with the assistance of the Custom- house officers) pillaged part of the cargo and drank so immoderately of the wine, that several became the immediate victims of their beastly excess.’

‘The above and other equally inhuman and disgraceful conduct on the part of the people termed wreckers has called forth the laudable interference of the Bishop of St. Davids. We have just met with the following circular letter “Revd. Sir, The disgraceful transactions which have lately taken place on the coast of Cardiganshire and Pembrokeshire induce me to request you to write to all the Clergy of your Deanery whose parishes lie on the sea coast and to inform them that it is my warmest wish and injunction that they will lose no time in representing to their congregations in terms sharper than any two edged sword, the cruel and unchristian like enormity of plundering wrecks: and that for the future that they will preach to them on this subject once a quarter and press strongly on their consciences the flagrant criminality of this inhuman practice, so disgraceful to them as Britons and Christians.

By J. Geraint Jenkins

Source: Ceredigion – Journal of the Cardiganshire Antiquarian Society, 1983 Vol IX No 4

4. Map

View Larger Map of Penbryn

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

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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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