Researched, complied, edited from many sources by Rodney G. Dalton, whose ancestor James Dalton married into the Vaughan family who owned Cwrt Pembre in the early 1600’s.
Cwrt Pembre c. unknown
My Dalton family is originally from the Dalton/Bispham/Thurnham area of Lancashire, then emigrated to Witney/Curbridge, Oxfordshire and then in 1651 they traveled to Pembrey, South Wales where they lived for over 100 years, starting with: Walter Dalton III, James Dalton, James Ormonde Dalton, James Dalton and Thomas Dalton who sailed for America about 1559 and started the Dalton family in America. So then this story is about my roots in Wales.
Walter Dalton III, was the Royal army paymaster, who fled from Curbridge into South Wales in the winter of 1651 after the defeat of the Royal army of King Charles II in the battle of Worcester during the English Civil War. Three of his children died during this terrible trip. After Walter III was safe in South Wales, he bought land around Kidwelly Castle. He probably would have even went inside to view its contents, now in a state of ruin. In about 1656 Walter III and his family then moved onto land somewhere in the little village of Pembrey. I have documented evidence of some of these lands in Kidwelly and Pembrey.
In June of 2003 I had the opportunity to travel to Pembrey as a member
of the Dalton Genealogical Society and visited the very places were my Dalton
family lived and died 350 years ago. I attended services in the same church
that they did, St. Illtyd’s, and took pictures of the Dalton graves inside the
walls of the church yard. I went to visit the old ruins of Pembrey Court and
then went to Kidwelly castle for a tour. As I said before it was once in a life
Court Farm, Pembrey
Court Farm in Pembrey, Carmarthenshire, Wales, is an ancient and formerly imposing manor house which is now an overgrown ruin, but structurally sound, and capable of repair and restoration. It consists of three buildings: the farmhouse, a complex two-storey house of approximately 99 square metres; an adjacent barn; and a later cowshed.
The present farmhouse is sixteenth century, with an earlier medieval core, and may have been a tower house, a form more associated with Pembrokeshire. It is built from local sandstone quarried from a quarry located in its own land, known as Garreg Llwyd Quarry. Court Farm has a line of corbels on the south facing walls which are a particular feature of old Carmarthenshire buildings and, because of its size and visible location it was, together with the nearby St. Illtud's Church, Pembrey, used a navigational point on local shipping charts to help captains of vessels navigate the treacherous Burry Inlet.
Originally, there were seven square chimneys, two of which were unusually set diagonally in the chimney breast in the east wall. It appears that every room had a fireplace, yet the 1672 hearth tax lists the Court as only having two fireplaces, probably to avoid paying tax of two shillings. Similarly, many of the early windows were blocked up to avoid paying the half-yearly window tax of 3 shillings. One room retained its Jacobean panelling until Court Farm was abandoned in around 1948.
Court Farm has an interesting large barn, with a defensive military appearance, due its embattled parapet on the south elevation. It is not known if the barn had a defensive function of any kind, although it could be part of a more extensive curtain wall. The Pembrey area was “frontier land” in Medieval times, lying between the Norman occupied areas of the east, and the Welsh kingdom, north-west of Kidwelly, which continued to attack the Norman strongholds.
Evidence suggests that the Le Boteler family were the first to occupy a manor on the site of the present Court Farm.
Maurice de Londres granted the Manor of Pembrey to Sir John Butler of Dunraven in 1128. Maurice de Londres was the son of William de Londres, who was a knight to Robert Fitzhamon, a Norman baron from Gloucestershire.
Fitzhamon invaded Wales between 1091 and 1093, established himself as Lord of Glamorgan and built Cardiff Castle. The knights protecting his castle included William de Londres. As a reward for his services, Fitzhamon gave William the lordship of Ogmore. William went on to help Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, defend his lordship at Kidwelly from attacks by the adjacent Welsh kingdom of Deheubarth. On one of his expeditions to Kidwelly, the inhabitants of Glamorgan attacked Ogmore Castle. William’s butler, called Arnold, succesfully repulsed the attack and was rewarded with the castle and manor of Dunraven. To mark his loyalty, Arnold called himself Arnold le Boteler; the Norman word for butler is Le Boteler, or Boteler. The family surname was later anglicized to Butler.
Maurice de Londres succeeded to the lordship of Ogmore, upon the death of his father, William, in 1126. In 1128, Maurice also became Lord of Kidwelly when Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, returned his lordship to The Crown, having found it too difficult to protect from the attacks of Deheubarth. The Crown then gave the lordship to Maurice. In the same year, Maurice granted the Manor of Pembrey to Arnold Butler’s son, Sir John Butler, whose male line of issue included seven generations, most of them named John Butler. The line became extinct when Arnold Butler, of Pembrey and Dunraven, died without issue. Arnold’s sister, Ann Butler, then inherited both estates.
The manor of Pembrey was held under military tenure under the Lordship of Kidwelly.
The occupation of the Manor of Pembrey required each Butler occupant, in time of war, to provide five archers “according to ancient custom” to help the Lord of Kidwelly within the limits of the land under his control. The Butlers also had to order one knight to attend the "Court of Foreignry of Kidwelly", which was held every month. Each Butler heir also had an obligation to pay a sum of money to the Lord of Kidwelly of ten shillings, to give a day’s ploughing and to help with the hay for one day.
One of the woods that originally lay on the manorial land of Court Farm is known as Coed Marchog (Knight's Wood, in the English language), it lies on the eastern side of the Pembrey to Pinged Road, below Garreg Lwyd.
The Butler's coat of arms appears in Pembrey Church. Its heraldic device is azure, three cups covered, or (heraldry). The Butler coat of arms can be found in the south east window of the nave of St Illtyd’s Church, Pembrey. A monument and altar-tomb of Sir John le Boteler, of circa 1250, can be found at St Brides Major church.
In addition to the land surrounding Court Farm, the Butlers also controlled the vast area of flatlands known as Pembrey Burrows, or the Warren, and the greater part of Pinged Marsh, which is now part of Pembrey Country Park. The Butlers were granted rights to all wrecks found on the Cefn Sidan sands as far as Caldicot Point or Tywyn Point
The original caput of the Manor of Pembrey was probably the mound castle now called ‘the Twmpath’, which is located about a mile and a half to the north-east of Burry Port Station. This tumulus is 100 feet in diameter, with a ditch of about 12 feet wide and about 5 feet deep surrounding it. The Twmpath has extensive views, but at some stage it became inconvenient and the caput of the Manor was relocated to the site of the present location of Court Farm.
Ann Butler was the last of the Pembrey Butlers. She married Sir Richard Vaughan of Bredwardine, in Herefordshire, the Court Farm and Dunraven estates then became part of the Vaughan family estates.
The Vaughans claimed to be direct descendents of the Welsh king Moreiddig Warwyn of Breconshire and north Carmarthenshire. The family has an unusual coat of arms: three boys' heads with snakes coupled around their necks. This is based on a family legend. When the pregnant mother of Moreiddig Warwyn (Warwyn means "fair neck" in Welsh) was resting in the garden, she was frightened by an adder. Moreiddig was born with a mark, resembling the bite of the adder, on his neck.
Sir Richard Vaughan was born in 1460 and was knighted at Tournai, in 1513. He became sheriff of Hereford in 1530, and again in 1541. Sir Richard was succeeded by his son, Sir Walter Vaughan (1500-1584), who inherited the three estates of Pembrey, Dunraven and Bredwardine. Sir Walter was born at Dunraven Castle, where his parents had decided to live. After his marriage, he moved to Pembrey, and Court Farm was built as a wedding present for him by his father, in about 1530. The Vaughan part of the current building is the main L-shaped section, facing south and east. Sir Walter was High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1557 and also a Member of Parliament for Carmarthenshire. His son, Sir Thomas Vaughan, inherited the three estates and added to it the Fullerston Estate, in Wiltshire. Sir Thomas was High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1566 and 1570. Sir Thomas had a son, also called Sir Walter Vaughan, who inherited the estates but decided to live at Fullerston. He added Caldicot Farm to the estate holdings, in around 1607.
During this period, Court Farm was occupied by Sir Walter’s nephew, Roland Vaughan, until the next Vaughan heir, Sir Charles Vaughan, was old enough to take possession. Charles was Sir Walter’s son by his first wife. He bought Porthaml Mansion, near Talgarth in Breconshire, and Court Farm was then occupied by his son, Sir George Vaughan.
Sir George Vaughan was a fervent Royalists and supported King Charles I against Oliver Cromwell, in the English Civil War. As a consequence, in 1648, Sir George Vaughan was imprisoned by Cromwell for a short time at Southwark and fined £2,609 for his "Delinquency". Cromwell is believed to have passed through the parish of Pembrey in 1648, on his way to Ireland and his soldiers may have visited Court Farm to charge and apprehend Sir George at that time. Sir George returned to Court Farm, but the huge fine meant that he had to sell the Dunraven estate, in 1648, and the Fullerston estate, in 1649.
Sir George died without issue and the remaining Pembrey and Porthaml estates passed to his younger brother, the Reverend Frederick Vaughan, who had been blind from infancy as a result of smallpox. Frederick Vaughan’s only son, Sir Walter Vaughan, married Alice Bond of Wiltshire, in 1653. They lived, in turn, on both estates and had two children, Bridget and Walter. The male line of the Vaughans of Pembrey ended when Sir Walter’s son died in his first year.
After the death of Sir Walter Vaughan, Alice Vaughan married William Ball in 1655. He was a lawyer of Gray’s Inn and became High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1682 and died in 1701. They lived, in turn, at the Porthaml and Pembrey estates.
Many famous people are said to have been entertained at the Court, including the painters Van Dyke, Lely and Reynolds, who painted the Vaughan family. Some of these portraits can now be seen in Carmarthen museum.
Under the Vaughans, the Pembrey Estate was administered by agents comprising at least three generations of the “capable and loyal” Dalton family. It was probably during this period that a number of fireplaces were blocked up. One of Court Farm’s more impressive architectural features comprises seven tall chimneys, made up of five single stacks and two diagonal twin stacks. These reflect a house of substance with many hearths, but the 1672 Hearth Tax records the house as having only two fireplaces. As an economy measure, many of the original fireplaces were blocked-up in order to avoid paying Hearth Tax at the then substantial rate of two shillings per hearth.
The Dalton family appear to originate from Witney in Oxfordshire, and some of the family are buried at St. Illtyd Church, Pembrey, where entries can be found in the Church’s burial register.
Bridget Vaughan married John Ashburnham, 1st Earl of Ashburnham, in 1677 at Henry VII's Chapel, in Westminster Abbey. She was 17 and he was 21 years old. Thereafter they lived at the family's ancestral mansion, Ashburnham Place, in Ashburnham, near Battle, Sussex and made only occasional visits to the other estates.
The Ashburnham family had been settled in Sussex for many generations, taking their name from a village called Ashburnham located in the parish of Ashburnham and Penhurst about 8 miles north-west of Hastings. Like the Vaughan family, the Ashburnham family were fervent Royalists. They suffered heavy fines and imprisonment by the Parliamentarians. After the Restoration, the family was given numerous Crown leases to compensate for losses under the Commonwealth, and the post of Groom of the Bedchamber.
Lord John Ashburnham was married 10 years before he saw Court Farm. He noted in his diary, on Sunday, 3 July, 1687, that:
"I saw Pembrey House (Court), which is an old stone house, large enough and kept in pretty good repaire. The land hereabouts is very good."
In 1697 the government introduced a window tax of three shillings per window. In order to reduce the amount of tax payable, the Ashburnham estate arranged for many of Court Farm’s stone and wooden mullion windows to be blocked up. Window tax was repealed in 1851, but the large windows on the west of the house have remained blocked to the present day.
John Ashburnham died at his London residence in Southampton Street, Bloomsbury, on 21 January 1709 aged 44. His eldest son, William, succeeded him as second baron but died of smallpox on 16 June 1710. The Ashburnham Estates then passed to his brother John, who became third baron. On 14 May 1730, he became Viscount St Asaph of the Principality of Wales and Earl of Ashburnham. The family had been elevated in the peerage, because a viscount is one step above the lowest rank of baron. He died on 10 March 1736-7 at the age of 49 and his only son, John, succeeded to the estate as John Ashburnham, 2nd Earl of Ashburnham. The second Earl died on 8 April 1812 aged 87 and his only son, George Ashburnham, succeeded as George Ashburnham, 3rd Earl of Ashburnham.
In 1813, George Ashburnham took legal action to bar the entail of his Pembrey Estate so that he could regain the freehold. After that he could mortgage the Estate, which he did on 15 June 1824, together with his other Carmarthenshire and Breconshire properties. Lord Lovaine and Robert Vyner, Esq. of Gautby, Lincolnshire were the mortgagees, and the loan was £19,403,4s, 6d.
George Ashburnham died on 27 October 1830 and his son Bertram became fourth Earl. When visiting the Pembrey Estate George Ashburnham usually stayed at Pembrey House, which the family had built on the slope to the north east of St Illtud's Church, Pembrey, in 1823 and which has since been demolished. The house was occasionally let, with rooms being reserved for family use. However, in the 1891 census, Lord Ashburnham, 5th Earl, is recorded as staying at the Ashburnham Hotel.
After the death of Bridget Vaughan’s stepfather, William Ball, in 1701, Court Farm was leased to Rawleigh Mansel, of Llangunnor Parish. He was High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1679 and, according to The Red Dragon periodical (1886), he went to live at Court Farm:
“thoroughly repairing that old mansion for the purpose, and lived there for three or four years, and died there on 27 November 1702 in his 73rd year”
His grandson, Rawleigh Dawkins Mansel, who was High Sheriff in 1730, then lived as tenant at Court Farm.
During the tenancy of Rawleigh Dawkin Mansel the house was divided into two separate living sections and accommodated two separate families. Walls were added or removed, several doors and windows were blocked and new ones opened, additional stairs were fitted and at least two attic rooms were added. During this period David Thomas (1738/39-1788) was born at Court Farm.
Rawleigh Dawkin Mansel was High Sheriff for Carmarthenshire in 1730 and died ‘under the agonizing pains of the Gout’ in his 44th year in 1749. Thereafter, Court Farm was home to several Ashburnham agents, stewards and other estate officials.
On Kitchen’s map of 1701 Court Farm is clearly marked as: ‘Court, Mansel, Esq.’
In 1700, Edward Lluyd, a graduate of Jesus College, Oxford, keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, and a noted Celtic scholar and antiquary, visited Pembrey Court and reported as follows:-
“Penbre Court, ye Seat formerly of the Butlers and afterwards of the Vaughans, and now belonging (in right of his Lady) to [William] Ball, Esqr, whence it descends to my Ld Ashburnham’s Lady………..Diwlais Brook divides this parish from Llan Elhi, springing at Croslaw Mountain and falls into the sea………Here are 2 lakes close together called Swan Pool where there are plenty of Eels, and in the Winter store of Fowls such as Ducks and Teal, sometimes wild Swans or Elks and wild Geese. The adjoining one, stored with Turbot, Bret and Sole. They take here a large sort of fish called Friers or Monk fish (in Hereford, Gloucester, and Worcester, whither they carry them, Soucing Fish) about May, June and July. This Pool (or Pools for both may be called one) is called Swan Pool because the Lord of the Manor (Mr Ball) has thereon about 40 Swans. Before the hard frost there were about 80, which all died to 6."
Swan Pool was located near Towyn Mawr, and has since been drained. Appropriately, the location is now known as Swan Pool Drain.
A picturesque pond, located near to the house, and close to the Mountain Road, was also drained in about 1937.
David Thomas was born at Court Farm during the tenancy of the Mansels, when the house was divided into two. He was a gifted, but unqualified, bone setter from an illustrious family practicing bone setting, and is buried in St Illtyd, Church, Pembrey. The Thomas family proved to have other talents, and many vocations. Three generations are listed in the Church's registers as farmers, butchers, shopkeepers, and ship-owners of vessels that traded from Pembrey, Old Harbour.
On 24 July 1843, John Thomas, a farmer, and David Thomas, a shopkeeper, jointly registered a brigantine of 185 tons burthen known as the “ELIZA” at Llanelli. Its master was John Thomas junior and it traded to Liverpool, Malta, Ancona, Venice and as far as San Francisco, where the whole crew deserted the ship to join the Californian gold rush. Consequently, the ship was anchored, with hundreds of others, in San Francisco harbour for several years. She was later sold, along with many other ships, by the United States Marshall.
John Thomas also owned a sloop of 29 tons burthen called the “SEDULOUS”, which was built in Cardigan and registered at Llanelli on 15 February 1842. Its registry was cancelled on 19 March 1842.
Hugh Thomas, together with some other investors, owned the "MARGARET JANE", a vessel built at Pwllheli in 1850, and whose registry was cancelled on 13 December 1865.
In 1831, Mr. Edward Driver, a surveyor, made a “Survey and Valuation of the Manor of Pembrey and Estate” on behalf of Bertram Ashburham. At this time, Court Farm comprised 194 acres plus 12 acres of marshland. The tenant was recorded as John Thomas (later succeeded by his son Hugh) who paid a yearly rent of £88.10s. John Thomas occupied a part of the Mansion, whilst a Mr. T.E. Biederman occupied the other part. Mr. Driver reported as follows:
"One portion of the Old Court House is occupied by Mr. Biederman. The other portion comprises a very good large kitchen, small cellar, old Entrance Hall, a parlour not inhabitable but now undergoing repairs and filling up, and a new staircase has been lately made to lead to two new formed bedrooms. At the back of the House is a range of offices comprising (besides some held by Mr. Biederman) a dairy and a cheese loft. A newly erected cowhouse and stable with slated roof, and enclosed yard. Adjoining the House is a good barn with cowhouse; coach-house at the end, hereafter described, and held by Mr. Biederman; a stock yard with cowhouse, and another barn, slated, and a lean-to carthouse, thatched, at the back…"
Later in the survey, Mr. Driver wrote:
“Part of the Court House and buildings, heretofore generally used by the Agent, but for the last 3 or 4 years was occupied by his brother and T. E. Biederman. The buildings comprise the old Court House, and was formerly a good residence; it is stone built with slated roof; part has been kept for the accommodation of the Agent to the Estate, and this is now occupied, and has so been for 3 or 4 years by Mr. T. E. Biederman, and consists of the large principal room, now subdivided, leaving a good Parlor, a bedroom without a fireplace, and a passage leading to another bedroom; another bedroom, kitchen, and small scullery, and a small bedroom for a servant; a cellar under a part; coalhouse and room over; and a coach-house at the end of the barn; a stable in two divisions for four horses: all the above occupied by Mr. Biederman.”
During its early period, Court Farm had a high, open-trussed roof, visible from the floor of the main hall and of an elaborate design, with double roll and hollow moulding. Bredwardine Court and Porthaml Mansion, two other ancestral homes of the Vaughan's, have similar surviving roofs. However, part of the original roof of Court Farm was lowered and flattened during alterations made during the 1800s, and the carved ornamental detail of the original trussed roof was lost. In addition, the original stone tiles, which needed a more steeply pitching roof, were replaced with Caernarvon slates (as reported in Mr. Driver’s survey), and the roof valleys were finished off with lead flashing.
The 1878 Ordnance Survey map gives the first known ground plan of Court Farm, this shows the original Vaughan L-shaped structure, with two wings enclosing a courtyard in the rear. Nearby, on the south side, is the barn. A large enclosed garden is outlined, together with Court Wood, said to have been planted by the Vaughan's.
A Tithe Schedule and map dated 7 June 1839 shows Court Farm with 209 acres, a slight increase in landholding since the survey of Mr. Driver, with Mr. John Thomas still the tenant. The Thomas family were tenants of Court Farm from 1738 to 1902, and most of their baptisms, marriages and burials are recorded in the registers of St Illtyd Church, Pembrey.
The Tithe Schedule also includes the names of all the surrounding fields, including Clos Edwin, Wedlanis, Abel Dawnsi, Hunting Knap, and Mumble Head. Two fields, Garreg Lwyd and Maes Graig Lwyd, may have had a religious origin.
It was during the ownership of the Pembrey Estate by the Ashburnham's that trial workings for coal were made. These proved to be successful and a number of levels and pits were opened in Coed y Marchog (Knight’s Wood) and Coed Rhial (Royal Wood) on the western slope of Pembrey Mountain.
Management of the colliery was undertaken from an office at Court Farm and the coal was carried by packhorse to the estuary of the River Gwendraeth and to the Burry Inlet, from here it was shipped to the west of England and Ireland.
The second Earl Ashburnham, impressed by the success of a canal built by Thomas Kymer in the Gwendraeth valley, decided upon a similar scheme for his Pembrey colliery. Kymer’s Canal was built between 1766 and 1768 in order to carry coal from pits and levels at Pwll y Llygod and Great Forest (near Carway) to a place of shipment on the Lesser Gwendraeth river near Kidwelly.
The Ashburnham canal ran from the foot of Pembrey Mountain to the Gwendraeth estuary and its aim was to improve the transport of coal from the Pembrey colliery to the sea. The plan initially encountered opposition from colliers, whose ponies used to do the job, but by 1796 work on the canal had begun below Coed Farm, close to the Llandyry-Pinged road. By 1799, the canal had extended across the Kidwelly-Pembrey road, near to Saltrock Farm, and by the end of 1801 it had reached the sea at Pill Towyn, a creek running in from the south bank of the Gwendraeth Fawr river. Two shipping places were built on the canal, one of them at Pill Ddu, and the total length of the canal was about two miles. Flat terrain meant that there were no locks, and in 1805 a short branch was constructed towards Ffrwd when new levels were opened in Coed Rhial. The entrance to Pill Ddu was deepened in 1816 and a dry dock was added in 1817. By 1818, however, the colliery had become exhausted and the canal became redundant.
In the returns of Owners of Land in 1873, Bertram Ashburnham is shown as having substantial estates in Wales, with 5,685 acres producing an estimated annual rental of £3,547 in Carmarthenshire, and 1,881 acres producing an estimated annual rental of £1,963 in Breconshire. In Sussex, the family seat, 14,051 acres produced £13,069.
Bertram Ashburnham died on 22 June 1878 aged 80. His eldest of seven sons, also named Bertram, succeeded as fifth Earl and actively participated in the development of industry in Pembrey. He died in 1913 leaving an only child, Lady Mary Cathleen Charlotte Ashburnham. The title thus passed to his younger brother, Thomas, the sixth and last Earl of Ashburnham, who had married Maria Elizabeth Anderson of Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada in 1903.
George Ashburnham had taken out a mortgage on his Welsh estates in 1824 for £19,403,4s, 6d after he had freed the Welsh properties from entail on certain leases. By 1897 the mortgage debt on the Welsh properties had increased to £87,600, as the loan had not been repaid on its due date. In order to repay the loan, the Porthaml estate was sold in 1913 and the Pembrey estate in 1922. Thomas Ashburnham died without issue on 12 May 1924, leading to the extinction of the Ashburnham title.
Court Farm was tenanted by the Thomas family until around 1902. After that, William Bonnell (senior), and his family, were tenants. The house once again became a single dwelling. The Bonnell family farmed Court Farm until August 1922, when the whole of the Ashburnham Estate was sold. The sale was a major local event. The Ashburnhams had, for 245 years, controlled much of Pembrey Parish, and been intimately involved in turning it into a centre of industry. At the auction Mr. William Bonnell (senior) purchased Penllwyn Uchaf Farm and thereafter vacated Court Farm.
Court Farm was advertised for sale by auction on 14 September 1929, subject to tenancy, and plans could be inspected at the auctioneer's office or the local butchers. Mr. James Butler of Treorchy bought Court Farm at the auction. The Manor was then let to the family of Mr. Sidney Thomas. They remained as tenants after the death of Mr. Butler, in 1937, and the purchase of the Manor by Mr Charles Harding from the Links, Pembrey.
Mr. Harding bought Pembrey Court as a business proposition. He developed the Garreg Lwyd quarries, located on Court Farm land, as a brickworks, and used material from the quarry for his brick mixture. The brickwork project failed when the brick making machinery ran into technical difficulties. Probably as a result of these activities, a large front section of the quarry collapsed.
In 1942, Mr. Harding sold Court Farm to William Bonnell (junior), who lived at Penllwyn Uchaf farm. However, the Thomas family remained as tenants until about 1948, after which Court Farm was left empty. Mr. William Bonnell (Junior) continued to live at Penllwyn Uchaf Farm until his death in January 1962 and during this time Pembrey Court was used for storage. After William Bonnell's death, Court Farm passed to his younger brother, Mr. Owen Bonnell.
During the 1970s, Court Farm remained unoccupied and thieves twice stole the lead flashings from the roof. After the first theft, Mr. Owen Bonnell replaced the lead, but after the second theft he could see little point in replacing it again. It was at this stage that the structure of the house began to deteriorate. Nevertheless, in 1972, he appointed Messrs, Peter Howell and Donald Jones, Architects, of Uplands, Swansea to apply for grant aid from the Historic Buildings Council. The Marquis of Anglesey and representatives of the Historic Buildings Council visited Court Farm in order to assess the property for grant aid, but their report to the Secretary of State for Wales pointed out that the property was beyond repair and so a grant was refused.
Owen Bonnell died in January, 1976 and Court Farm was inherited by his nephew, John Bonnell Davies, who was born at Court Farm. He is the present owner and lives in Pembrey.
In 1972, the possibility of saving Court Farm was first put forward to the former Carmarthenshire County Council, but it was believed that the building had deteriorated too far and would cost an estimated £50,000 to put right. Considerable theft and vandalism left the property in a badly damaged condition, and so a planning application was made by the owners for consent to demolish the building. On 23 October, 1980, Llanelli Borough Council refused the application for the following reasons:
Court Farm is a Grade II Listed Building of special architectural and historic interest, which is capable of renovation, rehabilitation and use, which would ensure its future conservation; and in line with national policy, the Borough Council is disposed not to grant consent for the demolition of Listed Buildings which are capable of preservation or conservation.
Despite the decline in the fortunes of Court Farm, local concern for the building remained strong, as evidenced by the publicity in the local press. The late Mr. John Evans, of Erw Terrace, Burry Port, who was a member of Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society, commenced a campaign to save Court Farm and. in August 1981, a Court Farm Committee was established. The Committee requested that the Borough Council place a compulsory purchase order on the building and plans were formulated to restore it and develop it as a museum, in a £100,000 project phased over 3 years. Unfortunately, the plans received a set-back when solicitors representing the owners refused to accept a valuation figure of £4,000 for the 1.8 acre site.
On 19 October 1984, another application was made to demolish Court Farm, but the application was refused. The refusal notice, issued on 18 July 1985, stated that demolition was considered premature, due to the Borough Architect’s museum feasibility study.
By 14 November 1984, the Western Mail newspaper was reporting on the proposed 48-hour fast of Mr. John Evans. The planned fast was the "ultimate threat" if demolition were to come about and "would be a last resort gesture".
In his campaign to save the building, Mr. Evans wrote to the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Elwyn Jones (a native of Llanelli), to the Archbishop of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Llanelli Borough Council, Dyfed County Council, the Welsh Office, the Welsh Development Agency, Members of Parliament, Government Ministers, various trusts and influential academics. Letters of support were received from the Prince of Wales, who was reported to be pleased that efforts were being made to save Court Farm, and a letter of support was also received from Professor Sir Glanmor Williams.
By 1985, local concern was such that funding was made available for a feasibility study for the property. Cadw generously offered a grant of 50% towards the cost of preparation of the study and the balance came from Llanelli Borough Council. The feasibility study concluded that Court Farm was worth retaining on the basis of :
its uniqueness in the district and probably Wales, particularly in a locality predominantly shaped by the Industrial Revolution;
-its rich variety of architectural features within a single building;
-virtually no examples of medieval or Tudor settlement remain in the district; and
-the extent of local interest and concern over the future of the property, which has long formed part of the local history and character of the village of Pembrey.
On 30 August 1985, Llanelli Borough Planning Officer, Mr. Clive Davies, stated that the ultimate step of demolition would not be justified until the results of the feasibility study were known. Apart from Mr. Evans and Cadw, others who objected to demolition included the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historic Monuments in Wales, Dyfed Archaeological Trust, Llanelli Civic Society and Pembrey Community Council.
In November 1985, the Reverend W. Roberts of Burry Port wrote to the Western Mail Civic Pride Competition arguing for the preservation of Court Farm, and concluded with the following call to action:
"Summing up, the ancient St. Illtud’s Church remains; the notorious wreck-strewn and beautiful Cefn Sidan Sands remain; the third part of the trinity must also remain. In reality, the neglect of the ancient monument is a local and national scandal. Court Farm must be restored."
Meanwhile, plans by Llanelli Council to restore Court Farm had stalled because the asking price remained too high. On 27 June 1987, Mr. John Evans urged the Secretary of State for Wales, Mr Peter Walker, to take over the planned restoration, fearing that otherwise the plans would come to nothing. By this stage, the proposed Court Farm museum was in jeopardy because of plans to develop a Heritage and Tinplate Centre at Kidwelly which is now Kidwelly Industrial Museum.
The importance of Court Farm was still recognized by Cadw, however, and in July 1987 they agreed to offer a grant to fund restoration at a rate of 60%, which was 10% above the then usual rate. Sadly, Cadw’s offer was not taken up and changes in grant regulations meant that the offer lapsed.
However, there was renewed hope when, on 29 January 1988, Llanelli Borough Council announced plans to buy the property in order to develop it as a tourist promotion and information office. Mr. George Harris, estate officer for Llanelli Borough Council, stated that the situation of Court Farm would not be suitable as a tourist attraction in itself, but could be used as a base to promote tourist interest in the Llanelli area.
Court Farm remains posted as a building at risk on the web site of SAVE Britain’s Heritage and the posting attracted the interest of Cadw Sir Gaerfyrddin/Carmarthenshire Building Preservation Trust who obtained funding to conduct a fresh feasibility study, which was completed in 2003 by Davies Sutton Architecture. This architectural firm have successfully restored Sker House, a similar type of building. This Study was funded with by Cadw and the Architectural Heritage Fund. The Study established the intrinsic value of Court Farm and looked at all the options for saving the building. The Study established that the building represented an important historical resource and could be saved for a new beneficial use, by with repair retaining a flexible layout, allowing fitting-out for an optimum end use. The structural engineer’s report, prepared by Mann Williams Consulting Civil and Structural Engineers of Cardiff collateral to the Study provided a structural assessment and report on the basis of an inspection carried out during February 2003. This stated that “the main walls remain reasonably plumb and stable when considering the extensive period of neglect. Replacement of floors and roof structures will reinstate the necessary support to the walls and provide a significant improvement to stability.”
Court Farm has a panoramic view of Carmarthen Bay and is the only surviving Elizabethan manor house in Carmarthenshire. Before the construction of Whiteford Lighthouse, Court Farm and St Illtud's Church, Pembrey formed two of the few prominent local landmarks in the Pembrey area and so became important navigational aides. It is the seven “towering chimneys” that made Court Farm such a landmark, and both the Manor and Church are clearly marked on William Jones of Loughor’s ‘Plan or Directions for Ships to Come Safe into Burry and to Several Places of Safety to be within the Same’, made in 1757.
The Burry Inlet has always been a notoriously difficult place to navigate, due to the quickly changing course of the river and shifting sand banks. Ships crossing the Burry Bar, which is roughly on a line drawn from Burry Holms on Gower to Tywyn Sands or Cornel Mawr, near Pembrey, were crossing a treacherous area. Charts indicate that the contours of the estuary are constantly changing. As an example, in 1764 John Wesley crossed the Burry Inlet on horseback from Pembrey on his way to Oxwich, in Gower. Today, such a crossing would not be possible.
In the seventeenth century, Sir Walter Vaughan, conceived a life saving sea rescue scheme, and as local Member of Parliament, enthusiastically tried to get the Government to take-up his plans, to no avail.
The Butlers had been granted rights to all wrecks found on the Cefn Sidan sands, and so for centuries the Lord of the Manor of Pembrey had rights and privileges over the disposal of wrecks found along the coast.
Cefn Sidan was frequently the graveyard of many unsuspecting vessels, whose victims were buried in the grounds of Pembrey Church, including a relative of Napoleon's Josephine. Entries in the Pembrey Church registers record numerous burials of passengers and crew. The demand for coal, in the nineteenth century, led to a big increase in the number of wrecks along the coast.
Despite this close connection with the sea, when King Charles I asked Sir Walter Vaughan if he could supply the Crown with a ship of 30 tons, Sir Walter avoided the issue by claiming that Carmarthenshire was an inland county with only a few creeks. However, this did not prevent Sir Walter from acquiring possession of at least two ships at auction, after mishaps led to them running aground at Pembrey. One of these was of 60 tons burthen and known as “DOROTHY”. She was registered at Burry and leased for a voyage from Laugharne to Chester, with a cargo of salt. The other ship was the vessel “HOPE”, she was registered at Harborough, but was driven by a storm into the North Burry Road in June 1631, damaging the cargo of salt and leading to the desertion of the vessel by her crew. Sir Walter acquired possession of both vessels and cargoes and later assigned them to a Plymouth merchant for £500.
By the end of the eighteenth century, uncertainty had arisen as to the exact area to which the Lord Ashburnham, at that time, the Lord of the Manor of Pembrey, and Lord Cawdor, Lord of Kidwelly held rights. Both agreed that their agents and their legal advisers should be allowed to investigate their claims, and depositions were taken from a number of older local men, who indicated that uncertainties about the rights had set in during the seventeenth century.
The statements of Lord Ashburnham sought to claim that Lord Ashburnham’s tenants had always exercised their right to take any wreck or articles found on the shore to a recognised storage place, or even to Court Farm itself. The salvors were then granted a sum of money to cover the “salvage and expenses”. It may be that such articles were stored in the barn at Court Farm. The following are two examples of the many depositions that were made in favour of the Ashburnham estate:
“1663, 8th day of June, John William Arnold, yeoman of Pembrey, aged 75, Sworn and Examined before the Court of the Steward…” he had always assumed that he had the right to claim any material from the wrecks on behalf of the “Lordship of Ashburnham until now and of late.”
“1664, 14th day of July, David William John, village of Pembrey, yeoman, four score years, Sworn and Examined before the Court of the Steward…did lay claim, title unto any of the wreck or materials that happened to be cast up by the sea upon any of the lands within the Lordship of Pembrey by Permission of the Lord of the Manor and his agents.”
By 1830 the dispute had been settled amicably, without a court case, and the agreement allowed Lord Ashburnham to maintain his ancient manorial rights over the Pembrey foreshore, and Lord Cawdor to maintain his rights over the Kidwelly foreshore. The agreement document stated:
“The right of wreck upon this immediate part of the coast (Caldecott) seems not to have been distinctly exercised within living memory of man, but whenever a ship has been stranded, large parties come down from the Country, some joining the tenantry of Lord Ashburnham, and others the tenantry of Lord Cawdor, and whichever proved the stronger party took the greater share of the Prey.”
Cargo from wrecked vessels was sometimes c carried in carts to farms owned by Lord Ashburnham and, when the owner made a claim on the property, Lord Ashburnham’s agent would charge a salvage fee. The following are examples of wrecks claimed by Lord Ashburnham and listed in the 1830 agreement document:
1763 Received balance left unpaid of Wine (salvaged) sold this year, 8s. 10d. For salvage of the tobacco ship that came ashore at Pembrey, 5gns. For timber that came ashore at Pembrey, £1. 10. 0.
1764 For ‘uldge’ cast with a small supply of rum in it that came on shore £4. 10. 0.
1766 Caldecott: received for a boat taken up at Towin (in Caldecott) afterwards claimed on oath by Capt. Jones of Carmarthen, 1d.
1768 Caldecott: received the profit of 4 casks of wine, sold by auction at Towin on 15th March 1768, £17. 4. 0.
1770 Received for the salvage of a Dutch vessel, stranded on the fee farm at Caldecott, 5gns. Received for a hogshead of claret, £4. 18. 0, but deducted 5s. for carriage of it from the sand of Towin.
1776 Received of Mr. Griffith the Collector of Customs at Llanelly, the produce of the tobacco of the ship “POMPEY”, thrown on Pembrey Manor in February 1773, £83. 4. 0.
There are also occasional accounts in Ashburnham documents of sales of wreck found on the Pembrey sands:
“Account of wreck sold by William Davies for the Right Honourable the Earl of Ashburnham – collected from Pembrey Manor (The Court).
September 1804 To piece of elm, timber sold, being 8 cwts. and a half at 2s. 0. 17s 0
August 1805 To an old cannon sold to Mr. Morgan at 4 @ 2/6 10s 0
Received from Steven Jones for use of the storeroom at Court to put the late wreck; £1. 1s. 0
Eventually, all wrecks became the sole responsibility of the Receiver of Wrecks and Droits and it was his prerogative to dispose of a wreck, and its cargo, by auction, or any other suitable means. By this time, all ships from the Pembrey area were registered with the Register of British Ships at the port of Llanelli, and each ship was issued with a certificate of registry and details of the vessel were entered in the Register.
There were reputed to be many wreckers in the Pembrey area. "Mat of the Iron Hand", who had lost a hand and boasted an iron hook, used to tie lanterns to the sheep grazing on the headlands during a winter storm to draw vessels into shore. One day, these false lights lured a ship onto the rocks before Sir Walter Vaughan could get the boats of his sea rescue crew out to save them. It was said that Mat's custom was to kill all survivors, so that there could be no witnesses. One swimmer that he allegedly dispatched turned out to be John Walter Vaughan, the eldest son of Sir Walter Vaughan. As Mat had been imprisoned, over the years by, Sir Walter, he took his revenge by cutting off the young man's hand. As he did so, he noticed that he was wearing a gold signet ring with the well-known Vaughan crest of the three boys' snake-entwined heads, given to John Walter on attaining his majority. This was the private seal of the family. Mat was subsequently hanged.
In 1979 a group of Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society members carried out some hedge counting on Court Farm land. This involves counting the number of different tree species in alternate 30m lengths of hedgerow. Each species in the hedge approximates to one hundred years.
A narrow strip of land near the Court, known as the "Narrow Yard" (Llathed Fain, in Welsh) was traditionally granted, or leased, by the Lord of the Manor to a favoured yeoman, who quickly delineated his property with a surrounding hedge. At Court Farm, the field shapes do suggest enclosure of former "strips" or "lands" in an open field system. The Antiquarian Society found that, on average, there were five tree species per hedge, indicating an early sixteenth century enclosure from open fields.
Most of the survey effort was concentrated here, and in the Kidwelly area, because of the amount of medieval, and later, documentation available for this area, which can act as a “control” check for dates obtained from species counting. The constituent manors of local lordships are described in a 1609 Survey. This covers different soils, field types, settlement patterns and tenurial customs of the Welshries and Englishries. Dr. Max Hooper, of the Nature Conservancy, pioneered this system of calculation from English hedgerows, whose antiquity was attested by similar documents, such as hedged parts of Anglo-Saxon estate boundaries delineated in the charters, medieval "assarts" or clearances in the forest or waste registered in the Court Rolls, etc. The equation between age and number of species present is due to the relative abundance of colonizing species in the immediate vicinity, and the rate at which some species can colonize existing hedges, whether planted or made by clearing woodland either side of them.
During the late 1700s and early 1800s, a large number of oak trees were planted on the eastern slope below Garreg Llwyd Quarry. In early times the oak tree was sacred to the Druids, and in 1842 a newspaper reported that "A grand Druidic procession took place in Pembrey", although it is not clear if there is any link to the wood.
During the early 1800s, women were employed in the area to strip the bark of the oak trees, which was sent to the nearest tannery, where tannin was extracted from the bark and used in leather production.
Fanciful claims have been made that a tunnel connected Court Farm with the nearby St Illtyd's Church.
Court Farm used to have a large and heavy stone bowl, filled by spring water, in its grounds, which was used to water cattle for almost a hundred years by Court Farm’s tenant farmers. This was believed to be the "lost" Norman font bowl of the Church, and subsequently, the bowl was moved to the Lady Chapel of the Church in 1933, where it still remains.
Interest in Court Farm goes back over a number of decades. On the afternoon of Saturday, 12 September, 1970 the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society held its final Field Day of the 1970 season, when a visit was made to the Pembrey area. The seventy members were conducted by Mr W.H. Morris of Kidwelly and Mr Brynmor Voyle of Llanelli. After assembling at Trimsaran, the party proceeded to a point on Pembrey Mountain where they paused to admire a panoramic view of Carmarthen Bay. At Court Farm Mr. Brynmor Voyle outlined the main architectural and historical features of the mansion, including its single hall-type structure. Members were, unfortunately, unable to inspect the inside of the house. The castellated barn structure in front of the mansion aroused a great deal of interest.
At St. Illtyd's Church, the Reverend T.A. Jones welcomed the party and made special mention of “Butler's Window” and the hagiascope, the opening in the church tower through which lepers viewed the consecration of the bread and wine at the altar. Members then inspected the parish registers, dating from 1700 and the memorial to families such as Rees of Cilymaenllwyd, Mansel of Stradey, Vaughan of Trimsaran, Thompson of Glyn Abbey and Wedge of Goodig.
Go to this URL address to view pictures ad information of the ruins of Court
Farm in Pembrey.
Known ‘officially’ as Pembrey Court, and to the inhabitants of Pembrey as Cwrt Pembrey or just the Court, this historic manor-house stands on a hill about a half a mile north-west of the church of St. Illtyd in the little village of Pembrey. The present buildings are dated from the early sixteen century manor house.
Dedicated to Saint Illtyd, the parish church contains heraldic memorials to the families of Butler, Vaughan’s and Mansell. It is told in our Dalton history that Walter Dalton III is buried somewhere inside the church. In the courtyard is buried the citizens of Pembrey, including some of my own Dalton family. There is a old door bolted to the wall at the entrance that reads; William Dalton, church warden.
In the courtyard against the outside stone wall is the grave site of James Dalton and his wife Joyce. Below is the transcription on this tombstone which is a large flat stone and is inscribed as follows:
“Here Lieth the body
Of James Dalton of Caldicote
Farm of this parish Gent who
Departed this life on the 15thday
Of May Anno Domini 1721 aged
71 years son of Walter Dalton of
the parish of Witney in the
County of Oxford Gent
Here also Lieth the Body of
Joyce the wife of said James
Dalton who departed this Life the 10th
Day of march Anno Domini 1731
Ages 84 years
The information below is from a booklet I bought in this very St. Illtyd’s Church, Pembrey when I attended services there on Sunday, June 1st. 2003. One of the great events of my life.
Eglwys llltud Sant, Pen-Bre; the name of the church in the Welsh language.
“The Pembrey parish church with Llandyry is in the deanery of Kidwelly, the Archdeaconry of Carmarthen and the Diocese of St. David’s. Pembrey is a name derived from the hill or ridge which overlooks the village and juts out in the south westerly direction towards Carmarthen Bay. Pembre the Welsh form is precise in its meaning, ‘Pen’ meaning head or end and ‘bre’ meaning ridge or hill.
The church was dedicated to St. Illtyd, who it is believed lived about 450 to 525 A.D., during the Age of Saints 5th to 8th Centuries …………….. During the Age of Saints hundreds of devout and saintly men journeyed throughout Wales teaching and preaching and helping the needy. Usually one of them would eventually settled in a particular place and preach to the local people from the most suitable spot, rise or mound; this chosen spot or enclosure gradually came to be regarded as hallowed ground, known in Welsh as ‘Llan’. In time a simple crude church of wattle and timber would be established within the enclosure and the Saint’s name added to ‘Llan’, resulting in hundreds of place names in Wales beginning with Llan, as in Llanelli and Llandeio.
No exact date can be given for the foundation or building of the church, but it is one of several churches in this area mentioned in the “Book of Llandaff’ which dates from about 1066-71.
Due to the many alterations and renovations over many centuries it is impossible to discover whether any of the original building exists today“.
Has Pembrey Court a tale to tell? You bet! read on……….
As the Norman conquerors advanced through South Wales, they left in their wake a string of castles, the nearest one being Kidwelly. One of the Norman lords, a certain Le Boteler, was granted lands in the Lordship of Kidwelly, at Pembrey. Le Boteler was later anglicized to Butler.
The Lordship of Kidwelly had been in Anglo-Norman hands since c.1106.
Kidwelly was one of the Norman towns strung out along the coastal plain of South Wales. There is no evidence of any occupation before the King Henry I granted to Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, or even if a small Celtic settlement existed, without influence on the subsequent development of the area..
In 1106, after the death of Howell ap Gronw, who was a Welsh chieftain of Ystrad, Tywy, Kidweli and Gower, Henry I granted these lands to his minister, Roger, Bishop of Salisbury, who erected a castle at the mouth of the Gwaendraeth Fach. This was named Kidwelly Castle and formed one of a series of Norman strongholds designed to secure their newly won conquests in South Wales and to command the passage of the rivers across which the road to the west passed. A mention of the hall of the Castle in a document of 1115 or earlier shows that the building of Kidwelly must have been practically completed by that year. During the up-rising which followed the death of Henry I, the Battle of Maes Gwenllian was fought a short distance away from the castle (1136). The account speaks of Maurice de Londres, Lord of Kidwelly, and Geoffrey, Constable of the Bishop, as leaders of the Norman army. Maurice, who is mentioned for the first time in connection with this district, already possessed Ogmore in Glamorgan, where his father William de Londres appears to have been one of the original conquerors. The coupling of the two names suggests that Roger of Salisbury, while retaining possession of the castle, had granted the lordship of the district to Maurice de Londres, who probably acquired the castle also when the bishop died in the following year.
The Battle of Maes Gwenllian:
Maes Gwenllian, Gwenllian's Field, lies a mile north of Kidwelly.
It commemorates a woman who, with the martial instincts, led a Welsh army against the Normans. The battle followed the death of King Henry I in December 1135, when the Welsh revolted against foreign rule and threatened a national uprising.
An army was raised in Breconshire and attacked the Anglo-Norman settlements in Gower. The battle fought between Loughor and Swansea resulted in a crushing victory for the Welsh where 500 Normans were killed.
The ruler of the South, Gruffydd ap Rhys, saw the exciting prospect of expelling all foreigners from his Kingdom. He rode north to Gwynedd to seek reinforcements. While he was away, Maurice de Londres, Lord of Kidwelly decided to counter-attack.
Gwenllian, the beautiful wife of Gruffydd ap Rhys gathered her forces and led the Welsh army to attack the town and castle of Kidwelly. At Maes Gwenllian, the spot that now bears her name, she was engaged by the forces of Maurice de Londres, the local lord, and utterly defeated.
Gwenllian and her son Morgan were killed and another son, Maelgwn, taken prisoner. The story tells that Gwenllian was decapitated and that her headless phantom never found rest until someone searched the ancient battlefield and returned her skull to her grave.
Gwenllian's name is inextricably linked with Kidwelly. Even today, her name still provokes admiration and respect locally. Hail Gwenllian - Kidwelly's unequivocal heroine after 900 years!
Kidwelly - The settlement: Remember the settlement of Kidwelly started as a hill fort with timber walls. Slowly over the years a few farms and building were built around the Castle. The inhabitants of this small village had to soon build a wall around their houses.
The settlement consists of two parts, the castle and the walled town on the west bank, and the priory church with the new town on the other side of the river. The two are joined by a two-arched bridge of fourteenth- or fifteenth-century date. This carried the great road to West Wales, probably replacing an earlier structure. Modern development has greatly altered the appearance of the new town, the last of the picturesque medieval houses having recently been destroyed (1931). The priory church of St. Mary was founded by Bishop Roger before 1115, and became a cell of the abbey of Sherborne. Such foundations are typical of the Norman settlements in South Wales, the alien monks being introduced as a counterpoise to the patriotic sentiments of the native monasteries which too often served as focuses of anti-Norman feeling. The present building dates from the fourteenth century.
From the bridge the road to the castle leads through the defenses of the old town. The walls have mostly disappeared, but the main gateway, apparently of early fourteenth-century date, still spans the road. The line of the defenses can still be traced by the earthen bank which preceded the walls. It encloses about eight acres including the castle which it surrounds on all sides except the east.
Although the medieval buildings within the walls have been replaced with modern houses, the line of the existing roads probably follows the original layout. Another feature of exceptional interest is the ruins of the medieval mill which with the contemporary weir and leat can be traced on the low ground between the old town and the river. At a comparatively modern date this was replaced by a more efficient type of mill, which in its turn is now disused.
Perched high on the banks of the River Gwendraeth are the impressive remains of a stone castle on the site of some extensive 12th century earthworks. The earliest castle was probably an earth and timber 'ring work', built in the first half of the 12th century when the Norman invaders come to the area. There were probably some Welsh small farms there at the time.
Kidwelly Castle began as a semi-circular earthwork built on a ridge above the River Gwendraeth by Roger de Caen, Bishop of Salisbury, early in the 12th century. A memorial outside the main gate of the castle commemorates the death of Gwenllian - wife of Gruffudd ap Rhys, Lord of Deheubarth - who was killed in battle as she led Welsh forces against the castle in 1136. (Read her tale below) The victor that day was Maurice de Londres, and his heirs kept the castle until 1216, although they had to endure several successful Welsh raids during this period.
Kidwelly Castle is one of the finest castles in South-West Wales, it remains remarkably intact. Dominating a long disputed region, the strong and splendid castle developed during more than three centuries of Anglo-Norman/Welsh warfare. A chronicle in stone of medieval fortress technology. With its walls within walls fortifications Kidwelly looks today as an outstanding examples of late 13th century castle design.
Kidwelly is a mighty and imposing monument of Norman power. It is also a beautiful example of castle development, as the castle was dramatically altered on a number of occasions to conform to the latest thinking in military science. Roger, bishop of Salisbury, the Minister of England, established Norman power in the area and the ring work castle that he built here was one of a series of strongholds designed by the Normans to secure the new conquests of south Wales by commanding the river passes here.
This castle fell to the Welsh on a number of occasions in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, including once in 1159 when the Lord Rhys took it and burnt it. He is later credited with rebuilding the castle in 1190. By 1201, however, it was back in Norman hands and remained English from then on, despite periodic attacks.
It was the Chaworth family, who gained possession of Kidwelly Castle in the mid-13th century and who built the impressive stone castle that we see today.
In 1298, the castle passed on to Henry, Earl of Lancaster, who constructed a great hall within the inner bailey to provide a more comfortable accommodation. He also constructed the great chapel-tower, overlooking the river.
In the early 13th century, the outer wall was constructed, either replacing the older wooden-wall, or just being an improvement of an already existing stonewall. To gatehouses were incorporated into this wall, a smaller one to the north, and the mighty main gate to the south. The four inner towers were also heightened, in order to maintain an effective field of fire.
The great southern gatehouse took more than a century to complete, and was still unfinished by the time of the Welsh uprising under Owain Glyndwr, during which the castle was besieged in 1403. The castle held out for three weeks until an English army arrived, breaking the siege.
A Story about the Castle in 1403:
“The year is 1403 AD, and you, sir Owain Glyndwr, leader and true prince of all Wales, approach Kidwelly Castle. The castle is owned by John of Gaunt (the Snake), Duke of Lancaster, one of your most hated enemies among the oppressing Englishmen. From this castle his men has raided and overtaxed the surrounding towns and villages for decades, and he holds the castle, as well as his entire fief, in an iron grip.
Although the castle is well manned, the Duke himself however has abandoned his men holding the castle, not daring to risk his own life, and has fled back into England, from where he still has a great amount of men at his disposal, meaning that even if we capture the castle, we are by all means not safe.
However, it is of great importance that we capture the castle, in order to not lose the strength and impact of the rebellion. A defeat here would lead to a great loss of troop moral, and would allow the English to possibly refortify their positions in Wales. Also, commanding the passage of River Gwendraeth has a great strategic value”.
In the late 15th century, a few stone buildings were added to the castle, including the great hall in the outer ward and the great gateway you see today’
The castle played a minor part in the Civil War, laying as it did far from the central area of the struggle. But it’s use a fortification was at this time long since over.
Today Kidwelly is surprisingly well preserved, since it didn’t suffer from Oliver Cromwell’s slighting during the Civil war.
A story about Gwenllian the Brave:
Script by Gill Clarke.
After the Norman Conquest a beautiful princess from the House of Gwynedd was married to Gruffydd, son of the soil and natural heir to South Wales.
The Welshman's power was threatened by the Norman lord of Kidwelly Castle, so Gruffydd went north with his eldest son to raise support. His wife, Gwenllian, and their two youngest sons remained at home in the Tywi Valley.
One day a messenger arrived: ships had been seen near the coast of Glamorgan. Soon English soldiers were marching across country to join their French allies at Kidwelly.
There was no time to call back her husband, no time for advice, no time to lose. The princess donned a light coat of mail, put a helmet on over her long hair, and reached for a shield and sword.
Then, riding a Scottish pony, Gwenllian led out her sons and a small army into the path of the English troops.
On a high bank above the river Gwendraeth Kidwelly Castle overlooked the flat sea marshes. Creeping beneath its round towers, the Welshmen stole upriver and camped under the protecting brow of Mynydd y Garreg.
Gwenllian sent half the party ahead to intercept the enemy whilst the rest stayed with her, silent and hidden.
For one day they waited and nothing happened. Another day passed, and all was still.
Unknown to the princess a Welshman, traitor to his country, had met with the English force and led them along secret paths to the top of the hill.
In one mad moment they swept down from above onto the idle Welsh below. At the same time the castle gates opened: Maurice de Londres, the Norman Lord, dashed out on horseback, followed by his well-armed men.
There was no hope for Gwenllian, though around her all fought courageously. One son, Maelgwyn, was killed fighting to defend her, and many others were quickly slain.
Before long the princess and those of her men who survived were taken captive. She was wounded and helpless but even so de Londres had no pity. In front of the cheering Frenchmen her remaining son, Morgan, was held back as his mother was beheaded.
For many years afterwards the headless ghost of the princess could be seen, walking in the field of battle which still has her name today. And in the legends of Wales the memory of Gwenllian, a brave and beautiful lady, lives on.
Now onto the story of the Butler family:
The Butlers had obligations to their Kidwelly overlords; for instance, in times of war they had to provide 5 archers to the Lord of Kidwelly. The Butlers also had to provide one knight to attend 'At the Court of Foreignry of Kidwelly'. There were other duties, which the humbler inhabitants of Pembrey had to perform; for example, the men of the parish had to give a day's ploughing and help with the hay.
The earliest connection with this large amount of land occurs in April 1361 when a John le Botiler is recorded as holding the manor of Pembrey as of the Lordship of Kidwelly. (the present day Court Pembrey house was not as yet built) After the Botiler family changed their name to Butler and as many as 6 generations lived on the lands of the future Pembrey Court, all named John.
The daughter of the last John Butler, named Ann inherited the Manor (lands) and she married Sir Richard Vaughan at his resident at Bredwardine Court, Herefordshire. From this marriage started the Vaughan family dynasty at Pembrey Court.
Sir Richard Vaughan when he inhered by marriage the vast lands of the Manor of Pembrey, he then had Pembrey Court house built on a piece of land on a hill over looking the town of Pembrey as a wedding present for his son Walter.
Sir Walter Vaughan, born in 1500 married Blanch Rydal and they lived at Dunraven Castle in Glamorgan, Wales in 1534. This was for one year only while Pembrey Court was being built. Walter Vaughan and his wife and family continued to travel between Dunraven and Pembrey.
In the past there have been many recordings of wrecks along the coast of Glamorgan, and tales tell of smugglers who were known for looting these vessels. One story is about Dunraven Castle at Southerndown, Glamorgan, and was the home of the Vaughan family.
The last Vaughan, though to be Sir Walter Vaughan to live there had a son who had been at sea for many years. His father's greed led him into the evil pursuit of wrecking, which is enticing ships on stormy nights by the use of lights on the cliff tops (their captains believing the lights were a harbour) to rocks such as the Witch's Nose on Dunraven Head, and their doom. Vaughan and his helpers then plundered their rich cargos from distant lands. On one occasion one of his helpers who was known as Matt of the Iron Hand (as his hand had been removed as a punishment for piracy and replaced by an iron hook), found the body of the captain of the latest wreck washed up on the beach. He was unable to remove the captain's ring and so cut off his hand and gave it to his master who screamed loudly as he recognized it to be the hand of his son returning at last to his family. Vaughan sold Dunraven shortly afterwards and subsequently turned mad.
Rowland Vaughan was the second son of Walter Vaughan of Bredwardine, Herefordshire. He had spent time in the Court of Queen Elizabeth I under the patronage of his great aunt, Blanche Parry, a close friend of the queen. It was the 'bitternesse' of Dame Blanche's 'humor' which forced Vaughan into the Irish wars where bad diet and standing waist deep in water damaged his health and he returned, an invalid, to Bredwardine.
After Sir Walter Vaughan died in 1584 his brother Sir Thomas Vaughan moved into Court Pembrey. He had 4 sons and three daughters. His eldest son, Rowland Thomas Vaughan inherited Pembrey Court. Rowland Thomas Vaughan was the ancestor of many Vaughan’s to live at Pembrey Court.
Many famous people visited Pembrey Court, including Oliver Cromwell who visited the manor when he passed through Pembrey during the English Civil War. He stayed there on Sunday, July 3rd, 1648. Other visitors were entertained at The Court, many of them noblemen. Writers came, painters such as Van Dyke, Lely and Reynolds. The latter came and stayed for months to paint the many ladies and gentlemen of the Vaughan family and also their guests. The Vaughans welcomed many of their cousins from the North, South, and mid-Wales and even those who had moved to England. All of these loved Pembrey Court and spent many enjoyable weeks boating, fishing and shooting game in the woods.
In the 1560 the first Rowland Vaughan (and who may be the same Rowland Vaughan whose father was the Sir Walter Vaughan of Bredwardine) lived at Pembrey Court was a keen gardener and made flower and vegetable gardens and a large fruit orchard. He also planted the great spread of oak forest which runs across the hillside from Pembrey to Pwll and as far as Kidwelly. There was a sizeable pond fed by three springs. There was also a deep well of pure drinking water from a blur rock. This well supplied the house for centuries.
The Vaughans used Pembrey Court as a base to buy and build others houses around the area, one of which was built after 1650 in the town of Llanelli, 5 miles east of Pembrey on the main road to England. This was built by a son of Rowland Vaughan, one of several Rowland’s to live at Pembrey Court. His name being Walter Vaughan, and there is a record of 1671 that Walter Vaughan was assessed at twelve hearths for the house which suggests that it was a very large house.
Llanelli: this small village was to become the largest town in the area due to the rapid industrialization of South-east Carmarthenshire. Like nearby Kidwelly, this started as a Anglo-Saxon borough in the medieval period. The antiquary, John Leland, writing in the 1530s, observed that Llanelli was only a ‘village where the inhabitants dig coal”. In 1609 a survey of Llanelli was carried out by the Duchy of Lancaster and only 59 freeholders were listed. The church, dedicated to St. Ellwy, was an older formation and there is a late 11th, reference to it in the Book of Llandaf.
Edward, Richard and James Ormande Dalton, all sons of James Dalton, are listed as dying in Llanelli.
This Walter Vaughan had a younger brother named Rowland Vaughan who married Margaret Ann Mansel, of Muddlescombe, Carmarthenshire, Wales. They had a son named Rowland Vaughan Jr. and whose daughter, Joyce married our James Dalton and by this event James Dalton become part of the Vaughan families involvement with Pembrey Court.
James Dalton is listed as an estate agent to the later Lord Ashburnham who married into the Vaughan family; More on this later.
The eldest son of Rowland Vaughan Sr. was Thomas Vaughan who inherited Pembrey Court, but he moved onto Tally in Dyfed.
The above mentioned Walter Vaughan, brother to Rowland, had two wives, and by the second , two sons, names George and Fredrick. George succeeded to the family estates.
The eldest son Walter Vaughan was knighted in 1603. In 1607-8 Walter was granted and purchased the lands called ‘Caldicott’ in Pembrey at a price of ?900.00p. These lands stayed in the Vaughan family for years.
Between November 1661 and November 1662 the Pembrey estate passed to an heiress, Bridget Vaughan, the daughter of Walter Vaughan by his wife Alice. A cousin, Rowland Vaughan however, disputed her title in the Bill of Complaint already referred to. He claimed that previous family settlements had stipulated that the estate should devolve upon male heirs only. He also alleged that Bridget Vaughan's mother had persuaded Frederick Vaughan to make a settlement favoring her daughter and that advantage had been taken of the 'age and infirmity' of Frederick Vaughan who was, or so Rowland Vaughan claimed, blind from birth and 'so by his impotence easy to be abused and not knowing what he did but as the confederates should inform him'.
Naturally, this version of events was denied by Alice and Bridget Vaughan, as was the assertion that Frederick Vaughan had been blind from birth. They maintained that his blindness resulted from an attack of smallpox in his infancy. That Frederick was blind cannot be disputed since he signed documents with a mark, even though he was a clergyman.
Rowland Vaughan's claim was rejected and Bridget married in 1677 John, 1st baron Ashburnham, of Battle, Sussex.
Of note is because of the dates, 1661 and 1662, I believe this cousin to be Rowland Vaughan Jr. the father of Joyce Vaughan.
George Vaughan, son of Walter, in April 1641, took steps to recover the manor lands called campos de Caldicott, and other lands in Pembrey Parish that his father Walter has lost to the Crown.
Caldicott is north of Pembrey at the top of the coast line in Pembrey Forest, and was also called Towyn. James Dalton leased Caldicott from the Vaughans and he and his wife Joyce lived there all their lives, as shown in my Dalton history in Pembrey. In Mrs. Edith Dalton Leanings “Dalton Book” she tells us that James Dalton was a Barrister-at-Law and also a receiver for the Duchy of Lancaster.
The story on how one gets to be a Barrister-at-Law. It was necessary for him to begin as a student at one of the Inn’s of Court” in London and a candidate had to either pass a general examination, or to produce evidence of having done so at one of the Universities. After James Dalton received his degree he returned home to Pembrey and as luck would have it, he was named as a receiver of the Duchy of Lancaster. This Duchy was originally created to provide income for John the Grant. The Duchy owned land in many parts of England and Wales. This lucrative position provided a very large income and was enough to give his wife and 7 children a very good life. All these children were born at Caldicott in an area on the coast of which was quite barren, with little woodland. From the positions which they afterwards filled, it is evident their parents did a very good job of educationing them.
James Dalton, who was lucky to survive the winter of 1651 as a one year old, lived a long and rich life in South Wales before he died in 1721 when his will was probated.
The story of the little village of Pembrey:
Here is a extract from the 29th years transactions of the Calvinists Methodist History Society;
"Teulue Daltoniaid Pembre, Sir Gaerfyrddin” or the Story of the Dalton family of Pembrey, Carmarthenshire. “Joyce Vaughan, one of the Trimsaran Vaughan's who died on the 10th, of March 1731, 84 years old". Joyce Dalton’s death place is shown to be at Caldicot Farm, Pembrey, Wales.
Trimsaran: “Near the northern side of Pembrey is the village of Trimsaran overlooking the vale of Gwendraeth Fawr. The first landowner there was Howel fychan (Vaughan) who come there in the first part of the 16th, century. He descendant from the family of Gwempa, and his son named David succeeded to Trimsaran……………A few generations later there was another David Vaughan of Trimsaran who was the father of Rowland Vaughan Sr. and whose son was Rowland Vaughan Jr. was the father of Joyce Vaughan.
Pembrey village at the time amounted to about twenty houses. If you think about this, those of us who have visited Pembrey today, there must have been a very large distance between houses. This would account for the very large acres that Court Pembrey occupied.
Pembrey: (Pen-bre in the Welsh language) is a village in Carmarthenshire Wales, situated between Burry Port and Kidwelly, overlooking Carmarthen Bay.
Pembrey is a parish in the hundred of Kidwelly, county of Carmarthen, South Wales and is 5 miles (S.S.E.) from Kidwelly, and today contains about 2645 inhabitants. The name of this place, signifying literally the head of a hill or promontory, is derived from its situation at the extremity of a mountainous ridge, beyond which a low promontory extends into the bay of Carmarthen. . . The substrata abound with mineral wealth, this district being thought to be the richest in South Wales in both bituminous and hard coal, both being worked to a very great extent. The quality of the soft coal is peculiarly adapted to the production of gas, the working of iron, and other manufacturing purposes; and vast quantities of both sorts are exported to various parts of the kingdom. . . a capacious harbour was constructed in 1819. . . This part of the coast is of difficult navigation, and to sailors unacquainted of it the most fatal on the shores of the Bristol Channel."
The coastline of Pembrey began its retreat from the foot of Pembrey Mountain some 6,000 years ago, revealing land which shows human occupation since the Iron Age, with hill forts dating from around 400 BC. Roman pottery remains have been unearthed in the oldest parts of the village. Evidence of an early Norman motte-and-bailey castle has been suggested close to the village square and buildings remain in the village from later Norman times.
Most of the village was created during the 18th and 19th century coal mining boom, when Pembrey was a port. Pembrey Mountain (in the Welsh language, Mynydd Penbre) was thoroughly mined by both Welsh and English companies for about 100 years and some reserves are said to remain underground. Pembrey's harbour was prone to silting and was abandoned in favour of Pembrey New Harbour - soon renamed Burry Port Harbour, just a mile further upstream on the Burry Estuary. The original harbour is now known as Pembrey Old Harbour.
Pembrey's mountain and beach Cefn Sidan are reputed to have provided some villagers with careers as wreckers, known locally as Gwyr-y-Bwelli Bach (translated as People with Little Hatchets) - attracting sailing ships with fires purporting to be beacons, then raiding them when they foundered. However, no firm evidence of wrong-doing such as booty has ever been discovered. Nevertheless, a number of vessels were certainly lost around Pembrey, including "La Jeune Emma" bound from the West Indies to France and blown badly off course in 1828. 13 of the 19 on board drowned, including Adeline Coquine, the 12 year-old niece of Napoleon Bonaparte's divorced wife Josephine de Beauharnais. She is buried at St. Illtyds Church, Pembrey.
Caldicott Farm: This farm is at the top of Pembrey Forest on the coast line which occupies the greater part of (or ‘Towyn’) Burrows, an area of sand hills of comparatively recent origin. The Burrows developed at the mouth of the River Gwendraeth over a long period. Alongside this a series of reclamations occurred around an initial nucleus formed by a tongue of dry land at the foot of Mynydd (Mountain Penbre) partly represented by the Medieval Manor of Caldicot. The Manor of Caldicot had been merged with the Manor of Pembrey (under the Ashburnhams) and by the early 19th-century, when the coastline had extended almost to its present line and most of this area appears already to have been occupied by sand hills, called ‘Great Outlet’ on the Pembrey tithe map of 1841.
Caldicott is believed to mean “a cold inhospitable place’ which is understandable in view of its exposed location to the qcean.
Pen-y-bedd: On the low coastal plain between Pembrey village and the estuary of Gwendraeth Fawr, and about 1 ¼ miles north-west of old Cwrt Penbre mansion. This small village was a superior farmstead, home of yeomen and gentry. It formed part of the Cwrt Penbre estate in the days of the when the Vaughan’s and Ashburnham’s owned a large amount of land in the area. It was held by lease in the 18th, century by the Daltons who acted as agents to the Cwrt estate. Source: Carms. PO.
Charles Dalton, a son of James Dalton leased a farm in Pen-y-bedd.
Next lets tell about what we know about the others of Walter III family. There are two other small villages or farms that our Dalton’s lived on; one was Clog-y-Fran, St. Clears.
Clog-y-Fran: in St. Clears, a few miles above Kidwelly, is on a scarp above the river Fenni. A gentry residence from medieval times, it eventually became a farmstead in the late 18thcentury. John Dalton the oldest son of James, and grandson of Walter III leased this farm after his marriage to Mary Powell and a daughter, Hanna married Zacharias Beven, who also lived at this farm. Another son of James, Rev. Thomas Dalton is listed as dying in St. Clears in 1739.
Llether-y-Chan: Another area of Pembrey was that of a farm named Llether-y-Chan, on high ground above Pembrey. In the 16th, century it was the home of the gentry of Vaughan. In the next century it changed ownership and let to farmers. The Mansel family owned it for awhile and in 1690 leased it to John Bonvill, yeoman for thirty one years. This John Bonvill’s daughter, Mary married James Dalton, the father of Thomas Dalton who came to America in 1759. James Dalton is listed as dying on his farm ‘Llether-y-Chan’ in 1766.
This Thomas Dalton was only known to us by the genealogy notes of John Luther Dalton, of Utah, USA, his great grandson who went to England on a mission for his Church in 1866. In about 1886 he later went back to England and Wales for future research on his Dalton family history. We Dalton’s in America was not sure that Thomas Dalton was one of our ancestors until two events happened; The first was finding the record of the christening of Thomas Dalton listed in the Bishops Transcripts records of the St. Illtyd Parish Church of Pembrey that proved his being the son of James Dalton of Lleth-y-Chen. Here is that record;
‘Thomas terre-fil Jacobi Dalton de Lettyvychan septum dir memsis Mai’
This transcript reads; 7th, May 1732 Thomas, illegitimate son of James Dalton of the adobi of Llettyrvychan.
The final proof that myself and the Utah Dalton's as being descendants of this Dalton family in Pembrey was when I took a DNA test in April of 2003. The results was a 100% match with Mr. Michael Neale Dalton, President and founder of the Dalton Genealogical Society in England who took the test also in April of 2003, and who was a descendant of John Dalton, first son of James Dalton, son of Walter III. This proved we both were ancestors to this Dalton family in Pembrey.
Back to the Vaughan family:
One of the last Vaughan’s to live at Pembrey court had a daughter named Bridget Vaughan. (read above) This Bridget married Earl John Ashburnham of Sussex, in 1677 in Westminster Abbey. They lived at the Ashburnham Sussex seat with occasional visits to their Welsh estates. John Ashburnham never lived in the manor of Pembrey Court and by this marriage the future of Pembrey Court was insured for 250 years. The Ashburnham Estates including Pembrey were sold by auction in 1922.
Lord Ashburnham was a visitor and once wrote that Pembrey Court was an interesting stone house, very large and keep in reasonably good repair. Another of the Ashburnham’s homes was a big mansion in Pembrey known as Pembrey House.
Lord Ashburnham, who visited Carmarthenshire again in 1687 to survey his estates in the neighborhood of Pembrey, complains very bitterly in his diary of the disgraceful state of the roads which he was obliged to traverse. "
"The state of the Carmarthenshire roads in the 17th century was undoubtedly atrocious. There is an account of one of them from the pen of John Taylor, the "Water Poet", who undertook a few weeks' journey on horseback in 1652. ............. He was fortunate enough to meet a Welshman who guided him to Carmarthen.
Bridget, sole heiress of Pembrey Court lands become widowed in 1702 and during the years 1711-14 the Dowager had trouble with several tenants in Pembrey, so she went to her local agents to help out. These agents helped to administer her Welsh estates. The Dalton family, living in Pembrey since 1656, provided several agents; The first in 1675 was Charles Dalton, oldest son of Walter Dalton III, was in charge when the Vaughan’s owned it, and in 1721-24, John and James Dalton the agents who were responsible for sale of coal from Lord Ashburnham’s coal works, some being exported in local vessels. It is also noted that my own James Dalton was also an agent for this estate. This makes sense because of his marrying Joyce Vaughan. I believe that these later Dalton agents had leased rooms or an office in the manor of Pembrey Court. We can’t as yet prove that these Dalton’s actually lived at Pembrey Court, but all our records tells us that these Dalton were ‘of Pembrey Court‘ and may be proved by the next statement;
A excerpt from a survey and valuation of the manor of Pembrey, a estate belonging to Lord Ashburnham states; “Part of the Court House and buildings, heretofore generally used by the agents; a part has been keep for the accommodation of the Agents to the Estate.”
About 1700 Pembrey Court drew the notice of a distinguished antiquary, Edward Lluyd, whose observations containing some interesting facts about the locality and was quoted in a later article is as follows; “Penbre Court, ye seat formerly of the Butlers and afterwards of the Vaughan’s and now belonging (in right of his lady) to William Ball, Esq., whence it descends to my Lord Ashburnham’s lady…… Here are two lakes close together called Swan Pool where there are plenty of Eels, and in the Winter store of Fowls such as Ducks and Teal, sometimes wild Swans, Elk and wild geese. This pool is called Swan Pool because the Lord of the manor has thereon about 40 swans. Before the hard frost there were about 80, which all died down to 6. There is a irrigation ditch extending from the area of the farms of Towyn Mawr to the burrows marked nowadays on maps as “Swan Pool drain” a far cry from the days when the pool harbored elegant swans of the masters of Pembrey Court“.
The Estate continued to be owned by the Ashburnham family until 1922 when it was advertised for sale, and with the death of the 6th and last Earl of Ashburnham in 1924, the Ashburnham connection was over. Although the latter-day Vaughan's and the Lords Ashburnham never resided in the old manor-house it was by no means neglected, and was lived in by a series of the estate agents and yeomen who kept the building in good trim.
This very large Manor house was then bought by a series of farmers, but during the 1950's it became ruinous, and is now empty and wholly ruinous, and sadly not really capable of being preserved as one of Carmarthenshire's few surviving examples of Elizabethan architecture.
The below article is copied from the BBC Wales home page. It tells about one of three old ruins that are being considered for restoration.
“Pembrey Court Manor House (Cwrt Pembre), later known as Court Farm, is today little more than a ruin. It is, however, an important and unique reminder of the world that existed before the Industrial Revolution reshaped the Carmarthenshire countryside.
The site of the house may have been settled as early as 1361. Though much of what remains is Elizabethan in origin, the house also comprised a medieval tower house, core and a barn with a castellated frontage. The most distinctive remaining feature of the property, the only Elizabethan manor left in Carmarthenshire, are its seven distinctive rubble stone chimney stacks. These days shrouded beneath rampant ivy the chimney stacks would once upon a time have proved a valuable navigation tool for ships negotiating the treacherous Burry Estuary.
The house would have been the most important property within the local parish and it is said that Oliver Cromwell once stayed there. In the early 1700's, however, the house underwent drastic alterations to convert the single dwelling for use by two separate families. Substantial remodeling of the interiors led to walls windows and doors being removed and further openings and divisions being introduced. Subsequently the two homes would be leased to a succession of different owners.
The house has remained unoccupied since 1948 and is today very dilapidated. However a wealth of original architectural features including the property's haphazard irregular quadrangle plan and massive stone walls, some magnificent paneling, and those landmark chimney stacks still invest the property with enormous character. The presence of so many original features, including portions of the roof, which though very badly deteriorated present clues as to the original design, make sensitive restoration of this unique property a viable proposition.
It is hoped that a restored and revitalized Pembrey Court could provide the local community with a valuable resource, which could fulfill any one of a variety of roles. Suggestions considered so far include developing the property as a themed hotel, an arts center and an Elizabethan interpretive center for schools and other visitors to the area.”
Another source of information on Court Pembrey is The Friends of Cwrt Farm or Ffrindian ‘r Cwrt in Welsh.
The Friends of Cwrt Farm are a group of local people dedicated to saving Carmarthenshire's last ancient manor house, Cwrt Farm in Pembrey. This is a magnificent Tudor mansion with a long and interesting history. This group have been so successful with their campaign that Cwrt Farm is going to be featured on the BBC TV program Restoration, as one of three Welsh buildings worthy of restoration.
Cwrt Farm has been an integral part of the cultural, political and social framework of Pembrey since early in the 14th century. Today, though apparently derelict, structural surveys show the remaining structure to be viable for sensitive restoration.
“As the Norman conquerors advanced through South Wales, they left in their wake a string of castles, the nearest one being Kidwelly. One of the Norman lords, a certain Le Boteler, was granted lands in the Lordship of Kidwelly, at Pembrey. Le Boteler was later anglicised to Butler. The Butlers needed a manor house as a residence, but also to act as their manorial court, ie sorting out rents etc. So Cwrt came into being.
The Butlers had obligations to their Kidwelly overlords; for instance, in times of war they had to provide 5 archers to the Lord of Kidwelly. The Butlers also had to provide one knight to attend 'At the Court of Foreignry of Kidwelly'. There were other duties, which the humbler inhabitants of Pembrey had to perform; for example, the men of the parish had to give a day's ploughing and help with the hay. The manor of Penbre was granted to Sir Arnold Butler by Maurice de Londres, lord of Kidwelly, in about 1128. The last known reference to the Pembrey Butlers was in c.1500. Ann Butler, heiress of estates at Pembrey and Dunraven, married Sir Richard Vaughan of Bredwardine in Herefordshire, High Sheriff of that county in 1530. During the Civil War period, Cwrt was the home of Sir George Vaughan, an ardent Royalist. This crippling fine led him to return to live at Cwrt, and to sell off his estates at Dunraven and Fallersdon.
John Ashburnham wrote of Cwrt in 1677: ' I saw Pembrey House (Court), an old stone house, large enough and kept in good repair', 10 years after he had married Bridget Vaughan and had moved to Ashburnham Place in Sussex.
So Cwrt now became Cwrt Farm, the home of estate stewards and tenant farmers. In 1823, the Ashburnham’s built themselves an elegant villa, Pembrey House, as an occasional residence, the center of their 8,000-acre Carmarthenshire estate. Cwrt Farm was later sold to the Bonnell family.
Friends of Cwrt Farm are committed to the sensitive restoration of Cwrt Farm for use by the local community.
A feasibility study carried out for Cadw Sir Gaerfyrddin (The Trust of Wales) states:-
“.... whilst the building looks a lost cause, there is still significant merit in a complete restoration of the building, with so many good features still surviving. However, decay is still progressing, and this may be the last opportunity to save the building before a substantial collapse occurs and renders the situation totally irretrievable.”
The Building its self:
The first impression of Cwrt now is of a large, rambling building of local stone, heavily shrouded in ivy, with many tall chimneys still poking up through the rampant growth. It is clearly ruinous and neglected, as the roofs and internal floors have virtually all collapsed.
But the shell of the building, the walls and chimneys are remarkably intact, as they are of such robust construction. Some of the stone walls are up to four feet in width.
Cwrt Farm is obviously an ancient house, with massive stone walls and a haphazard plan. A clue to its quality is the pair of great, diagonal chimneys on the West side of the house, a Tudor architectural feature of important houses. Every fashionable Elizabethan gentleman's house would sport at least a pair of great chimneys like this - they are an important clue to the architectural quality of Cwrt. They are decorative as well as supremely functional.
Other Tudor details we can spot are the surviving three light mullioned windows, some with hood moulds, so the rain drips safely away; some of them are stone, others of wood. They are so reminiscent of the windows of Oxford colleges, and again, are clues to the quality of this building. The windows at Cwrt are very interesting - there is evidence that at times in the past they have been blocked, possibly to avoid paying the window tax. Some of the larger windows in the hall, the most important room in the house, must have been very fine.
Inside the former hall in the South-East wing, you can see two Sutton stone fireplaces on the wall, one on top of the other. They are elegant, simple, but high quality designs, showing that in the past Cwrt was an important gentry house, with fireplaces brought in from outside. The Sutton stone quarry was near Southerndown, on the Glamorgan coast, and it is quite possible that the fireplaces arrived by sea.
In the roof space of the former hall, which later became a barn is a collapsing ornate beam, of great significance. It may date back to the 13th Century. It is one of the few roof timbers to survive.
The plan of Cwrt is an irregular three sides of a quadrangle; there are many rooms of different shapes and sizes, and little coherent planning, due largely to the various uses that Cwrt has been put to over the centuries. Many clues to its former use and function are no doubt lying in the collapsed rubble of roofs and upper floors.
In front of Cwrt stands the barn, also in decay, with a collapsed roof and ominous cracks on the pine end walls. Just under the parapet, corbelling can be seen, projections of stone jutting out from the wall to support its weight. This local building feature is to be found on some old Carmarthenshire buildings. Corbelling can be found on the South wall of Cwrt - (hidden under the ivy) and on the tower of Pembrey church. Another good feature is the pointed arch of the doorway, suggesting an ancient construction, which along with the castellated parapet, gives it a military air.”
And so ends my story of a historical mansion that I hope can be restored to its former glory.
Information off the Internet on the Vaughan and Ashburnham families;
Information from Rodney Dalton’s family history database;
BBC.com - Wales;
Friends of Cwrt Farm;
The Carmarthenshire Antiquary Vol. XIX;
Calvinists Methodist History Society;
Material that is in the Public Domain;
Pembrey and Burry Port” by John A. Nicholson;
Richard and Pauline James of the ‘Carmarthenshire History Society’
The Dalton Book by Edith Dalton Leaning;
From Knights to Dreamers - A book by Rodney Dalton;
Kidwelly Town Council.
Back to the beginning of the Story
Misc. Photos of Cwrt Farm