Aberriw to Berriew

The Story of a community

D.W.Smith, BA (Hons., Cantab)

In The Beginning

To talk of Berriew before the Romans came cannot be much more than pure speculation but a few clues exist.

There are some indications that our area was populated in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages, lasting perhaps from 4000 BC to 800 BC. We find small lots of flint used by Neolithic farmers to make axes and to tip arrows. At Ffridd Faldwyn overlooking Rhydwhiman ford, they built a large enclosure surrounded by ditches: what they feared we do not know, but it was not the last fortification to overlook the ford.

The people of the Bronze Age have left us a henge, probably used for religious ritual, near Carreg Beuno lane, and burial mounds after which Llwyn-y-crwth (“The Grove of the hump”) is named.

The Iron Age which followed brought the Celtic tribes to Britain, the tribe which occupied Shropshire and neighbouring counties was the Cornovii, whose name survives in Corndon; they built many forts, one of the largest being Old Oswestry, with another large one on the Breidden. There are several sites of forts or camps in Berriew: the word “fort” implies a military use but they have been mainly used as enclosures for cattle: the site at Caethugley (Cyddyglau) may have been one of these, but at Blackwood (Coedcae Du) there is a site with substantial ramparts of obvious military implications. There are two sites on the north side of the Cil road between Ffridd farm and Gwernydd, one on each side of the Luggy brook and there are other small sites but the most impressive one in Berriew is the fort (as we must regard it) enclosing seven acres in a triple line of defences at Cefn-yr-allt, with steep slopes down to theSevernand the Luggy. A new large fort was constructed at Fridd Faldwyn about 200 BC. Only the very largest of these forts are likely to have had significant permanent occupation implied by houses within their ramparts. In peaceful areas and times, the Celts moved around and settled in large family groups which defined their areas of occupation as “trefi” or townships. Thus in the Iron Age were established some of the townships of Berriew, though perhaps all were not fully occupied until later, and some of them may have been established as settlements of slaves or bondmen. Most of the names we know them by today will be later still, but the name for the township which lay near the mouth of the Rhiw would logically be Aberriw so this name may go back 2000 years, and the “township stone” which still marks its boundary may have been there an equally long time.

The Romans

The main Roman invasion ofBritaintook place in 43 AD and by about 50 AD the Fourteenth Legion was established at Wroxeter to keep the Cornovii in order. The more warlike sections of the tribe moved across theSevernand joined the Ordovices to support Caratacus in his resistance to Roman conquest. The Romans left Wroxeter in 90 AD, leaving behind a town named Viroconium Cornoviorium, but the tribes beyond theSeverndid not knuckle down and a fort named Lavobrinta, now Forden Cacr, was built to guard the ford at Rhydwhiman and to watch developments in Berriew and its hinterland: this fort was manned almost until the Romans finally leftBritainabout 410 AD. To the Romans the people who lived away from Viroconium were known as “country people” (pagenses) and this name is thought to be the origin of the name Powys given to a princedom established in the century after the Romans left, with a capital named Pengwern. Pengwern was attacked and burnt down by the Saxons of Mercia about 660 AD, and Powys was confined west of theSevernwith a new capital at Mathrafal, associated with an ancient Christian centre at Meifod.

The prince of Powys who died at Pengwern was Cynddylan: his sister Heledd mourned him from the banks of the Dwyriw in Manafon, while a second sister, Meisir, may have settled in Bryncaemeisir in Berriew.

As the story of Saint Beuno reveals, the Saxons had penetrated to our borders before the fall of Pengwern whenMerciaand Powys were united against Northumbria. Saint Beuno was born on the banks of theSevernand went to Caerwent for religious training. After his return, he approached Mawn, a prince of Powys, who granted to him thetownshipofAberriwso that he could establish a church, which probably stood near the site of the present church in a semi-circular area which may have had a religious, though pagan, history. The church boundary remained the township boundary, marked by the still- present township stone, until after 1840 AD, the rest of the present churchyard being the glebe. The story goes that Beuno, walking on the banks of theSevern, heard Saxons on the far bank urging on their dogs to catch hares. He decided that these aliens would, one day, take over Aberriw and so he left, leaving a Christian group behind him, and went to Meifod whence, after a short interval, he set out on his travels aroundNorth Wales. He established many churches and finally settled at Clynnog Fawr on the Llyn peninsula where he died in 642 AD. The date of the foundation of the church in Aberriw is usually placed just before 600 AD.

The Normans

Very soon after the conquest, theNormansmoved into theWest Midlandsand built the firstcastleofMontgomery, now known as Hendomen, to watch Rhydwhiman for invading Welshmen who had ravaged the district in 1039 and 1050. The castle was destroyed by the Welsh in 1095 and its occupants slain. The rebuilt Hendomen was seized by Llewelyn the Great in 1216 and this persuaded HenryIIIto build the new stonecastleofMontgomeryin 1223 but Hendomen remained in use as a forward post until about 1300. In 1257, a large army of English Lords combined with the Lord of Powys to invade Berriew, but were scattered by the Welsh under Llewelyn ap Griffydd. About this time the bridge at Caerhowel (BaldwinsBridge) which ended at Bridge End in Berriew was destroyed.

A major treaty between HenryIIIand Llewelyn was signed “at the ford ofMontgomery” (i.e. Rhydwhiman) in 1267 and the ford was thereafter, on many occasions, the meeting place of representatives of the English King and the Welsh prince, the latter’s representative being, commonly, the abbott of Strata Marcella.

The Normans built a chain of motte-and-bailey castles on the east side of theSevern, and there was a similar Welsh line, our local motte being at Luggy. It is impossible to date this motte with any precision, but it is believed that in March 1295, the Earl of Warwick led his troops from Montgomery up the Luggy valley (Nant Helygi) to meet the rebellious forces of Madog ap Llewelyn at Maes Moedog: there is no mention of the motte, so it was probably a redundant ruin by then.

The Tithe Barn at the Rectory

The Parish

The parish of Aberriw was founded about 1200 AD by amalgamation of a convenient group of townships and named Aberriw after the township in which the church stood. It is first mentioned in 1254 when the bishop of St. Asaph gave the rectorial tithes to the abbey of Strata Marcella near Welshpool. It is believed that the Lady Well, no longer extant, but the place which gave the name to one of our roads, was dedicated to the Saint Marcella, also known as Melangell: the saint’s small statue is one of those on the reredos in the present church. Heilyn ap Mathew, Rector of Aberriw, claimed thetownshipofCilcewydd, but the Pope ruled that it belonged toHereforddiocese. In 1282, Heilyn was excommunicated, the sentence being proclaimed from his own pulpit on five Sundays and five feast days. The controversy produced a decision that townships east of theSevern, starting at Rhydwhiman, belonged toHereforddiocese.

When Henry VIII dissolved Strata Marcella, the Aberriw tithes were sold to twoLondonmerchants and eventually belonged to the Blayneys of Gregynog until the rnid-nineteenth century. There was a large tithe barn behind the Rectory farmhouse where the tithe corn etc. was stored (see illustration). The responsibility for the progress of the church in Aberriw rested on the vicars, of whom Thomas Kyffin, vicar 1608~22, built the Vicarage in 1616: his initials still appear on the front of the building.

The structure of the parish was affected when, in 1279, Edward I granted to Roger Mortimer the lordship of Cedewain including “all the townships of Aberriw except Brithdir”. As a result, the relation of Brithdir to the rest of Berriew has varied through the centuries, but today it is part of the Community and Parish of Berriew. A descendant of Roger Mortimer was Edward IV so, eventually, Cedewain became a royal property. Earlier Edward IV’s father, Richard, Duke of York, freed, in 1447, all the bondmen of Cedewain.

Tudors and Stuarts

Henry VIII, when he established theCountyofMontgomeryshire, pushed back the border ofWalesfrom Rhydwhimam to Offa’s Dyke, so the famous ford was no longer so important in our history.

The rule of Elizabeth and James I was a period of prosperity for the yeomen of Berriew. The wool trade flourished and the market hall in Berriew was a convenient place where the wool could be stored and baled. The market hall stood near the main entrance to the church and remained there until 1875. Many houses were built in the parish at this time, of which a considerable number survive, albeit with alteration. Old and impressive houses at Cil Pentre, Garthmyl Hall and Pennant have disappeared but we still have fine houses at the Vicarage, the Malthouse (now Rhiew House),Lower Cil, Upper Luggy, the Lion (built 1618) and many others: in some places the old houses have been converted into barns. These old houses give Berriew an unmatched architectural quality. We still have one relic of the old church in the form of the Elizabethan pulpit, rescued when the church was destroyed in 1800 AD, and converted for use in Pantyffridd chapel. The old bells were saved and the recumbent figures of Arthur Pryce (died 1597) and his two wives lie in the present church, where they were replaced in 1948; his children are represented by figures in thePowyslandMuseum.

The reign of Charles I brought great changes, reflecting the English Revolution. Berriew was on the side of the Parliament in the Civil War and responded to calls for assistance by the Parliamentary generals, especially Thomas Middleton of Chirk, “Major-General ofWales”, during the battles for Montgomery Castle and Powis Castle which effectively ended the war inNorth Wales. George Devereux of Nantcriba, Forden and Vaynor, Berriew, who was related to the Earl of Essex, General-in-Chief for the Parliament, was MP for Montgomeryshire 1646-53: he was one of the main signatories to the call for the abolition of the House of Lords in May 1648. (The act for the abolition was passed in March 1649). In Berriew, one of the factors causing the strong reaction to royal privilege was the mposition on the village, which has no ports, of a Ship Money tax of £28.15.4, compared with the next highest (inNewtownhundred) of £11.18.2 on Bettws and of £7.2.10 onNewtown.

The Blayneys of Gregynog and the lords of Powis Castle were strongly royalist though the Blayneys of Fachhir, Berriew gave support to Parliament: Berriew was therefore almost an island of Parliamentary support except for the Vaughans of Llwydiarth (Edward Vaughan,CountyMP, 1646~53).

Though we referred to the Tudor and Early Stuart period as one of prosperity for local yeomen, there was another side to the coin. The common labourers were oppressed by barbaric laws to prevent them taking advantage of the demand for labour created by the beginning of industrial development inBritain. The Justices were empowered to fix wages and the result was that the real value of wages fell by half between the accession of Edward VI and the Civil War ~ a good enough reason for the revolution which took place. The accession of Charles 11 eased the tension in politics and also led, in time, to more religious tolerance between church and chapel, though the tough attitude taken to Quakers resulted in emigration toAmerica. James II tried to turn the clock back but William and Mary made sure the Protestant succession

The Squires

The seventeenth century was the age of the Welsh squires, who benefited from the rule of the Tudors, flocking toLondonto seek patronage, and education mainly at the Inns of Court. The life of Berriew became dominated by the local squires and the village was labelled the “village of many squires”. Many of the principal families in Berriew could trace their ancestry back to Welsh lords and princes. An old Welsh family lived at Faenor (Vaynor) from at least 1200 to about 1550: they were descended from Brochwel, a prince of Powys, and on the distaff side were linked with the lords of Cedewain descended from Trahairn, Lord of Arwystli, who died in 1080. The family of Penthryn traced their origin from the same Trahairn, and the Jones of Garthmyl Hall claimed the same ancestor: probably the Jones of Brithdir were of the same descent.

We know of a new hall being built at Faenor about 1450 which was replaced in 1640 by a brick-built house, the first such in this area: it is still the main structure of the present house.

The last member of the old family of Faerior, Richard ap Edward, had only daughters:Elizabethmarried John Powell of Bryncaemeisir, of a family which came originally from Caerhowel. ThetownshipofFaenorucha, containing “the capital messuage called the vaynor” passed by purchase eventually to Arthur Pryce ofNewtown, whose grandson, also Arthur, had a daughter Bridget, born 1620, who took much property to George Devereux when she married him in 1636.

The arrival of George Devereux caused great changes in Berriew. He had five sons and three daughters, all of whom lived in Montgomeryshire, especially in Berriew, and had great influence in the county. George Devereux himself was sheriff in 1657/58 and a report, probably by him, still kept in the Public Record Office, gives a glimpse of religious happenings in Montgomeryshire which is unique inWalesfor the revolutionary period. The dissenters who supported the Parliament expelled from their livings many members of the Anglican church, whose theology and actions were not considered satisfactory. Thomas Lloyd became vicar of Berriew in 1643 but was deprived of his living in 1645. In 1653, he was made a trustee of the new school established by the will of Humphrey Jones and became Rector of Llanbrynmair in 1654, but, according to the report mentioned above, was allowed to keep his old residence in Berriew (presumably the Vicarage) throughout this period: he became vicar again in 1661. His curate, Edward Roberts retained his post, and perhaps the general public did not notice any great changes in the religious situation as a result: much of the credit may go to George Devereux. Later he adopted a friendly attitude to the Quakers, rebuking his son-in-law for his harsher approach: this was a sharp contrast to the attitude of Roger Jones (vicar 1661-78) who insisted on an ill Quaker staying in prison for non-payment of tithes until he died, leaving a wife and four children. George Devereux was succeeded at Vaynor by his adventurous son Pryce who was killed in the Dutch war of 1673. His son, also Pryce (1664-1740) became the ninth Viscount Hereford by his descent from the youngest son of the fifth Viscount. The tenth viscount died in 1748 and the Berriew estate eventually came to a lawyer, Robert Moxon, and his nephew John Moxon. John died in 1793 and his place was taken by his sister Ann’s husband John Winder and their son John and daughter Elizabeth, establishing a new family at Vaynor. Humphrey Jones of Garthmyl, in his will of 1653, left £400 to establish a school in Berriew, which was built where the Old School stands, and this school, rebuilt in the nineteenth century, was used until 1914. It gave an exceptional education to the children, with a high level of literacy over the generations, compared with less fortunate parishes.

The old “black-and-white” Garthmyl Hall was replaced by the present red brick Georgian house in 1770, but sold away from the original family in 1865. The old family of Penthryn, named after their residence, sold out to Thomas Ffoulkes in 1695, and the Ffoulkes dominated the townships of Penthryn and Cilcochwyn until the last quarter of the following century, with houses at Penthryn and Ty Coch (now known as Rhiewport). The huge old barn at Penthryn is thought to be, partly, the original house.

It was probably David Jones of Brithdir who built the timber-framed hall about 1610, and the house was not modernised until 1814. It continued to belong to members of the original Jones family until 1888. The site was possibly once a grange of Strata Marcella, and an old road, lined with yews, leading to the site can still be traced: it is said some of these yews were felled to clear the site for the hall. The Lion Inn, almost as old as the hall, belonged to Brithdir Hall until 1919, together with the Horseshoe Inn and the house known as the “Old Post Office”.

A family named Thomas lived at Pennant and dominated the township of Trwstllewelyn from before 1600 to 1800. Charles, the son of William Thomas and Margaret Humphreys changed his name, about 1730, to Humphreys and this same family now owns Brithdir Hall. The old house at Pennant was destroyed and rebuilt in brick by Charles Humphreys in 1755.

The old home of the Owens and Humphreys-Owens still stands at Tynycoed but lost most of its land to two new houses when it was taken into Council ownership.

Roads and Bridges

We must envisage Berriew parish in the eighteenth century as mainly open country, criss-crossed by paths trodden by people about their business more or less as it suited them, though cultivated land would be separated from pasture and common land by banks and ditches.

As Berriew was a main population centre and the residence of affluent squires, there had to be a number of principal roads and some of these were very old: an attempt to trace them and to give them their old authentic names can be useful. TheRed Laneis a very old road as may be deduced from its depth between its hedges. Originally it started fromPowisCastleatStocktonand ran between the townships of Trefnant in Castle Caereinion (whence a fork may have led to an old market town of the thirteenth century) and Brithdir in Berriew, being the boundary between them as it is today. After crossing the Luggy brook it became the boundary between Cil and Ffridd penywern townships, passing Groes-y-garreg and Brynderwen, between which houses it crossed the old Cil road from Berriew to Castle Caereinion. About the Bryn, the road split, one part going to the Pethel bridge and the other to the original Penthryn bridge where this main branch crossed the Rhiw and continued past Lletymeibion to Llidiardau. The minor branch went upHarbour Laneto meet its parent again near Llidiardau, whence the conjoined roads went on to Tregynon and the home of the Blayneys at Gregynog. Roads to Manafon and to Berriew via Stingwern (Ystumgwern) also started from Llidiardau.

Anyone travelling across Montgomeryshire had to consider where they could make their way across theSevern. There was a major crossing by ford or ferry near the Dyffryn farmhouse and the road leading to it, Carreg Beuno lane, is obviously ancient. The stone known as Maen Beuno, linked in story with Saint Beuno, but more probably connected with the nearby henge, was possibly a marker for this lane in ancient times.

From the village to Dyffryn ford there was a road called Dolphin Lane: most of this road still exists, firstly as a private road starting from the Smithy but now closed by the canal at the Vaynor lime kilns, and then beginning again the other side of the canal as a public road which goes to Llwynycrwth, whence it used to go on to the ford. The canal provided a new road from the Long bridge to link with the old lane so that it could still be used. It is thought that the name indicates that it marked the end of the meadow land which went down to the Rhiw, the ploughlands being mainly to the west of Dolphin Lane (“Dol” is Welsh for meadow and “Ifin” indicates a limit or boundary).

TheSevern, over history, has wandered to and fro across the valley between the Belan and the Fron. There was no regular road along the valley between Welshpool and Berriew, the present main road not being built until 1769: persons wishing to travel from Welshpool toMontgomerywould go to Castle Caereinion and then join the old Cil road to Berriew, and on to aSeverncrossing by ford, ferry or bridge at Caerhowel.

The road from Berriew to Castle followed the present Cil road as far as the cattle pound by Brynfa (which used to be “Pound House”) and then went behind the pound to Cil Pentre. It crossed the valley beyond Cil Pentre and went up across theRed Laneand finally came to the line of the present road: there was an old stream crossing near Gwernydd. The area between Caethugle and the Rhiw was cultivated in the same open field system as Aberriw and the area was known as Henfaes (“the old field”).Henfaes Laneran from Penthryn bridge past Hirrhyd to Dinnant where there was a ford: the lane linkedHarbour Laneand theRed Laneand Pethel and Penthryn bridges.

The road which now leads from Berriew to Manafon ended at Penysarn (“end of the causeway”) where the mill le at, and, later, the canal feeder, started. The road to Manafon from the village lay along Ladywell and crossed the Rhiw at Penthryn bridge and thence to Manafon: it was important because it went to the Pandy, the fulling mill, and to the corn mill at Felindre.

Most of the roads described above were long established over part or all of their route, but it must be emphasised that, prior to the enclosures, roads wandered freely across the open waste or common. One road that was late established was the road from Bettws by Pencaerneion, the Camp, the Hill and Cefnupol common down toGlyn Laneat theBath. This route was followed by Pennant in 1778 who said “From a hill called Cefn Uppol is a most delightful view of the Vale of Severn”.

The present Caerhowel bridge, built in 1858, is at least the third bridge in that area. An earlier bridge ended at the place known as Bridge End and linked with the Roman road at the Lion. These bridges, when in repair, replaced the Rhydwhiman ford and the roads from the ford changed very little to accommodate the alterations. One road ran by Brynllwyn and was the road toNewtown: another road ran past Trwstllewelyn farm and led past Llifior mill and on to join the Bettws road from Berriew – this road was anciently known asGlyn Lane, perhaps because it ended at the Glyn farms in Bettws. The Bettws road followed a route near Tynycoed, the home of the Davies family, and an old farm called Penycoed which no longer exists.

There was an old road from Berriew bridge by the side of the Rhiw going by Penygeulan to the river crossing below the Gaer farm, but the river has put paid to this.

The bridge at Pethel (perhaps the last in a series) was probably built by William Beethell (died 1721): in 1710 it is referred to as “Beethell bridge” but by 1800 it is named as Pontpethel: it must have collapsed about the middle of the last century. The Rhiw can be forded at this point and the ford has been used by people attending Pantyffridd chapel.

The two main bridges over the Rhiw have always been, until recently, Penthryn bridge (Red bridge, presumably because of its key position in theRed Lane) and Berriew bridge. Penthryn bridge has been rebuilt many times and has moved up and down the river between the weir and the Felindre mill: as the crossing point for the Red lane, it was a very important part of the local communications. Berriew bridge is very old indeed and it has been suggested that it goes back to Richard the Lionhcart’s reign and it seems highly probable that it has always been in the same place. Strangely we have not been able to find any demands for funds to repair or maintain it, though such demands are common in respect of other bridges such as Caerhowel or Penthryn. Berriew bridge was admirably repaired in 1985 by Powys County Council.

The Rhiw bridge was not built until 1820, by Penson with encouragement by William Owen of Glansevern and considerable opposition from other quarters. There was previously a ford at this point which was part of the Welshpool-Newtown road of 1769 but most traffic followed the route over Berriew bridge and by one of the roads to the Refail, the top road leading to the Smithy (Yr Hail) seeming to have been the most usual route. The bridge was rebuilt in 1978 in a slightly different position, leading to a rearrangement of the roads about there.

The Church and the Houses

It is likely that the building left by Saint Beuno was a wooden one, but it has been followed by at least three buildings of which we have knowledge. The medieval building was of square-hewn stone and consisted of a nave and a squat wooden bellcote, with a chapel on the north side. By the end of the eighteenth century the fabric of the church had deteriorated and the vicar, William Browne, issued a national appeal for funds but the total receipts were only £122.11. 7. The next vicar, Edward Jones, sent out another appeal which must have had more success for the old church was destroyed and a new one built. The last wedding in the old church took place on l st June, 1800 and the first wedding in the new church was celebrated on14th October, 1802: not bad going! The new church was of brick with stone dressing and the main entry was under a square tower to a galleried nave. The church was considerably altered in 1875/6 with removal of the gallery, the insertion of alternate circular and octagonal pillars, and the addition of a chancel: the tower was replaced by a spire which is not quite vertical and is therefore known as “Haycock’s folly”, after the 1875 architect.

Our area is a good one for church bells, with rings of eight at Berriew, Llanidloes and Welshpool and of six at Forden, Leighton, Llandinam, Llanfyllin, Montgomery and Newtown. There is only one bell at Manafon but it dates back to about 1300 and is exceptional for this area.

In Berriew, a new bell was provided by one of the Blayney family in 1560: this may itself have been a replacement and possibly came fromWorcester. Two new bells were made atWellingtonin 1638 and were subject to a maintenance agreement with the bell-founder which cost 2s6d: they were recast in 1686 at a total cost of £22. A heavy tenor bell, still part of the ring, cast atGloucesterin 1706 was recast at Loughborough in 1912. We had a ring of four until 1749 when the original 1560 bell seems to have disappeared and the two bells of 1686 were cracked and replaced in 1766 by the current bells numbered six and seven. To make up the ring of eight, we had five bells cast at Loughborough as follows:

1860 – Two bells in memory of John Humphreys of the Rectory (Numbers 4 and 5)

1902 – A bell to celebrate the coronation of EdwardVII(presented by C.E. Howell – Number 3)

1962 – Two bells in memory of Captain F.F. Corbett-Winder and Stephen Humphreys-Owen, who both died in 1960.

The houses in Berriew show similar dates to the vicarage and the church. Most of the older houses reflect the prosperity during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I, and a second period of prosperity at the time of the French revolution and the Napoleonic wars. The Rectory was built as a centre for Blayney authority in the village and for the collection of tithes. Berriew mill itself goes back to early in the sixteenth century, but the oldest reference to the mill house is in 1599. The barns at Cefngwernfa and Penthryn represent houses of the mid-Tudor period and the old house at Cil Pentre (destroyed 1880) was of a similar type. Lower Cil farmhouse, Upper Luggy and the original Malthouse (now Rhiewhouse) are of a date earlier than 1600 while houses of a Jacobean date must include Coed Tafol, Cefn Dreboeth , Blackwood (then Coedcae Du), Dolas, Dyffryn, Brithdir lsaf (then an inn), the Bryn, the Smithy (altered by Edward Gittins in 1774), Pandy, Stingwern, Pool Road Cottage, Red House, the Sign cottages and the Lion of 1618. All of these were originally timber houses and although we usually call them “black-and-white”, there was no black or tar paint to blacken houses in Tudor times and they were “brown-and-white” asLower Cilfarmhouse is today.

Gradually there were changes to the use of brick and stone for building local houses and slate came into use for roofs replacing thatch (which was always a fire risk and led to the disappearance of some old houses such asLower Penthryn). We have already mentioned Faenor and Pennant and another more plebeian house using brick was Brodawel built about 1760. After this came the second great building period at the end of the eighteenth century when were built the various brick shops and the second malthouse (later, but no longer, a Post Office and a cheese factory). Pentre Llifior chapel was built in 1797, the bricks being made locally as was common practice andaccountsfor some local ponds and some field names. Some of the more expensive houses began to be built in stone, the best being Glansevern, built by Arthur Davies Owen.

The Eighteenth Century

Having established the physical background, consideration can be given to the people of this century. We have already mentioned Thomas Ffoulkes, whose sons Thomas in Penthryn and William in Cilcochwyn, had sons and daughters who made good marriages and extended their influence over many parts of Berriew and Manafon. Despite all the children born in the family, they died out, as seemed so often to occur in this century, and Anne (1790-1869), great-great grand-daughter of the original Thomas Ffoulkes, erected a monument in St. Mary’s Church in Welshpool commemorating eight of the family. On the distaff side however, they were represented by the Buckley-Williams family of Pennant. Another family stemmed from the Davies family of Tynycoed: John, Charles and Arthur became established at Tynycoed in Llifior at the beginning of the century, but only Charles left a legitimate child, Anne, who married, in 1745, Owen Owen of Cefnhafod, Llangurig. They had two daughters and three sons, all of whom appeal to have been highly intelligent. Mary, the eldest, married Thomas Jones of Lower Garthmyland had illustrious children whose influence was felt into the twentieth century. The second son, David, was a fellow and senior wrangler of Trinity College,Cambridgeand went on to establish an estate in Campobello, New Brunswick: he died there but his body was brought home and buried in Berriew in 1831.

The third son, William, was also a fellow of Trinity and gained a major reputation as a lawyer, though living the latter part of his life in Berriew. The eldest son, Arthur Davies Owen, spent most of his life locally, building up his estates and, eventually, his house at Glansevern.

Owen Owen also had an illegitimate son, known as Thomas jones, the son of Catherine Evans. He was born in 1756, went to school in Berriew with David Owen, and then toKerrySchoolandShrewsburyschool. He also became a fellow ofTrinityCollege, senior wrangler and senior tutor of that college, and played a large part in the establishment of its reputation and the reform ofCambridgeUniversity, even though he only lived until 1807.

When Robert Moxon took over the Faenor estate in 1764, he had prepared a map and a list of the properties, advertising them for sale. This map and schedule tell us a great deal about Berriew at that date, giving us detailed descriptions of the houses, the rents paid, the crops being grown, the timber on the properties and the valuations. As far as Berriew itself was concerned, the sale was not very successful and Robert Moxon and his nephew John reverted to leases for periods up to 21 years, so few properties were available for sale when the Winder family took control in 1793: as has been pointed out, this was a time of prosperity in agriculture and there was little incentive to sell land.

In the preceding period, there had been a gradual accumulation of land into holdings which could be recognised as farms, though the old field systems of agriculture with strip cultivation still held sway. The major landowners were pressing for more rapid development in this direction while the various lords of the manors wanted to cash in their rights within their manors: in Berriew the lord was Earl of Powis, covering the manors of Cedewain and Llanerch-hudol. These twin pressures gave rise to the enclosures.

The Enclosures

At first, this development required specific Parliamentary approval and an Act was passed in 1796 for the enclosure of three manors including Cedewain but this did not cover Brithdir. In 1801, a general Act allowed for enclosures to be directly initiated by individuals and the enclosure of Brithdir, using this authority, started in 1821. The arrangements for the two enclosures were somewhat different: the Parliamentary Act provided protection for squatters of more than twenty years who had not paid rent for the encroachment (an important qualification): the Brithdir enclosure gave no such protection and the allotments did not give any land to the ocupiers of twenty encroachments.

The land allotted was described as “waste and commonable land”, the latter being land used in common by persons with rights of common. “Waste” was land which was not held either in common or in individual ownership – and this often included encroachments where ownership was not recognised.

A total of 2194 acres was enclosured under the 1796 Act, being 18% of the then area of the parish, 12010 acres. By arrangement between owners of existing enclosed land, the enclosure also arranged for the transfer of ownership between individuals, 402 acres of such land being transferred. This latter was most important in allowing Arthur Davies Owen to consolidate his holdings in Faenor Isaf to form the centre of his Glansevern estate: in addition some 212 acres of waste was sold to cover the expenses of the enclosure, and were bought, often at very high prices, by persons wishing to consolidate their holdings.

The Powis estate received 174 acres in total, of which 136 acres were compensation for manorial rights: the small area for common rights (38 acres) reflecting their small ownership in Berriew, most of which was in the outer townships. In addition to the allotments of land to individuals, the enclosures confirmed or established roads throughout the parish, most of which are still used today and also named public quarries, wells and public watering places such as Brynllwyn Pool.

The most obvious effect of the enclosures was the planting of hedges all over the parish: even the part cultivated for corn (mainly in the lower townships) was previously in open strips with only the simplest separations between them though the “fields” required protection to keep out the cattle until the corn had been harvested.

In Brithdir, there is no indication that common land was cultivated, rather being used by the neighbouring freeholders to pasture their animals, the numbers of which were strictly controlled. In the whole area, a total of 773 acres, there was less than 5 acres labelled as “open waste”, but about 111 acres had already been encroached and four cottages had been built on these encroachments. Five-sixths of the township was already in the ownership of six persons before the enclosure was effected. In the rest of the parish, enclosed under the Parliamentary Act, the picture differs considerably as may be illustrated by some of the distributions as follows:

Penthryn – 16% of township as open waste, 54 lots to 16 freeholders

Cilcochwyn – 32% of township as open waste, 30 lots to 12 freeholders

Bryncaemeisir – 29% as open waste, 30 lots to 7 freeholders

as well as 8 lots sold to defray expenses.

In these last three townships there was only 7 acres of commonable land: one old encroachment was recognised and ten poles were allotted to John Goodwyn in Penthryn. No waste or commonable land was found in Llandinir (as it used to be spelt), almost all of the township belonging to aShrewsburySchoolcharity since about 1720. The remaining ten townships were divided into two “intercommoning districts”, five townships on each side of the Rhiw, a repeat of an ancient division of the parish. This is a remarkable feature of the Berriew enclosures, because it shows that each group had decided to pool their waste and commonable land, possibly for reasons of fairness: this results, for example, in eleven persons in Allt having rights in Cil (as well as in Allt) and twenty persons in Llifior having rights in Trwstllewelyn: such intercommoning has not been found elsewhere.

Expansion and Contraction

The enclosures were, in effect, the last economic acts of the feudal system in Berriew. Certain feudal attitudes survived, of course, but the enclosures had finally established a basic infrastructure for the economic development of the parish. No obvious change took place, but we seldom realise the movement of changes in our environment until some time after they have started. There had been a development of cottage industry in the second half of the eighteenth century and we have individuals recorded as weaver, dyer, carpenter, sawyer, cooper, cabinet maker, brickmaker, turner in addition to the older trades of fanner, miller, blacksmith and shoemaker: there were many smithies who traded in more than horseshoes. There were fulling mills known as “pandai” (“pandy” as the singular form) busy finishing off the woollen cloth produced by weavers in the farmhouses, where sockets in the ceiling beams, which held the looms in place, can still be seen. Much of this work was linked with the development of the textile industry inNewtown.

The canal reached Garthmyl in 1797, and it brought in the coal and limestone used in the kilns, of which many remain in Berriew, to produce lime for the farmers and took away the products of local industry.

An irregular growth of population took place in the parish from 1506 in 1683, to 2059 in 1801 and 2259 in 1847, falling to 2177 in 1851 and 1954 in 1881. After this, industry in Berriew fell away, farming became much less profitable as the prairies ofNorth AmericaandArgentinawere developed, and the population of the parish fell rapidly to 1560 in 1911. The fall continued until 1971, when changes in national housing policy and inflation started a movement from east to west across southern Britain so that 1981 (population 1244) recorded the first increase in the population of the parish for over a century at a level not previously seen probably since the Black Death.

Social Movements

While the enclosures were vital for economic development, social factors also had their influence. Of these, education, allowing acquired information to be passed down the generations is vitally important. Berriew has always since 1655. had the advantage of a local school: Thomas Owen, Vicar of Bettws (1744-60) was the school master for some years and notable among his pupils were the sons of Owen Owen of Tynycoed we have already mentioned. There was an intelligent and active parish clerk, Cadwallader Davies, who at the time of the change to the modern calendar standardised the modern spelling of Berriew (he did not however mis-spell our river, the Rhiwl),

During the period of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars education was regarded as a subversive element and in the new century a new impetus was needed: this was provided by Thomas Richards who came to Berriew as master in 1813; there was then development in various ways until difficulties arose in 1870, of which there will be discussion later. A picture of education in Berriew in 1847 can be culled from a report of a Parliamentary Commission.

There were four Sunday schools, two Calvinistic Methodist (Pied House and Brithdir), one Wesleyan (Providence) and a non-denominational at the Lower Rectory. In total, they had 217 pupils, of whom 67 were over 15 years old. There were four Day schools. The “FreeSchool” (i.e. the endowed school) asked for Id per week to pay for fuel and repairs: subjects taught were reading, writing, arithmetic and music: grammar and geography were taught for extra payment and the 35 girls were taught needlework. There was instruction in the principles of the Anglican church. Master and mistress were husband and wife and received £72 p.a. with house and garden rent free. 44 of the 84 pupils were over 10 years old, including 20 girls.

The School Cottage on the Manafon road was the original home of the Wesleyans of Cil, and during the week, was used by Mr. Ambrose for his school with 30 pupils who paid him £30 p.a. At Pantyffridd, was a school with 10 pupils and at Efail Fach a Dame school with 12 pupils.

None of the teachers had any training and a total of 136 pupils in the Day schools is not impressive but the report and other evidence seems to show that the quality of Berriew education was better than that available elsewhere. A factor which hampered economic development was the tithe system, under which a share of farm production went to the Rectors, (the Blayney family of Gregynog, represented in 1840 by Viscount Sudeley and to the Vicar. The tithe commutation, effective in Berriew in 1840, simplified the problem but did not solve it. Related to this problem was the religious dissent which played a large

part in the changes in Berriew in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: there were two main streams, the Calvinist and Wesleyan Methodists. The Calvinists were first in the field with several visits by Howell Harris recorded between 1738 and 1750, but in 1750 the initial movement collapsed. It revived in 1807 in various parts of the parish, with a main centre at Llifior Mill, whence a son of the miller, another Thomas Jones, became the first Presbyterian missionary, going to the Khasi Hills inIndia: links are still maintained by members of the Refail chapel, built in 1850, with the church in the Khasi Hills.

John Wesley himself was the main originator of the Wesleyan cause in Berriew. Wesley’s Methodist Chapel at Pentrellifior was opened in 1798 and was followed by Providence Chapel in 1837 and Mount Zion Chapel in Cil in 1846.

The second Calvinist upsurge led to various house meetings about Stingwern and to services held in an old cottage nearby, Tynycoed, from 1833 to 1872 when Brooks Presbyterian Church was opened.

Probably more active than any of these other chapels in the social changes of the nineteenth century was the Independent chapel at Cefn-y-Vaynor named Ebenezer. They were overtly political in some of their activities, working with the Liberals, Lord Rendel and A.C. Humphreys-Owen, especially during the active pastorate of E. Garmon Roberts, 1881-86. Earlier they were associated with the Roberts family of preachers at Hen Gapel, Llanbrynmair, who assisted in the establishment of the chapel which opened in 1830. Jane Langford of Cil Pentre became nationally known for her support of the Independent cause, and her descendants were associated with the chapel until it was officially closed in 1980 though services ended in 1968. The chapel is now remembered, and was noted, for its celebration of Berriew “wakes” which commemorated the death of Saint Beuno onApril 21st, 642 AD.

Naturally the Anglican church reacted to the establishment of dissidents in the parish and met it, in part, by the building of “school churches” in various parts of the parish. These buildings provided for their use as schools during the week and as churches on Sundays. The first of these was in Brooks in 1857 where services continued until the 1950’s, the school being closed in 1914. A similar building was opened at Pantyffridd in 1858, thought the school did not last very long, but the church continued where, as mentioned earlier, the Elizabethan pulpit from the old parish church remains in use. TheFronSchoolchurch was opened in 1873, being built and endowed by Miss Mary Buckley-Williams of Glanhafren as a memorial to her parents: the church continues but the school closed in 1928.

These chapel and church developments led to clashes which were accentuated by the growth of Welsh nationalism and opposition’ to the payment of tithes (which produced great commotion and even violence in Manafon and Meifod).

Welsh history and culture were claimed by the non-conformists and the Anglican church was described as the “alien church” There was a strong demand for the disestablishment of the church inWales, which was agreed before the first World War, thought it did not take place until 1920.

The clashes came to a crisis with the Education Act of 1870, which gave powers for non-denominational schools to be established by local authorities. There was pressure for Berriew to have such a school but the “landlords” (as they described themselves) refused, at packed vestry meetings, to consider such a proposal. The result of this was a demand for theEndowedSchoolto be improved and for a relaxation of the strictly Anglican teaching of religion which applied there. The sweeping general election victory of the Liberals in 1880 (Stuart Rendel) and 1894 (A.c. Humphreys-Owen of Glansevern) added fire to the demands which were publicised in the press. Matters came to a head with the passing of the Welsh Intermediate Education Act of 1889, under which the County

Education Committee proposed to add a higher department to theEndowedSchool, towards the cost of which the Committee would pay £73 p.a. The Charity Commissioners ruled that the original endowment was non-denominational and could therefore be used for the proposed secondary education (as we would today name it) in Berriew. The proposals were confirmed by Order-in-Council in 1894, but the campaign by the Anglicans against the scheme was renewed and, when there was a change of government, a special Act of Parliament, the Berriew School Act of 1897, was passed to annul the scheme. It is doubtful whether any other village ever received such special attention from Parliament. Continued pressure for improvement from the County Education Committee

finally resulted in a newEndowedSchoolbeing opened on Ladywell in February, 1915, but matters had gone too far and aCouncilSchoolwas also opened in August 1915. The competition for pupils did wonders for education in Berriew but the social consequences were disastrous until a reorganisation of the schools to deal with different age groups took place in 1959: in justice, however, it must be recorded that the social tensions were much reduced by the coming of a new vicar, William Williams, in 1932, who, during a long vicariate of 34 years, gradually established more friendly relations between the denominations. The new “Old School” finally closed in 1982 and the building was converted into two houses.

Past, Present and Future

Berriew has not been immune from the vast social changes which the twentieth century has brought throughout the world. The consumer revolution has affected life on the farms and made the life of the farmer’s wife very much easier, though it can still be a demanding existence for her, especially at lambing time. It is too early to assess the overall effect, but one feature of the century which cannot be ignored is the influence of the internal combustion engine. Until 1939, the motor-car and the tractor were not features of day-to-day life: private cars were confined to a few and by 1939 the tractor, mainly the Fordson, not used on the road, were only just coming into use. Experiments using steam engines for ploughing started in the First World War, and their use in other applications, especially thrashing, even earlier but they never developed very far. At the end of the first war, markets and fairs expanded in response to demand and horse- drawn carrier carts to make easy attendance at markets increased. H.V. Bowen from Dwyriw with an uncovered wagon took parties of about 12 to Welshpool on Mondays, leaving Dwyriw at about7 a.m.and coming home about6 p.m.for 2/• return. Charlie Edwards, with a covered wagon from Cil, made a similar journey for about 12 persons for 1/ – return for the shorter distance, and Mr. Stephens from Abermule did something similar. These carriers took the produce of smallholders to market, chickens, butter, eggs, rabbits and whatever else was available. The cost was significant in relation to wages about £1 per week so the journey was not lightly undertaken: many wives carried their produce in arm-baskets from as far as Berriew to Welsh pool.

As time went by, the horses gave way to motors: Mr. Bowen had a flat lorry which could be fitted with a bus top for use on Mondays while Mr. Evans from New Mills post office had a Model T Ford hackney carriage carrying seven; John Owen from Felindre, and later from Refail, also had a Model T collecting from Pantyffridd.

These carrier carts, whether horse-drawn or motor-drawn, were friendly conveyances, their drivers often undertaking shopping expeditions for neighbours: in any case, the necessity of placing one’s feet between the chickens and the eggs made friendly co- operation essential.

Towards the end of the twenties, motor-buses became a common sight on the local roads and displaced the carriers entirely: services were good, though not always reliable, and conditions tended to be even more cramped.

Since the second world war, the ubiquitous motor-car has tended to push the buses from the roads and a similar effect has been seen on the railway which once gave such a good service for the slightly longer journeys: it seems most unlikely that these effects can be permanent as the supplies of oil diminish and the effect of petrol combustion on the environment becomes ever more serious, but by the end of the twentieth century, many people, especially the poor and the aged, must begin to doubt the virtues of the motor-car age. We live at a time of great social change, hardly yet reflected in the political scene, but the help given cheerfully and willingly by many of the people of Berriew in the compilation of this story of their community, gives great confidence that a strong but elastic social structure will enable Berriew to survive with a unified spirit into a new century.


Very many people in Berriew have been generous in the loan of wills, deeds, essays and diaries to assist in compilation of this skeleton history of our community and their time has been freely given. It is not possible to mention individuals as so many have helped – my grateful thanks to them all. I must apologise to local archaeologists and historians for stating as fact many things they have not yet unearthed or discovered! Finally, I must thank my wife, not only for her constant encouragement but for the maps and sketches which will make my dull narrative more acceptable to readers.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – Reproduction is by permission of the author’s daughter Glenys, who said, “My father would have been pleased and honoured.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR – Douglas William Smith was born in 1912 in Bryn Teg, Berriew. The family left the district in 1919. He returned frequently for holidays, and then lived in Cil Penrhiw from the earlyt 70’s until his death in 1997. He is buried in Berriew Cemetery, his headstone describing him as a “Local Historian.”

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