Local history

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Ken Jones
Brynhaf, Penlon Road,
Newcastle Emlyn
SA3 9HR
Tel: 01239 710620
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Extracts from a booklet by Castle Publications (1999) are reproduced below.

The building of the castle by Meredith ap Rhys Gryg in the year 1240 brought a great change in the character of Emlyn. Up until this time only a few roughly built cottages stood around the outer banks of the river – the homes of the tenants [serfs] who owed compulsory service to the ‘chieftains demesne’ – and on the other side of the river, on the Bishops’ estate in Adpar, similar cottages were the homes of the tenants [serfs] of the ‘bishops demesne’.

Soon there sprang up a cluster of dwelling houses near the castle – houses for Lord Meredith’s dependants, soldiers, newcomers to Emlyn, traders from Pembrokeshire and also those who sought the Lord’s protection. It became known as Trecastell. One of these old houses still stands near Trecastell today – a stone cottage with a thatched roof.

 A Rowlandson Drawing of 1797 showing Newcastle Emlyn from the River Teifi Bridge
A Thomas Rowlandson drawing of 1794 showing Newcastle Emlyn from the River Teifi Bridge
Click for larger image

Although Meredith ap Rhys represented Welsh traditions the tendency was for the newcomers, mainly Anglo-Norman or English, to keep themselves apart from the Welsh tenants.

By the beginning of the 14th century due to an increase in the population, Emlyn was converted into one organised community and made a borough by royal charter, known as Newtown in Emlyn. [The same took place on the Bishop's demesne and Adpar also became a borough]. The status of a borough brought about certain privileges like the exclusive right to trade and exemption from paying certain taxes. It also encouraged trade and ensured a supply of food and other necessities for the castle garrison.

Near the entrance to the castle enclosure a chapel was built, dedicated probably to the ‘Holy Trinity’, where the residents of the castle and townspeople of Emlyn worshipped together. A little way beyond the church stood a market place and a hall for holding the town courts, especially those dealing with the conduct of the fairs, arrears of rents, trespass, etc.

Within sight of the castle there was a small forest belonging to the lord and also a park where there were red deer. This whole area was well fenced and was probably known even then as Parc Nest (today Ysgol Gyfun Emlyn is built just below Parc Nest farm). In 1303 a certain David ap Griffith was fined three shillings for trespassing in this park.

Bridge Street
Bridge Street

There was a mill in Aberarad owned by the king and all who lived within reach had to use this mill and pay for its use with a part of their corn or with money. The lord’s mill at Adpar stood near the bridge and the freemen or citizens of the borough were under an obligation to build and repair it at their own cost. They also had to grind their corn there.

In 1349 the Black Death hit Wales. This led to a period of general discontent, with lands left uncultivated, a scarcity of food and extreme poverty. This depression continued and worsened until the town ceased to be thought of as a borough.

With the return of the new Welsh Lords at the beginning of the fifteenth century, things began to change for the better.

During the Tudor period a new town hail was erected together with a number of thatched shops called King’s or Queen’s shops. These formed the beginning of a permanent market.

By the end of the 17th century, Newtown in Emlyn and Adpar had recovered from the depressing economic effects of the Civil War. There was a good market for corn all the year round, due to the rich fertile lands around the area.

The economic recovery of Newtown in Emlyn and Adpar seems to have been due chiefly to the industrial revolution, which opened up coal and iron works and canals in Kidwelly and neighbouring towns. This created a demand for agricultural produce which proved beneficial for Emlyn and Adpar. The fairs which had begun to improve about the middle of the 18th century became very popular at the beginning of the 19th century, with horses and cattle filling the streets from Adpar to Aberarad on the chief fair days.

Due to this recovery the number of hostelries and shops increased and new and better houses were built. All this brought a gradual improvement in the standard of living.

What’s in a Name?

The original Cantref of Emlyn uwch Cych stretched from the upper region of the parish of Llangeler to the lower reaches of Cilgerran. Newcastle Emlyn lay in the upper parts of the old parish of Cenarth and known as the Hamlet of Emlyn [the town, its lands, the demesne and Parc Nest].

Where did the name Emlyn come from to associate it with Newcastle Emlyn?

Was it derived from ‘Emelinus’ – a Roman chieftain, who during the Roman occupation of this area, was perhaps in some way connected with the site of the castle?

Market Hall
Market Hall

Adpar was not in the Cantref of Emlyn, but in Iscoed and formed part of the parish of Liandyfriog. It was originally known as Trehedyn, and later as the name of a part of the Borough of Adpar – the part of Adpar just over the bridge from Newcastle Emlyn. Its boundaries were the Teifi on the south, the Ceri on the west (above Cwm Ceri there was the 40 acres of the Forest of Adpar) and to the south and east down to the Teifi.

Due to the rich fertile lands on the banks of the Teifi, the name Adpar could originally have been At-pawr (At-Pori) – meaning a good ‘second crop’ for grazing. When English settlers arrived in the area Atpawr became known as Atpar and over the years changed yet again to Adpar.

The Early Gentry

The early gentry, both Welsh and English, always worked closely with tl~e officials of the king to govern the commote. When Henry VIII united England and Wales in 1536, some of these became justices of the peace, responsible for local government in their areas and a few were elected to parliament.

Some of the Welsh gentry (Ucheiwyr) would often invite bards and folk singers to their homes to provide entertainment. These gatherings helped to preserve the Welsh language and culture. It is worth noting that in the 14th century, Llewelyn ap Gwilym was appointed a constable of the castle. He was related to Liewelyn the Great – a Welsh prince – and, therefore, of royal Tudor blood. Uewelyn ap Gwilym lived in Dolgoch near Drefach Velindre, three miles from Newcastle Emlyn. Being a learned man, he took a great deal of interest in his nephew, Dafydd ap Gwilym, who became one of Wales’ greatest medieval poets.

Newcastle Emlyn and Adpar Fair
Newcastle Emlyn and Adpar Fair

It was the Welsh custom when the head of the family died, to share his possessions equally between his sons. In time, the bit of land a son inherited might be too small to give him a living and he would sell it.

By buying up these lands, the gentry soon became the owners of small estates. Later still in the 18th century with the coming of the land enclosures act, they were able to add even more acres, by taking over large portions of any open or common land available. [This meant that poor people were no longer able to have free grazing for their animals].

Towards the end of the 19th century the gentry of Tivyside kept in close touch with one another. They met every Tuesday throughout the summer months to play tennis, bowls and croquet in Adpar. The Club was confined to members of the gentry and their visiting friends.

Public Transport 1907
Public Transport 1907

Newcastle Emlyn with its railway terminus was regarded as the centre of the old Tivyside society. In the winter, whenever there was a ball held in one of the neighboring mansions, or in the Salutation Hotel, many coaches and horse-drawn vehicles would draw up outside the station to transport the ‘guests’ to the ball.

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