BEACHES FAR FROM THE SEA
Geiriadur y Brifysgol1 The University of Wales Dictionary restricts the meanings of 'traeth' (beach) to seaside features, apart from one definition with a question mark ('?dubious') which is interpreted as a 'a piece of land'.
In an area such as Brecknockshire, far from the sea, and which, at its lowest points (near Hay-on-Wye on the English border and near Glangrwyne not far from a farm with the interesting and unique name Cydiad y Ddwysir (The Joining of the Two Counties, i.e. Brecknock and Gwent) is 77 metres above sea level (and likely to remain without a sea coast unless the Arctic ice melts completely), it comes as a surprise to see the place-name 'Traeth' - a beach - on maps of the former county. There are three examples of the name in its local meaning within Brecknockshire (and a fourth, dubious, one), each one in similar circumstances, representing the same geographical feature.
The first two examples of the name are on Mynydd Illtud, near the A470 south of Brecon: Traeth Mawr - Great Beach [SO967253], and its twin Traeth Bach - Little Beach [SO967258]. These names are associated with shallow marshy pools on the high moorland with exceptional views of Cadair Arthur (Pen-y-Fan and Corn Du) and the Central Beacons (Fig 1)
In an article in the Journal The New Phytologist on the vegetational history of the surrounding area, M. J. C. Walker describes a glacial hollow which was subsequently filled with a large lake covering an area of almost a square kilometre2. Over the millennia this lake became colonised with vegetation to create peaty wetland and the 'traethau'. Traeth Mawr depends on rainfall for its water, and consequently dries out and even disappears during exceptionally dry weather in the summer. Its waters are acidic. By contrast, Traeth Bach is fed by springs and this makes the water much more alkaline.
As described by Walker, birch Betula pubescens dominates much of the site and this this is interspersed with copses of willow Salix and occasional small trees of Scots pine Pinus sylvestris, while shrubs of common alder Alnus glutinosa occur along some of the watercourses. Large areas of the bog surface are covered by cotton-grass Eriophorum angustifolium and E. vaginatum, with small stands of whinberry (Vaccinium myrtillus), cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix) and cowberry Empetrum nigrum on the drier tussocks, The intervening damp hollows are typically occupied by species of rush (particularly Juncus communis and J. effusus), along with insectivorous plants such as butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) and sundew (Drosera rotundifolia). The principal mosses are Polytrichum commune and Sphagnum (mostly S. rubellun and S. papillosum). For three species of flowering plant saw sedge (Cladium mariscus), lesser water- plantain (Baldellia ranuculoides) and least bur-reed (Sparginum natans), Traeth mawr is the only locality in the vice-county of Breconshire from which they have been recorded3.
The locality is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and the two traithau are part of the Deudraeth Illtud Nature Reserve, in the care of the Brecknock Wildlife Trust. E. Cambridge Phillips recorded the presence of water birds such as the Spotted Crake (Porzana porzana/Rhegen Fraith) and the Reed Bunting (Emberiza choeniclus/Bras y Cyrs) in the past, although his interest seems to have been primarily in shooting them4. The former, now a rarity in Wales, has not bred on the reserve since the early 1990's, but 5-6 pairs of Reed Bunting breed across the two traithau every year5. The Reserve is known as one of the best sites in Wales for dragonflies and damselflies. Fifteen species have been noted here and it supports an important population of the Red Data-listed Scarce Blue-tailed Damselfly6.
It should be noted that 'Illtyd' rather than the correct form 'Illtud' is the spelling seen on road-signs in the area, and this is the orthography preferred by local shepherds and commoners (to avoid the erroneous pronunciation of the 'u' by English speakers, a fate similar to the pronunciation of 'Llandudno').
There are a number of myths and legends attached to Traeth Mawr, some gathered from local farmers in Ynys Gron, and Pwllyn Brwnt. It is claimed that there is a drowned village in the waters of Traeth Mawr, similar to the 'history' of the 'city' in Llyn Safaddan - Llangors Lake, and it is possible that the place-name 'Trefothi', formerly the home of the local cobbler, now lost, but possibly at SN9635 2610, is connected with the verb 'boddi' - to drown. (The English spelling 'th' represents the voiced sound of 'though', spelt 'dd' in Welsh, a common substitution, as in Therow for Y Dderw). This has been interpreted as evidence for the existence of a crannog in the lake before the development of the marshland, similar to that in Llyn Syfaddan: a defensive structure almost unique in Wales, although very common in Ireland. Perhaps it is the half-Irish background of the Kingdom of Brycheiniog which is responsible for this.
Mynydd Illtud, the home of the National Park Visitor Centre, is of great interest in itself, with standing stones and other prehistoric remains associated with Illtud, one of the earliest saints in this very 'saintly' district. One of these is marked erroneously on some maps as 'Bedd Illtud' - Illtud's Grave, whereas the correct name is Bedd Gŵyl Illtud - the Grave of Illtud's Watchnight, since it was here that a torchlight vigil was kept on the night before the Feast of Saint Illtud, 6 November, as it still is in Illtud's great 'university' foundation, Llanilltud Fawr - Llantwit Major. On either side of the Grave, there are two standing stones, which, according to the legend, are the two thieves who tried to steal Illtud's cattle, who were punished by being turned to stone, a very common theme in Welsh hagiography.
The oldest Life of a Celtic saint still extant, that of Samson, Illtud's pupil, of Dol de Bretagne7, is adamant that Illtud was buried in his homeland of Brycheiniog. The 'Grave' is of course much more ancient than our Illtud of the Age of Saints, as it is of Bronze Age origin8, and is comparable to another prehistoric tomb associated with the saint, Tŷ Illtud - Illtud's House - near Llanhamlach (also an Illtud dedication), which bears the marks of crosses scratched in the inside wall of the grave by mediaeval pilgrims. The tomb may have been a place of retreat for the saint. In Brittany, too, which has as many place-names (c.44) connected with Illtud as here in Wales, he is associated with another Neolithic grave, Roc'h Ildut, near Bourbriac, unfortunately pulled down over a century ago.
According to local tradition, the saint's grave was indeed here in Llanilltud, the ancient church near the Mountain Centre on the edge of the common, which regrettably was demolished sometime in the second half of the last century due to a dispute regarding access for restoration. The church stood in a circular graveyard, seen as a sign of an ancient foundation, with a circle of yew trees around it. The pulpit was taken to the Brecknock Museum in Brecon.
A further example of the name within the county occurs at Llyn Traeth Bach [SN875258] - Traeth Bach Lake - in the parish of Traianglas, near a bridle path a little to the east of the parish road between Trecastell, on the Usk, and Tafarn y Garreg in the Swansea Valley, which turns left just after the Portis water works. The lake was created here by the construction of a dam to hold back water in a damp area, the Traeth Bach which gave its name to the lake. The land was part of the Belfont estate, which retained the old name 'Glasfynydd' into the twentieth century9, the existence of a Boat House at the water's edge confirming the leisure nature of this artificial lake.
Beyond Brecknock's current boundaries, but within the historic county, a farm in the Penderyn area bears a name which is possibly a further example, although it has appeared in various different guises in the past. The house in question is Ynys Wendraeth [SN946094], alongside the A4059, some 800 metres to the north of the inn in Penderyn. The name was recorded as 'Ynyswendorth' at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries, but Ynys Wendraeth is the most frequently recorded form. It is unclear as to why the gender of traeth should have changed from the standard masculine to a feminine form here.
No similar use of the element 'traeth' is recorded elsewhere in Wales, but since Brecknockshire and Radnorshire are the only counties with no sea-coast (Montgomeryshire, usually considered an inland county, has the tidal reaches of the Dyfi below the bridge between Llanelltyd and Machynlleth), it is hardly surprising that the other counties retain the description traeth for 'proper' beaches at the sea shore alone.
1. Geiriadur Prifysgol Cymru, Cyfrol IV, tud. 3543/4
2. Walker 1982.
3. Information provided by Mr M. J. Porter.
4. Phillips 1899 and quotations in Ingram and Salmon 1957: 213 and 252.
5. Information provided by Mr K. Noble.
6. Information provided by Mr A. King.
7. Taylor 1925.
8. Formerly considered to be a mound between two megalithic standing stones, Bedd Gŵyl Illtud is now regarded as a Bronze Age ring cairn (See CADW, Scheduling Records BR 326 cited in RCAHMW, Coflein Database, Ref 305061).
9. Powell 1986/87 and 1993.
Ingram, Geoffrey C. S. and Salmon, H. M. 1957. The Birds of Breconshire. Brycheiniog 3: 181-255.
Phillips, E. C. 1899 . The Birds of Breconshire. Brecon: Edwin Davies.
Powell, R. F. P. 1986/87. Place Names of Devynock Hundred II. Brycheiniog 22: 78-111.
Powell, R.F. P. 1993. The Place-Names of Devynock Hundred. Penpont: Privately Published.
Taylor, T. 1925. Life of Saint Samson of Dol. London: SPCK.
Walker, M. J. C. 1982. The late-Glacial and Early Flandrian Deposits at Traeth Mawr, Brecon Beacons South Wales. New Phytologist 90(1): 177-194.
1735 and 1750 were notable years in the religious history of Brecknockshire and of Wales. In 1735, Howell Harris experienced a conversion which was a stimulus for the start of the religious revival generally called the Methodist Revival. In 1750, Howell Harris broke his connection with that movement, turning to establish 'Y Cartref' - 'The Home' for the 'Teulu' - the Family - in Trefeca. This year, the Methodist Union, now The Presbyterian Church of Wales, is celebrating two hundred years of its separation from the Church of England, and it is totally appropriate to remind ourselves of the key rôle of Brecknockshire in this connection.
By 1750, Howell Harris had worn himself out with his frequent journeying and endless preaching and the persecution he suffered in many places whilst preaching the Gospel. If only for that, his health would have forced him to give up, but Harris was not a man to resign himself to idleness, and he turned the circumstances into an opportunity to realize a dream that had interested him since 1732. As a young man he had worked as a teacher in the Trefeca area, chiefly in Llangasty. His conversion under the ministry of the Rev. Pryce Davies, Vicar of Talgarth, had caused him unease and to seek a wider field for his service. In May 1736, he heard of Griffith Jones, Llanddowror, instigator of the Circulating Schools charity, apparently through his connection with the Rev. Thomas Jones, of Cwm Yoy. Harris' intentions were to become a priest, but since he was unwilling to follow the usual path which would have qualified him for that calling, Griffith Jones advised him to continue as a teacher but to widen his field through supervising some of his schools that had by then spread to Brecknockshire. Harris's interest in education from the very beginning should be emphasised here.
In December 1736, he heard of an establishment in Fulneck, Yorkshire, set up by the Moravians on the pattern of a similar establishment in Saxony in Germany which included schools for children. It is possible that Griffith Jones, through his connection with Sir John Phillipps, Picton Castle, Pembrokeshire, who was interested in the Pietist movement which sprang from that source, who inspired Harris' interest in setting up a similar plan in Trefeca. So the idea of establishing the Cartref - the Home - had been in Harris' mind since 1736. Looking back over his life in his memoirs published in 1791, he talks of 'having an impression in my mind for some years past, that I should build a house for God'. After long contemplation of his future, he came to the conclusion 'that God would settle me so as I may be useful to Him... I resolv'd to lay £200 to build an Almshouse and school house to instruct and teach self and to employ as many as I could of firm zealots to teach'.i However, before he could carry out that intention, he had in 1737 met Daniel Rowland, determining to co-operate in evangelising Wales through preaching the Word and establishing Fellowships amidst those converted, the first of these at Y Wernos in 1738. There is no need here to trace the history of the religious revival that spread through the whole of Wales up until 1750. By then it was obvious to Harris that things were not going the way he would have wished, since he met with opposition to his efforts to manage the movement, especially from the direction of ordained priests such as Daniel Rowland. For this reason Harris grew tired of the frustration, and he claimed that as well as his own will, God's intention was being obstructed. He experienced a disillusionment, and separated from his fellow workers, turning to his early intention of establishing a community of people drawn to Trefeca who had been convinced by his preaching. He was convinced that he was doing God's work through establishing a theocratic community with God at its head, and with His Word as a rule of life for them, under Harris' supervision as His servant. He maintained that 'everything done at Trefeca is by Christ's Will'.ii
Historians looked upon Harris' action in breaking away from the Methodist movement to establish the Home at Trefeca as a fundamental mistake. Williams, Pantycelyn, gave expression to the accusation in describing Harris as retreating to his 'great monastery'. This is a completely negative attitude, since he was not retiring from one duty in order to idle away his time, but rather to take advantage of an opportunity to realise an early dream of his, where he would have the permanent freedom to work out his own ideas. As far as I know, no-one has suggested that this could be at least one reason for Harris to part from his fellow leaders in 1750. This was not an admission of failure at all but rather an opening into a new and experimental field which no-one in Wales had previously envisaged. Harris' zeal and commitment to the work was a guarantee of its success and it is a testimony to this that it continued to prosper after his death in 1773.
According to the diary kept by Evan Moses, building work began at Trefeca Fach, after the death of Madam Sidney Griffith following the demolition of the old home of Harris and his mother. But Madam Griffith was present when the foundation stone there was laid by her, followed by a prayer for its success. She had entailed the sum of £400 to Harris towards the work, but she died within two months and the money was retained by her brother, Watkin Wynne of Foelas, Denbighshire. Even though he had no financial security, Harris proceeded with the building work, confident that God would provide. Everyone who joined the Family was expected to transfer their property to the general fund.
Sarah Bowen of the Tyddyn, Llanidloes, did just this upon joining, bringing in a sum of £280 which later on became a bone of contention. Harris was fortunate in attracting a number of good craftsmen to the Family, and it was they who carried out the building work which continued until 1759. Harris himself was the architect, and it was apparent that he had noted architectural elegance when on visits to London and Bath through his connection with Lady Huntingdon. His chosen style was Georgian, but there was a tinge of the Gothic style in the Venetian windows. Notable features were the balcony, cupola, sundial, great clock with a weather vane atop the tower, displaying an angel blowing a silver trumpet and the inscription below 'Cyfodwch feirw, a dewch i'r Farn'. (Arise ye Dead and come to Judgement). Harris believed that cleanliness was next to godliness and he added a cold bath. He paid attention to the environment by planting flower gardens with paths for strolling. John Wesley praised the house and its surroundings as a little paradise. Not so Benjamin Heath Malkin who visited Trefeca on his journey through South Wales in 1803. 'Here a Gothic Arch! There a Corinthian capital! Towers, battlements and bastions! Peacocks cut in box, and lions hacked in holly! Who has then deluged his native county with such bad taste?'iii. These ejaculations suggest a rejection of Harris mixture of architectural styles but give a detailed description of what had outlived Harris himself. Pevsner's collaborators noted the building with more appreciationiv.
The building work proceeded swiftly, and by 1759 seven downstairs rooms and seven upstairs had been completed. Workshops were constructed for the craftsmen, a bakery to supply the Family, an infirmary for the sick, and a chapel in 1758. When Lady Huntingdon decided to open a college nearby at Trefeca Isaf, building work recommenced in 1765, and by 1772 the entire building was in the form of three houses containing 70 rooms, 21 of them set aside for the use of the Lady and her entouragev.
There was therefore plenty of accommodation for the growing Family which had increased from about 60 people by 1753 to about 100 by 1755, some of them members of ten families in their midst. The increase in the Family was so rapid that Harris had to take several nearby farms on rent to accommodate the overflow. There was quite a lot of coming and going since some people could not come to terms with Harris' severe discipline, and he was criticised by some, amongst them Simon Lloyd, of being cruel. Harris' response to this was that everyone was free to leave if they wished, but things could not have been so bad since some of those who left did return. After all, the Family offered security of accommodation, food and company, rarities in a poor Wales, with everyone dependent on Harris to meet their needs. Harris deserves praise for organising a successful and unique cooperative society, almost one hundred years before Robert Owen carried out his experiments at New Lanark and in America.
Everything in the Home was organised right down to a daily programme for each member. The women carried much of the burden, and Harris was mindful of this and placed them under the management of a Mistress, initially Sarah Bowen, and, after she left to marry Simon Lloyd, her sister Hannah. When Sarah married in 1755, she demanded from Harris a repayment of the £280 she had contributed to the fund, but Harris refused, arguing that she had made her contribution to God, and not to him. John Evans, an old friend of Thomas Charles, had to come down from Bala to mediate and agreement was reached vi. Nevertheless, Harris condemned them for turning their backs on Trefeca as 'ildio i ysbryd y byd' - 'yielding to the spirit of the world - ', since it was God who had brought them there. Thereafter, Hannah was Mistress of the house for a good fifteen years, with many a skirmish between herself and Harris. On more than one occasion, she fled to Bristol, and, in 1759, Harris had to go and bring her back, the two of them returning on the back of the same horse. She stayed in Harris' service until 1758, when she left for a similar situation in Lady Huntingdon's College. Harris' wife was sorry to lose her since she had been a good friend.
One of the women was appointed to take care of the children, about 30 of them, including Harris' daughter. The children rose at six a.m. for breakfast, having gone to bed the previous evening at eight o'clock. They spent part of the day being educated in the fashion of Griffith Jones' schools, it seems, and in addition learning to sing the Psalms, and they swelled the Talgarth church choir on Sundays. They were expected to work in their leisure time, since Harris believed the devil made work for idle hands. Harris was a severe disciplinarian, giving one boy a really nasty beating for telling a lie. His aim was to imbue an awareness of responsibility in the children.
The community had to be self-sufficient since there was no money coming in from anywhere else. The first call was for the maintenance of the numerous Family and so agriculture and gardening were essential parts of the work. To this purpose, Harris worked six farms extending to 765 acres, to an extent land taken on rent from estates such as Tregunter which had been bought by his brother Thomas. A wide variety of crops were grown such as wheat, barley, corn, potatoes, turnips and peas, which show the influence of the agricultural revolution underway at that time. Howell, like his brother Joseph, had a great interest in scientific farming, and he carried out experiments to improve animal breeds as well as crops. When Harris heard that an alternative method of cultivation was being applied in Herefordshire, he sent Evan Roberts, the work supervisor, to make inquiries there.
Howell Harris' interest in agriculture led to the establishment of the Brecknockshire Agricultural Society, the first in Wales, when he succeeded in turning a drinking and feasting society attended by the gentry of the county to a more useful purpose. The main aim of the Society was the promotion of agriculture and rural crafts for the good of the county and in particular to give the poor work. In the opinion of Charles Powell of Castle Madoc, the intention was to make them good Christians and citizens. At the suggestion of Sir Edward Williams of Llangoed, Harris was elected an Honorary Member of the Society in 1756. Trefeca agriculture made its mark on the standards of farming in the county, but not without giving rise to some envy, and Trefeca was blamed for the high prices of food in the area.
Before long, sixty different rural crafts were practised in Trefeca since so many craftsmen had settled there. The carpenters and masons were in the charge of James Pritchard, winning praise for their work from every direction, since, when there was no pressure of work in Trefeca, they were hired out to neighbours. In a letter of thanks to Harris, Sir Edward Williams, Llangoed, praised his workmen as sober, quiet and honest men. Their behaviour, he said, was a credit to the religious principles Harris was going to such lengths to impress upon them. Their fame spread as far as Monmouthshire, where the iron master Capel Hanbury heard of them, inviting Harris to take up the construction of a turnpike road in his area, but he refused.
Cloth was produced and sold in markets as far away as Chester and beyond, which brought in most of the Family's income. Here once again, Harris was a pioneer in the method in which he organised the work of production, bringing all relevant tasks under the one roof, and thus creating the first factory ever to be established in Wales. He was even ahead of Adam Smith, the Scottish philosopher, who urged the 'division of Labour' as the most economic method of production vii . Harris' method was to divide up the work between eight spinners, four carders, one weighing the wool and preparing it, one winding the thread, and four weavers. Harris would have liked experimenting to produce broader cloth at a higher value, but he was advised that the wool he used was too coarse for that purpose. Howell drew in his brothers Joseph and Thomas to seek out markets in England for his produce. Harris wanted everyone to work cheerfully and to their full ability, and to bow obediently to his discipline. Having observed the order at Trefeca, Williams, Pantycelyn, included in his elegy to Harris:
Ac ti wnest dy blant yn ufudd,
At eu galwad bod yrun,
Byw i'th reol, byw i'th gyfraith,
Byw i'th olau di dy hun.
You made your children obedient,
Each one to his vocation,
Living by your rule, your law,
Living according to your own light.
A part of the day was set aside for each task. The family rose early at four, and, after breakfast, tasks were allocated by Harris. At six o'clock they went out to work until twelve noon, when they would return for a further service before lunch at one o'clock. At eight o'clock the children would be sent to bed after supper and the Family would sit down to eat at half past eight before retiring to bed after another service with Harris inquiring of each one regarding their spiritual condition. Harris would counsel for two or three hours each day, impressing on everyone that everything was done to the glory of God, and therefore demanding everyone's best. Laborare est orare was his motto. It is unsurprising that Evan Moses believed that God had set aside Trefeca for Himself.
Another venture of Harris' was to set up a printing press using money contributed to the Treasury by Barbara Parryviii. It appears that it was Harris' intention to publish his diaries and he kept a secretary to chronicle everything. This was not achieved in his lifetime, but served as the basis for the memoirs published in 1791 after his death. The first task of the press was the printing of notices of the Brecknock Agricultural Society as early as 1758. Its most productive period was from 1770 to 1805, when over one hundred works were published, since the press continued printing after Harris' death in 1773. The greatest task undertaken was the printing of Peter Williams' Bible which lead to his expulsion by the Methodists, but no blame was cast on Trefeca. A more adventurous act was printing some numbers of Morgan John Rhys' Cylchgrawn Cynmraeg (The Welsh Magazine) before fleeing to America, a cause of great concern to Evan Moses ix.
It can therefore be seen that the Home in Trefeca was a completely unique experiment in Wales, and it was not because of its failure that Harris rejoined the Methodist leaders in 1762 following their ardent invitation, and more or less on his own terms. However, he was not as energetic in the work of travelling around evangelising as he had been before 1750. He realised his early dream of establishing a theocratic community which was as much a success in the practical world. Harris proved himself to be a successful businessman as well as an agricultural pioneer. He was prominent in the establishment of an early agricultural society and in setting up a factory before anyone else. After 1765, he turned to another interest, namely the education of the ministry, since education had been a lifelong interest for him. He was instrumental in the establishment of Lady Huntingdon's college, and although he was not appointed principal, through his care of it he was its most stable anchor up until his death in 1773. The Family continued on under three trustees, Evan Moses, Evan Roberts and James Pritchard. When the establishment came to an end in 1837, the property came into the possession of the Methodist Union who opened a school for the training of ministers there.
E D EVANS
i. National Library of Wales, Trefeca Archive, Diary No. 18, page 10, 10 January 1736-7.
ii. Schlenther, B.S. and White, E.M.,.Calendar of Trevecka Letters, page 352, no. 2061 ('TL' below)
iii. Malkin, B H, The Scenery, Antiquities and Biographies of South Wales, 1807.
iv. Buildings of Wales - Powys ed. B Haslam, Pevsner series.
v. Davies, K Monica, Teulu Trefeca in Hanes Methodistiaeth Galfinaidd Cymru, Ed. G M Roberts. Caernarfon 1973, pp358 - 377.
vi. Schlenther and White, op. cit, tud 360, No.2106
vii. Smith, Adam, The Wealth of Nations, 1776.
viii. Schlenter and White, ibid., page 395, No.2354
ix. Owens, A.W., The Printing Press, CCHMC 3 page 67