“Lanawstl” or “Llanawstl” near Machen in Monmouthshire – a reference to St Austol?

While reading the copy of G. H. Doble’s “Saint Mewan and Saint Austol” that I mentioned a post or two ago here, I came across an interesting statement on p.13:

In another part of Gwent, in the parish of Machen in Monmouthshire, is a place called Lanawstl, which must mean “The Monastery of Austol.”

The parish of Machen is easily located using Google Maps, but the word “Lanawstl” is not.  Probably it should read Llanawstl, of course, but that is no better.  I have written to the clergyman of Machen to ask for information, but of course clergy are busy and I do not expect a response.  Possibly the name is attached to an outlying farm or building.

So I went back to Google and started to experiment with spellings.  This brought me a result, in George Borrow’s novel – does anybody read Borrow now? – “Wild Wales”, chapter 39, on p.447-8 of vol. 3 of this 1862 edition here:

… shortly afterwards I emerged from the coom or valley of the Rhymni and entered upon a fertile and tolerably level district Passed by Llanawst and Machen. The day which had been very fine now became dark and gloomy….

Next I found an English translation of a Latin text of ca. 900 AD, “Account of Brychan of Brecknock”, given by William Jenkins Rees, in “Lives of the Cambro British Saints”, chapter 8.  The text itself is taken from a British Library manuscript, Cotton Vespasian A. XIV, where it is entitled “De situ Brecheniau”, “Of the situation of Brecknock”.  The manuscript is digitised and accessible online here.

Cotton Vespasian A XIV, f.10v – start of De situ Brecheniau

But Rees’ comment is in a footnote to p.607, here, discussing the various offspring of this kinglet Brychan:

It appears to me much more reasonable to suppose that the different churches and chapels in Gwent were founded by the sons or daughters of one of the two latter Brychans than by the descendants of the regulus of Brycheiniog… Hawystl had her oratory at Llan Awst in Machen.  Nefyn or Nevein, at Crick: both are destroyed.

Who is this “Hawystl”?  Another text, from BL Harley 4181 (sadly not digitised) informs us (p.600) that

53. Hawystl was daughter of Byrchan.

Elsewhere in the same book by Rees we learn of yet another chieftain named Hawystl Goff, the word “Hawystl” this time being masculine.  So we have a female Saint Hawystl, with a name that can be either male or female.

There is, I learn, a Welsh Wikipedia, which has an entry on this Hawystl here, and which seems to confuse St. Hawystl with the chieftain!

I came across another source of Welsh genealogy online here. The book is titled “The Iolo manuscripts: A selection of Ancient Welsh manuscripts…” ed. Thomas Price (1848), in Welsh and English.  A Welsh antiquarian called Iolo Morganwyg made copies by hand of ancient Welsh manuscripts. His son edited these, although he died before the publication was complete.  On p.519 here we find:

Here are the names of Brychan Brycheiniog’s daughters.
1. Mechell. She was the first wife of Gynyr of Caer Gawch and mother of Nonn the Blessed mother of St David.
2. Lleian wife of Gavran the son of Aeddan Vradoc the son of Dyvnwal Hên the son of Ednyved the son of Macsen Wledig.
3. Hawystl. Her church is Llan Hawystl in Gloucester.
4. Dwynwen. Her church is in Anglesey and another in Ceredigion.
5. Ceindrych. Her church is in Caer Golawn.

Unfortunately it seems that “Iolo Morganwg” was actually the “bardic name” of a man named Edward Williams, and some of his supposed transcriptions of ancient Welsh manuscripts were forgeries.  I can find nothing to say whether this text is one of them, but it seems likely.  While there is indeed a village named Aust near Gloucester, there is no evidence that it has anything to do with St. Hawystl.

So … we start with G. H. Doble speculating that a Welsh locality named Lanawstl is perhaps connected to Saint Austol, who is (reasonably certainly) the origin of the name of the Cornish town of St Austell, since his cohort in crime, St Mevan, is named as patron of an adjoining parish.  We then find others speculating that this “Llanawstl” is connected to a female saint Hawystl.  It is impossible to say where the truth lies.

What rubbish all this stuff is!  All of it.  It is, it seems, nothing more than speculation based on names and place names by people who live fifteen centuries later.  There is not a particle of “evidence” of any other kind as far as I can tell.  The speculation itself has no objective value whatsoever.  The truth is that the history behind these names and place-names is irretrievably lost.  Accept it.

The posts in this series:


7 thoughts on ““Lanawstl” or “Llanawstl” near Machen in Monmouthshire – a reference to St Austol?

  1. Hmm. The usual name is Tangwystl (tanc = peace, + gwystl = hostage) or (peace + pledge, where the hostage is being pledged to somebody else to keep the peace). And that’s the name that usually shows up in the Brychan daughter list.

    Not necessarily wrong, as Ceindrych often shows up as Ceinwen, etc.

    That said, Iolo Morganwg was both a great man/scholar for trying to do something in his day, and really shady. His Wikipedia article is… um… the product of somebody who comes right out and says what all the Welsh Celticists usually say more nicely. So generally one trusts one of his books as far as you can throw a car.

    Heh, this site is so nerdy it makes you and me seem normal citizens, and he’s got a much longer list of Brychan’s sons and daughters, with sources:


  2. The Welsh Wikipedia page for Hawystl has a lot more info about places associated, or perhaps associated, with Hawystl. And there’s also a Tudwystl that gets confused with her.


    I used to be in the SCA, and through that and through filking, and thru beta-testing her proposed medieval Welsh course, I am acquainted with Heather Rose Jones, a linguist. She used Tangwystl as her SCA name, and therefore went overboard with name research, as one does….

    Posited pre-Welsh British form: Tancogeistla

    Documented Old Welsh form: Tancoystl == This would be the actual early Welsh saints’ spelling.

    Medieval Welsh: Tangwystyl ==
    This is where most of your charters would first document names and placenames, because there’s not a lot of early early Welsh mss sources left.

    Middle English spelling of Medieval Welsh: Tangwistel

    Early Modern English spelling of Modern Welsh: Tanglust

    Modern Welsh: Tangwystl

    If any people were still using names like Tudwystl or Hawystl, they probably went through similar stages.

  3. This article has a bit about the ancient king genealogies, with links to stuff about certain specific female names, and notes on which ones are kind of otherworld-connected, placename-connected, etc.


    OTOH, it’s not all “made up” or “mists of the Dark Age,” because there’s stuff from the Continent that’s “history” that ends up linking up to Welsh sources that bop back and forth between legend, hagiography, and some kind of historical source.

    The most excruciatingly thorough guy about correlating all of this, and linking to more academic sources, is probably the British History Podcast guy, even though I spend a lot of time argh-ing at the podcast whenever I disagree. There’s an amazing amount of documentation about post-Roman Britain that scholars have managed to grub up.

    And this is also where I found out that there was a pre-Charlemagne Frankish general who worked for the Romans, and ended up with an imperial claim (over in Gaul). So Charlemagne didn’t actually make all this stuff up by himself; it was something Franks had been trying to do, centuries before, when the empire in the West was still running!

  4. Thank you! This is all useful.

    The name Llanawstl seems to be unknown locally today – I’ve had a reply from the parish. I might see if it’s on some old Ordinance Survey maps.

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