More on Llan Awst

Now that we have located the missing Welsh hamlet of Llan Awst using the tithe map of 1844 – about which more in a moment -, it’s time to give some more information about the area.

On the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW) website, the tithe maps are also linked to Welsh newspaper articles.  These also record the existence of Llanawst.  I have found a couple of articles, but there might very well be more.

The first of these is from the Monmouthshire Merlin, 12th October 1850, where an advertisement on page two reads:

THE MONMOUTHSHIRE HOUNDS WILL MEET ON Monday, October 14th, at Lanawst. Machen; Wednesday 16th, at Machen Village; Friday 18th, at Tredegar Park; Each day at ten o’clock.

The second article is from a Welsh-language newspaper, Ystorfa weinidogaethol, (Cyf. IV Rhif. 35 Ionawr 1841) (Permalink here) and on p.24 out of 32 records the activities of a charitable organisation, the “True Ivors”, establishing “lodges” (i.e. branches, like masonic lodges) in various places, including Risca, Llanawst and Machen.

In my last post, I mentioned that we owe a great debt of thanks to Mr Wayne Barnett, the Rector’s Churchwarden at Lower Machen.  He asked his Welsh-speaking neighbour, Mr Iwan Brooks-Jones, to read this article for us, who replied:

It appears to be a report of the Gwent and Glamorgan branch of the Gwir Iforiaid (True Ivors) philanthropic society meeting held in Blackwood in 1840.

It was attended by officials from 19 lodges. A fund had been formed for widows and orphans in the region and they hoped to reach 100 by the end of the year (but not clear 100 what!).

There’s a list of the 19 lodges and Machen is one of them…

He also found a source on just who the “True Ivorites” were, which is here.

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But what are these “tithe maps”?  They are the product of a very long historical process in England and Wales, which only ended in 1977, and the maps emerge from an Act of Parliament in 1836.

In England and Wales during the medieval period and after, one-tenth (10%) of the agricultural produce of the land in a parish was due as “tithe” to support the parish church and the parish clergyman.  (I ignore the question of “Great Tithes” and “Lesser Tithes”).  This system was inevitably unpopular with the farmers, although we may wonder what they would make of the efficient manner in which the modern state takes 50%.  We learn from Paupers and Pig Killers: the Diary of William Holland, A Somerset Parson (1799-1818), that the parson had to be sharp in order to get his tithe in full, and that, even so, he might hesitate to press too much a powerful landowner for it.

But by 1800 change was under way.  It was an utter nuisance to everyone to pass around bushels of corn and so forth, and so agreements were made to pay cash instead.  While the Rev. William Holland was still receiving payment in kind, in Norfolk his contemporary James Woodforde records cash payments in his The Diary of a Country Parson (1758-1802), at his annual “Tithe Audit Dinner”, taking place shortly before Christmas.  The farmers would assemble, with their money, and the parson would give them a dinner with plenty of strong beer.  The poet William Cowper records how these could be sour affairs.  The farmers hated paying over their money, as Cowper records.  By contrast the tithe audit dinners of Parson Woodforde became increasingly genial and pleasant affairs as the parson grew older, and as prices rose and rose.  The Napoleonic Wars led to huge inflation, which was beyond the understanding of the old parson, who simply marveled at the colossal prices of everything.  When he died, in his will, he left only a very modest sum.  His successor as rector was more alert, and he immediately doubled the tithe.  Parson Woodforde did know that the farmers cared only about money, and their geniality in paying it over should have warned him that they were swindling him.  To our eyes, that cheeriness tells us that they knew full well what they were doing: that they were robbing the poor old man of his due, and that they had done so for a decade.

In 1836 parliament passed an Act to change all of the tithes to a money payment.  This meant that surveys had to be commissioned of areas where payment in kind still applied, with maps of where the fields were, and who owned them, and what the tithe payment should be.  But this was in the interests of the farmers, and so it proceeded rapidly.  The tithe maps for Wales are the output of this process.

It should be added that tithes continued to exist in England and Wales until 1936, when a cash payment was made to the church by the government to commute all the tithes once and for all.  By this time they were deeply unpopular, and the use of bailiffs to collect the tithe created deep hatred in areas like East Anglia.  In 1933 the British Union of Fascists succeeded in gaining public support by sending groups of blackshirts to farms in order to defend the farmers against the bailiffs!  This probably hastened the end of the system.  Even so there were administrative matters concerning the tithe fund, which continued as late as 1977.

But the existence of the tithe maps is the one pleasant outcome, that has outlasted all the centuries of financial exactions.

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Churchwarden Wayne Barnett also drew my attention to a couple of other important points.

The first is something very  likely to confuse readers looking at a modern map.  On a modern map, there is the town of Machen; and the village of Lower Machen.  But in Borrow’s time, in 1854, the name “Machen” referred to what is today called Lower Machen.  By 1900 a town of “Upper Machen” had come into existence through industry, and today it dwarfs the original village.  He writes:

There has been a place of worship at Lower Machen since the 6th century but we only have knowledge of records from 1102. As an aside, you may like to look at … However, Lower Machen Church does have a small group of volunteers working on the historic significance of the village – you may have noticed on our website there are a couple of books that may interest you. Sorry for the commercial plug but they are hot off the press last Friday with all proceeds going to our charity work, the Parish Trust

He kindly sent me a PDF of one of the books, on the Morgan family chapel, which is excellent. I am happy to promote the books!

Living locally he was also able to comment on Borrow’s route:

He seems to be following the river Rhymney past Bedwas (colliery) and hitting Llanawst before Machen (written in that order). In 1854 UPPER Machen would have developed through industry and there was certainly at least one mine (behind my house) and very close to the river.

If only we knew which Machen he refers to – I assume it is Lower Machen as the Traeth (on the Draethen road) must be the large flat fertile area referred to and he seems to have crossed to that side of the river after Bedwas.

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The other point is whether there is anything ancient and monastic to be seen.  The “Llan” in Llanawst ought to indicate a monastic site.  But nothing is known now. William Graham mentioned that there is a demolished church at Llanvedw next to Ruperra – too far away –  and that some maps note the supposed site of a priory in Park Wood.  But this has no known history.

Here’s the ordinance survey map of the area.  I have highlighted Llan Awst, the priory site, and the scale.

Llan Awst and the supposed “priory” ruins in Park Wood.

Wayne Barnett sent me two pages from Antony Pickford, Between Mountain and Marsh (1947) ch. 5, pp.56-7.  The author is discussing the Benedictine priory of Bassaleg, and mentions ruins in Park Wood:

Now the most interesting question is that of the location of the monastic buildings and unfortunately it is just the one we cannot answer. Let Coxe speak again. “ No remains of the ancient Priory exist at Bassaleg; there is however a ruined building at a distance of about a mile in the midst of a deep sequestered Forest not far from the Rumney, not far from the con­fines of Machen Parish, which is supposed by some to have been part of the Monastery. The name of this Forest, still called Coed y Monachty, seems to confirm the opinion.”

I presume it is on the strength of this that the six inch Ordnance Map confidently marks “Site of Priory” at a spot half way down the Machen side of the brook in the middle of Park Wood.

There is undoubtedly a ruin there; within living memory some of the foundations were knee high. Now one will probably walk over the site a dozen times and not notice the cut stone wall bases scarcely showing above the earth. Short of thorough excavation we shall never know any more about this building.

Was it the Priory? It seems very doubtful. The building could have been a single cell of earlier or later date; the wood could have been called Coed y Monachty, simply because it belonged to the monks; the whole thing may have been invented at a much later date by some person who found the old ruins hidden in the wood and decided that they had once been the Priory. Even as a form of mortification of the flesh it is very difficult to see how worship could have been carried on satisfactorily in church on the banks of the Ebbw by monks who dwelt two and a half miles away on the banks of the Rhymni! In fact it is an impossible supposition. The Priory must have been close beside whatever building then served as a church. Owing to the early dissolution of the House there has been ample time for all trace of foundations to disappear.

We may say that the Priory was somewhere near the present church site and that short of complete excavation it is impossible to reach any conclusion about the building in Park Wood.

Of the doings of the Benedictine monks of Bassaleg we are fortunate enough to possess a little evidence….

Whether the ruin in Park Wood has any connection with Llanawst, except geographical closeness, we do not know.

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It’s time to wrap up this series of posts, and return to where we started: the statement of Canon G. H. Doble, in his Saint Mewan and Saint Austell, that a place named Llanawystl existed in Wales, which might be connected to St Austell in Cornwall.

I think we can happily conclude that the lost and now found hamlet of Llan Awst in Monmouthshire has no connection at all to St Austell in Cornwall.  The Welsh literary sources atttribute it to a female saint named Hawystl, the daughter of a sub-Roman / early Welsh kinglet named Byrchan.  Since both names derive from Latin, Augustus -> Awst, and Augustulus -> Awstl, we really do not need to suppose any direction connection.

Previous posts:


The location of Llan Awst

Since I read in G. H. Doble’s Saint Mewan and Saint Austell that there was a related place in Wales named Llanawystl, I have tried to find out where this might be, as I mentioned here. In particular I was working from a reference in George Borrow’s Wild Wales, where he says that in 1854 he “passed by Llanawst and Machen” as he travelled East along the Rhymney valley towards Newport.  But no such place as Llanawst is known today.

I have now located Llanawst, or Llan Awst as my source spells it.  This was only through the aid of others – of whom more anon – and through the marvellous online resources of the National Library of Wales and the Royal Commission of the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW).

The location of Llan Awst is shown on a Welsh Tithe Map, produced in 1844, together with lists of fields and owners, and accessible online, together with three fields in a triangle around it.  The map has the title “Plan of the parish of Bassalleg in the County of Monmouth”, produced by a professional surveyor and valuer, William Jones.  A useless low-resolution copy of the map can be found here.  But the high-resolution version is incorporated into the Welsh Tithe Maps website of the National Library of Wales.  Field number 927, named “llanawst field” is online here.  If you zoom the map out a little, you will be able to check the box marked “Tithe Map Overlay”.  The hamlet of Llan Awst instantly becomes visible.

Llan Awst, on the Bassaleg Tithe Map (1838-1850

If you uncheck the tithe map overlay, and choose the satellite view, you can at once see the modern landscape.

The location of Llan Awst today, on the A468 between Lower Machen and Rhiwderin.

It is also possible to show the Ordinance Survey map, ca. 1900, for the same area, where we discover that it is labelled “Maypole Inn”.

Llan Awst / Llanawst, as the Maypole Inn, ca. 1900.

It is quite clear that little has changed in the last 170 years, except that the name has been lost.

This I owe to Dr James January-McCann, Place Names Officer at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales, who in response to an email to the RCAHMW kindly did a search.  I had discovered one field, but he located three fields in the tithe map which, under various spellings, bear the name of Llan Awst.  It was while scrolling over the map on the website that I spotted the hamlet of Llan Awst itself.  The fields are numbered, and are all visible on the map above.  Here they are:

  • Field 838, “Cae Lanawst”.  Tithe map here, RCAHMW info here.  This field is to the west of the hamlet, and is let to the Rev. Augustus Morgan, and owned by Borrow’s great landowner Sir Charles Morgan.
  • Field 927, “Llanawst field”.  Tithe map here, RCAHMW info here.  This field is to the south of the hamlet, and was part of the Park House farm at the time.  Again it was owned by Sir Charles.
  • Field 954, “Cae Llanwst”.  Tithe map here, RCAHMW info here.  This field is across the road to the north-east of Llanawst.  Like 838 it was occupied by Rev. Augustus Morgan and owned by Sir Charles.

(“cae” is Welsh for “field”).  The three fields form a triangle around the building that was the Maypole Inn in 1900, according to the OS map.  This tithe map was completed in 1844, and George Borrow’s visit was in 1854.

Llan Awst, or Maypole, appears to be much the same size as it was 170 years ago.  By 1900 it was known as The Maypole Inn.  I corresponded with Mr William Graham, former Member of the Welsh Assembly, whose family go back a long way in the area as surveyors.  He tells me that the Maypole Inn was a “rhubarb inn”: an establishment where unlicensed  and untaxed moonshine, distilled from rhubarb, might be purchased.

If the inn existed in Borrow’s time, and he stopped there for refreshment, then this would explain his mention of this otherwise unimportant place.

Today the hamlet can be viewed on Google Streetview.  It is not imposing, at least from the road side.  Indeed I would not have thought the buildings were much older than a century.  I cannot tell whether there are today one or two distinct dwellings. For the convenience of other researchers, the modern address of this, or of one of them, seems to be Maypole House, Rhiwderin, Newport NP10 8RP (I have requested that this text be added to Google Maps; it would have saved a lot of scrolling and clicking).  Note that this is NOT the town of Maypole, elsewhere in Monmouthshire.  Nor is Llanawst the town today spelled Llanrwst in North Wales.  Both are liable to confuse the enquirer!

Mr Graham kindly sent me a couple of photographs.  Here is the North side, facing the A468:

Maypole House, North elevation, 2021.

And the south side:

Maypole House, South elevation, 2021

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All this information I owe to the help of Dr Wayne Barnett, the Rector’s Churchwarden at Lower Machen, who replied to my email to the Rector of Machen.  He worked hard on this, and also put me in contact with almost everyone else.

So I’ve ended up with more information than will fit conveniently into one post!  So for more information on Llan Awst, and just what these “tithe maps” are, please go on to the fourth post in this series, here. (Once I have written it!)

The posts in this series:


Llanawstl: Trying to read the entry for Hawystl in the Welsh Peniarth manuscript 127

I’m still trying to establish whether there was a locality in Wales, Llanawstl, which might relate to the Cornish St Austell. My first post on this is here.

The Welsh National Library has online here a very useful resource: Peter Bartrum, A Welsh Classical Dictionary: People in History and Legend up to about A.D. 1000 (1993).  This contains an entry for the female saint Hawystl, daughter of the kinglet Brychan, mentioned in some of the sources.  Bartrum writes:

HAWYSTL (ferch Brychan).
She first appears as a saint ‘in Caer Hawystl’ and a daughter of Brychan in Peniarth MS.127 p.52, and this is copied in a number of later manuscripts. The name seems to have taken the place of Tudwystl which is omitted from the list in Peniarth MS.127. See Plant Brychan §3x in EWGT p.83. It has been suggested that she is the saint of Llanawstl (destroyed) in Machen, Gwent (W. J. Rees, Lives of the Cambro-British Saints, p.607; LBS III.252), But see s.n. Austell.

“EWGT” = Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, ed. P. C. Bartrum, Cardiff, 1966.
“LBS” = The Lives of the British Saints, by S.Baring Gould and John Fisher, 4 vols., London, 1907-13.

Rees’ statement we have already examined.  But what about this Peniarth manuscript?  Well, it’s a manuscript written in Welsh.  I don’t know anything about Welsh manuscripts.

So I was really rather impressed to discover that a lot of the Peniarth manuscripts are online at the National Library of Wales, together with a link to the necessary catalogue, Evans, J. G., Report on manuscripts in the Welsh language (1898–1910), volume 1.2, p.775. This allows rank laymen like myself to work with the primary sources, at least to some degree.

As far as I can tell, the material on page 52, as one might expect, is a list of the daughters of Brychan.  The manuscript itself was written around 1510, with some additions in 1523.

The actual manuscript is online here.  What seems to be the sixth item is the one we want:

I wonder what we can make of this, knowing no Welsh?

First, if this is about “Hawystl” then the “s” must be a long-s.

Next, the name of Brychan is obvious in each of the three lines, so the word that precedes it must be “ferch” or “verch” (as Bartrum tells us), meaning “daughter [of]”.  Apparently it can be abbreviated “vch”, and it looks as if that has happened here.  So that means the last word in our sentence is “Hawstl”.

At this point I recall that Rees gave a list of the daughters of Brychan, in Latin and English, in a somewhat different version where Hawystl was replaced by Tudhistel.  So we can use the names as a key to the paleography.  P.604 has the English in his version here.

The next name in his list, and ours is Tybie.  That gives us the “e”, but also shows that the first letter is in the margin!  “T … ybie”.  So our line starts with “H” and then “Awystl”.

Some of the words are clearly a formula – “y sy?? yn sante?”  I’m going to guess that sy?? is sydd – thank you Google predictive text!  So we get:

Hawystl vch. Brychan y sydd yn santer yn ghaer hawystl.

What does this mean?

Well, with the aid of Google I believe that “y” means “the”, “sydd” means “which”, “yn” means “in”.  “Ghaer Hawystl” is plainly Bartrum’s “Caer Hawystl”.  I would guess that “santer” – I’m not sure of the last letter – is oratory, or shrine, or whatever.  So… without knowing any Welsh, it would seem to say that Hawystl has her saint-thingie in a place called Caer Hawystl?  No doubt a Welsh-speaking reader can correct me!

This tells us no more than we started with, but it’s still fun to try!

Does anybody else want to have a go?

Update: Looks like it might be “santes”, i.e. saint.

The posts in this series:


“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: