Penybont and District History Group Notes 1st June 2015 Main Topic: ‘Skulls, Dragons and Skulduggery!’ “Field Visit to Bailey Einon Nature Trail and Cefnllys”

It was a morning when the wind blew and rain continually threatened, but 10 of us set forth to the Bailey Einon Nature Reserve in the hope that we might be lucky. Arriving at the Shaky Bridge picnic area our attention was drawn to the memorial stone for Dr Jenkins down in the corner near the entrance to the Bridge. Someone had recently left some flowers, Geraint wondered who? We were then to learn of Geraint’s connection with the memorial stone and tales of a much loved and memorable GP who served the people of the area very well before he died somewhat tradjicly when he took his own life. Both Neil and Geraint’s memories were immediately drawn fondly to the character of the man but also to the fact that he was a very regular visitor to the Severn Arms. Neil was able to tell us that on many occasion he was called to the hospital to do surgery in a somewhat inebriated state but after half an hour in a side room he would be sober as a Judge. Neil went on to say that if it was not for Dr Jenkins he would not be alive today. After he died a lady friend of his, who Geraint would not mention by name, arranged to have the memorial stone placed at Shaky Bridge. This caused much consternation within the County Council as permission had not been granted for this. Geraint was then summoned by the good lady to consecrate the stone, an act that was carried out with some apprehension.
As a party we then proceeded to Bailey Einon and walked along the paths enjoying the idyllic scenery over the River Ithon with the blue bells still in bloom. The Radnorshire Wildlife Website describes this better than I can.
Ancient linear woodland running alongside the River Ithon.
“This linear woodland alongside the River Ithon consists of two stand types; wet alder and ash over a hazel understorey. The ground layer consists of extensive areas of bluebells with dog’s mercury, red campion, yellow archangel and greater stitchwort. The wood is an important location for early purple orchids, and contains orpine and hairy St John’s wort, both scarce in Radnorshire, and the grass lesser hairy brome. In the wetter areas kingcup, and both opposite-leaved and alternate-leaved golden saxifrage are found. Birds are well represented with over 40 breeding species. Pied flycatcher, redstart, great and lesser-spotted woodpecker, and warblers including willow warbler, chiffchaff, wood warbler, blackcap, and garden warbler breed in summer along with bullfinch, buzzard, spotted flycatcher and marsh and willow tit. Woodcock winter in the wood and grey wagtail, sand martin (in summer) and dipper are commonly found on the adjacent river, where kingfisher, pied flycatcher. and goosander may also be seen. The woodland is rich in lower plants, lichens, mosses and liverworts. Insect species include important beetle communities, with all three British cardinal beetles, and the snail-killing ground beetle Cychrus caraboides found on the reserve. Butterflies include orange tip and ringlet. Along the river dragonflies and damselflies are common, including the beautiful and the white-legged damselfly. Mammals include Daubenton’s bats and otter, spraints often being found near Shaky Bridge.”
You can download a leaflet on Bailey Einon at:
The walk overlooked the Ithon and there was much discussion about salmon in the River. Geraint remembered the occasion when the first weir was built at Penybont and the contractors made no provision for the salmon to get upstream. He was in the village and noticed a number of people on the bridge. He went to investigate and found that there were so many salmon queueing up to scale the weir you could have crossed the river on their backs. The weir had to be rebuilt to make it possible for the salmon to get to their spawning grounds. Poaching was technically a crime but also so much a part of the survival rations for local people. Neil seemed to think that Geraint was implicated in all the poaching that took place in times gone by. Geraint declined to comment!
Old maps of the River Ithon are much confused. The river meanders so much that it was not drawn on the maps as one River. At Penybont it is only just over a mile from Crossgates but it wanders down through Alpine Bridge to Cefnllys and on to Llandrindod where it turns right round to go to Crossgates and then on to Newbridge where it finally ends up joining the Wye.
At the far end of the walk there were excellent views of Cefnllys Castle. Marion was able to draw our attention to the original Castle on the left and the much bigger Castle that was built later by the Mortimers. This was in defiance of the permission of the King to build a Castle with minimal defences. The moat can be clearly seen and how Roger Mortimer had fortified the Castle. It was easy to how impressive the structure would have been in the landscape when the stone walls of the Castle were lime washed white. It was also easy to understand the decline of the Castle in this remote spot when hostilities were no longer the order of the day. A fine wooden Hall was built on the site in the 15th century but it was not the ideal spot for a family home. The Castle became a ruin relatively early in the 16th century.
The site of the village of Cefnllys was also clearly visible. In its heyday in the 13th century it probably had about 25 Burgesses. The Market Charter dated from 1297. Like the Castle it also declined over the years, albeit when Edward Price moved to Penybont to set up a shop in 1730 he was described as a Burgess of Cefnllys.
From this spot at the end of the walk Geraint also drew our attention to the old roads that passing under the Castle and in front of the village. The old road could be clearly identified as it headed off towards New Radnor.
As we walked back to the entrance and then over the bridge Geraint told us about the old bridge which was the ‘shaky bridge’. We would later see a photograph of the old bridge inside the Church. To the right of the open area before climbing up to the Church Geraint felt sure that there are the remains of an old leet that would have allowed to water to power a mill which he speculated must have been built on this open and level ground.
Walking up the hill to the site of the old ‘town’ of Cefnllys, it had a ‘Town’ Charter granted in 1305, an ancient drover road that was restored to its current state b the youth club. The names of all those who voluntarily gave their time is on a plaque in the Church. The site does show two distinctive ruins of buildings to the right but the layout of the Town is best scene through aerial photography. There was a row of houses along the far boundary, with more closer to the Church.
Moving into the Churchyard allowed Neil to indulge in his favourite pastime of studying gravestones. The age of people who died in the past is always a shock but this did not prepare us for the memorial stone for the mother of six children who all died before her, she died in the same year as the last of her six children. It was a particular shock to me as she was living on the same farm where my wife and I now own a piece of woodland, Gwernargllwyth Farm. The statement on the stone read something to the effect: “All are gone, as we all shall be.” Interestingly Gwernargllwyth Farm is the site of one of the other great castles in the area, Crug Eryr and the road to New Radnor, referred to above, would have gone past the Crug Eryr. There is clear evidence of this road going through the Farm.
There was considerable discussion about the roof of the Church which had been removed in 1893 by the Rector. Previously the Archdeacon had declared in a report that it was the worst church he had ever seen. The windows were broken and there was a skull protruding out of the floor. The Vicar at the time reputedly removed the roof to persuade parishioners to abandon the Church in favour St Mary’s in Llandrindod, the new Church. The story goes that the Parishioners were not impressed and so the roof was replaced in 1895. Geraint feels that the Vicar may have been misjudged as records show that the Vicar was the major donor to the fund to restore the roof.
One of the many features of the Church are the gas lamps. When Geraint was Vicar he remembers one of his Church Wardens who had the duty to light the lamps. He would turn the gas on and then go and light each lamp in turn. By the time he got to the lamp at the end of the run there would be a considerable explosion!
The Church which dates back to the 13th Century, with some rebuilding in the 15th Century, has a very fine font that suggests an older period and perhaps an older church. Brian was able to tell us that the chisel markings on the stone suggest that the font was post Norman. Prior to the Normans stone masons chiselled vertically but the Normans demonstrated and persuaded the local stonemasons to angle their chisels. This made chiselling much easier. The marks on the font were distinctly at an angle.
Geraint was instrumental in obtaining the current organ for the Church. It was purchased from a Church in Weston-Super-Mare. Geraint and his gang headed off to Weston, took the organ to bits, transported it back, and then reassembled the bits. Geraint and the team clearly had great fun doing it. He did not say what they did with the screw that was left over after the assembly was completed?
The Roodscreen and Pulpit are particularly fine. The Pulpit we found to be dated – 1661 and the screen can be seen:
It is thought that the frame of the screen dates to the 15th Century whereas the internal decorations are more recent.
We paused in the porch on the way out to indulge in a delightful piece of myth-history. In the porch is a diagrammatic representation and explanation of the ring of St. Michael’s Churches that protect the last, but sleeping, dragon of Wales. The five St. Michael’s Churches are at: Llanfiangel Cefnllys; Llanfiangel Nantmelan; Llanfiangel Rhydithan; Llanfiangel Cascob; Llanfiangel Discoed. It is said that if Christianity leaves any of these five Churches that the dragon will begin to wake. To see the layout of the Churches on a map see:
As we walked away from the Church yet another one of Geraint’s personal contributions to the history of the area came into view. He had commissioned a dry stone wall to enclose the site of the Church. The wall is an exceptional piece of skilled stone work that adds significantly to the beauty and spiritual resonance of this remarkable place.
We had been so lucky with the weather. The only significant rain tipped down while we were inside the Church and then as we got back to the Thomas Shop it rained for about 24 hours solidly. Dragons and Gods were definitely on our side.

Penybont and District History Group Notes 11TH May 2015 Main Topic: “Penybont Police Station and Magistrates Court – Geraint Hughes”

Geraint opened the meeting by welcoming yet another ‘full-house’ with particular reference to some new members: Glenys Desommes and Brian Guest
Main Topic: Geraint went straight into his topic for the day and started with a brief run through of how ‘law’ developed in medieval Wales and the Marches following on from the time of the Romans.
Ancient tribal customs would have been influenced by the somewhat ‘brutal and definitive’ aspects of the Romans in the 1st and 2nd century AD, and up to the 5th century. Forts were established Castell Collen near Llandrindod and in Montgomery (Forden Gaer), Caesws, and Brecon Gaer
“In much of mid and north Wales, apart from the building of forts and settlements associated with mining communities, settlement in the countryside continued much as it had been before the Roman conquest. For the most part the hillforts were abandoned but Iron Age style farmsteads continued to be occupied.”
From the 5th century through to the Norman conquest in 1066 Anglo-Saxons developed through the decrees of Kings a written legal framework with an emphasis on ‘fairness’.
“The most noticeable feature of the Anglo-Saxon legal system is the apparent prevalence of legislation in the form of law codes. The early Anglo-Saxons were organised in various small kingdoms often corresponding to later shires or counties. The kings of these small kingdoms issued written Laws, one of earliest of which is that attributed to Ethelbert, king of Kent, ca.560-616.[201] The Anglo-Saxon law codes follow a pattern found in continental Europe where other groups of the former Roman empire encountered government dependent upon written sources of law and hastened to display the claims of their own native traditions by reducing them to writing. These legal systems should not be thought of as operating like modern legislation, rather they are educational and political tools designed to demonstrate standards of good conduct rather than act as criteria for subsequent legal judgment.”
The Norman Feudal system had less influence in the Marches.
“The Welsh Marches contain Britain’s densest concentration of motte-and-bailey castles. After the Norman Conquest, William the Conqueror set out to subdue the Welsh, a process that took a century and was never permanently effective. During those generations the Marches were a frontier society in every sense, and a stamp was set on the region that lasted into the time of the Industrial Revolution. Amid violence and dangers, a chronic lack of manpower afforded opportunities for the intrepid…………. The Anglo-Norman lordships in this area were distinct in several ways: they were geographically compact and jurisdictionally separate one from another, and they had special privileges which separated them from the usual English lordships. Royal writ did not obtain in the Marches: Marcher lords ruled their lands by their own law—sicut regale (“like unto a king”) as Gilbert, Earl of Gloucester, stated (Nelson 1966), whereas in England fief-holders were directly accountable to the king. Marcher lords could build castles, a jealously guarded and easily revoked Royal privilege in England. Marcher lords administered laws, waged war, established markets in towns, and maintained their own chanceries that kept their records, which have been completely lost. They had their own deputies, or sheriffs. Sitting in their own courts they had jurisdiction over all cases at law save high treason..”
Magna Carta also exercised an influence from 1215 and in subsequent amendments 1217, 1224, 1247.
“56) If we have deprived or dispossessed any Welshmen of lands, liberties, or anything else in England or in Wales, without the lawful judgement of their equals, these are at once to be returned to them. A dispute on this point shall be determined in the Marches by the judgement of equals. English law shall apply to holdings of land in England, Welsh law to those in Wales, and the law of the Marches to those in the Marches. The Welsh shall treat us and ours in the same way.”
This brings us neatly to Hywel Dda – (Hywel the Good) or Hywel ap Cadell (c.880 – 950) was a King of Deheubarth who eventually came to rule most of Wales.
“The ‘Laws of Hywel Dda’ is the term applied to a system of native Welsh law named after Hywel Dda (died 950) who is credited with its codification. None of the surviving Welsh law manuscripts, however, is earlier than the second quarter of the 13th century. Although they contain law that is of 12th- and 13th-century origin, scholars are agreed that these manuscripts contain a core of matter that is much earlier in date. Most of these books are small in size and were probably designed as ‘pocket-books’ to be carried about by lawyers rather than to be kept on library shelves.”
This legal system became known for its wisdom and justice and was in force in Wales until the Act of Union with England in 1536.
the centuries between A. D. 409 and A. D. 941 saw a revolution wrought in religion, in race, in contact with Roman civilization, in a consciousness of national unity, and in the functions of kingship. The laws, as we have them, are the laws in force when all these changes had been in progress for some time and had affected whatever may have been the original customs of the people. No doubt it is true that custom survives even the most stupendous of political changes; nevertheless political changes invariably react upon custom. The customary law of Wales, therefore, which has been preserved to us, is not exclusively and entirely primitive; it is primitive custom surviving after being subjected to many important solvents.
Welsh Law was characterised by aspects of ‘status’ and ‘kinship’. Status was gained primarily through birth and/or office but this was governed by the person’s relationship to the King. In codifying the Law Hywel Dda sought to give order to the civil management of: The Land; Renders and Services; Persons; Civil Obligations; and Crime and Tort. Geraint mentioned that there were particularly enlightened aspects of the Law in relation to women and children. Though these Laws were codified they would nevertheless give way to ‘custom’ where local practice could be evidenced.
In the Marches law developed through the Norman landowners who in time integrated all of the above traditions mediated by the customs of the area. Cefnllys was an example of this. This has been particularly well described by an itinerant poet, Lewys Glyn Cothi who composed four poems in praise of Ieuan ap Phylip, who was Constable (military responsibility) and Receiver (Financial Scrutiny) for Maelienydd), and his wife Angharad, who were based at Cefnllys. There is some uncertainty over the date of these poems but they were written somewhere between 1432 and 14 83. Courts of the time came under the Constable or Receiver.
Geraint drew our attention to an article by Morfydd E. Owen in the Radnorshire Society Transactions of 2011 that gives more insights into the poems and the life at Cefnllys in the mid fifteenth century. The article tells us that in 1402 the Constable was responsible for a garrison consisting of twelve spearmen and thirty archers. Of the Law of the Marches as administered by Ieuan , which he confirms draws upon the ‘Law of England but took constant notice of the defining procedure, local custom and the Law of Wales’, he went on to say that it ‘presented to tidy minds a hopeless variety of customs: the custom of one lordship opposed to another, the priviledges of the townsmen as opposed to the law of the countryside, the liberties of English status as opposed to the law of Hywel Dda’.
Marion interceded, from her work on the castles locally, that the Court of Cwmarran did not approve of Cefnllys, and that people often voted with their feet if the court did not accede to local custom. Perhaps this bares some association with the Radnorshire of today.
Referred to as the Manorial Court, that dealt with tenure, and the Court Leet, that managed order within the area through Frankpledge, the sessions were held jointly at Cefnllys until early 16th century, (it is known that the Castle had become a ruin by 1558). Sessions moved to the Neuadd, a farmhouse that still exists nearby. Frankpledge gave rise to the ‘Hundred Courts’ as 10 groups of 10 freemen (had to be male and land owners) would make a pledge to keep order within each of their groups. If a member of the group broke the law then either the group would hand over the offender or he would all become liable to a fine. Courts were conducted with a jury system. Only ‘freemen’ could serve on the jury.
Geraint showed pictures of the Neuadd which still retains some of its historic features, particularly the fireplaces.
The Legal System changed completely following the Acts of Union 1535 and, more significantly, 1542 when Henry Vll made his intentions quite clear with particular reference to the systems of justice within the Manorial statelets along the Welsh Marches:
“(4) some rude and ignorant People have made Distinction and Diversity between the King’s Subjects of this Realm, and his Subjects of the said Dominion and Principality of Wales, whereby great Discord, Variance, Debate, Division, Murmur and Sedition hath grown between his said Subjects;
(5) His Highness therefore of a singular Zeal, Love and Favour that he beareth towards his Subjects of his said Dominion of Wales, minding and intending to reduce them to the perfect Order, Notice and Knowledge of his Laws of this Realm, and utterly to extirp all and singular the sinister Usages and Customs differing from the same, and to bring the said Subjects of this his Realm, and of his said Dominion of Wales, to an amicable Concord and Unity…”
– and therefore:
“That his said Country or Dominion of Wales shall be, stand and continue for ever from henceforth incorporated, united and annexed to and with this his Realm of England;”
Initially Courts were established for Radnorshire in New Radnor and Rhayader but when the first judge was murdered in Rhayader this court was moved to Presteigne. Presteigne became the Shire Court where a gaol was build. A new jail was rebuilt in 1820.
“It all started with a murder…

The murder in Rhayader of one judge in the 1530s was to change the life of the tiny border town of Presteigne forever. Rhayader, chosen as the venue for the Court of King’s Great Sessions, was obviously not a safe enough place for eminent men to stay and in 1542 Presteigne was chosen as an alternative. Its life as the legal seat of Radnorshire was set for more than 400 years and with it the development of Presteigne into Radnorshire’s county town.”
The tiers of Justice started with the Court of the King’s Great Sessions that later became the Assize Court in 1830. These courts were for serious matters such as felony and serious misdemeanours meeting twice a year in the Hilary and Trinity terms. Less serious offences were heard in the Quarter Sessions which met four times in the year, Hilary, Easter, Trinity, and Michaelmas. They have now been replaced by the Crown Court. More locally the Petty Sessions, now the Magistrate’s Court, evolved out of the ‘Hundreds’, as above.
Petty Sessions were the lowest tier in the court system and developed at the beginning of the 18th century to take on some of the work previously undertaken by the Quarter Sessions. The session’s work dealt with matters such as minor theft and larceny, assault, drunkenness, bastardy examinations, arbitration and deciding whether to refer a case to the Quarter Sessions. From 1872, they were also responsible for approving licences to sell alcohol in ale houses and public houses. The areas or divisions under the jurisdiction of the petty sessions were based on the old administrative units known as Hundreds. Petty Sessions were abolished in the early 1970s and replaced by Magistrates Courts.
The Hundred Court covering Penybont and District had been held at Beddfa from at least 1524. It moved to Penybont in 1867.
“Petty Sessions are held in the Assembly (known as the Iron Room) room, Severn Arms hotel, Penybont, on the first Friday in every month, at 1 p.m. The following places are included in the petty sessional division:-Abbey Cwmhir, Cefnllys, Llanbadarn-Fawr, Llandegley, Llanbadarnfynydd, Llandewy-Ystradenny, Llanfihangel-Rhydithon, & Llandrindod.”
Whereas the administration of justice in Presteigne at the Assizes and Quarter Sessions involved Judges and visiting Magistrates alongside the gentry, at local, Petty, level it involved Magistrates drawn from the local landowners.
In addition to this the Parishes appointed Church Wardens, Guardians of the Poor, Surveyors of roads and bridges and a Constable at the annual Easter Vestry held in the Parish Church. All these officers served for one year without pay but could claim expenses.
Each Parish would have a Constable and two Chief Constables were appointed in each Hundred.

Llandegely Parish Church Council records indicate responsibilities for mending:

The Pound; the Stocks (2 shillings and sixpence); and the Whipping Post (1 shilling)

Minor offences were dealt with summarily by punishment in front of the community. Welfare was also administered locally as part of the system of justice.

A Professional Police Force was established in 1857 the Chief Constable acting for Radnorshire and Herefordshire. This new Force consisted of:

1 Chief Constable; 2 Superintendents; 2 Sergeants; and 10 Constables

“The decision that Radnorshire should have its own Chief Constable
was made in 1867, and Mr. Penry Lloyd was appointed at a salary of
£ 250 per annum. He was to live within three miles of Penybont or
Crossgates, and chose Penybont. It is strange, by the way, to read that
up to that year the Petty Sessions for the Cefnllys Hundred (which
included Llandrindod) had been held at Bleddfa they were moved the
same year to Penybont……… In April, 1869, the Chief Constable
reported that the vagrants were mostly strong, able-bodied men, who
preferred idleness to work, and that they included many criminal and
bad characters, who were a terror to the countryside.”
This meant that the Assize Court and Quarter Sessions were held at Presteigne but the Headquarters of Radnorshire Police, for 60 years until 1929, was located in Penybont. The old Police Station/House still has the 2 cells intact.
Geraint showed a picture of the Police Force in 1945. Members present were able to identify: Sergeant Maddox who wrote a history of the Radnorshire Police Force; Judy had relatives in the Force, her father and brother; Sgt Hinds from Llanbister; Sgt Creed from Knighton; Sgt Gorman from Llandrindod.
There are records of the Petty Sessions Charge Sheets from the time of Percy Severn 1868 – 1930 in the County Archives. Geraint ran through a number projected onto the screen detailing the heinous crimes committed locally. These included: cattle straying; bastardy; drunk and disorder; Judy noted that there appeared to be a number of Philips included in the records!
Licensing was part of the responsibility of the Sessions and the records included the Llanarch Hotel and Licensing for the May Fair for the Severn Arms to be open until 11.00 p.m.
Other charges around the turn in the century included:
Woollen vest worth 18 pence from the Cottage Hospital; Cut and Wound herself fallaciously – ‘Kill or maim herself against the Queen’; nuisance to the Railway Line; emitted urine, exposing his person; killing salmon (the number of salmon made Geraint green with envy); Drunk and Rioting – fine 2s 6d; a case against someone for ‘singing in the street’ was dismissed when the defence was made “If you can call that singing!”; drunk in charge of a ‘gambo’; straying sheep; bicycle with no lights; Riding a cart without a guide.
By the 1930s the charge sheet reflected changes in community:
Driving too fast; No ticket on the train; chimney on fire – danger to other household; stealing underwood; larceny; begging; working a mare; neglect of sheep – scab; unattended cart; wandering lunatic!; waggoner sat without reins; cattle straying; drink was a common factor.
Newspaper reports gave very full accounts of court proceedings and this led to many people pleading guilty to avoid having to be questioned in court.
The Magistrates dealing with these cases were local people who knew the circumstances and were generally lenient in sentencing. When one day no magistrates turned up to hear the cases it spelt the end for Penybont Petty Sessions.
There were also Coroner’s Courts and one particularly poignant one in 1901 followed the death of 3 young men who drowned in the Ithon catching fish in sight of their father. Such was the tragedy that the father was spared giving evidence.
Geraint showed a picture of the Iron Room – he thinks that there was a room at the extreme right end of the building that was the Magistrates Room. There was a public Gallery at the other end of the building.
In the dining room of the Severn Arms, on a post/beam near the entrance to the kitchens, is a hook and it is believed that this was used to tie up unruly prisoners. Geraint would like to believe that this is true but it has to be said that it is ‘folklore’.
Nigel was able to tell us that it was common practice for poachers to hang 2 salmon on the door of the Police Station – no bribery intended.
There was a suggestion that there was an increase in crime when there were a number of Irishmen working on the railway – I had to point out that the increase might have been due to local people having someone else to blame for their own misdemeanours.
There was a suggestion, probably true that Bill Brown, on an occasion, could get back into the Severn Arms through a window above the roof of the Iron Room?
Derek thanked Geraint for yet another excellent talk.
Geraint explained that the next meeting would be an outing to Bailey Einon Nature Reserve. Members to meet at the Thomas Shop for a 10.00 a.m. start.