Llandovery Castle and the statue of Llewelyn Ap Gruffydd Fychan
The Towy Valley from Llandovery Castle
George Borrow in his
book "Wild Wales" speaking of Llandovery had no hesitation in saying
"is about the pleasantest little town in which I have halted in the course
of my wanderings". He tells the story of Rees Pritchard, vicar of
Llandovery in the 16th century. : “Rees Pritchard was born at Llandovery, about the year 1575, of respectable parents. He received the rudiments of a classical education at the school of the place, and at the age of eighteen was sent to Oxford, being intended for the clerical profession. At Oxford he did not distinguish himself in an advantageous manner, being more remarkable for dissipation and riot than application in the pursuit of learning. Returning to Wales, he was admitted into the ministry, and after the lapse of a few years was appointed vicar of Llandovery. His conduct for a considerable time was not only unbecoming a clergyman, but a human being in any sphere. Drunkenness was very prevalent in the age in which he lived, but Rees Pritchard was so inordinately addicted to that vice that the very worst of his parishioners were scandalized, and said: "Bad as we may be we are not half so bad as the parson."
He was in the habit of spending the greater part of his time in the public-house, from which he was generally trundled home in a wheel- barrow in a state of utter insensibility. God, however, who is aware of what every man is capable of, had reserved Rees Pritchard for great and noble things, and brought about his conversion in a very remarkable manner.
The people of the tavern which Rees Pritchard frequented had a large he-goat, which went in and out and mingled with the guests. One day Rees in the midst of his orgies called the goat to him and offered it some ale; the creature, far from refusing it, drank greedily, and soon becoming intoxicated, fell down upon the floor, where it lay quivering, to the great delight of Rees Pritchard, who made its drunkenness a subject of jest to his boon companions, who, however, said nothing, being struck with horror at such conduct in a person who was placed among them to be a pattern and example. Before night, however, Pritchard became himself intoxicated, and was trundled to the vicarage in the usual manner. During the whole of the next day he was very ill and kept at home, but on the following one he again repaired to the public-house, sat down and called for his pipe and tankard. The goat was now perfectly recovered, and was standing nigh. No sooner was the tankard brought than Rees taking hold of it held it to the goat's mouth. The creature, however, turned away its head in disgust, and hurried out of the room. This circumstance produced an instantaneous effect upon Rees Pritchard. "My God!" said he to himself, "is this poor dumb creature wiser than I? Yes, surely; it has been drunk, but having once experienced the wretched consequences of drunkenness, it refuses to be drunk again. How different is its conduct to mine! I, after having experienced a hundred times the filthiness and misery of drunkenness, have still persisted in debasing myself below the condition of a beast. Oh, if I persist in this conduct what have I to expect but wretchedness and contempt in this world and eternal perdition in the next? But, thank God, it is not yet too late to amend; I am still alive - I will become a new man - the goat has taught me a lesson." Smashing his pipe he left his tankard untasted on the table, went home, and became an altered man.
Different as an angel of light is from the fiend of the pit was Rees Pritchard from that moment from what he had been in former days. For upwards of thirty years he preached the Gospel as it had never been preached before in the Welsh tongue since the time of Saint Paul, supposing the beautiful legend to be true which tells us that Saint Paul in his wanderings found his way to Britain and preached to the inhabitants the inestimable efficacy of Christ's bloodshedding in the fairest Welsh, having like all the other apostles the miraculous gift of tongues. The good vicar did more. In the short intervals of relaxation which he allowed himself from the labour of the ministry during those years he composed a number of poetical pieces, which after his death were gathered together into a volume and published, under the title of "Canwyll y Cymry; or, the Candle of the Welshman." This work, which has gone through almost countless editions, is written in two common easy measures, and the language is so plain and simple that it is intelligible to the homeliest hind who speaks the Welsh language.”
Llandovery today is a busy town with small shops and an agricultural feel. The A40 runs through the centre of the town and is restricted in width. There is an abundance of old coaching inns.
Llandovery's history dates back to Roman times when it was known as Alabum. The Romans established a fort just to the north of the present town to guard the route between Brecon and Carmarthen and the fort guarding the gold mines at Pumsaint.
The church at Llanfair-ar-y-bryn just off the road to Llanwrtyd Wells stands in one corner of what was the Roman Fort and the remains of the road to Pumsaint is clearly visible.
One of Llandovery's most famous residents was William Williams Pantycelyn 1717-1791, a poet and leader of the Welsh Methodist movement but best remembered as the writer of the hymn Arglwydd, arwain trwy'r anialwch, in English, Lord, Lead Me Through The Wilderness, translated as the English Hymn Guide me, O Thou Great Jehovah, usually sung to John Hughes' Cwm Rhondda. His grave can be seen at St Mary's church at Llanfair ar y Bryn on the northern edge of the town.
Some 50 years after the Norman Conquest, the Marcher Lord Richard Fitz Pons started the construction of a motte and bailey castle at Llandovery. While the welsh attacked the castle and destroyed the bailey, the Normans retained control of the castle until 1158. The Lord Rhys captured the castle from the then owner Walter Clifford. Possession of the castle alternated between the Welsh and English until 1277 when the castle fell to Edward I. For a few months in 1282 it was occupied by Llewelyn the Last for a few months, but after his death was strengthened by John Giffard. Much of the surviving structure dates from this time. After 1282 the castle gradually fell into disrepair and was finally destroyed during the English Civil War.
While the remains of the castle today are hidden from passing traffic at the back of the town car park it occupies a strategic site above the River Bran. The River Towy flows half a mile away.
Memorial to Llewelyn Ap Gruffydd Fychan
The memorial was unveiled in 2001, having been commissioned following a competition in 2000. During the rebellion of Owain Glyndwr against Henry IV that started in 1400, Henry forced Llewelyn, a local landowner, into his service to find Glyndwr and his army. But Llewelyn had two sons serving with Glyndwr and led Henry and his army on a tour of the mountains allowing Glyndwr and his army to escape to his stronghold in the north. Llewelyn was forced to confess his allegiance to Glyndwr and was publicly disembowelled and dismembered alive before the castle gates. His salted remains were then exhibited in other Welsh towns as a deterrent to others.
The memorial was produced by Toby and Gideon Petersen of St Clears. It is 16 ft high and constructed of stainless steel. The helmet, sword, scabbard and cloak are historically accurate for the early 15th century, while the shield depicts the four lions of Gwynedd reflecting Llewelyn's loyalty to Glyndwr.
Llandovery was given its charter in 1485 by Richard III. The
town corporation was governed by a Bailiff presiding over a Council of
Burgesses, an arrangement that persisted until 1836. The Town Hall was built
under the provisions of the Charter of 1485. The present Town Hall pictured
dates from 1857 and is the fourth to be built. The name Llandovery is an anglicized
corruption of the Welsh Llanymddyfri meaning "church among the waters"
Like many towns in Wales Llandovery prospered with the military presence of the castle in its early days but suffered when England and Wales were united under the Act of Union of 1536 and the military disappeared. Llandovery however benefited from its position on the main London to Carmarthen road as can be witnessed by the number of coaching inns. The role of the drovers in the town's success is commemorated by the statue, pictured above, situated outside the heritage centre.
The town is now the home of Llandovery College, one of a small number of noted public schools in Wales.
Llandovery's Castle Hotel
Waterloo Bridge over the River Bran
St Dingwat's Church
St Dingat's is the parish church of Llandovery. The original Celtic church was destroyed by the Normans and the present church dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. Part of the churchyard was washed away by the river which used to flow much closer than it does today. There is some confusion as to the identity of St Dingat. Some believe he was one of the 36 children of King Brychan, but others identify him as the deposed king of Selcovia in Scotland who sought refuge in Usk in Gwent and founded the church of Llandingad (Dingestow) in Gwent.
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