Henllys (former court)
In Melesina Bowen’s topographical poem ‘Ystradffin’ she describes the best route from Llandovery through the upper Tywi valley which takes in the gentry houses, ‘The other road will also take the traveller to Ystradffin, by crossing the bridge at Dolauhirion, going under Henllys, through Cwm Coy, Erryd,Cil-y-cwm, &c. to the ford at Pengarreg’ 1
The owner of Henllys demesne in the tithe was William Jones, he occupied the mansion and himself and the land was farmed by an Edward Edwards.1 The tithe payable was £15.10s.
According to Pevsner the house was rebuilt in the1820’s for William Jones it notes the, ‘Attractive late Georgian outbuildings. Facing the house a former lofted stable, a pair of carved doves over a roundel. Behind a delightful farmyard with bailiffs house at one corner, barn with two high doors and carthouse and stable range dated 1831 with cut grey limestone piers and unglazed loft lunettes.’2
Henllys used to own the land on both sides of the river, which was crossed by a footbridge raised upon two projecting rocks, locally known as ‘Devil’s Bridge’ or the ‘rickety bridge’ the name of which becomes clear once you have seen photos of it. The Lewis family, descended from Morgan Gwâl y ci were at Henllys from the early 16th century, until the middle of the eighteenth century when the last generation in the main line died. From 1788-1815, ‘it was the seat of Colonel David Williams who had been in the service of the East India Company.’ 3
John Lewis of Henllys in his will of 1712 leaves, ‘to my beloved granddaughter Barbara…. one cow and one feather bed.’ The rest of his goods and chattels and personal estate he leaves to his other granddaughter Mary Lewis of Henllys.4
The will of Thomas Lewis in 1764 makes Roderick Gwynne of Glanbrân and others trustees of the estate of behalf of another Thomas Lewis who must have been a minor.5
Soon after this John Williams of Llwynberllan manages to acquire the Henllys estate and in his will of 1791 he leaves £500 to his brother Rice Williams chargeable on the estate to be paid by his son David, and a further £100 to be paid to Rice by his other son John as well as land to pay further debts owed to his brother. With £200 to his daughter Jane Lloyd and Granddaughter Catherine.6
David Williams inherited Henllys from his father after an adventurous life as a Captain in the East India Company’s army. He returned from India in 1786 as a minor nabob with his wife and daughter, travelling with them was his great friend William Paxton later Sir William Paxton of Middleton Hall and his six year old daughter Eliza. The story goes that David’s wife was a learned Indian princess, remembered long after in Llandovery as, ‘the Indian lady’ and her, ‘dark skinned daughter’ who would take the air down to the shaky bridge across the Tywi, ‘some saying they still do’.7
There is a tradition of a ‘Lady’s walk’ at Henllys and that it had been constructed in order for a lady to compose poetry as she walked. This walk crossed the Towy over a footbridge and once ran all the way to Llwynberllan. The bridge was latterly known as ‘the shaky bridge.’ It was just after the bend in the river if you come down Erryd hill and follow the deep gorge in the river Towy. It seems that David embellished the estate on his return, perhaps this was one of his improvements he made on behalf of his wife. Unfortunately according to local lore their relationship deteriorated when she asked if he would take her back to India for a visit, (she was obviously terribly homesick in this country with its wet and cold climate) he refused and she buried her jewels out of spite and then killed herself, a darker rumour has it that he murdered her himself. He did have a track record of violent behaviour. He was accused at Warren Hasting’s trial where he had gone to give evidence, of killing an Indian Nabob illegally. Later on when established at Henllys he augmented his estate through dirty tricks, encouraging his tenants in a campaign of harassment in order to obtain Henllys fach. One incident was when his men dropped a dead sheep down the chimney at Henllys fach, which was a prelude to an accusation of sheep stealing, eventually the owners were forced to sell to Williams.
In June 1814 as part of the ‘numerous rejoicings’ after the Treaty of Paris which saw Napoleon exiled to Elba and peace with France after many years of war, a celebration was held, ‘At Henllys, the seat of Col. Williams, that gentleman, in the true old spirit of hospitality, entertained about 100 of his neighbours, workmen, and labourers, with plenty of beef, plumb-pudding, ale, porter, &c. In the evening the party adjourned to an opposite mountain, where an immense bonfire had been made by the neighbours, and porter, grog. &c. were again liberally distributed. Henllys House was brilliantly illuminated, and the surrounding woodland scenery of the place added much to its beauty and effect’.9
William Jones, a nephew inherited Henllys from David Williams who did not leave the estate to his daughter Mary Anne despite the fact that she was still alive when he made his will in 1819.8 It is thought that she married another local disinherited man Mathew Mainwaring Hughes Howarth, a descendant of Vicar Prichard, although she is still described as a ‘spinster’ in her father’s will. Violet Jacobs a granddaughter of William Jones, an authoress set some of her stories in Wales.10
David Thomas another of David Williams nephews eventually inherited Henllys in the 1850’s and it was owned by this family who never really lived here apart from a few summer holidays up until the second world war. Henllys, ‘a long, low white house with a beautiful garden and meadows, facing the hills of the River Towy below.’11 was let out to the Jeffreys family formerly of Erryd from the 1860’s onwards.
In 1919 the Rev Constable a retired schoolmaster from Uppingham School took up the tenancy. Mrs Rachel Anne Davies, who worked there as a maid in the 1920’s recalled,
‘I was sleeping in the garret. Once a fortnight I was allowed to leave the house. Mistress was afraid we would meet up with some young men. Usually, we were allowed out from 2pm until 6pm. We had to be back to prepare dinner. The old lady used to dress for dinner every evening. Her husband used to fish a lot. That’s why he moved to live in Henllys – so that he could shoot and fish.
The Constables had a daughter and three sons. One son was killed in the Great War, and the other two died at an early age. The old lady died after falling down the back stairs. It was then that Ken Williams was called in to run the place. He took over the farm and he and his wife moved in to the big house with Mr Constable.
There were three of us working at Henllys, two full-time and one occasionally. Wil Southgate the gardener and the old man used to quarrel frequently because Mr Constable used to interfere and pull things from the garden – flowers and all.
I never did any cooking. The cook was very wasteful. Two bucketsful of swill used to be taken to the Lodge, where Wil lived, every morning. His two pigs survived on that swill and only needed a little barley meal to fatten them.’12
Henllys was eventually bought by Ken Williams in 1945, his son John remembers, that once the Henllys Estate, ‘went out as far as Aberaeron, so they tell me.’
On his first night boarding at Llandovery College he was looking out of the window of Cawdor dorm, and he could just see the corner of Cae Llwyn where his parents were rounding up the sheep. Apparently during the war Llandovery College used to do their ‘drill’ on Henllys fields.
Once a hole appeared in front of the house, they had someone out from the museum who told them it was an early fridge, or cold store for game, and that he had seen quite a few of them.
Ken Williams farm diaries give a good flavour of farm life from the 1930’s to the 1970’s in the area,
4th October 1950 engaged Sian as a maid to live in for £130 pa (in 1951 this went up to £140!)
May 1951 Neuadd Arms in Cilycwm was sold for £3560.
Ken’s diaries focus on rabbits and what you could get for them in the 1950’s. He would have a trapper there for three days. The rabbit man came for the meat every Thursday, John once told him that the greyhounds would catch more for him next week and got a ‘rollocking’ from his father, because after that the man didn’t come, as he wanted netted rabbits without teethmarks in them, as they were sold in London as ‘chicken’. It was an important part of the local economy.
10th march 1952 trapper
11th March 1952 58 rabbits from the three bottom fields.
21st march 1952 411 big rabbits £20.11s 13
John Williams remembers the vegetable garden,
‘Like all big houses there was a garden, it must have been about an acre. We ripped out the rest of the apple trees to grow cow cabbage there. At one time a third of it was potatoes.’
There used to be horse racing around the line of old oak trees in the river fields below the Park. On 11th June 1909 Yeomanry Horse races were held at Henllys, ‘Glorious weather prevailed and the event attracted a very large attendance of spectators who had a splendid view of the whole course from ‘the natural grandstand’ facing it.’
Interesting field names:
Cae Miller The field was named for a Drover who put his cattle in there.
Cae Pownd Pond, Pound?
Pumtheg cyfer (Pymtheg cyfer) fifteen acres
Waun Lord Who was the Lord? Or was the name derogatory?
1. Melesina Bowen – VII.—”THROUGH DEEP CWM COY, ‘NEATH ERRYD
2. Carmarthenshire And Ceredigion By Thomas Lloyd, Julian Orbach, Robert Scourfield (Pevsner 2006) [Pevsner Architectural Guides: Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion by Thomas Lloyd, Julian Orbach, Robert Scourfield (Yale University Press 2006)]
3. Historic Carmarthenshire Homes Francis Jones
4. In St. David’s Probate Records, 1556-1858 (WlAbNL)3650004Details lewis, John, Henllys, Cil-y-cwm, Carmarthen, Gent John lewis : will, 1712.(NLW)
5. Thomas Lewis : 1764. In St. David’s Probate Records, 1556-1858 (WlAbNL)3650004 Details Lewis, Thomas, Henllys, Cil-y-cwm, Carmarthen, GentThomas Lewis : will, 1764.
6. John Williams : 1791. In St. David’s Probate Records, 1556-1858 (WlAbNL)3650004 Details Williams, John, Henllys, Cil-y-cwm, CarmarthenJohn Williams : will, 1791.
7. Arber-Cooke, A. T. 1975. Pages from the history of Llandovery. P230
8. Will of David Williams of Henllys 1819 proved 1821 – National Archives Kew
9. Cambrian 25/6/1814
10. Violet Jacob author, granddaughter of William Jones
11. Jeffreys family blog – http://thejeffreysfamily.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/walter-powell-jeffreys.html
12. Ken Williams farm diaries (CAS)
13. Cambrian 11th June 1909
John Williams formerly of Henllys
Henllys in 1975
More information and pictures can be seen on Henllys Details – please click here.