Before the Norman invasion, Wales was divided into administrative areas called commotes. One of these was Efelffre (anglicised as Velfrey). It covered what are now the parishes of Lampeter Velfrey, Llanddewi Velfrey and Crinow.
No-one knows for certain what the name means. Early Christians would establish a llan or enclosure; in it would be a church and graveyard, with a dwelling for a priest and land to support him. This is the origin of Lampeter: in Welsh Llanbedr, the llan dedicated to St. Peter.
Near Penlan are the remains of three Stone Age chambered tombs, erected perhaps nearly five thousand years ago. Traces of prehistoric cooking hearths have been found by the stream above Marlais View, near Coedy Ffynnon and towards Princes Gate. The whole parish is dotted with Bronze Age barrows and standing stones.
Henry II granted Efelffre to Rhys ap Gruffydd, the leading Welsh magnate in south west Wales, in 1171. Giraldus Cambrensis recorded that by 1186 his uncles, Hywel and Walter, whose beautiful mother, Nest, was the sister of Rhys ap Gruffydd, had received Lampeter and Efelffre. Perhaps one of them had the ringwork thrown up to the north of the church, and a timber fort built on top.
Efelffre became a reeveship under the Lord of Narberth. His tenants here attended his Welsh-speaking court. The Lord had 60 acres of demesne land (and another motte) at Llangwathen, which fell to the Crown in 1330 when the then Lord, Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, was hanged at Tyburn. The Crown took over the appointment of the priest at Lampeter; Edward III presented the first whose name we know, Rees ap Henry, in 1350.
Later evidence tells of Crown lands at Gilfach, where a field is still known as King’s Park. Manorial courts met at Gilfach in the 1630′s. By the 17th century, if not long before, the pattern of farm holdings had largely been established. The main landowner then was Lewis John of Penlan. In 1670 his was the largest house in the parish, with nine fireplaces – only one fewer than Picton Castle. He served as High Sheriff of Pembrokeshire in 1676. When he died in 1696, his estate was divided among his children. They took Lewis as their surname. The eldest son, Sir William, a soap manufacturer in Bristol, erected the memorial to his parents in Lampeter Velfrey church.
Lampeter House (Upper End Town) was once the home of the Philipps family. A daughter of Edward Philipps (Rector 1779-93) married into the Slebech estate and was the mother of Baroness de Rutzen, Lady of the Manor of Narberth. His son Thomas, a failed banker, emigrated to South Africa and in 1820 helped to found a settlement he called Lampeter, now
Lower End Town, the farm at the other end of the village, replaced two vanished houses, Plas yr Hen Fagwr close to Coed-y-Ffynnon and Plas Nant y Dref towards the Marlais. Nant y Dref, town stream, flows past Hill Home to the Norton. It is well known to geologists for its fossils.
The Rectory was the second largest house in the parish in 1670. Rector Edward Philipps seems to have largely rebuilt it in the 1770′s, and Richard Lewis transformed it again in 1852. Manchester House used to be the village shop until 1989. James Davies was a draper and grocer here at the end of the nineteenth century. His son-in-law, Joseph Walter Lewis, made suits to measure and sold a wide range of goods.
Opposite the church gates is a playground, established in 1976. It replaces Church Cottage, which housed the Rector’s coachman or gardener. Phil Davidson, whose family lived here and who lost a leg in the Great War, unveiled the parish war memorial opposite in 1921. Immediately east of the cottage was an archway with a stone trough and tap, fed by a spring on the glebe. The field behind is still called the cricket field; the village once sported its own team. The village has supported many other organisations. The Mothers Union, founded before 1897, is the oldest branch in the diocese.
A pub known as the Bush was opened at Canoldre (Middle Town) in 1851. In 1876 it moved to the shop next door, and continued until just before the Second World War; the name survives as Bushlands.
The village had pubs before: the Three Tuns (a ‘tun’ was a large cask), in a cottage at the top of the street, and the Horse and Jockey later called the Lime Kiln Inn, in Baldwin House.
Towards Whitland, the Afon Cwm was diverted into a leat west of Derry Cottage to fill a millpond at White House Mill, where corn was ground. Upstream at Melinau it was impounded to power mills – hence Melinau – for Treffgarne and Rhyddgoed farms. The main corn mill, however, was driven by a leat from the Gwyddno near its meeting with the Marlais. White Mill dates back at least to 1532. It belonged to the Lord’s demesne at Llangwathen. The water turned an overshot wheel ten feet across, driving two pairs of stones. The Gwyddno used to run along the road from near Lawn Cottage to meet the Marlais at a dangerous ford, crossed only by a rickety footbridge. The raised roadway and bridge were opened in 1956.
Llanmill (properly Lanmill) used to be a leading centre of the woollen business. In 1770, a fulling mill owned by Penlan farm stood just to the southwest of Llanmill House. Another fulling mill, also powered by a leat from the Gwyddno, belonged to Dyffryn Farm. A third mill, the Factory, was built near Venterin.
William Humphreys acquired the Llanmill business around 1860. In 1876 he leased Dyffryn Mill and rebuilt it on three floors. Power came first from a waterwheel, but by 1898 a steam engine had taken over. William built the Street – Brynvale – to house some of his staff. His son, David, introduced the new synthetic dyes and other up-to-date technology. Cloth woven here won international prizes, but the business could not weather the depression between the wars and it closed down.