Croeso i Ogledd Sir Benfro. This part of Pembrokeshire has a history stretching back to the dawn of time – we live on either side of Treffgarne Gorge, with its Pre-Cambrian rock formations, marking the divide between what George Owen of Henllys once called the Welshry of North Pembrokeshire and the Englishry of the South. Ours is an area rich in historical remains and virtually every crag and rock, field and lane, mansion, cottage, church and chapel bears evidence of past inhabitants and their activities.
Early history of the area
A prehistoric standing stone and Bronze Age barrow are evidence of early human presence in the area. Approximately two hundred years ago a farm worker uncovered the remains of what is thought to be a Romano-British villa. The site was excavated at the time by Pembrokeshire antiquarian Richard Fenton. Fenton’s contemporaries refused to believe that the remains could be Roman, as it had long been thought that the Romans never ventured this far into West Wales. However, recent excavations support the theory that the remains are those of a Romano-British farmstead, common in England and other parts of Wales but rare in Pembrokeshire.
The medieval period
The medieval manor and village of Wolfscastle was known as Castrum Lupi. The motte-and-bailey itself dates from the early twelfth century, and may have been constructed inside the remains of an earlier Iron Age fort. There was a Cistercian monastery at Little Treffgarne, founded by Bishop Bernard of St Davids, between 1144 and 1151. It was short-lived, however, as the monks soon moved to Whitland where they established an abbey. The Black Book of St Davids of 1326 provides a snapshot of medieval Wolfscastle, showing that there was a diverse population of Normans and Welshmen. As well as working on the land, the inhabitants were skilled in related trades as is suggested by the names recorded, for example Adam the Smith, Walter the Miller and John the Weaver.
Places of worship
Dedicated to the sixth century Saint Dogfael, St Dogwell’s Church originally consisted of a nave and chancel but was enlarged during the later middle ages. Today the churchyard is home to a sixth-century Ogham stone, though this was not the stone’s original site. St Margaret’s, Ford was built in 1627 by Margaret Symmons of Martel, Puncheston, for those of her local tenants who had previously had to travel a considerable distance to attend church. It was restored in the late 1700s by William Knox of Llanstinan. Treffgarne Church is dedicated to St Michael. The present building is essentially Victorian, but there is a mediaeval font, and the first recorded rector was Thomas Powell in 1535.
Penybont Congregational Chapel at Ford was originally established in 1807 as a branch of that in Trefgarn Owen, Brawdy. A few years earlier, in 1797, Rev Thomas Skeel had begun to hold regular preaching services at what is now known as Old Ford Farm. Penybont was built by local inhabitants. It is thought stone for the Chapel was taken from the site of the Romano-British villa. The Chapel was rebuilt in 1907.
It has been suggested that Owain Glyndŵr (Owen Glendower) (1349-1416), leader of the Welsh uprising of 1400-1406, was born at Little Treffgarne. The origin of this story lies in the fact that his mother’s family were landowners in the area. Joseph Harries, the founder of the first all-Welsh weekly newspaper Seren Gomer in 1814, was born in St Dogwells parish in 1773. A Baptist preacher, he wrote many hymns, religious tracts and commentaries.
The school was erected in 1834, and is believed to be one of the oldest in Wales. The original design provided for a schoolroom for girls and another for boys, with a house for the schoolmaster in the middle. When the school first opened the girls’ section was not complete but there were facilities for fourteen boys of the parish. Today most of the original buildings still stand but the addition of modern facilities provides present-day pupils with resources suitable for 21st century education.
Whilst agriculture has always been the mainstay of the local economy and the main employer in the area, industry has also provided employment. The Sealyham slate quarry was originally an asset of the estate, and commercial expansion only commenced in the 1820s. However, falling prices eventually put paid to the enterprise, and workings ceased around the turn of the century. The remains of the quarry can still be seen in Sealyham Woods today.
Travellers along the A40 near Treffgarne Gorge will see little indication of the location of Treffgarne Quarry (once part of the Treffgarne Estate) that up to the 1960s was an important source of stone for road construction. Nature has reclaimed the barren rocks by covering them with a variety of vegetation and by flooding to create a secluded and sheltered lake.
An extremely hard type of granite (andesite) was removed in vast quantities (an experiment in 1953 dislodged 30,000 tons – enough for six months’ work). It is hard to imagine now that a gantry over the road carried trams laden with rock from the quarry to the crushing plant; that there was a branch line to the main railway; and that men with red flags would occasionally stop the road traffic to enable blasting to take place! The processing of rock from other quarries continued here until it was finally abandoned in the 1970s and eventually sold to Sealyham Activity Centre who use it for canoeing.
The coming of the railway
Another of the reasons why the slate quarry was never really an economic proposition was the lack of adequate transportation. In 1844 it was planned to build a South Wales Railway to Fishguard, but subsequently the terminal was changed to Abermawr, and later still to Neyland on Milford Haven. Nevertheless, 1905 saw completion of blasting through Treffgarne Gorge (one navvy lost his life).
The following year the new line from Clarbeston Road to Fishguard was opened, completing the rail link with the port and partially following the route through Treffgarne Gorge that Brunel had been forced to abandon in 1849. The stations at Wolfscastle Halt, Welsh Hook, Mathry Road and Jordanston Halt were opened in 1913, and served both passengers and goods, but were finally lost as a result of the Beeching cuts of the 1960s. In their heyday they, too, were major employers.
They say that…
The fiery wagon: The coming of the railway had been foretold. In the 1740s Sarah Bevan of Treffgarne had a vision of ‘a line of wagons racing down the centre of the Gorge, suspended above the river, the front wagon appearing from the smoke and flames to be on fire’. That was sixty years before the steam locomotive was even invented …
The tunnel to St Davids: On the southern side of Great Treffgarne Mountain is a small cave, said to be the entrance to a network that leads as far as St Davids, some twelve miles away. On one occasion a dog found its way into this cave and was thought to be lost. Some time afterwards, however, a woman sweeping the floor of her cottage in St Davids heard a scratching under the hearthstone. When the stone was lifted a dog crept out – the same dog that went missing in Treffgarne …
The elephant: The tale of the circus elephant that met its end in West Wales has long intrigued local people. The story goes that the elephant had been hauling a heavily laden circus wagon up the steep and winding incline of the old road through Wolfscastle. It’s believed that the poor elephant suffered a heart attack along the way. He was cared for by the local people and, when he seemed fit enough, began his journey once again. Unfortunately, he only made it as far as the next village, where he keeled over and died.