The Cottage near Llangunnor Church

painted by

B.A. Lewis in 1894

 

Mary Binding

has had connections with Carmarthen all her life, and has lived in the town for many years. She has served on the committee of the Friends for many years and is an active member of the volunteer group.

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The exhibition of works of B.A. Lewis held at the Museum and Oriel Gallery and the accompanying book published in 1996 attracted me for two very personal reasons. Firstly, his wife was the only Sunday school teacher my mother ever had at Christ Church and Mary Lewis was also my godmother. I had been brought up with reminiscences of her and her large family. Secondly the paintings captured the Carmarthen and surrounding countryside of Mother’s girlhood, and as a small child of two or three years I had walked the same streets almost weekly from the station to Parcmaen during my grandmother’s last illness. Each time after crossing the bridge the debate of whether to go up Little Bridge Street to Guildhall Square and Lammas Street, or to take the ‘short cut’ along the Quay, around the Gas Works then past Mr Walters the Milk’s farm and up Morfa Lane. 

The exhibition also coincided with my growing interest with the history of the Landre of Llangunnor - fuelled by Muriel Bowen Evans’ nightclasses. I was having a lone lunch in County Hall one day studying photocopies I had obtained from the Archives when Dr Margaret came to see what I was so preoccupied with. I told her I thought B.A.’s cottage near Llangunnor Church may have been the original vicarage of Llangunnor. That was enough! She said Dr John had been intrigued by that bwthyn for many years and we must find out about it and who owned it now.

I had been studying the map and terrier of 1720, hastily produced by October 8th to satisfy the lack of such a document at a churchwardens’ presentment to the bishop’s representative at St. Peter’s earlier in the year. The Terrier described the buildings and land belonging to the Vicarage of Llangunnor.

IMPRIMIS:- A Vicarage House containing three little Rooms on a Floor, a Barn, and Cowhouse containing five Bays of Building, and an outward Kitchen and Stable, containing two Bays of Building.

ITEM:- A little Garden, containing, by Estimation, the sixteenth Part of an Acre, more or less.

ITEM:- A Haggard, containing, by Estimation, the twelfth part of an Acre, more or less.

I do not believe that until the induction of the Rev. James Griffith to the living in 1827 that many of the incumbents had ever considered living so near the church and for many it was one of a plurality of livings. The parish had been served by a curate or curates of neighbouring parishes The Rev. Griffith did not move to Llangunnor until the new vicarage was built. This was achieved with the aid of a sum from Queen Anne’s Bounty supplemented by his own money. One of his children was baptised at the church in 1833 while the family lived in Carmarthen, he moved to the new house in 1834 and another child was baptised in the church in 1835. He was probably attracted by the improved access to the town with the building of the new turnpike road from Carmarthen and was able to enjoy the famed view from Llangunnor Hill. His predecessor was living at Nant, (a William Bonville property on the Great Road from Carmarthen to Llanarthney) when he died in 1827.

Interestingly the Llangunnor Tithe map published in 1843 illustrates the lapse of time between preparation and publishing as it shows the original distribution of house, garden, farm buildings and haggard of the map of 1720. By 1843 the new vicarage and possibly the new glebe farmhouse has been built. The new vicarage was built on Cae bach dan ty.

The most recent mention of the old vicarage in the church registers I have found was the burial on 23rd July 1902 of Margaretta Saer aged 23 years of Llangunnor Old Vicarage. In the 1880’s the Elias family lived there, burying one child and baptising three. Thomas Elias was a labourer. In the 1870’s the families of a labourer, farmer and miner lived in turn in the bwthyn. 

The most recent printed documentary evidence I have come across is in the sale catalogue of freehold property in 1903 by Messrs. John Francis & Son when five lots on the hill were on auction. It is providentially accompanied by a map. Lot 4 was a freehold cottage and garden known as Llangunnor Cottage. Situate adjoining Llangunnor Churchyard on both roads leading to Llangunnor Church. It comprises an useful Cottage and prolific Garden, held by Mrs Jemima Davies. It is in the same place as the building of 1720. Even today the garden is or promises to be prolific, but the cottage, described as useful, did not appeal to anyone as a desirable residence as probably only minor repairs had been done over the thatch since B.A.’s painting.

When I asked the Diocesan Archivist of the time if there were records he could not help me as there is a dearth of information for the nineteenth century on the Glebe. Dr Margaret, however, sent a copy of the sale plan to the Property Department of the Representative body in Cardiff and had the following assurance ‘I confirm that the building indicated on the plan is vested in the Representative Body & does in fact form part of the glebeland which held on trust for the Bishops Clergy & Laity of the Church in Wales. According to our records the property is not included in the agricultural tenancy of Church Farm and is currently vacant.’

We both thought this proved, to our satisfaction at least, that the dwelling in the painting is the Old Vicarage. Now the view behind is changed by the extension of the churchyard to the southwest behind the bwthyn. This did not take place until after 1911 when the land was annexed as an extension to the circular burial ground.

Mary Binding

Reproduced from THE FRIEND November 1998