Town History

Llantwit Major (in Welsh Llanilltud Fawr) is named as the site of the main church of Illtud, one of the founding Saints of the monastic settlements of the 5th century AD in Wales.

Illtud came to this sheltered valley of Hodnant in the last decades of the 5th century. On the Ogney Brook, a mile inland from the sea, close to the site of the present church he founded his monastery.

At its height this was a major centre for education and evangelism in the revived western church, its influence reaching through Cornwall and Devon to Brittany and beyond, led by the students and successors of Illtud, Samson of Dol, Gildas the Wise and Paul Aurelian. Of the nearly thirty churches dedicated to Illtud almost half are in Brittany.

One thousand five hundred years later the church and the town which grew up round it remain. All traces of Illtud’s monastery are gone. The present church dates from the period 950 to 1400 AD. Other monastic remains come from the same period, while the earliest secular buildings date from the 15th century.

Before Illtud there were of course the Romans as evidenced by the villa at Caer Mead excavated in 1888. After him and his successors came the Normans.

For almost one thousand years Llantwit was a rural backwater controlled by a small number of wealthy families. They have left behind the principal houses of the town, the Ham, Boverton Place, Old Place (all ruined) and some smaller but inhabited survivals, Great House, Plymouth House, the Court House, and two public houses, the Old White Hart and the Old Swan. These latter flank the main town square, facing the 15th century Town Hall where the Society meets.

Only in the 20th century with the arrival of the RAF at St Athan did the town transform itself from a rural community of a thousand or so into a modern dormitory town some 15 times larger.

In the societies archives and in its publications the people and stories of this long history, from “the Legions to the Luftwaffe“, are to be found.

Boverton Place

Queen’s Attorney to the Council of Wales and the Marches in the 1590’s. It remained in the hands of the family until the last heiress Jane Seys married Robert Jones of Fonmon at which time its fixtures and fittings were stripped out. Jones sold the estate but subsequent owners had no need for such a house and so it went to rack and ruin. Its last occupants were noted in the 1861 census as having  “altogether no bed”.

 

 

Bethesda’r Fro

This simple whitewashed building on the road to Eglwys nestles between the hangars and the housing. It was established in 1807 when Thomas William brought his congregation here from Burton, Aberthaw. The land had been purchased from Thomas Redwood for five shillings. William was a Welsh hymn writer of some repute. The chapel still holds regular services. The interior is modelled on the original and there is no electricity. The chapel is heated by a log or coal fire and lit by candles.

Bethel Baptist Church

In 1830 Bethel was “ erected for the use of the Particular Baptists”. Its first minister Jabez Lawrence was a shopkeeper in the town. It is said that the opening services were conducted by Christmas Evans, the famous one-eyed Welsh preacher.

The Old School

One of the oldest surviving secular buildings if the town, belonging to the Raglan family. It then became the rectory for the parish before being converted in the early 1870’s into the Board School.

The Old White Hart Inn

This is described as an end-entry house built in the late sixteenth century. As with The Old Swan it is unclear when exactly it became an inn, though again tokens were issued under its name in the eighteenth century. There are claims that it was once a court house with a room reserved for the judge, but these cannot be substantiated.

The Old Swan

This was probably a substantial local dwelling built in the sixteenth century. When it became an inn however is open to speculation.

In the mid seventeenth century it belonged to Edward Maddock, who was permitted to mint his own tokens as there was a shortage of coin at this time. This implies that he was operating either a shop or inn. Various celebrities have availed themselves of its hospitality, including Randolph Hearst and Marion Davies and their Hollywood friends who stayed with them at St Donats Castle.

The Court House

The house was built in the early eighteenth century and substantially altered a century or so later. There is evidence that it was leased to a member of the Throckmorton family from Coughton Court, Warwickshire whose ancestor had been involved in the Gunpowder Plot. It is said that he was known as The Judge and he acquired a reputation for unpleasantness. In the nineteenth century the house was occupied by Elias Bassett, who was involved in the establishment of the Tabernacle Chapel and he passed it on to his niece and her husband William Thomas.

Thomas provided the present Town Hall clock marking Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Another member of the family, Mary Thomas, was better known as Marie Trevelyan, an author of some repute – she wrote historical romances and travelogues on local history and customs.

The Great House

Sometimes called Ty Mawr or Upper House, its association with the Nicholl family goes back to their first arrival in the parish in the Elizabethan period. The building originally consisted of a square central section to which a southern wing was added providing further accommodation, and a northern wing made up of a stable and dovecot. At the end of the nineteenth century the building fell into disrepair. After several half-hearted attempts at restoration the house became habitable again in the 1950’s.

The Old Place

This building has mistakenly been called Llantwit Castle. It is in fact the ruin of an Elizabethan manor house with two wings enclosing a paved courtyard. It was built in 1596 by Griffith Williams for his daughter and her husband Edmund Vann. They represented the rising class of minor gentry who had acquired their money from practising law and were loathed by other families in the area such as the Seys of Boverton and the Stradlings of St Donats. Vann was fined over£1,000 at the Court of Star Chamber for his part in an affray in the centre of Llantwit on a Sunday after church when he lead an attack on the Seys family. John Stradling claimed in 1596 that the house would collapse around Vann’s ears so badly had it been built. However it took slightly longer for this to happen – just over a hundred years.