Historic background of Rhandirmwyn
Rhandirmwyn is located in the foothills of the Cambrian Mountains either side of the headwaters of the River Tywi which formed the boundary between Cantref Bychan to the east and Cantref Mawr to the west. Cantref Bychan was invaded by the Anglo-Normans under Richard Fitz Pons who established a caput at Llandovery in 1110-16 (Rees n.d.) and was acquired soon after by the Clifford lords of Brecon as the Lordship of Llandovery. Cantref Mawr remained an independent Welsh lordship until 1284 and both retained native tenurial customs until the end of the Medieval period when they were united within modern Carmarthenshire. Much of the area east of the Tywi lay within the Manor of Nant-y-bai which had been granted as a grange to the Cistercians of Strata Florida by probably Gruffydd ap Rhys in c.1200. The nucleus may have lain at Bron-y-cwrt (Williams 1990, 58) which was an upland grange and probably operated by tenant farmers primarily concerned with the mountain pasturing of animals, although the present mill has origins as a Medieval corn mill indicating that arable was undertaken in pockets of good soil (Sambrook and Page 1995, 18).
The name Rhandirmwyn contains a 'shareland' element (rhandir), suggesting that the tenants held their land by inheritance with perpetual right to their holdings (Rees, 1924, 200). The manor continued after the Dissolution as the Ystrad-ffin estate and a survey of 1629 (Carmarthenshire Record Office, Lort Muniments 17/678) shows that it contained most of the surrounding farms and demonstrates that the present settlement pattern was more-or-less already in place.
The present system of medium-sized irregular fields may also have been established. Pwll-priddog, which has Medieval origins was held separately from both the manor and the grange by the Morgan family (Jones 1987, 168). The area is chiefly characterised by former lead mining which may have begun under the Cistercians (Williams 1990, 58) or even the Romans (James 1982, 34); it was certainly undertaken in this area by the late 13th century with the crown taking the 'eleventh foot' of the ore in taxation (Rees 1968). This would imply that a mining community of unknown size may have existed in the vicinity of Rhandirmwyn and Nant-y-bai.
Rhandirmwyn may have been comparatively large by the 18th century; possibly exceptional by local standards as the mines employed 400 workers in 1791 (Sambrook and Page 1995, 23) and the present nucleation features worker housing terracing with the new church of St Barabas from the mid 19th-century. Lead mining ceased in the early 20th-century, but the presence of coal is noted in the place-name 'Nant-y-glo' and a quarry was operated in the southern part of the area.
The later 19th and 20th century has mainly been characterised by scattered development of cottages and dwellings and a modern sewage works has been erected to the south of Rhandirmwyn.
Modern day Rhandirmwyn covers an area of 804 hectares and lies in the upper Tywi valley where the sides open out to form a large bowl shape and the valley floor lies between 100m to 120m above sea level and the valley sides within this area rise to over 180m. The area is complex as it consists of small irregular fields which are dispersed by farms, woodland and conifer plantation, lead mines with their associated communities of 19th and 20th century cottages and houses. Improved pasture is the dominant land use within the system of small, irregular fields, but large pockets of rough and rushy ground are present, particularly towards the valley floor. Boundaries consist of earth banks topped with many hedges in poor condition. Most hedges are either overgrown or derelict with wire fences supplementing them. Many of the hedges have distinctive trees and these together with the numerous deciduous copses and small conifer plantations lend a wooded aspect to the landscape.
The ancient settlement pattern in this area comprises dispersed farms which are stone-built with slate roofs, and generally date to the 19th century. Most of these are two-storeys with three bays and tend to be in the vernacular tradition, though examples in a more polite Georgian style are present. Stone-built outbuildings are present at most farms, as are large agricultural buildings.
Remains of the lead mining industry lie mainly outside this area, but the Rhandirmwyn community which grew up to serve it is located here. It consists of dispersed stone-built dwellings and chapels of 19th century date. Individual houses and cottages are present, as are terraces of two-storey and single storey houses. Stone-built worker cottages of 19th century date, and 20th century brick built worker houses are situated in isolated locations alongside roads away from the main community. Most recent housing consists of individual dwellings.
Recorded archaeology chiefly comprises lead mining features and buildings, but includes a Bronze Age standing stone and round barrow, and two possible barrows, an Iron Age hillfort and possible Medieval well and chapel sites.
There are a number of distinctive buildings but few of them are listed. Nant-y-bai mill is Grade II listed, with an overshot, timber and cast-iron wheel and corn-drying kiln within. Dugoedydd and Pwll-priddog have both been rebuilt.
The church, worker housing, post office and public house in Rhandirmwyn should be noted. There are several non-conformist chapels.
With thanks to CADW for the historic element