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Historical Society Publication 1982-1983
The Puffin Hotel and its Ecclesiastical Associations
D. J. Roberts March 1981.
Read to a meeting of the Penmaenmawr/Llanfairfechan Rotary Club March 1981
It should be quite obvious, to the locals at least, why this hotel should be called “The Puffin”, from the front windows can be seen the island of that name although the bird itself is a very rare visitor to the shores of Penmaenmawr. It would have been more appropriate perhaps to have called the Hotel, Ynys Seiriol or even Priestholme that is, the older and more historical names of the island. Seiriol was a Celtic saint who lived on the island and the Scandinavian name of Priestholme is self explanatory. If these names had been chosen then the religious associations with the ground upon which the hotel is built would have been continued.
The hotel was originally built as a Vicarage about 1863/4. It’s early names were Vicar’s Field and Erw Fair. The first has obvious ecclesiastic connections and although I am not certain I believe Erw Fair (Mary's Acre) to be named after Mary the Holy Mother. Let me now try and explain why such names were given.
The field on which the hotel stands was called Cae’r Ficar -. Vicar’s Field while the three fields opposite were called Cae’r Person -- Parson or Rector’s Field. These names appear on the Tithe Apportionment Map 1849 and involve us now is a brief study in the old ecclesiastical taxation known as Tithes or “Degwm”. Originally a tithe meant that on tenth of the produce of each parish went to the clergy of the parish. It meant one tenth of the cereal and vegetable harvest; also the clergy had the right in the share of livestock in a parish for example -. if a sow had ten sucklings then one was claimed by the clergymen. Payments of tithe became more complicated in later years and there is not sufficient time for me to go into intricacies of the subject.
In short, it was a taxation which had been carried out since the eighth century in Britain with its historic basis or its presidence set in the Bible (Leviticus). It was extremely unpopular in the last century especially so in Wales where a mainly Methodist society saw no reason why they should support the needs and in many cases the greed of the Anglican clergy. But even in the middle ages when this country was wholly Roman Catholic there is some evidence of its unpopularity. It is to the days of universal Catholicism that we turn.
There has probably been a church in Dwygyfylchi for over a thousand years and therefore a priest serving the tiny flock. In return the flock provided the priest annually with a tenth of their produce in good years and bad. This was probably the order of things until the end of the twelfth century when monastic movements such as those of the Augustinians, Benedictines and the Cistercians established themselves in Wales. Of the three the Cistercians were to have the greatest impact upon Wales. They came from the Continent following hot on the heals of the all conquering Normans. The Normans conquest of South Wales followed quite soon after their domination of England and soon monasteries were established in that part of Wales. However, their movements Northwards was not associated with military conquest, they established themselves here in the North before Gwynedd was finally subdued, over 200 years after the Battle of Hastings. How was this?.
This peaceful way of life, their generosity, hospitality and their general good works made them popular amongst most of the peasantry but extremely popular with the princes of North and Mid Wales. It was thanks to the generous grants of land by these princes that the monastic houses were able to establish themselves. They became very important institutions - they became the centers of scholarships and learning as well as religious centers. In this context we think naturally of pilgrims to see relics or visit holy wells, they were hospitals for the poor, places of refuge, the monks brought with them new ideas of farming - it was the Cistercians who really began sheep farming on a big scale in Wales, and they were providers of labour. This presence in any area had a tremendous effect. It is little wonder that they received the partonship of the Welsh princes.
A Cistercian abbey was established on the banks of the Conway estuary in 1186. It was known as Aberconway and its exact location was centred on the present St. Mary’s Parish Church in the town on Conway. It is important to note that when the monastery was set up no castle or town existed there, (there might have been a small village and a court house belonging to the Prince of Gwynedd there but this is a controversial issue, I do not wish to enter into discussion here). The monks who came here originated from Strata Florida in Cardiganshire. Their main benefactor, was Llewelyn ap Iorwerth, better know as Uewelyn Fawr -- the Great. He was most generous with his grants to them, he was known throughout his long successful political and military career as a friend of the monks in general and of Aberconwy in particular. When he died he was buried at Aberconwy. He gave vast tracts of land to them, in the Conway Valley, Anglesey and deep in the heartland of Snowdonia (beddgelert area). There is no record or suggestion that Llewelyn as Prince of Gwynedd, owner of all the land within the Principality, granted any land In Dwygyfylchi to the monastery but by some means or another the parish church of Dwygyfylchi came into their possession.
Llewelyn had granted the royal chapels of Llanbadrig and Llanbeblig to Aberconwy and it was probably part of Llewelyn’s generosity that Dwygyfylchi was handed over. This meant more than just the monastery being owner of a small, humble church it was also the acquisition of the parish glebe -- that is, the land belonging to the Parish Church. This building in which we sit is situated out what was once glebe as were the fields opposite hence the use of the ecclesiastical Vicar and Parson. The Puffin is what was once monastic lands.
But there was even more, for with the church and glebe went the tithes of the parish, the tenth part of the produce of Dwygyfylchi went to the Abbot and his monks at Aberconwy.
This, I believe, to have been the situation until the reign of Henry VIII and the reformation. Henry ordered various commissions to investigate the conditions of the monasteries in England and Wales. One of these reports or “Valor” tells us that the church of Dwygyfylchi had been farmed out.
In 1284, Edward 1st had chosen to build his castle and town on the site of Aberconwy monastery. In doing so he ordered to removal of the monastery and the monks to a new site further up the Conway Valley at Maenan - Maenani Abbey Hotel site of today. The collecting of tithes -. cart loads of produce on poor roads from Dwygyfylchi to Llanrwst must have proved impracticable, therefore the Abbots of Maenan had farmed out tithes (or a fixed sum. There is a record of the tithes being farmed out in the 18th in the Porth yr Aur Paper deposited at the University College of North Wales, Bangor. The subject is discussed in some detail by Mr. I.E. Davies in his article “Auctioning the Tithes of Dwygyfylchi Parish: North Wales Weekly News. Jan. 21st 1971. The Valor gives us that name of Edward ap Rhys ap Roberts as the purchaser and in simple terms “Farming out meant that Edmund collected the tithe and payed the Abbot a sum of money in lieu, hoping of course, that the value of the tithe collected exceeded the cash payed to the Abbot.
The Abbot in turn was happy for a guaranteed sum of cash had been pocketed by him and the problems of collecting and sorting and the fears of a bad harvest were for someone else.
In the 1530s Henry VIII terminated the life of the monasteries -. part of his running battle with the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. He took possession of the monasteries, their buildings land and rights, in fact a considerable wealth when one takes into account the large number of monasteries that existed in England and Wales.
Having acquired so much he began to sell it off to support his high life style, his extravagant schemes to gain support of the gentry in his religious revolution by providing them with a means of increasing their estates and their wealth.
The lands of the Abbey of Maenan were bought by local landowners as were the rights gained by the monastery in its 350 years of existence. The tithes providers of Dwygyfylchi saw little change for their tithe owners in monastic days had been laymen while the new purchaser of the right to collect tithe was also to be a layman, probably, the first purchaser of the right to collect the tithe was a member of the Rutler family of Denbigh. This family would now be known as the Lay Improrietors or Rectors of the Parish. They were also to become Patrons of the parish, which gave them the right to choose the Parish Vicars.
In appointing a Vicar it also meant that the tithes of the Parish would be shared between the Lay Improprietors and the Vicar. In the case of Dwygyfylchi this was done on a equal share basis, they also shared the Glebe land, hence Vicars Field and Cae Person - field almost identical in acreage.
The Rutler family of Denbigh and Lalnynyo held the Rectorship until 1776 when John Turler of Friday Street, Cheapside, London, described as a tobacconist sold the right to Thomas Kyffin for £2,000. Here we have an interesting coincidence, for the purchaser lived at Maenan and one of his ancestors had been a former Abbot at the Abbey.
In 1802 the Kyffin estate sold the Rectory to a Rev. Hope Wynne Lyton of Leeswood, Flintshire and he held it until 1824. He was also the vicar until 1813. In his will he left the Rectorship to his daughters Harriet and Louisa. We also find out that from 1813 until 1849 the Vicar was a Robert Wynne Eyton. There is no record of this long serving Vicar ever making an official appearance in Dwygyfylchi. His appointment was purely for monetary gain for the parish was looked after by curates whose primary support was the rental from the glebe property in the Parish.
In 1825/6 Telford built the present A55 between Conway and Bangor. The road ran through Cae Person dividing it to upper and lower Cae Person. The Misses Eyton gained financially as there to do so again in the late 1840s when part of the lower Cae Person was sold to the Holyhead and Chester Railway Co.
In 1847 the ladies sold Cae Person Isa (Lower) for £50 to the Dwygyfylchi National School Committee for the site of the first purpose built school to be erected in the Parish. They donated £5 to the building of the school -- a pathetic sum when one considers all the wealth extracted from the parish by these absentee tithe owners.
In 1853 the Eyton sisters sold the upper part of Cae Person to Captain McDonald a retired army many who lived in Plas Uchaf. Around about 1862 Cae’r Vicar became the site of the Vicarage, and its first resident was the Rev. David Thomas who was to become one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of schools only to die
in his parish. He is buried in St. Gwynans Church Yard. This was an historic occasion for it was many years since a Vicar had been in residence in Dwygyfylchi. A terrier or inventory dated Aug. 8th 1749 states “there is also a small house adjoining to the Churchyard said to be built by a vicar”. This statement is the only suggestion we have of a residence for a Vicar but the lack of details, date or name suggests a considerable time lapse.
From the documents available whether the new house was, at first simply called the Vicarage or Vicars Fields or Erw Fair. It is called “Erw Fair” in 1869 that is, after the field name. I can only suggest that the field was given this name because of its links with the Aberconwy Abbey and being a Cistercian establishment the name of their patron saint, Mary Mother of Jesus would have been a suitable name to adopt.
The glebe lands ideally situated in the centre of this rather elongated parish, where better to build the school and the Vicarage then in this position equi-distant from Penmaen and Capelulo. But both establishments were soon abandoned. In 1867 the Rev. Henry Roberts MA. became Vicar under the patronship of the surviving Eyton sister, Louis Elizabeth. In 1869 Rev Roberts ,he became Parton of the Parish in late 1870, sold the house to three men from Warwick and moved to live at the present vicarage alongside St. Seiriol’s and was indeed a most fashionable church.
In 1871/2 the school moved to a new building at New York. This move had been necessitated by the fact that most of the children in the parish lived in the growing village of Penmaenan. On wet days as the school Log Book records, few pupils were prepared to walk over a mile to school along a very open road.
The school site was sold to a Mr. Dempster of Halifax who developed it as the Town’s Gas Works. This sale broke the church link with the immediate area of the present Hotel. In 1946 the house was bought and converted into a Hotel and restaurant and renamed the Puffin. The ecclesiastical link was finally broken.
(Webmasters Notes the Puffin Hotel is now the location of The Oasis, Christian Centre)