Llanstephan Parish Digital Images
1841 Census Index
1851 Census Index
1881 Census Index
1901 Carmarthenshire Strays
Wills Index 1654-1858
Owners of Land 1873
CENSUS DIGITAL IMAGES
Llanfihangel Ar Arth, Pencadair Chapel (Independent), 1825-1837 Piece
Gower & Carmarthen Bay Experience
Llansteffan is a peaceful village, set in beautiful countryside. It was not always thus; in the past it has been the scene of many a battle and for centuries it was a bustling town and port.
People have lived here from prehistoric times and have left traces in the guise of Stone Age burial chambers; Bronze Age standing stones, burnt mounds and fortifications; Iron Age hill forts and hut circles. The settlement is believed to have taken its name from St. Ystyffan, who founded the Church in the sixth century.
The Norman Conquest had a profound effect on the history of Llansteffan. A wooden castle was built, probably at the end of the 11th century, on the site of the impressive late Bronze Age hill fort. Commanding the estuary as it did, little wonder that it was fought over by the Welsh and the Anglo-Normans throughout the Middle Ages,
but with the latter usually gaining control. The Normans were great castle-builders and they soon replaced the wooden castle with a stone castle, which was substantially extended in the 13th century. They created the Lordships of Llansteffan and Penrhyn from what had been the Commote of Penrhyn Deuddwr (the Promontory of Two Waters) - essentially Llansteffan, Llanybri and LIangynog.
One of the advantages of Anglo-Norman occupation was that by 1200 Llansteffan was elevated to the status of a borough, with the exclusive, lucrative right to hold markets and fairs. Boroughs attracted non-Welsh settlers, who in due course intermarried with the local populace.
Waterways were the primary arteries of communications for centuries and Llansteffan's importance as a port should not be underestimated. There
were ferries to Kidwelly and Laugharne, which were used by royal retinues travelling to Pembrokeshire (and thence to Ireland) and by pilgrims going to St. Davids, amongst others.
The last of many battles in Llansteffan was fought in 1403, when Owen Glyndwr briefly succeeded in taking the castle. Thereafter, the area's worst enemies were poor harvests and plague. The Lordship was in the hands of the Crown for much of the 15th century and Ministers' Accounts testify to how the 'pestilence' periodically denuded properties of tenants.
Llansteffan declined in importance in the 16th century. The castle was no longer garrisoned. When Maurice Lloyd was rewarded with its Stewardship for supporting Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth, he built Plas Llanstephan as the prime residence of the village.
Nonconformity became a potent force at an early stage. Between 1661 and 1668, thirty-six people from the Llansteffan area were penalised as Nonconformists. The first decade of the 18th century witnessed the unusual phenomenon of Independents leasing a building from the Established Church as a place of worship - Hen Gapel, LIanybri. Additional Independent Chapels were subsequently erected in the area, including Bethel in Llansteffan in 1865 (closed 1994). The other Nonconformist Chapels in the village were the Wesleyan Chapel (1808-c.1900); Moriah, the Calvinistic Methodist Chapel (1803>); Bethany, the Baptist Chapel (1833>).
By the 18th century, Llansteffan was on the tourist trail, attracting the artist, the antiquary and the romantic in search of the picturesque. The vogue for sea-bathing added to its attractions and the village expanded to accommodate visitors, especially after 1852, when the railway
reached Carmarthen and the ferry was kept busy bringing passengers arriving at Ferryside Railway Station across the Tywi. Whole terraces of houses went up on the Green, including Stratford Villas and Cottages, built by George Shakespear of Grove House.
A number of gentry houses were adding elegance to the village. Laques, which belonged to a cadet branch of the Lloyds, had been transformed in stages from the 17th century onwards into a fine mansion. The Plas was rebuilt in 1788 by
Hugh Meares, who inherited it indirectly through a Lloyd heiress. Morris, the bankers, built the
Cottage. Robert Parnall built Hill House and his brother Henry, Orchard House. Throughout the village, houses were up-graded after 1882, when the Laques estate was sold off in lots.
Like most rural communities, Llansteffan had its share of poverty and the Accounts of the Overseers of the Poor in the 18th and 19th centuries make depressing reading. The village had a Poorhouse from 1802 until 1833 and from the l850s to about 1910 there are references to 'poor houses' or 'workhouse cottages' near the Bridge. At best,
many families lived on limited means. The larger farms and gentry houses provided employment for labourers and housemaids, but wages were low. Small farmers made a precarious living. The income of fishermen fluctuated. Destitution was the fate of many people afflicted by illness, infirmity or old age. John Meares of Plas Llansteffan tried to provide employment by setting up a woollen factory (1850-60s) but apparently it burnt down.
Farming dominated the economy, but the village was also well served by carpenters, blacksmiths, masons, tailors, milliners, coal-merchants, carriers, fishermen, miller, barber, photographers, public houses and numerous shop-keepers. The church had a resident Vicar and curate and the chapels (except for the Wesleyans) their Ministers living locally.
For a century, virtually every household provided apartments for visitors during the summer months. In August the village quadrupled in size as families arrived from the valleys for miners' fortnight, bringing trunk-loads of food and clothing with them either on ferry-boats from Ferryside or buses from Carmarthen. They elevated Mock Mayor's Day into a major event in the Carmarthenshire calendar and gave the inimitable Bonnie Lewis moments of glory by investing him with the Mayoral Regalia (rarely) or the Deputy Mayor's chain (usually).
Inevitably, Llansteffan witnessed changes, changes that were probably delayed by World War II. In the 1950s villagers welcomed the provision of mains water and electricity. But visitors were no longer arriving in droves; traditional seaside holidays were over-shadowed by holidays abroad. Lack of job opportunities in Carmarthen led to an exodus of
young people. Shops, cafes and a pub closed. A dramatic increase in car-ownership led to a decline in the bus service. The ferries stopped. Whist drives, dances, eisteddfodau and plays failed to compete with the more sophisticated entertainment provided in towns. Congregations dwindled in the places of worship.
Such changes could have killed a community, but Llansteffan adapted to them. People enjoy living here, not just because of the scenery but because it is still an active
The Plas Llanstephan
Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Wales 1842 (Extract)
A parish in the higher division of the hundred of DERLLY'S union in the county of Carmarthen, South Wales, 8 miles (ssw) from Carmarthen, containing 1274 inhabitants. This parish which derives its name from the dedication of the church to St Stephen, was distinguished at a very early period for a fortress of great strength, erected, on the summit of a bold eminence projecting into the bay of Carmarthen, and defending the entrance to the river Towy, which falls into the bay at this place.
By whom or at what precise time, it was founded is not known. Cadell, Meredydd & Rhys, Prince of South Wales, having, in 1143 possessed themselves of Carmarthen Castle, were encouraged to appear before that of Llanstephan, the relief of which was attempted by a large body of Anglo-Normans, but success still attending the arms of the Welsh Chieftains, these forces were defeated and the fortress taken.
Llanstephan Village Postcards
Ferryside from Llanstephan Castle
Towy Valley from Llanstephan Castle