The Gwenllian Daffodils at Llangiwg
Gwenllian was the daughter of Llewelyn, the last Prince of Wales and his only child. He was killed at Cilmary, Powys in 1282.
At the time, she was seven months old. Edward I was determined that the royal bloodline of Wales should end and he ordered
Gwenllian to be taken to Sempringham Abbey in the wilds of Lincolnshire to be brought up as a nun. She died at the age of
54, never knowing that she was a royal princess. Welsh people never forgot her and recently a plaque was erected on one of
the peaks of Snowden and there is also a memorial stone at Sempringham.
Friends may remember that I wrote about her
great grandfather, Llewelyn Fawr being at Llangiwg in 1217. Now we have the opportunity to remember his great granddaughter
by a strain of daffodils, aptly named "Gwenllian Daffodils". At present, six bulbs have been planted in a pot last October and have come to maturity.
They are exceptionally pretty with a beautiful scent. When they have finished flowering, they will be planted at Llangiwg.
As with many ancient churchyards, Llangiwg is a sanctuary for both flora and fauna. It
is a very large area in proportion to the size of the church and is surrounded by a dry stone boundary wall which harbours
lizards, grass snakes and mosses. The grass used to be scythed three times a year, with local farmers being given the hay.
Sometimes a sheep or two would be put in to 'mow' the grass.
Luckily, by not following the 1970's practice
of moving gravestones to facilitate the use of lawn mowers, the species rich grassland on the north side is slowly being cleared
of bramble and bracken by strimming, and 'positive management'. This has revealed long hidden swathes of snowdrops
and bluebells. As the year progresses foxgloves, ox-eye daisies, cranesbill, poppies and campions appear in the longer grasses,
whilst birds foot trefoil, clover, buttercups and speedwells (veronicas) can be seen in the shorter grass areas. By nurturing
these plants we hope to encourage more butterflies and moths to visit this special place.
Probably the churchyard's most ancient
inhabitant is the yew tree behind the east window. This could be many hundreds of years old. There are also juniper, Scots
pine, beech and ash trees on the north boundary. Occasionally, a box plant (Buxus Sempervirens) can be discovered by a grave.
These are believed to signify that a small child or baby had been buried there and the little bush would remain small as a
sad reminder to future generations of the child's premature death.
The gravestones too are important to a naturalist,
for there are many different species of lichen on them, probably due to Llangiwg's unpolluted atmosphere at 700 feet.
One stone can reveal three or four different types of lichen in varying hues of grey, green and yellow, each growing in its
own little microclimate. The small ancient well, although in a sad state of repair (2010) is home to many frogs and they have
even been seen hopping over recumbent gravestones!
Overhead, we see buzzards, tails fanned out, hovering over small
rodents, and the occasional red kite with its enormous wing span, sometimes reaching 165 cms. Way up overhead, ravens can
often be seen too, performing their aerobatics in the thermal currents. Swallows have a permanent summer home in the porch
over the door. Their return in late April is welcomed by us all, for they have as much right to be there as we have. Remember
to bring your binoculars and magnifying glasses. There’s a lot to see!
The former church is situated on The
Barley which is 688ft./206.4m above sea level. The town of Pontardawe lies 1.5km to the south east. The name reflects the
agricultural nature of the area before the advent of industry in the late 18th and 19th centuries.
The three main
crops were oats, barley and wheat, oats being the most important although the primary concern was rearing animals, particularly
sheep. In 1782 it is recorded that almost 140 acres of barley were sown in the parish. There were two kinds in fairly common
use, the long - eared spring barley (barlys ) considered good for malt making and the square-eared variety (haidd) suitable
for bread making. A local farm (Gilfach-yr-haidd) took its name from this last crop and we can assume that The Barley did
The church is a Grade 2 listed building and is the oldest church in the borough, sited in an area of outstanding
natural beauty and is now in community ownership after a successful appeal to purchase the building.
As industry grew,
the focus moved to the valley floor and slowly the village of Pontardawe began to expand. Pontardawe, as the name suggests,
was a few houses near the bridge, first built in 1583 as a wooden construction over the River Tawe and was later built as
a stone bridge by William Edwards (1719-1789).
The 19th and 20th centuries saw great changes in the valleys of Wales.
The traditional industry of farming gave way to industrial production. It had been known for centuries that Wales and in particular
the valleys of South Wales were rich in natural resources. Even from the time of the Celtic invasion of Britain, smelting
had been important and it was the Celts who brought the Iron Age to our shores.
By the final quarter of the 20th century
Pontardawe was no longer the industrial centre it once was. Major industries were long gone; either a distant memory or something
which people read about.
The redevelopment and restoration of the church will improve the quality of life for young
people and families in an extremely depressed area experiencing economic disadvantage, high unemployment and multiple deprivations,
with little direct or indirect youth or community provision. There is little community growth in the area, and the interpretation
proposal highlighting the church and its surrounds has capability of attracting walkers and visitors from outside the area,
who may well aid the local economy.