Y Bertwn, St Ishmael:
an Abandoned Farm


Extracted from "The Antiquary"
Published & copyright held by The Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society

Anyone travelling by train between Ferryside and Cydweli will have noticed a modern caravan site on the banks of the Gwendraeth estuary, overlooked from its hilltop by the village of Llansaint. In the midst of this site stood a farmhouse named Y Bertwn or Burton (the latter is the version that appears in the first Ordnance Survey map compiled in 1831). When the Great Western Railway was constructed in the early 1850s, this was the only conspicuous habitation left on the estuary side of the railway. In the 1950s the shell of the sturdy farmhouse was a forlorn sight as one approached the railway crossing for access to the traeth: unevenly preserved stone walls, the foundations overgrown with grass and weeds, and in what had been an orchard garden a venerable, but still resilient, mulberry tree. The only story I was then told on asking why the farm had been abandoned was that the last occupant had had six or seven daughters, none of whom wished to live in that isolated spot.

The evidence of the Bertwn census returns from 1841 to 18811 produces a farmer, but the fact is that he had no children, though he had other relatives. His name was Evan Stephens, and he and his wife Eleanor, a native of St Petrox, near Pembroke, were there in 1841, she styled Ellen. It was as Ellen Smyth that she married Evan Stephens esquire by licence at St Twynnells, near Pembroke, on 12 February 1826.2 In 1851 he was 53 years old, farming 130 acres; in 1861, aged 63, he was farming 128 acres; in 1871, aged 73, he was down to 62 acres, as was also the case in 1881, when he was a widower aged 83. His wife, ten years his junior, had predeceased him late in 1873, aged 66. He appears as an elector who did not vote in the Carmarthenshire pollbook for 1868.3 He died at Bertwn on 14 February 1885, leaving a will, his assets being valued for probate at £468 3s 6d. The will, dated 20 January 1875, is a simple document leaving everything to his nephew.4 This man, also his executor who proved the will on 14 December 1885, was David Stephens Brown, gentleman, formerly of Merrion Court, Warren, near Pembroke, a property leased in 1820 by his father. Lord Cawdor was the landlord, as also of Bertwn (part of his heritage from the Vaughans of Golden Grove). David Stephens Brown was the son of John Hoskins Brown, described as of St Peter's, Carmarthen when he married Margaret Stephens, Evan's only surviving and elder sister, at St Ishmael on 20 December 1816.5 When Margaret died at 'Berton' on 22 June 1865, aged 70, she was described as the widow of Captain John Hoskins Brown, RN, CB.6 He had died at 7 Benlomond Place, Stockwell Park, Brixton, Surrey on 29 June 1864, aged 72 and intestate.7 His son David, granted administration on 14 March 1865, was then living at Eton Lodge, Ashby Road, Islington, Middlesex, whereas in 1875 he was of Braywick House, Green Lanes, Islington. The death of an 'only' daughter, Jane Anne, at Bertwn, is reported in the Carmarthen Journal in April 1826, givng her age as six: the burial register of St Ishmael has her buried there 22 April that year aged seven. She had been predeceased by a younger sister Mary, who died at Merrion 14 February 1825.8 Their father had entered the navy as a first class volunteer on 25 July 1805, in time to take part in the battle of Trafalgar that October as a midshipman on board HMS Prince. He was also present in the Vanguard at the destruction of the Danish fleet at Copenhagen in 1807. In May 1809 he joined the Tartarus sloop and was involved in the destruction of two French privateers off Pillau and in the escort of the former King Gustavus of Sweden from Riga to England. His next ship voyaged to Quebec. In 1812 he was on board the Pomone, lying in the Downs. In March 1813 he served in the Prince Regent. Volunteering for service in the AngloAmerican war, he proceeded to the Canadian lakes, where he was taken prisoner trying to capture vessels carrying stores to the American navy from Sandy Creek, Ontario. He was not released until the war was over. Commissioned lieutenant 16 August 1814, he was not afloat again. In 1835 a statutory registrar general of seamen was created and he was the first appointee, 'one of a large number, of candidates from his own profession', and subsequently 'fully justified the selection' according to his obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine.9 On 24 April 1858 he retired with the rank of commander, and after being appointed a Companion of the Bath (civil) in 1862 he was awarded a retired captain's rank.10 John Hoskins Brown was the son of John Brown, a Carmarthen solicitor and common councillor, who died 18 August 1831. Apart from another son, Frederick Lewis, who also qualified as a solicitor (1824), and had married at St Peters on 24 December 1822 Eliza, daughter of J. Whitworth, John Brown had daughters, the eldest of whom, Louisa Jane, married at Llanelli, 21 April 1841, W. F. Pemberton. John Brown himself was from Kidwelly, son of Edward Brown, gentleman of that place, who was contracted to marry Elizabeth Gwynne of Carmarthen, 29 September 1753.11 His son John was of Kidwelly, gent, when he in turn contracted to marry, 15 September 1787,12 and did so at Kidwelly next day, Ann, daughter of John Hoskins esquire of Kidwelly. The latter was an alderman of that town, and was buried there 29 March 1795.13 John Brown was in Carmarthen by 1790, when as clerk to Thomas Jones, solicitor, of Job's Well, he resealed the latter's will on 2 February.14

Elizabeth Margaret Williams, an unmarried niece, aged 53 and born in Carmarthenshire, was staying at Bertwn with her widower uncle in 1881, as was his nephew David Stephens Brown, so the census reveals. David was then a widower of 62. He did not long survive his uncle, dying at Bertwn 21 January 1886, aged 67. His will was proved on 17 April 1886 by his executrixes, his cousin Mary Brown, spinster of 23 The Norton, Tenby, which was the address given for himself by David when he made his will, 6 February 1885, and Elizabeth Margaret Williams aforesaid, then of St James's Street, Narberth.15 To Elizabeth he left £1000, his gold watch, his late mother's silver plate and china tea service and a portrait of General Sir Thomas Picton (latterly of Iscoed, St Ishmael). To his cousin Mary Brown he left a life interest in two farms in Abergwili, Machelws and Penllain, with reversion to the Carmarthen Infirmary, his furniture, china chimney ornaments and his father's silver plate, except for one presentation plate which, along with his father's gold CB medal and silver Trafalgar medal, he left as heirlooms to his second cousin David Stephens of Trawsmawr, Newchurch, who also received testator's gold watch chain and larger gold mourning ring. This David was the eldest son of the testator's first cousin (his mother's eldest brother John's son) Major John Stephens of the Royal Sherwood Rangers, sometime of Holcwm, St Ishmael, who in 1861 married Martha Taylor Davies heiress of Trawsmawr.16 David had two younger brothers, John William Watson Stephens, born 23 April 1865, later Professor Stephens of Holcwm, and Hugh Owen Taylor Stephens, born 22 August 1866.17 John and Hugh Stephens would have had to be content with two gold scarf pins, two silver watches, all the books and 'philosophical instruments', but for the death of Evan Stephens of Bertwn eight days after the will was made. The latter had been left £1000 and all his nephew's clothes, but by a codicil to the will, John and Hugh now received £100 each, as did the six daughters of testator's brother in law Rear Admiral Robert Robertson of Woolwich, and his late wife's niece Elizabeth Lawson, all of which ladies had previously been left £20 each. Other recipients of £20 each included a former servant, Hannah Anthony of Stoke Newington; the two sisters of Elizabeth Margaret Williams, unnamed; David Stephens Brown Gaunt, 'my namesake', son of John of the Registry of Seamen; Martha Taylor Stephens of 7 Quay Street, Carmarthen, widow, who also received a china dessert service and all the glassware; and the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, the Carmarthen Infirmary, and the following London institutions: the Fire Escape Society, the Cattle Trough and Fountain Drinking Society, the London Hospital, the Cancer Hospital, the Consumption Hospital and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. All these legacies were to be charged on the estate duty free, and the farm of Penallt Fach and Cae Vicar, St Ishmael was to be sold or mortgaged towards their satisfaction.

The farm of Bertwn also had servants living in. In 1841 these consisted of four young women and three men, the latter employed on the farm: the age range for these seven was 25 to 15. In 1851 there were three servants of either sex, and the census is a little more specific about their work. Mary Erasmus aged 30 was dairymaid, with Elizabeth Thomas aged 21 under her. None of the three female servants was born in the parish. The male employees were termed ploughman, stableboy (aged 15) and labourer (aged 67). Evan Stephens then had three men working on the farm, and the missing one seems to have been a married man living at Nant who identified himself as a Bertwn employee. In 1861, when Evan claimed to be employing 3 'boys' (evidently a translation of gweision) and a labourer, there were three carters living in, one doubling as a ploughman, aged 29, 21 and 16. There were at the same time four female employees living in, dairymaid, under dairymaid, house maid, and poultry maid. This flourishing establishment was subsequently scaled down, as the farm halved in acreage. In 1871 there were three servants living in, a labourer and two maids; there was also a female visitor. In 1881 there was again just one male employee and two females, one a girl of 14, living in.

Evan Stephens was a native of the parish, baptised at St Ishmael in 1797, and his parents also lived at Bertwn. They were Owen Stephens and Mary. Owen came from Llandyfaelog, and married Mary Williams at St. Ishmael by licence obtained the day before, on 31 July 1791.18 Evan might have owed his name to an uncle Stephens of Llandyfaelog, who married Mary Price there on 9 January 1795, and died at Coedybrain in 1843 but, as we shall see, Evan was also the name of his maternal grandfather. Owen Stephens was clearly a respectable yeoman, proposed by his landlord Lord Cawdor as a freeman of his borough of Wiston in Pembrokeshire in 1811 in the run up to a general election in which his vote could be counted on, and was listed (as 'of Berton') a freeman of Carmarthen, on the same interest, in 1818.19 He was a patron of Seion, the new Calvinistic Methodist chapel in Llansaint, built on land acquired from the Bevan family of Pengai and opened on II December 1817. 'Mr Owen Stephens Bertwn' contributed three shillings and sixpence towards the cost of decorating the chapel, more than any of his neighbouring fellowpatrons. 'Mr Owen Stephens' died, according to a chapel register of deaths kept by John Rees, Y Cwm, on 17 February, or as the Carmarthen Journal reported, on 18 February 1837, aged 66, but, aging rapidly in the meantime, was 74 when buried at St Ishmael on 24 February. His wife Mary had been buried there on 9 May 1830, aged 65, six days after her death, which John Rees recorded as occurring on the 3rd.20 They had an eldest son John, mentioned previously, and a third surviving son David, younger than Evan, but he predeceased his parents, being buried at St Ishmael on 24 June 1818, aged 17. Despite his minority, he had assets, valued under £100, and was described as 'gentleman' when administration of his estate was granted to his brother Evan on 7 December 1818.21

Their mother Mary was the daughter of a Bertwn tenant. Her aged father, Evan Williams of Bertwn, was buried at St Ishmael on 4 May 1815, aged 91. He left a will, dated 13 February 1815 and eventually proved on 27 July 1818, after the cancellation of a previous grant of probate dated 14 November 1815. The probate evaluation was under £700.22 He described himself as Evan Williams of Bertwn, gentleman, but signed himself Evan William. He confirmed a deed of three days previous by which he devised the remainder of the lease of Penallt Fach, St Ishmael to his friend Thomas Humphreys of Danlan (Tanylan, the property which was ultimately to annex the remaining Bertwn land) in the same parish, as trustee for his daughter Mary Stephens of Bertwn, who was to derive the income therefrom. He left £280 to her children, John, Margaret, Evan and David Stephens in equal shares. He also left £100 to his other daughter Margaret Evans, widow, of Glanrhydw (isaf), Llandyfaelog, who was buried there, intestate, on 23 June 1846 aged 95. She had married (Evan Evans of Llandyfaelog at St Ishmael on 24 November 1780. Evan Williams further left £280 in equal shares to the children of his son David Williams of Penybethe, Pembrey, namely Anne, Elizabeth, Rebecca and Frances. The executor and residuary legatee was his son Evan (buried at Kidwelly 16 April 1846, aged 93), who on 13 October 1780 had married, at Llandyfaelog, Catherine Thomas, a daughter of Glanrhydw Farm, Llandyfaelog, where her husband proceeded to settle for some time: subsequently (before 1815) they moved to Morfa Bach, Kidwelly, where Catherine died and was buried 23 March 1825, aged 71. They had three sons, John (buried at Kidwelly, as of Morfa Bach, 26 November 1829, aged 45); David (buried at Kidwelly 25 November 1865, aged 73, four days after his death at Morfa Bach, a widower with an only son David, who farmed with his father); and Evan (buried at Kidwelly 16 January 1855 aged 60, as of Penyback). He had been described as Evan Williams the younger of Morfa Bach, Kidwelly when he was a bondsman with his cousin Evan Stephens and Evan Evans of Carmarthen, gentleman for the due administration of young David Stephens's estate in 1818. He married Mary Ann Rees of Maesardafen, Llanelli, and had issue between 1831 and 1842 five daughters and a son Evan (18421873), the latter resident at Maesardafen.23 It seems likely that Evan Williams senior was the 'Evan William, yeoman of St Ishmael', contracted to marry there Elinor David, spinster of St Ishmael on 9 February 1752/3, and did so the same day.24 Perhaps he was the son of another Evan Williams of St Ishmael who married at Llangunnor, 24 November 1721, Eleanor Bonnell of St Ishmael.25

At this point in the story, having written to Carmarthen Record Office in quest of further documentation about Bertwn, I was informed by the senior archivist that Mr Philip Evans of Llangunnor, a son of Tanylan, had compiled an unpublished history of Tanylan (1997), which included information concerning Bertwn. I suspended further progress until the Record Office helpfully put me in touch with Mr Evans. He had meticulously searched the Cawdor muniments at the Record Office, and with his kind permission I summarise here what he gleaned about the earlier history of Bertwn. The reader will find further details in the copy of 'Tanylan the story of a Carmarthenshire Farm' which Mr Evans has deposited in the Record Office. Among its illustrations is an old postcard view of Bertwn in ruins.

Having speculated that Evan Williams of Bertwn may have had a grandmother named Eleanor Bonnell, I was intrigued to find from Mr Evans's account that by far the longest previous tenure account the farm, until the late 18th century, was that of the Bonnell family, who had even earlier tenanted what is now called Tanylan. Their holding of Bertwn is confirmed by 17th century documents which show that Richard Bonnell, preceded by one Richard Fisher (a Kidwelly surname), who paid £50 a year, was tenant by 1669, paying £44. Anne Bonnell held it in 1692, and a lease of 1695 passed to Richard Bonnell junior. Another Richard Bonnell paid £43 a year as tenant in 1779 and his widow held it in 1782. In 1788 Evan Williams obtained the lease at £43.1s.6d a year, and this was the first time that Bertwn was so named in the deeds instead of its medieval Latin name of Messa Patria. For some reason Evan Williams corented Bertwn with John Thomas in 1790, and in 1795 the latter was sole tenant, but in 1796 a bill for repairs at Bertwn, where inundation seems to have been a threat, and new fences and walls had previously been paid for by the landlords in 1735, 1738 and 1746, was witnessed by Evan William (sic) and his soninlaw Owen Stephens. In 1827 Owen Stephens, purchased Penallt Fach (previously tenanted by his fatherinlaw) and Cae Vicar from the Mansels for £100, but in 1829 sold them to the banker David Morris of Coomb, Llangynog for £2,600. Morris then took Evan Stephens as his tenant at £100 a year. Stephens farmed from Bertwn, the farmhouse of Penallt Fach being abandoned. In 1884 the Morris family sold Penallt Fach and Cae Vicar to David Stephens Brown for £3,250 (which is why they appear in his will). In 1891 Elizabeth Margaret Williams of Narberth and Brigstocke Terrace, Ferryside, sold Penallt Fach for £2,400: it was resold in 1900 to John Lloyd Thomas, Tanylan.

After Evan Stephens's death in 1885 there was a sale at Bertwn. There was to be one further occupation of the farmhouse, as Mr Evans reveals. The 1891 census shows David Davies, a railwayman from St Clears, his wife and six daughters living there, the youngest aged 4 having been born there. Not long afterwards their stay was terminated by a fire. No lives were lost, but there was partial damage to the structure, enough to render it uninhabitable. In May 1899 the abandoned house and six acres on the foreshore were exchanged by Lord Cawdor with J. L. Thomas of Tanylan for four acres in Look Out.

The Cawdors inherited the Golden Grove estate in 1804 on the death of John Vaughan. His forebear the Earl of Carbery had acquired the lordship of Kidwelly, alienated by the Crown, in 1630. Bertwn formed part of it, and was the only compact farm within it, other properties being then farmed under the medieval strip system (lleiniau). Mr Evans points out that the name Bertwn deriving from the old English 'Beretun' meaning 'barley farm', it is reasonable to suppose that Bertwn was the lords of Kidwelly's demesne farm, and probably supplied grain to the Castle by barge. In 1783 Thomas Kymer, pioneer of the Gwendmeth canal, rented Gwaun Roger to build a quay there, subsequently known as Bertwn Quay. John Vaughan of Golden Grove used it for pleasure boats. In 1840 Evan Stephens rented the quay. Some of the farm's fields were later lost to tidal encroachment and silting, as one of the Bertwn employees, Mary Christopher, who died towards the end of the century, remembered milking cows with her sister below the level of the farmhouse, and the aged Mary Rees, who died in the 1880s, remembered trees and cattle grazing on both banks of the Gwendraeth.26


1. Census returns for 1841 (RG 8/1385); 1851 (HO 107/2472); 1861 (RG 9/4136); 1871 (RG 10/5493) and 1881 (RG 11/5394)
2. St Twynnells marriage register, as recorded in Dyfed Marriages (Pembrokeshire) 1813-1837,vol.xiii.
3. Carmarthen Election (Pollbook) 1868 (Carmarthen. 1869), copy at the Society of Genealogists, London.
4. Copy of the will from the Probate Registry, First Avenue House, High Holborn, London.
5. CRO, St Ishmael parish register.
6. Gentleman's Magazine (1865), ii. 258.
7. Probate register, First Avenue House, High Holborn.
8. Carmarthen Journal.
9. Gentleman's Magazine (1864), ii. 259; W. R. O'Byrne, A Naval Biographical Dictionary (1849), 132; R. H. Mackenzie, The Trafalgar Roll (1913), 76.
10. The Commissioned Sea Officers of the Royal Navy, Occasional Publications of the Navy Records Society, vol i, p.57.
11. F. Green (ed.), West Wales Records, (1915), vol. v, p,13.
12. Ibid. (1923), vol ix, p.186.
13. Kidwelly parish register, transcript at Society of Genealogists.
14. PCC will proved 23 January 1791, Family Record Centre, Islington.
15. Copy of will, First Avenue House, High Holborn.
16. F. Jones, Historic Carms Homes (1987), p,183, sub Trawsmawr.
17. Newchurch parish register, Merlin Companions index, copy at Society of Genealogists.
18. F. Green (ed.), op. cit., vol. x, 1925, p.136.
19. Pembs RO, D/RTP/CAW/38 Wiston burgess rolls, 14 Oct 1811; A Calendar,.. and a correct list of all the present burgesses of the borough (Carmarthen, 1818), p.53.
20. Rev. T. Beynon, Cwmsel a Chefn Sidan (1946), p. 76 et seq.
21. NLW, SD 1818/254.
22. NLW, SD 1818/256.
23. Llandyfaelog and Kidwelly parish register indexes, Merlin Companions, copies at Society of Genealogists, London. There is a brief account of this Williams family branch in Rev. T. Beynon, Golud a Mawl Dyffrin Tywi (1936).
24. F. Green (ed.), op. cit., vol. v, p.7.
25. Llangunnor parish register transcript, Society of Genealogists, London.
26. Philip Evens, 'Tanylan the story of a Carms. Farm' (1997), processed copy at Carmarthen RO, especially pp. 2-3, 6, 7, 11, 14, 15, 17, 19, 36, 37, 41, 62-65, 83-86, including the references from the Cawdor muniments at Carmarthen RO (boxes 34, 49, 99, 103,112 and 125).

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