Llanbedrog, a small resort on the Southern Coast of Lleyn Peninsula, like many other small villages and hamlets scattered over the Peninsula, has not a great deal of history to offer. Indeed, at times, one wonders if Llanbedrog even existed, until very recently.
Despite this, a great deal of information has been traced but this can only be taken with a pinch of salt. Throughout the Lleyn Peninsula there have been traces of Stone Age Man. It is thought that settlements had been established on the headland of Cilan and Rhiw mountains. Here a Stone Age 'factory' making tools has been discovered. Evidence on the North side of Lleyn, on the slopes of Tre'r Ceiri, one of three mountain peaks forming The Rivals, shows that there was an Iron Age settlement. The buildings or roundhuts, built with stone off the mountain slopes and roofed with mud, have defied time and nature and the pattern of the settlement can be clearly seen.
The earliest evidence of any settlement at Llanbedrog, dating back to the Iron Age, can be found in two places, at Nant Castell and Penrhyngaer. These two places are positioned on either side of the Abersoch road, as it leaves Llanbedrog, high on the top of the gorge like slopes. These two places were "caerau" - defended and walled settlements. The natives would probably farm the surrounding land in their primitive ways but always within easy reach of their village, in case of a sudden attack by a rival tribe. These settlements probably date from between 600BC - AD100. Undoubtedly, these people ventured onto the headland, and probably buried their dead there in a burial mound known as a long barrow. Relics of this were "cromlechs" - standing stones, but these were not to stand for long. Subsequently they were used by local farmers as gate pillars at the beginning of the last century.
There is no further history until the Dark Ages and any information relating to these intervening centuries can vary between myths and the truth. This was the time when Christianity was on the crest of a wave, being spread by pilgrims and saints all through the British Isles. A lot of the places, where a saint established a Church, have dedicated their place name to that saint.
The Lleyn region has many such villages and Llanbedrog is one. "Llan" means the settlement around the church and the second part of the name will be the saint's name. Llanbedrog, therefore, means the settlement of Pedrog. Others include Llangian, Llanengan, Llangwnadl and Llandudwen. It is thought that Pedrog came originally from Cornwall because a church consecrated to St. Pedrog can be found in that area. He probably wandered through Wales to establish a mud and wattle church in a sheltered position at the foot of the headland, Mynydd Tir y Cwmwd. This is probably the same spot as where the present church stands.
Again there is a lapse in time before Llanbedrog is mentioned. This comes at the time of Edward I, a king who contributed much to the history of North Wales. It was he who built the staunch defences at Caernarfon, Conway, Harlech, Criccieth and Beaumaris, defences that were developed into fine castles. Edward III and his son "The Black Prince" gave to the towns of Nefyn and Pwllheli their charter, which gave them many more powers than in the past. In return, of course, the king would be paid annually a certain amount of royalty. Three settlements called "trefi" in Llanbedrog, namely Cae Hwsni, Bodwrog and Penyberth, had to pay homage to the town of Nefyn. This was done in produce and animals. Today Cae Hwsni has disappeared, Bodwrog is a farm on the left hand side on the way to Mynytho and Penyberth is a caravan camp at Penrhos. These three "settlements" then developed into large estates or farms with a mansion or hall called "plasdy". The "plasdy" for the Penyberth home was built at Wern Fawr, a farm on the road to Rhydyclafdy. It is said that the descendants of these halls became some of the Princes of Gwynedd·Tywysogion Gwynedd. These estates developed and extended, and occupied the northern end of the present parish. The rest of the population was scattered around the area, living in mud and wattle homes. This was the pattern for about four centuries.
Oliver Cromwell's fight for power had consequences for Llanbedrog. The whole shire of Caernarfon was very strongly in favour of the king, undoubtedly so because of the happenings of the past. Cromwell knew this and in order to be certain of full success, he had to capture these noble people's homes. Otherwise, the area could have become a sanctuary for many fleeing Royalists. He sent his army north and Llanbedrog did not escape. The main reason for this is that the two landowning families, those of Wern Fawr and nearby Cefn Llanfair, were staunch Royalists.
The soldiers of Cromwell's army visited the Church, used it as a stable for the horses, destroyed the large glass window and probably also destroyed the gravestones and the Church minute books. Evidence, in support of this, points to no Church records until after Cromwell's soldiers' visit, and that the earliest grave is dated just after this time, the year of his death, 1658.
It was at this time that the intermarriage between the two gentry families, Wern Fawr and Cefn Llanfair, also brought about a unification of the whole district under one family. It is at this time that the "Love" is brought into the nobility's surname. A new house of Georgian architecture was added onto the existing family home at Wern Fawr; the family could well have been rewarded by the king for their loyalty.
It was during the next century that the history of Llanbedrog really developed. It was as though the peasants realized for how long they had been misused and how they had contributed to the power of the landlord. It took a religious revival, led by staunch anti churchmen like Hywel Harris and Daniel Rowlands; national heroes and contributors of immeasurable value to the culture and language of Wales. Hywel Harris preached in the neighbourhood in 1741 and the people, enraptured by his complete dedication, turned their backs on the established Church and turned to Methodism and reform. Many became devout Puritans and this led to the establishment of a chapel, Capel Newydd, Nanhoron. This was the time of the "Great Awakening".
It is possible to visit the chapel today; one of the few such restored chapels remaining in Wales. Also, at this time, the Itinerary Schools of Griffith Jones, Llanddowror started. He had long since found the need to educate the peasant population in Wales. These schools were held in winter in the farming areas, as during the summer the whole local population would work on the farms.
His school, at Llanbedrog, was held in the Tithe Barn, now the site of the Church Hall. The first Methodist Chapel, more so a meeting house, was held at Talfan, today a flourishing caravan site. Until this time the people had worked on the land with a few cottages spread here and there. Despite this there were some craftsmen: a blacksmith where the old smithy is today (Yr Efail); a glassmaker; shoemaker; fiddle maker and a hatter. They worked from day to day and in times of hardship would also work on the land. One or two men turned to fishing, an available source of work if they could afford a boat.
At the end of the century the landowning family of Wern Fawr bought Madryn Hall, situated on the northern side of Garn Fadryn. It must be remembered that this family owned all the land, except one farm, and controlled the people's religion and politics. By this time a cluster of houses had been built and were named Pig Street. It is believed that the name was derived from Pig y Llain, which means the point of the meadow. Certainly it has no connection with pigs. There were many public houses: The Bull (opposite the present Post Office); Tafarn Uchaf (by the Ship Hotel); Hen Dafarn (by Wern Fawr Farm) and Tafarn y Sign (opposite the Church) to name but a few. Usually they consisted of one room of a house where beer was sold. At this time piracy along the coast was rife, ships were built on the beach and the exploration of the headland for minerals had just started. There were many local smugglers bringing whisky, brandy, wines, etc. A cave on the seaward side of the headland has been named after one.
The Enclosure Act of 1808 enclosed the whole of the mountain and many other areas of the parish to the Love Jones Parry family of Madryn; this was part of the Great Enclosure movement. By about 1830·40 the village was beginning to develop with about 25 houses (probably very small cottages), four taverns, three chapels, two smithies and a flour mill. Around about 1840 a school started where the old school now is (just above the Church Hall and converted into a house). Local farmers began to invest in the quarry at Tanymynydd (by the Warren beach) but this turned into a dismal failure. The persons involved had probably had no previous business experience except with the squire! The population now became farmers and sailors who sailed on schooners between coastal ports such as Abersoch, Aberdaron, Porthdinllaen, Nefyn, Pwllheli, Porthmadog and Caernarfon. The farms each employed many maids. The village was still in the hands of the Madryn family, who were residing seven miles from the area. However, in 1856 Glyn-y-weddw Hall was built by the Madryn family, or more so by the mother of Thomas Love Jones Parry, a widow. Thus the name Glyn-y-weddw: Glyn, the glen, weddw, widow. The family had varied interests including stakes in the Porthdinllaen Turnpike Trust, which controlled the road to Nefyn. It was thought at this time that Porthdinllaen would be developed as the port to Ireland, instead of Holyhead.
About this time a road was built from Pwllheli to Llanbedrog. Previously the road used to lead along the beach and thus movement was impossible when the tide was in. As the century moved on, the three quarries on the headland were being developed, mainly by English people. The local people had accumulated no capital and were very poor business people. The village slowly spread with houses being built with local stone. Two settlements were being extended, Pig Street at the top of the village, and Pentre Llan around the Church. Also a number of crofts appeared on the headland. The quarries also made sets, which were transported to large cities like Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester and cities in France for road making. Before the building of the jetties the sets were loaded on the ships in the following manner. The schooners were sailed as high as possible onto the foreshore during high tide. All the local carriers and farmers would then load their carts at the quarry, cross the headland and lead down onto the beach. At low tide the schooners would be loaded and would set sail at the next high tide.
In 1896 the Madryn Estate was sold, this meant 90 per cent of the whole village, most of the farms, smallholdings and houses were bought by the tenants.
In the catalogue of sale the area was known as the Cambrian Riviera. Solomon Andrews a wealthy Cardiff businessman, bought Glyn-y-weddw Hall and proceeded to open an art gallery there, visited by thousands of people and showing some famous masterpieces of Turner, Gainsborough and other world famous artists and painters. He also established a horse drawn tram, which ran between Llanbedrog and Pwllheli along the golf links. The terminal and stables were at the Siop y Glyn (now a private house next to the entrance of the beach car park) and opposite this house was a refreshment room where Siop y Plas now stands, but now selling jewellery and artefacts. These are on the lane leading to the beach. The tram carried thousands over the summer months to view the art gallery.
This marked the beginning of Llanbedrog as a holiday resort. Large houses were now built to satisfy the demand for lodgings. The period had changed and the labour force. It was now farming, quarrying and visitors. The sailors and ships became fewer and road transport increased using horses and carts. In 1908 a new era began. The new school, now the primary school, was built, a new Church Hall established and a regular visit by a policeman started. About 300 men were employed in the quarries, and there was an abundance of work. Despite this many families emigrated to the United States in search of better living standards. The Welsh Religious Revival of 1904 had a tremendous effect on the people and many turned away from the Church. The population at this time was probably at its climax, all totally monoglot Welsh.
However, the First World War took its toll and was immediately followed by the Great Depression. This was a time of extreme hardship, two of the quarries closed due to lack of orders, the third ran down its manpower. People, especially the men, emigrated to the United States or drifted to the large cities, such as Liverpool, or the coal mines of South Wales in search of work.
This was a time when the close village community was shattered. A bombing school at Penrhos was established by the War Ministry to try and alleviate the unemployment problem; it only added petrol to the fire. Many people who were stationed there over the war decided to settle in the area. Local craftsmen disappeared and tourism became the major industry.
Llanbedrog today is vastly bigger than at the turn of the century and many more visitors have retired here for the peace and serenity of the district.
Despite the coming of English settlers to the area the Welsh language and culture continues to flourish, especially during the winter months. Most of the population converse in Welsh and meetings such as Merched y Wawr (the Welsh equivalent to the W.I.), the Literary Society, the Urdd Youth Movement and the Community Council are conducted in Welsh. This contribution and enhancement of the language follows other prominent men from the village and surrounding area who contributed greatly to Welsh culture in the past and which can be traced to the 6th century.
During the Middle Ages the language was fostered in the mansions and the squires took delight in music and poetry. Some of these mansions are still with us today at Bachellyn, Cefn Llanfair, Wern Fawr, Castellmarch and more recently Tremfan Hall and Plas Glyn-y-Weddw Hall.
Cefn Llanfair, on the road to Rhydyclafdy, had one of its noble family serving in the army of Queen Elizabeth I during the Spanish Armada and the attack on Cadiz in 1594.
Richard Hughes was one of the first poets to write in free verse and is remembered for his lore poetry. In the 18th century, a local innkeeper and farmer, Twm Pedrog, also made a name for himself as a poet. During the last century and the early part of the present century, two men from the village excelled themselves with Welsh culture. The first was John Owen Williams, whose bardic name was Pedrog, a minister and poet of high repute. He left the village, after a rudimentary education, to seek work at Dickson Gardens, Chester, Plas Machynlleth and then as a warehouseman at Liverpool. Eventually he became a minister at Liverpool, where he spent the rest of his life. Three times he won the National Eisteddfod chair and distinguished himself by becoming the Archdruid of Wales, the highest position in Welsh culture. He was followed later in his achievements by the most famous Welsh bard of all, Cynan, who hailed from nearby Pwllheli.
The second was John Gwenogfryn Evans, of Tremfan Hall, a minister who settled here after spending part of his lifetime at Preston and Oxford. Although frail of health, due to persistent typhoid attacks, he sailed to Australia and this created his interest in printing and editing. He became editor of Welsh books and letters and became the foremost member of a committee which established the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth. He moved to Tremfan Hall, followed by Penarwel, both of which he designed himself, and set up a handpress, printing much of his own work and other leading Welsh writers. On his death in 1932, he was buried in a grave carved out of the rocks by Penarwel Mansion, which can be seen from a nearby footpath today. His writings and printed books have become valuable, but most have been deposited at the National Library.