Margam and Caerleon Dispute

The Cistercians Abbots were great sheep farmers and obtained considerable quantities of wool which was exported to the town of Flanders and the Continent. As time passed, Margam and Caerleon extended their grazing grounds until their shepherds met on the old Common of Hirwaun. This led to disputes between the two Abbeys which lasted for a considerable time. An agreement was arrived at in 1203. This document is fortunately in the British Museum and is of great historical interest, in that it records the existence of Aberdare at that early date. The MS is known as “Harl Charter, 75 A32” and gives the earliest known record of Aberdare. Furthermore, this MS, together with others connected with the same dispute, is of interest in that it mentions local rivers and place, etc. Margan, Kaer Lyun, Heneysnaweht, (Ynysnewydd) Neht (Nedd or Neath), Taph, Rotheni Maur (Rhondda Fawr), Fennaun Arthur (Ffynnon Arthur), Magnam Polam (The Great Pool ot Llyn Fawr, Rhigos), Wrelec (Gwrlech brook), Hyrwenunworgan, (Hirwaun Wrgan) Redevayn (Rhyduwaun), Canan (Cynon), Puthladar (Bwlfa-dar), Bolchoyth (Bolgoed), etc. Even after the agreement of 1203 was sealed, further dissensions broke out and the Head Abbot at Citeaux in France had to intervene, with Abbots from Shropshire, Oxford and Wiltshire as judges. An inquiry was held at Worcester Cathedral on the 28th April 1253 with the Abbots of Doe and Tintern as assessors, for Caerleon had not strictly observed the terms of the settlement.

It was finally agreed:-

  1. The final composition made in 1203 to be strictly maintained
  2. Margam Abbey to use the pasture of Hirwaun-Wrgan by day and night all times of the year. The boundaries of the common are declared to be from Magna Pola, the great pool, where the Wrelech rises, along the Wrelech running northwards to the Rover Neath, along the River Neath eastwards as far as Redevayn, from Redevayn as far as the boundaries of Breconshire, and then southwards to the stream Canan; along the Canan as far as Aberdar; from Aberdar due westwards as far as Puthladar; from Puthladar, as far as the mountain brow, due westwards to the great pool. All this to be the common pasture for Margamm except the Mansion-House and woods of Bolchoyth and 100 acres adjacent theretol also a house a Estun-Wrelech (Pont Walby), with an enclosure of 3 acres around it, No monk was allowed to live there.
  3. Removal of the hedges, ditches, enclosures and buildings made by Caerleon, except the aforesaid.
  4. Any monk contravening this order to be put out of the monastery, and not to be re admitted except by license of the Chapter-General.
  5. Cost of this affair to follow the usual course.

But under John Griffiths a great awakening took place which has gone on ever since. In 1851-52 he was responsible for the building of the fine church of St Elvan’s and in the spring of 1853 he issued an appeal for subscriptions to people outside the district to build a church at Hirwaun. In doing so he reflected on the paganism and immorality of the township. When the nonconformists got to know of this, an immense meeting was held on the square at Hirwaun when the Rev John Griffith was challenged to publicly repeat his accusations. He was often in hot water even with his co-religionists, during the same year 1853, Lady Harriet Clive, (Baroness Windsor), ancestress of the Earl of Plymouth, who owned considerable land in the Aberdare Valley, (hence, Harriet St., Olive St., Windsor St.) built the Church of St. Fagan’s, and when it was burnt down, rebuilt it again at her own cost. With three churches to build, names were required for them. Possibly St. Fagan’s received its name after that of the home of Lady H. Clive namely St. Fagan’s, near Cardiff.

The clergymen in charge of Aberdare were styled “curates” until 1772 A.D. when the Rev John Evans who was ordained “curate” of Aberdare in 1761; became the first “Perpetual Curate”. He like his predecessors and successors had also the charge of Llanwynno parish, and so had the spiritual supervision of all the inhabitants in Miskin Higher from Hirwaun right down to the Rhondda River at Pontypridd a heavy responsibility.