History and Origins of Guilsfield

About Village of Guilsfield

About Guilsfield Village

Guilsfield is a pleasant sheltered little valley, about 3 miles north of Welshpool. Down the valley run two brooks. On the north side is the Rhyd y Moch crossed by the Welshpool Road at Brook House. Rhyd is the Welsh word for ford, a place where one can cross the water on foot, but there seems to be some doubt about the word “Moch” . Some people translate it as pig. Others say it is an old Welsh word meaning “fast flowing stream”. The second is probably more correct because of an analogy with other places names like Mochnant, Mochdre etc.

The other brook that runs through the village is called the Bele Brook. It is believed that this name comes from Bela – The Welsh name foe Pine Marten. Apparently there were large numbers of these little animals living in the Maesmawr area where the brook starts. Anyway, about 1880 a gamekeeper working at Maesmawr Hall, shot a Pine Marten there. This was such a curiosity because no one had seen one there for years, that Mrs Curling, the then occupier of Maesmawr Hall had it stuffed. From 1950 – 1965 it was placed on show in Guilsfield School so that the children could see what a Pine Marten looked like.

The Bele Brook is joined at Varchoel by the Rhyd y Moch and flows on to join the Severn at Pool Quay.

In the past Guilsfield was known as Cegidfa, the place where hemlock grows. At some period in our history, probably after the Act of Henry VIII which created Montgomeryshire, some English “Officials” decided to find out what Cegidfa meant – Either they did not know that Cegid was Welsh for hemlock, or they scorned such a simple explanation. Instead they came up with the following theory:-

We do not know who was responsible for this tortuous piece of reasoning. The late R.M.Owen, a well known local historian, blamed the monks of Strata Marcella Abbey. Be that as it may, the two names seem to have existed side by side for many years until Guilsfield was adopted.

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About Village of Guilsfield

Guilsfield in Prehistoric Times

The earliest records of history are painstakingly unearthed by archaeologists, who are constantly digging up the past, and making most interestIng finds about life as it was lived, long ages ago before ever written records were made

The only record of this kind in Guilsfield dates from the Bronze Age. This age was so called, because a new material was introduced then -namely Bronze. This was composed of nine parts of copper to one of tin -two soft metals, which when combined make a hard one, which has the added advantage that it can be hammered when it is cold. Bronze tools gradually replaced the old flint ones. "The Guilsfield Hoard" as it was described by Mr. John Ward in the Montgomeryshire Collections 1929, was discovered in Oct. 1862 by workmen digging a drain near Crowthers Coppice. This hoard was packed tightly as though it had been put into a container, which had later disintegrated. The hoard was secured by the Earl of Powis who sent it to Shrewsbury and Ludlow Museums, but in 1931 it was handed over to the National Museum at Cardiff on permanent loan. In the catalogue there are listed:-

Possibly a smith had set up his forge there about 800 B.C. and there made bronze implements in stone moulds, using as his raw material, scrap bronze imported from lowland Britain.

Following the Bronze Age came the Iron Age, when a new and warlike people came to Britain. Their language is the Welsh of today. Like their predecessors, they also lived in hill forts. Quite a number of them are marked on the map in the Guilsfield area. These hill forts are today very overgrown as we can see by our own example - Gaerfawr - the big fort.

Nothing much is known about Gaerfawr because no systematic digging has ever been carried out there, but it is generally considered to be a good example of an Iron Age fort with its double ramparts enclosing a level oval area of about 2 acres with an entrance at each end. Around the rampart would be a wooden fence to keep their cattle in and marauders out. The people kept cattle, sheep, pigs and horses, wove woollen and linen clothes, did some hunting and fishing, and probably lived very comfortably in their little round huts, until with the use of their improved iron axes they were able to cut down trees in the valley and move down to Guilsfield which we all agree is a more comfortable place to make a home.

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About Village of Guilsfield

Guilsfield in Roman Times

In 43 A.D. the Romans started their conquest of Britain and in 59 A.D. sent an expedition into Wales where the people had been holding out against them. Then the Romans organised a systematic occupation of the country. They were obsessed with the idea of keeping their frontiers safe, and in Wales they built a series of 24 forts, with two main bases -Chester and Caerleon Mon. and stationed a legion of soldiers at each of these these bases. The forts were joined by 700 miles of strategic roads which were completed about 170 A.D. These forts were so situated that none was more than one days march from effective help in time of danger.

They were built with a keen eye for their strategic value and for their nearness to a mining area. -The chief fort in Mid Wales was Caersws which probably had a garrison of 1,000 men. The Gaer Forden was another.

It seems as though the Roman garrisons lived within their forts while the natives remained aloof, The old tribal life continued, influenced by Roman trade, but unchanged in essentials. It used to be thought that Guilsfield was connected with the Romans ,that a Roman road might have gone past the Street, through Sarn and on to Forden. The "proof" for this theory was –


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About Village of Guilsfield

Guilsfield Church

The original church of Saint Aelhaiarn built before 600, was probably a simple barn-like structure. Guilsfield is one of the few churches in Wales which has a circular churchyard with a road going all round it.

In the porch is an ancient box, made from a hollowed out tree and having three locks. It is very like the box in Clynnog Church, which is said to have belonged to Saint Beuno.

The font is a very old one, probably dating back to 1000 AD, the bowl is octagonal in shape, and on each alternate section is carved a head, very much knocked about now,

The tower was built in the 12th century according to Mr. Millward the architect, and cased over with the present masonry in the 15th century after the building of the present church.

While Guilsfield was continuing its quiet life, stirring events were going on in other parts of Powys. William the Conqueror had sent his faithful friend, Roger of Montgomery to Shrewsbury- to use that place as a base for conquering Wales, After building a castle and church at Shrewsbury, Roger advanced into Wales via Minsterley, and built a "Motte and Bailey" which he named Montgomery after his home in Normandy. He left a garrison there and went back to Shrewsbury. (A Motte was a small hill with a fortification on the top, and the bailey was the yard round it, also surrounded by a fence.)

In 1095 Cadogan ap Bleddyn, Prince of Powys came along, burnt the place to the ground and carried the war against the Normans as far as Hereford. Cadogan admired this new style of fortification, and built one for himself at Welsh-pool. The motte was cut in half when the station was built, but it can still be seen, and the- bailey is today the bowling green of the Welsh-pool Bowling Club - Later on, in 1109, deciding that the position was not good enough, the Prince built the first castle on the hill above Welshpool, a position which gave him security and defence.

. Although Edward I had conquered Wales.in 1282, only the western part was governed by the King's officials. The eastern part was still ruled by the Marcher Lords, proud imperious barons, who ruled their territories as they chose with their private armies. In 1309 one of these Marcher Lords acquired the land of the late Prince of Powys through marriage

The Welsh, sullenly made the best their misfortune, Many young Welshmen joined Edward I n his wars, in France, At first a wild undisciplined rabble, bent only on plundering everything in sight, they became famous all over Europe for their courage and skill with their deadly long bows. Religion was the people's greatest: solace and the Parish Church their refuge from the miseries of life, and it was at this time that Guilsfield People felt the need to rebuild their church to provide more accommodation. This need was met it such a generous way that the accommodation has been adequate for all time since.

Mr. Millard, the architect, writing about Guilsfield Church in the Montgomeryshire Collections, says that, when it was decided to enlarge the Church about 1340, people would not wish to give up the use of the church for a long time, so the north aisle was built just clear of the still-standing old church and the foundations at the east end put in without interfering with the services, Then the south aisle was built, to match, more or less, with the north aisle, and finally, the handsome high roof was framed across the now widened church.

This roof remains a masterpiece of skilful design and workmanship, graceful in line, yet strong enough to endure the stress and strain of hundreds of years, The roof was covered outwardly, probably with lead, obtainable not too far away. Nothing less valuable than good cast lead would be considered worthy to cover such fine carpentry.

Visitors to the church will notice that the north and south aisles do not match, that the east end of the chancel is not square, one angle being greater than. 90*, and that the entrance to the tower is not exactly opposite the centre or the altar. All this is probably due to the difficulty of building round an existing structure, but this irregularity undoubtedly aids to the charm of this lovely old church.

According to Mr. Millard there was a break of over 20 years in the building of the church, and he wonders if that was due to the deadly plague The Black Death - which swept across Wales in 1349 when nearly one third of the population died.

In the following century the tower was enoclosed.in new masonry, the present belfry stage was built together with the battlemented„ parapet, and a little timber spire. Then the church would _stand, complete as we see it today, 600 years later.

Probably a century or two later than the main roof, there was added a striking wooden ceiling of 240 panels extending over half the church. This adds greatly to the beauty of the church, and most guide books urge visitors to go to St, Aelhaiarn's Church to look at this lovely ceiling. Other people, not too Impressed, say it, was a shame to cover up all those lovely beams, and to hide for ever half a masterpiece of carpentry. Truly "Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder".

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About Village of Guilsfield

Guilsfield in Twelth Century

The Twelfth Century. - After the Norman conquest of England, Powys had been exposed to the subtle Influence of Norman culture, but contemporary writings show that In essentials Wales still retained Its old tribal pastoral community. The economic basis was the keeping of flocks and herds, they grew some oats and barley, hunting and fishing were free, and each "tref" was fairly self supporting. The families clubbed together to provide a team of eight oxen who drew the heavy wooden plough. The ploughing was afterwards divided into twelve parts of which the ox-tender took one part. He walked backwards In front of the team, encouraging them with his voice. The cattle of the tref grazed together, under the watchful eye of the herdsman, whose dog walked out at the head of the herd In the morning and followed its rear at night, a valiant protector against the wolves of the forest.

They imported some iron and salt, but on the whole their interests were entirely rural. They lived the careless life of the hunter, the fisher and the herdsman, hence their mobility in time of war.

The writer Giraldus says the Welsh were hardy, energetic, kind and hospitable, firm In friendship, .implacable as enemies. Oaths and promises were lightly broken. They had a high cultural and intellectual level, and poets and musicians were held in high esteem. They were devoutly religious and it is at this time that the tower was "built on to Guilsfield Church. The font, also, dates from that time — an octagonal stone font which has some curious figures or designs carved on its alternate panels, described by one writer as "rude and curious". Welshpool was growing steadily under the shadow of the two churches, St. Cynfelin and St. Llywelyn.

The Prince of Powys, Owain Cyfeiliog was one of the great poets of this age. A man of keen intelligence and a wise ruler of his people. In 1170 he gave to the Cisterian Monks a grant of land in Tstrad Maxchell (Guilsfield Parish). These monks practised strict self-denial and abstinence. At first they refused tithes and lived "by the work of their own hands. The abbey was called Strata Marcella, and it was on the banks of the River Severn at Pool Quay.

In his old age Owain was publicly excommunicated because he, alone of all the Welsh princes, refused to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury, when that prelate cams into Wales for the purpose of asserting the supremacy of Canterbury over Wales. Later Owain made peace with the Church and retired to the Abbey of Strata Marcella where he died and was buried. Owain was succeeded by Gwenwynwyn, a man of restless and inconstant character, not like his wise father. He quarrelled repeatedly with Llywelyn of Gwynedd who finally defeated Gwenwynwyn and drove him into exile where he died.

For some years Llywelyn administered Powys- with his own officials, but in. 1233 hearing of a plot against his authority, he lead an army into Welshpool and burnt it and the two churches to the ground. In 1240 Gryffydd son of Gwenwynwyn , was restored as Prince of Powys and he set about repairing- the havoc, of past years. Powys Castle was made habitable, a new town was built, markets re-established and a beautiful new church was built with the beautiful name of "St Mary of the Salutation".

In 1263 Gruffydd gave to his "beloved burgesses" a charter, which made the town into a free borough, giving the burgesses control of all trading; in the town, on condition that a market was held there every Monday for always. This is the reason why the Welshpool shops are open and the market in full swing even on Bank Holidays, much to the surprise and delight of the visitors . At the Parliament of Shrewsbury in 1283 Owen ap Gruffydd ap Swenwynwyn surrendered to the King of England, Edward I, the name and crown of a prince and in return received back Ms own land as a baron of England. TMs act marks the final extinction of the once powerful family of the Princes of Powys .

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