A Brief History of Ewyas Lacy


620 - 1922


A Brief History of Ewyas Lacy

This introduction to Ewyas Lacy traces three significant turning points in its history: from the Welsh territory of Ewyas, to the Marcher Lordship of Ewyas Lacy, to the Hundred of Ewyas Lacy in the county of Herefordshire. To pick out ‘turning points’ is simply a way of illustrating a broad sweep of change in governance; an equally significant feature of Ewyas Lacy is a long enduring continuity of the economic and cultural fabric.

The place name Ewyas Lacy has become obsolete since the 19th century abolition of Hundreds as a unit of county administration. Even so, as the area of the old Hundred covered much the same ground as the older Marcher lordship, both with strong ties to a Welsh origin, Ewyas Lacy remains a meaningful place and setting for local history study. Its past is still a powerful undercurrent in local landscapes and communities, as can be seen in primary documents, commentaries and research papers on this website.

The Welsh territory of Ewyas

An early glimpse of Ewyas is given in charters describing the boundaries of land associated with churches at Llancillo (dated to about 620) and Clodock (about 740)[1] ; these charters are among many others transcribed from earlier sources in the 12th century Liber Llandavensis to support claims by the diocese of Llandaff to church properties in southeast Wales. Llancillo is referred to as a podum , a word which suggests a religious settlement. The Clodock charter is embedded in legendary narratives including an account of the origin of the church in a more remote past, when Clydawg, ‘king in Ewyas’ was murdered while on a hunting expedition and an oratory was built to commemorate his martyrdom. The church at Llanveynoe, dedicated to St Beuno, contributes further evidence of settlement in Ewyas in the context of British Christianity in early medieval Wales[2] . The character of Ewyas  comes across as a remote area, in part a woodland reserve for Clydawg’s royal hunts and in part a retreat for religious communities.

A Welsh law record of about 1100 puts Ewyas as one of 4 ‘commotes’ making up the larger region of a cantred, the commotes being Talgarth, Ergyng, Ewyas and Crickhowell[3] . As this record postdates the Norman Conquest, it is thought to reflect an ancient administrative division of Welsh lands: the reality was that since at least the 10th century, Ergyng, neighbour to Ewyas on the east, had been in the sphere of Saxon settlement which by the 11th century had reached the eastern fringe of Ewyas along the Dore valley[4] . A motte and bailey castle built at Ewyas Harold marked the new English frontier, built as a defence against Welsh border raids in the 1040s and permanently separating Ewyas Harold from the bulk of Ewyas which appears to have withstood further incursions until the Norman Conquest.

Following the Conquest in 1066, Ewyas remained in Welsh hands briefly under Rydderch ap Caradog (died 1076), apparently a client ruler of Ewyas obeisant to William the Conqueror[5] . In 1086, the Domesday survey shows Ewyas to be held by Roger de Lacy, son of the Norman retainer to whom Ewyas had been granted, though still as an unassimilated frontier. The Domesday entry reads ‘Roger has a land called Ewias within the boundary of Ewias. This land does not belong to the castlery nor to the hundred. From this land Roger has 15 sesters of honey, 15 pigs when the men are there, and (administers) justice over them’[6] . This entry shows that Ewyas was outside the political context of Ewyas Harold castle and the wider Hundredal system established in England since Saxon times[7] , had no framework for regular renders, but by then was subject to a Norman overlord.

The Lordship of Ewyas Lacy


Ewyas was initially granted to Walter de Lacy along with other land grants in the border country of the Welsh Marches. Over successive generations many features of the present landscape appeared, whether now intact or in ruins. Motte and bailey castles were soon built at Walterstone, Llancillo, Rowlestone and Clodock as apparently short term fortifications[8] , followed c1216-23 by Longtown Castle with a stone keep presiding over a newly founded market town, or ‘borough’, at Longtown[9] . Two monasteries were established at Llanthony (c1108-18)[10] and Craswall (c1217-22)[11] . Of some nine churches, most were rebuilt or newly founded by the end of the 13th century[12] . Apart from the borough town, the population remained dispersed in isolated farms small hamlets.

The earliest record of the place name ‘Ewyas Lacy’ is dated 1219, referring to the district as a whole; in 1232 the borough was called ‘Nova Villa; in 1310, 100 burgages were reported; in 1540 the borough was called ‘Longa Villa’ from which the name Longtown evolved[13] .  There is no documentary evidence of an attack on Longtown Castle, but it is known to have been garrisoned during rebellions of 1231-33, 1317, and 1402-08, all of which brought devastation close to Ewyas Lacy[14] .

The line of de Lacys ended with Walter II de Lacy, (died 1241),  when the Lordship of Ewyas Lacy was split by inheritance to his two granddaughters, Margery and Maud, who each held a ‘moiety’, or part, of the Lordship as co-sharers[15] . Margery’s share devolved initially to the de Verdun family and eventually passed to the Nevill family, lords of Abergavenny, from 1422 until the properties were sold in 1920. Maud’s share devolved to the Mortimer family and at the end of the male succession passed to king Edward IV by right of inheritance in 1460; thereafter it was held by successive monarchs until Elizabeth I granted it to the courtier Robert Dudley whose speedy sale of Ewyas Lacy properties in 1567 led to fragmentation of this share of the Lordship; the last known substantial owner was John Jeffreys who purchased properties in about 1700. Neither branch of the Lordship held land ‘in demesne’ (in residence); the properties were managed by stewards. Parcels of land belonging to each were scattered, some as clusters of farms and some as individual holdings. The general picture is of an upland farming economy, ranging from subsistence farming to modest yeoman prosperity, with few gentry.

Land tenure was rooted in the feudal system established by the Normans whereby all land was held by ‘tenants’, most directly of an overlord who was ultimately a tenant of the crown. Leases from Manorial surveys in Ewyas Lacy of the  early18th century[16] still conform to this established practice. Rents and renders of goods and services to the Lord of the Manor were required from property holders at all social scales. The properties ranged from submanors, to freeholds with no restriction on inheritance or disposal of property, to copyholds where property was inheritable but not owned, to leaseholds with specified terms of tenure, and at the bottom of the scale, encroachments and cottages with no leases. The render of goods included a ‘heriot’, or death duty, typically of the ‘second best beast’; service renders included ‘suit of court’, or mandatory jury service at the manorial court. The Lord of the Manor reserved rights to natural assets including quarries, timber, minerals, waterways and commons, which were specified in great detail.

Local churches gave a collective identity to local communities, geographically bounded as parishes and ‘townships’. In the evolution of Ewyas Lacy parishes, Clodock held pre-eminence for many centuries, with Craswall, Llanveynoe, Longtown and Newton as ‘townships’ in Clodock parish, a status which continued into the 19th century[17] . For convenience all will be referred to as parishes (as they are today, with Clodock now amalgamated into Longtown parish). Complexities arise in distinguishing the role of the parish and the manor in civil administration because manorial lands were not coterminous with parishes, spreading into some parishes but not encompassing them[18] . The initial Norman lordship stretched into the Black Mountains to include the Honddu valley on the west (eventually Cwmyoy parish), and northwards spread towards the Wye valley (eventually Cusop parish)[19] . On the east, the parishes of Rowlestone and Llancillo were fringe areas with much of the land in other lordships. Ecclesiastically, Ewyas Lacy retained an ancient association with Wales, all but one of its parishes being in the diocese of St Davids and archdeaconry of Brecon until 1852 when they were transferred to the diocese of Hereford[20] ; the exception is Cusop, in the diocese of Hereford from earliest records.

Other strands of Ewyas Lacy history illustrate its complex evolution as border country.  As a Marcher lordship, its laws and customs were subject to law of the Marches where it was said that ‘the king’s writ did not run’. Marcher law, uncodified and built on precedent and local custom, gave prerogative powers to Marcher barons as a means of holding a frontier between England and Wales[21] . Culturally, a variety of sources show that a strong Welsh identity continued for many centuries[22] : these include field and place names, personal names, reported use of Welsh as the vernacular language, and many references in primary documents to ‘Ewyas Lacy in Wales’. 

The Hundred of Ewyas Lacy

The reign of Henry VIII brought significant change with the Act of Union in 1536 which abolished the Marches of Wales and established a boundary between England and Wales. Ewyas Lacy was brought into the county of Herefordshire as a newly created Hundred, of some ten parishes, within the legislative and judicial sphere of England. At the local level, Hundreds at that time were composed of groups of parishes, making use of ecclesiastical communities for civil administration. Over time, parish vestries took on a range of local services, such as relief of the poor and providing schools, and ecclesiastical courts dealt with minor disputes and misdemeanours.  This role of parishes in civil administration creates particular difficulties for historians of Ewyas Lacy because most of its parishes were in the diocese of St Davids until 1852, and the bulk of primary documents relating to parishes before that date are housed in the National Library of Wales in Aberyswyth. An exception is the parish registers of births, marriages and deaths dating variously from the 18th century, which are locally available[23] .

The transfer to England created further anomalies between the manor of Ewyas Lacy and the Hundred: the Hundred of Ewyas Lacy included the whole of Cusop parish which held no manorial land at that time, and fragments of manorial land in the parish of Cwmyoy, which was otherwise allocated to Wales[24] . These anomalies appear not to have impacted significantly on manorial business, however, as the surviving local Court records[25] continued to refer to ‘the Manor of Ewyas Lacy’ and dealt, inter alia, with the business of manorial land tenure and revenues. A major effect of the transfer with regard to revenue was to bring Ewyas Lacy within the purview of Crown taxation, the earliest ‘subsidy’ from Ewyas Lacy in 1540 being assessed at 70 shillings, considerably lower than any other Hundred[26] . Inventories of the assessments for local householders provide much demographic information, as do other tax assessments such as the Hearth Tax of 1662-1689[27] .

Manorial courts of two kinds existed in name, the Court Leet or Customary Court, and the Court Baron[28] , though in practice there appears to have been overlap between them in Ewyas Lacy: where a distinction is made, the Court Leet dealt mainly with issues of law and order, and the Court Baron with manorial surveys. The location of the court is thought to have been a building in the bailey of Longtown castle, described in 1692 as an ‘aunchint house’ permitting the manorial court ‘as accustomed’[29] . A vignette of the Court Leet from 1816- 63[30] shows a ‘jury’ of some twenty or so local representatives typically meeting once a year at ‘the castle of Longtown’ and then adjourning to the New Inn at Longtown (a building still existing as the Longtown Outdoor Education Centre). The business meetings covered reports of deaths, of encroachments on commons or waste ground, of dilapidations such as a gate or bridge needing repair, fines imposed on non-attenders (defaulting a mandatory summons called ‘view of frankpledge’), and the yearly appointment of the crier, bailiff and pound keeper. The Court Baron dealt with substantial issues of land tenure and land management, such overseeing a manorial survey of John Jeffreys’ holdings conducted over several years between 1701-05. In the 19th century the Court Baron was occasionally held at the office of the steward, Baker Gabb, in Abergavenny.

The Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 enabled a comprehensive survey of property in England and Wales which is an indispensable tool for local history study (comparable in scope and importance to the Domesday survey of 1086). Designed to standardise tithes (compulsory church taxes) as cash payments based on property values, the Act was implemented by a inventory of all property in every parish, including acreage, land use, value, the name of owner and occupier, accompanied by a fully surveyed parish map with each field or other discrete area of land use identified by number and normally by field name[31] . Tithe maps of Ewyas Lacy parishes the 1840s show a remarkably similar configuration of fields as at the present time, underscoring a strong continuity of tradition in the area; they also identify buildings from farms and their outhouses to cottages and isolated barns, as well as roads and tracks, to provide invaluable demographic information. Tithes were phased out in the early 20th century and finally abolished with the Tithe Act of 1936.

Legislation from 1841 permitted copyholders to convert their land to freehold by paying compensation to the manorial lord[32] . Known as the ‘enfranchisement’ of copyhold, measures for compensation were voluntary and could be initiated by either the tenant or the lord; Ewyas Lacy records[33] show a typical payment of £300-400. In 1920 the then Marquis of Abergavenny sold all his holdings in Ewyas Lacy, including the remaining copyholds, in 166 lots[34] . The Law of Property Act of 1922 abolished all copyhold tenure, which was converted to freehold.

Hundreds were abolished in the 19th century, replaced through the Local Government Act of 1888 by county councils and subsequent provision, inter alia, for rural districts composed of civil parishes[35] . All but one of the parishes in the former Ewyas Lacy are now in the Golden Valley South district of Herefordshire Council; the exception being Cusop, in Golden Valley North.

[1] Davies, Wendy (1978), An Early Welsh Microcosm , London. Llancillo estate p170; Clodock estate p176

[2] Ray, Keith (2001), ‘Archaeology and the three early churches of Herefordshire’; in The Early Church in Herefordshire ed by Ann Malpas et al, Leominster Historical Society. For the Life of St Beuno see Baring-Gould, S and Fisher, J (1907-13), Lives of the British Saints , Vol I

[3] Coplestone-Crow, Bruce (1989) Herefordshire Place Names , British Archaeological Report 214, Oxford, p6; Hall, Hubert (ed) (1896), The Red Book of the Exchequer , HMSO, London, p761

[4] Coplestone-Crow, Op cit at 3 above, p5; Victoria County History: Herefordshire, Institute of Historical Research, London, p 347-52

[5] Remfrey, Paul (1997), Longtown Castle 1049-1241 , p3

[6] Thorn, F and C ((1983), Domesday Book: Herefordshire , Phillimore, Chichester

[7] Stenton, Frank (1971; 1st pub 1943), Anglo-Saxon England , Oxford

[8] Marshall, George (1938), ‘The Norman occupation of the lands in the Golden Valley, Ewyas and Clifford and their motte and bailey castles’, Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club  Vol 1936-38, p1411-58

[9] Hillaby, Joe (1985), ‘Herefordshire Gold: Irish, Welsh and English land. Part 2: The clients of the Jewish community at Hereford 1179-1253’, Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists Field Club , Vol XLV, p223 & 226

[10] Lovegrove, EW (1942-43), ‘Llanthony Priory’, Archaeoelogia Cambrensis , Vol 97, p213-29

[11] Hutchinson, Carole (1989), The Hermit Monks of Grandmont , Cistercian Publications, Kalamazoo

[12] Royal Commission on Historical Documents, England (1931), An Inventory of the Historical Monuments in Herefordshire , Vol 1 South-west, HMSO, London

[13] Coplestone-Crow, Op cit at 3 above, p6 &57-8; Morris, R and R Williams (1991) Notes on the history of Longtown, or Ewias Lacy, and the structural development of the castle , Hereford Archaeology Series 104, City of Hereford Archaeology Unit

[14] Ellis, Peter (1977), ‘Longtown Castle: A Report on Excavations by J Nicholls, 1978’, Transactions of the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club , p69

[15] Steele, Bob and Nina Wedell (2007), Descent of the Lordship of the Manor of Ewyas Lacy ,  ELSG website

[16] Hereford RO, J91/4: Manor of Ewyas Lacy, survey for John Jeffreys, 1705; Gwent RO, Man/A/2/0205: Manor of Ewyas Lacy, survey for Lord Abergavenny, 1701. Both on ELSG website.

[17] Tithe maps and apportionments, Hereford RO

[18]  Gwent RO: D1583.208. Survey of the Estate of the Earl of Abergavenny…in the Hundred of Ewyas Lacy (1800); Hereford RO: M5/36/2, Sale particulars of the Marquess of Abergavenny’s Herefordshire Estate (1920)

[19] Marshall, George (1938), Op cit at 8 above

[20] National Library of Wales: SD/Misc/B59

[21] Davies, RR (1970), ‘The Law of the March’, The Welsh History Review V, 1970-71 , University of Wales Press, p1-30

[22] Houston, Jenny (1999), Local History Report , Olchon Development Project Report; Wedell, Nina (1999), Field Name Survey , Olchon Development Project Report

[23] Parish registers are housed at Hereford RO

[24] Faraday, MA (ed) (2005), Herefordshire Taxes in the reign  of Henry VII , Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club, Hereford, p1-2, 14, 18

[25]   Hereford RO, J91/1-4: Ewyas Lacy Court Books

[26] Faraday, MA Op cit at 24 above

[27] Faraday, MA (1972), Herefordshire Militia Assessments of 1663 , Royal Historical Society, London, p20-4

[28] Ellis, Mary (1994) Using Manorial Records , PRO Readers’ Guide No 6, chapter 5

[29] Gwent RO: D1583.1.12

[30] Hereford RO: J91/2, Ewyas Lacy Court Book

[31] Wedell, Nina (1999), Op cit in 22 above  (section on ‘The 1840s Tithe Survey’, p46-53, and on ‘Landowners, occupiers and their holdings’ p54-68)

[32] Ellis, Mary, Op cit at 28 above,  p71-2

[33] Hereford RO: J91/1 and 3, Ewyas Lacy Court Books

[34] Hereford RO: M5/36/2, Sale particulars of the Marquess of Abergavenny’s Herefordshire Estate; Gwent RO:D1583.177.2, Rental list preparatory to sale

[35] David Hay (ed) (1996) Oxford Companion to Local and Family History , Oxford (entry under ‘local government’)

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