November 02, 2019 5 min read

Abbey Cwm Hir - Strata Florida - Ystrad Fflur

Abbeycwmhir is a small village in the county of Radnorshire, Powys in mid-Wales.  The Cistercian abbey of Cwm-hir is of great historical significance. Its early history is somewhat obscure but the permanent foundation dates to 1176. The remains of the abbey ruins are open to the public and are easily acessible. There is also a stone slab layed here to commemorate the burial of Prince Llywelyn Ein Llyw olaf (Llywelyn the Last).

An old Radnorshire rhyme could be true today for it is the most rural of counties in Wales.

'Alas, Alas poor Radnorseere
Never a park, nor never a deere
Never a man with five hundred a year
Save Richard Fowler of Abbey Cwm Hir'

Abbeycwmhir (Abbey in the Long Valley in Welsh) lies in the secluded, remote valley of the Clywedog (a tributary of the river Ithon) river/brook or stream, some six miles east of the town of Rhayader and the Cwm Elan (Elan Valley) reservoirs. There is also the Abbey Cwm Hir grade II listed pub named The Happy Union, the St Mary's church and the Hall at Abbey Cwm Hir in the village. 

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Cistercian Abbey

The Cistercian abbey is of great historical importance and was once the largest Abbey in Wales. It was founded in 1143 by Welsh Prince Cadwathelan ap Madoc of Maelienydd, as this area of Wales was known at the time. It became a permanent establishment in 1176. In 1197 the original wooden building was gradually replaced by a permanent stone structure although it was never completed. It was designed for 60 monks in a 14-bay nave that was 242 feet in length and only the cathedrals of Durham and Winchester were larger. Despite being built for 60 monks, it is thought that only a small proportion of this number ever lived at the Abbey. Some of the remains of the Abbey were moved to nearby Llanidloes in 1542 and can still be seen today.  

At around the same time period, another Cistercian abbey was founded by Robert Fitz Stephen, an Anglo-Norman lord, in 1164 in Strata Florida (Ystrad Fflur in Welsh), some 40 miles from Abbey Cwm Hir over the Cambrian Mountains. However, it was not long before the patronage of this Cistercian community at Strata Florida was assumed by Rhys ap Gruffudd, a Welsh Prince of the ancient kingship of Deheubarth. It is believed that the Abbey was not completed by the middle of the thirteenth century. Through the course of the thirteenth century, the Abbey was an ardent supporter of the Welsh cause, occasionally resulting in the hostility of the kings of England. It was at Strata Florida that a copy of Brut y Tywysogion (Chronicle of the princes) was written, and it was here too that many members of the Deheubarth dynasty of princes were laid to rest. The abbey at Strata Florida suffered damage during the Welsh wars of King Edward I in 1276-77 and again in 1282-83  following Prince Llywelyn's death at Cilmeri. As a consequence, Strata Florida was certainly remodelled in the early fourteenth century. Thereafter, the Black Death (1348-49) and the revolt of Owain Glyndwr (1400-09) took their toll. Despite late medieval revivals, by the early 1530s the suppression loomed large and by 1539, Strata Florida had closed. 

Prince Llywelyn and Cilmeri

Cadwathelan was killed by an English Norman Marcher Lord within a few years of founding the Abbey. The Abbey also has close links with the last Prince of Wales, Prince Llywelyn Ein Llyw olaf (Llywelyn the Last). Following his death at Cilmeri in 1282 and with Prince Llywelyn’s head being taken to London, his headless body was buried at the altar of the Abbey in 1282.

Abbey Cwm Hir - Cistercian Abbey ruins and Llywelyn's grave stone

The Abbey was ransacked by Owain Glyndwr in 1401 who suspected that the monks were supporting the English kings. After the 1401 attack, it is probable that only the easternmost five bays, containing the choir and high alter, were regularly used. In 1540, the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1540, only three monks lived in the abbey.  Even after the dissolution, the Abbey suffered an up-and-down history. The Fowler family took over the Abbey in 1565 but in 1644 during the Civil War, the occupied monastic buildings were besieged and captured by Parliamentarian forces under Sir Thomas Myddelton.

Nearby to Abbey Cwm Hir – Owain Glyndŵr's Way

Owain Glyndŵr was arguably one of the greatest Welshmen of all time if not the greatest. The name of Owain Glyndŵr has, over the years, become a symbol of pride and freedom not only in history but also in modern times. He pursued his dream of Wales becoming an independent nation, governing itself with its own church, parliament and universities. None less than The Sunday Times itself, in its list of the most influential world figures of the last millennium in all fields, chose to rank Glyndŵr seventh.

Owain Glyndŵr is regarded with the highest respect by the nationalist movement in Wales but in modern times he is now a figure of mass culture in Wales, with statues, monuments, pubs and street names commemorating him. Owain Glyndwr's Day, 16th September, commemorates the last native Welsh person to hold the title Prince of Wales

Owain Glyndŵr's Way became a "National Trail" in 2000 to mark the beginning of 3rd Millennium and the 600th anniversary of his ill-fated but nevertheless long-running rebellion in 1400. The footpath is approximately 135 miles long and officially begins in Knighton (Tref y Clawdd) on the Welsh/English border. and finishing in Welshpool (Y Trallwng). Its path is one similar to a horseshoe shape and passes through rolling farmland, open moorland, forest, lakes and reserviors. The National Trail passes small market towns such as Llandiloes, Abbeycwmhir, Machynlleth, Llanbrynmair and Llangadfan as well as the rivers Dyfi and Vyrnwy.

Nearby to Abbey Cwm Hir – Abbey Cwm Hir Hall

The Abbey ruins are overlooked by a Victorian Gothic mansion named the Hall at Abbey-Cwm-Hir. It is a Grade 11* listed building built in 1834 by Thomas Wilson and is one of Wales’ finest example of Victorian Gothic Revival Built properties. The Hall was doubled in size by the Philips family in 1869, who then added the snooker room in 1894.The architects were Poundley and Walker of Liverpool. The Hall was bought in 1997 and renovated over the following 9 years. There are also 12 acres of landscaped Victorian grounds and gardens which have also been restored. They include a lake, a waterfall, lawns, terraces, courtyards and walled and formal gardens together with woodland walks. The Hall is to the right of the image with the Cistercian Abbey ruins to the foreground.

The Hall at Abbey Cwm Hir

About FelinFach

Our company, FelinFach Natural Textiles is located in the heart of the Preseli area of Pembrokeshire near to Boncath. We design Welsh blankets and the iconic Welsh Tapestry blankets which are traditionally woven at Welsh mills. We also design and make natural hand dyed yarn, cotton, silk and wool scarves and other handmade products. We are a proud supporter of the Campaign for Wool and Global Welsh.

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Last Updated 20th September 2020

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