Llancaiach Fawr Manor is a Tudor manor house near the village of Nelson, located just to the north of the site of the former Llancaiach Colliery in the heart of the Rhymney Valley in South Wales. Llancaiach Fawr Manor was at one time thought to have predated the Acts of Union between Wales and England of 1536 and was talked about in John Leland’s Itinerary of 1537. The manor house is thought to have been built in about 1530 for one Dafydd ap Richard, (Prichard being a modernised form of the patronymic "ap Richard"). However, dendrochronology results (from a Time Team excavation) indicate a felling date for the roof timbers of 1548-1565, later than was originally thought.
When Civil War broke out between King and Parliament in 1642, Colonel Edward Prichard of Llancaiach Fawr was appointed Commissioner of Array to the King, raising men and money for the Royalist cause in Glamorganshire. His wife, Mary, was the sister of Bussy Mansell, a zealous Parliamentarian. By the middle of 1645 support was waning and King Charles toured South Wales in an effort to rally support. He visited Llancaiach Fawr on 5 August of that year. (A silver coin with Charles's image, dated 1645, is among artefacts found by archaeologists in the grounds of the house.) Shortly afterwards, the Prichards and many other Glamorgan gentry changed sides to support Parliament. Later in the year, Colonel Prichard was appointed Governor of Cardiff Castle. In February 1646 he staunchly held the Castle for the Parliamentarians against a siege headed by Edward Carne. He was also commended “for his constancy in that affray” after the battle of St Fagans (1648), by Colonel Horton, the Parliamentary victor.
The manor house was designed to be easily defended during a turbulent period in Welsh and British history and is considered one of the finest surviving examples of a semi-fortified manor in Wales. Its first owner, Dafydd ap Richard, is known to have been lord of the manor in 1549. The original defensive design incorporated a single entrance, four-foot thick walls enclosing spiral stone staircases for access between floors and stout wooden doors with iron bolts; there may originally have been up to fourteen staircases, one for each room. When the doors were securely closed, the Manor was effectively divided in two, ensuring that the inner east wing provided a self-contained place of refuge in case of attack. By the beginning of the Stuart dynasty the Prichard family had prospered and the house was extended in 1628 by David Prichard (the father of Colonel Edward Prichard) to demonstrate their status. The Grand Staircase now allowed easy access between floors and two of the rooms used by the family were panelled in oak. Other changes to the interior included a "4-centred arch" above the staircase. Mullioned windows were also added, with leaded glazing being a 20th-century addition. A roof of Cotswold tile, also dating from the 20th century, was replaced in the course of the 2014 refurbishment with a slate roof.
It is not certain exactly when Edward Prichard was born but we believe it to have been fairly early in the 17th century, possibly about 1610. Nor do we know where he was born for it is thought that the Prichard family had more than one house, although it is most likely that his birthplace was Llancaiach Fawr. Unfortunately little is known of his early life. He really came to prominence during the Civil War period. By this time he would have already married Mary Mansel (possibly in the 1630’s), and his children probably would have been born – his two sons having “died young”. Much of this is supposition, as thus far few records for this period of his life have come to light.
What is certain is that he held the position of Sheriff of Glamorgan in 1638 and was appointed a Justice of the Peace in 1640, a post he held throughout the Civil War until his death in 1655. Edward Prichard supported the Royalist cause until the second half of 1645, when, like most of the Welsh gentry, he changed his allegiance to the Parliamentarian side. It was late in this year that he was appointed Governor of Cardiff Castle. In February of 1646 he staunchly held the Castle for the Parliamentarians against a siege headed by Edward Carne. He was also commended “for his constancy in that affray” after the battle of St Fagans (1648), by Colonel Horton, the Parliamentary victor.
It is known that Edward Prichard had also been appointed as one of the County Commissioners for the administration of the Act of Propagation (of the Gospel in Wales), and that he was therefore able to examine clergymen for “delinquency, malignancy and non-residence”. He is known to have been a Baptist, and a member of a group that met at Graig-yr-Allt, Eglwysilan. He is thought to have had Puritan sympathies. Sadly it was at the end of 1649 that his wife died. In the October before her death she wrote a letter to her brother, asking that he should make arrangements for the upbringing of their two daughters, there being no gentlewomen locally who could attend to their education. The loss of his wife and likely separation from his daughters must have been a bitter blow, for he never married again. He survived his wife by only six years.
The Prichards were proud of their heritage, boasted about their genealogy, and pointed to their descent from Ifor Bach. Ifor Bach, described by Gerald of Wales as ‘a man of short stature but good courage’ was one of the common ancestors shared by the Prichards and the Lewises of the Van (and later St. Fagans).
At some point possibly after an incident involving the murder of a kinsman of Edward Lewis apparently by a servant of Edward Prichard, the Lewis and Prichard sides of the family appear to have fallen out with each other leading to brawls – on one occasion in Gelligaer Church! There were also court cases involving Edward and his two sons and members of the Lewis and Williams of Gelligaer families. A total of eleven cases were brought before the Star Chamber, concerning Edward Prichard and his son David. These offences included: “Brawling in Gelligaer Church”, “an assault at Merthyr” and “resistance to arrest" “Assaults at Cardiff and abuse at the sessions there”; “Assault by Edmund Lewis in revenge against David Prichard for attempts to put down an unlawful market on a mountain, called Ffait-y-Waun” (Ffair-y-Waun?) “Assault and riot at Gelligaer by David Prichard, his brother Thomas and his man, Stephen Rooke”; “Attack by David Prichard, his brother Thomas and his man Stephen Rooke on the house of Edward William, yeoman, and assault at Gelligaer” “Bribery of a witness to confess perjury at a former suit”. Relationships between these families is proof that blood ties are no guarantee of friendship.
This last Edward married Mary Mansell of Briton Ferry. He held the post of Sheriff in 1638 and in 1640 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace and continued in this post throughout the Civil War period until his death in 1655. Having supported the King until mid.1645, like many Welsh gentry he changed his allegiance to the Parliamentarian side, and his Puritan sympathies led to his appointment as Governor of Cardiff Castle late that same year. In February 1646 he held the castle successfully against a siege by local malcontents headed by Edward Carne, until relieving forces arrived. Subsequently Colonel Horton, the Parliamentary victor at the battle of St. Fagans in 1648, commended him for his constancy in that affray. Edward Prichard was also one of the County Commissioners for administering the Propagation Act, and a member of the group of Baptists based at Graig-yr-Allt. He seems to have been rather more law-abiding than his father and grandfather!
Sadly, Edward and his wife lost their two sons Lewis and Thomas, they are said to have “died young”. It was their two daughters Jane and Mary who therefore inherited the Prichard estates and so on their marriage, all was lost to the Prichard name. However, the Prichard family have never been forgotten, mainly thanks to this last son and his exploits during the Civil War, and the fine Manor house they left behind. Long live the memory of Edward “Colonel” Prichard and his disorderly forebears!
Servants outnumbered the family they worked for and many of them lived in the manor. At the time of Colonel Prichard’s ownership, it was likely that 15 servants lived in, with another 15 employed as outworkers. Higher status positions, such as the housekeeper, agent and valet, would often be passed down from generation to generation within the same family. The lesser roles, such as the outworkers, would be filled from those who offered their skills and labour at the hiring fair (held on Lady Day each year). These workers would be hired and paid on a quarterly basis. The most important servant would have been the Steward. He would’ve been educated and fluent in Welsh and English with a strong knowledge of the law and good insight into the local tenantry. Many of the servants were young and unmarried and all would have had several skills for different types of work.
When the house passed out of the hands of the Prichard family, it was used as a farmhouse; the Tithe Map of 1842 and the OS map of 1875 show that there was an orchard at the rear. The house was purchased by the former Rhymney Valley District Council in 1979, and was restored during the 1980s with a view to being opened to the public as a local history museum. After modern conveniences had been added, it was decided to convert it into a living history museum, and it opened as such in the early 1990s. Since the house opened to the public, first-person conversation has been used by the costumed interpreters in the house, who take on the role of the house servants. Consequently, they communicate with visitors entirely in period English (claiming that the Master of the House disapproves of the use of Welsh, a not uncommon attitude at the time), and feign unfamiliarity with post-1645 history and technological developments.
Visitors today see the house furnished as it would have been in 1645. All the furnishings in the rooms are accurate reproductions of items from the time of the Prichards and many of the originals can be found in the St Fagans National History Museum, such as a cast-iron firescreen dating from the mid 17th century. The thematic setting for the museum is the year 1645, at the height of the English Civil War when King Charles I visited the house to persuade its owner, Colonel Edward Prichard, not to change his allegiance. Prichard did change his allegiance soon after, and this allows the house to represent the different sides of the conflict at different times in the year. PLEASE NOTE: Admission to the Visitor Centre shop, café/ restaurant, exhibition and gardens is free but for some Special Events in the Barn, Education Centre, Courtyard or on the Meadow a small fee may be payable to cover materials or extra activities.
Llancaiach Fawr comprises the Manor House, Visitor Centre, Education Block for school groups, formal and informal gardens. Events are often held on the Meadow- level mown grass and sometimes on Cae Hir- a pasture. The Visitor Centre includes a coffee lounge, conservatory restaurant, gift shop and exhibition about the history of the Manor and its inhabitants. In the Visitor Centre there are two a unisex wheelchair accessible toilets; one adjacent to the reception area (left hand transfer) and one adjacent to the conservatory restaurant and function room (right hand transfer). In the Education Block there is a left hand transfer wheelchair accessible toilet in the mens toilet and a right hand transfer wheelchair accessible toilet in the ladies toilets. There is one ambulant accessible cubicle in all the toilets. There are 6 designated disabled parking bays approximately 20 meters from the entrance to the reception area. There is a setting down point outside of the visitor centre entrance and there is a small angled curb from the roadway up onto the pavement, which then leads into the visitor centre. There are 3 designated disabled parking bays in the lower car park nearer to the conservatory restaurant and function room. The car parks are block paved or tarmacked. The lower car park is on a gentle incline.
There are smooth stone floors or non-slip vinyl flooring throughout the Visitor Centre and Education Block. The Courtyard is block paved and level. The gardens and approach to the Manor consist of flagstones and hoggin pathways; the house is situated approximately 30 meters from the visitor centre along a flagstone pathway. A rammed hoggin and stone dust roadway leads to the rear gardens and the flagstone ramp ( 1:15 and 1:12 for a short distance) to the staircase tower entrance for wheelchair users. The main entrance has automatically opening doors. The door from the exhibition to the Manor and gardens and the door from the shop to the gardens have accessible openers. There is a wheelchair accessible platform lift in the Visitor Centre down to the function room and bar from the level of the conservatory, toilets and rear lobby.
A new staircase tower has been constructed at the rear of the manor to provide a platform lift to the first and second floors and level stepped staircase to the upper floors. However, it has not been possible, due to the design and layout of the Tudor building, to provide wheelchair access to the attics which are shown as the servants quarters. Surfaces: The floors are a mixture of flagstone floors downstairs which are uneven and oak floors upstairs. The age of the building means that some of the wooden floors are not flat and care is required throughout the building. The step height can differ on the historic staircases. The step heights are not always even within the same staircase. Iron handrails have been fitted to the stone staircases, especially for accessing the attics which have very narrow and steep stairs and may not be suitable for visitors with mobility difficulties. Some of the historic doorways are considerably lower than modern doors and care must be taken.
Although the majority of the manor (excluding the attics) is accessible for wheelchair users please be aware that the Great Hall and the Parlour, which are situated on the first floor, are not wheelchair accessible as there are steps and level changes between the rooms. These steps and level changes have been evened up to enable ambulant visitors with mobility impairment to access the rooms on the first floor. Handrails and additional level steps have been installed to largely overcome the uneven step height. For those unable to visit the Great Hall and the Parlour a virtual tour is available in the visitor centre on a screen. Lighting levels in the Manor: the light levels in the manor have been designed to recreate the quality and levels appropriate for a 17th century interior. There are horn lanterns and candle light throughout the manor. The servants quarters have low lighting and care must be taken on the staircases and floors. If you experience difficulties with the light levels please advise the servants of the manor who will increase the light levels for you. They have a portable hearing loop for use by the public which is carried in a satchel so that the historic interpreters who portray the servants are aware that you may need them to stand closer to you to maximise the benefit of the loop system. Assistance dogs are welcome. The furniture in the manor is for using. There is seating in every room. Please feel free to sit and take your time to enjoy the manor.
Location : Llancaiach Fawr Manor, Nelson, Treharris CF46 6ER
Transport : Ystrad Mynach or Caerphilly (National Rail) then bus (C16). Bus Routes : X34 from Cardiff and C16 stop outside.
Opening Times :Tuesday to Sunday + bank holidays 10:00 to 17.00
Tickets : Adults £8.50; Seniors/Children (5 - 15) £6.95
Tel. : 01443 412248