The Villages Of St Lythans And Dyffryn


The villages of St Lythans and Dyffryn in the parish of St Bleiddian (Lythan) nestle into the hills and valley following the sources and meandering course of the river Weycock. The area has been inhabited for thousands of years and here in Dyffryn / St Lythans, we are surrounded by pre history and history.

We know that people living here 6000 years ago built two burial chambers dated to 4000BCE. These are just a 10 minute walk away from the church of St Lythans, and the Tinkinswood burial chamber has the largest capstone in Britain weighing 40 tons. It would have needed around 200 people to put it in place, suggesting that the local community must have been flourishing and equal to organising such a mammoth task. There are many legends about the burial chambers, including stones going down to the river to bathe, and dog kennels, but recent excavations found pottery, flint and bones, suggesting burial, possibly of cremated remains. These Neolithic people were early farmers, who seem to have migrated from the Middle East, replacing previous populations, (according to recent DNA analysis of their remains) and bringing farming ideas, and their cromlech tombs. Interestingly the St Lythans burial chamber has a man made hole in the back wall and amazingly the sunset shines through this at the equinox.

The Romans settled nearby, with a villa excavated a few years ago when Five mile lane was straightened, where decapitated bodies were discovered. There are also the remains of a Roman building at Cold Knap on the coast to the west of Barry, which is from where a ferry to Somerset would set sail, perhaps a lodging house for weary travellers.

After the Romans left, the country split into small kingdoms and the local king of Gwent was Arthwrys Ap Meurig who reigned in Caerleon in the 600s AD, making him a possible contender as the origin of the legend of King Arthur. According to local history, his son Ithil ap Arthwrys fell from his horse here, and was injured. He was saved from peril, recovered, and in gratitude his father donated the land to the Bishop Oedaceous ( or Euddogwy) of Llandaff, (evidenced by the 7th century Book of Llandaff), who then built a church here. The church of St Lythans is one of the few churches in the vale to exist before the Norman conquest.

Other local links to the Bishop of Llandaff are the remains of a moated Manor House in Doghill, derived from the name de Horguill who were tenant farmers. Dyffryn which belonged to the Bishop, and the site of Dyffryn house which was also in his possession and were known then as the manor of Worleton.

St Lythan, to whom the church was dedicated, was St Bleiddian, also known as Lupus, a bishop of Gaul. He came to Britain to put down widespread heresy in 429AD. He spent much time in South Wales, becoming well loved by the Welsh who

gave him the name of Bleddian or Bleiddian meaning ‘Little Wolf’.

Archaeologists believe that the location of the church was originally a site of pagan worship, as were many early Christian sites, because the churchyard, unusually, is round. The church site, as a place of worship, is one of the few that can be documented as an early Christian foundation in the Diocese.

The current structure dates from the late 12th century, built in the Early English form of architecture. The chancel arch, corbels and south wall windows are original, as is the holy water stoop. The Norman font decorated with a chevron design was probably big enough for total immersion of babies. (Imagine the screams). The other surviving item of note is the Button chapel. This was built as a mourning chapel for the Button family. The connecting wall is supported by an enormous pillar, and 2 arches. The R and B carved on the spandrels of the Tudor doorway relate to Roger Button, who was under sheriff in 1565 and probably the father of Thomas Button (see later). There is an unusual medieval bread oven in the tower for baking communion wafers, and an exterior chimney.

The roof and porch, and east and north wall windows were restored by the Victorians in an extensive project in 1861.

The Button family, who built the side chapel, rose to prominence in Tudor times and were an important naval family. This can be seen celebrated by later inhabitants of Dyffryn house in the stained glass window in the large reception room. They built the first house on the site of the current Dyffryn House, and occupied the house for several generations from the 16th to the 18th century.

Sir Thomas Button, their most famous member, went to sea about 1589. In 1612-13 he commanded an expedition dispatched to inquire into the fate of Henry Hudson after his crew mutinied, and to search for a north-west passage to Asia. He sailed in 2 ships, the Discovery and the Resolution. Button explored a great part of Hudson Bay, but they wintered at Port Nelson and lost many men (including one of his officers called Nelson) to pack ice, which crushed one of his ships, and never found the passage. Despite this, he was knighted on his return in 1613 by James I. He was a rear admiral in the campaign of 1620–21 against the pirates of the Algerian coast, but his independent mind and outspoken criticism of the Navy Board, led to a reputation for insubordination and a series of legal disputes with the Admiralty. These legal disputes, in addition to his previous debts, impoverished him and remained unresolved at his death.

After the Buttons, in the 18th century, the big house passed into the hands of Thomas Pryce, a coal owner and from there in the 19th century to John Cory, a ship-owner, who was shipping coal to all parts of the Empire, and was extremely wealthy. He

rebuilt the house, and his son Reginald sent plant finders out to bring home rare plant species for his arboretum. During this time the church renovation was undertaken.

Recently during the digging of French drains around the church the ancient remains of a woman and child were found close to the church wall. These were not carbon dated, but are thought to be a clandestine burial, to be close to holy ground but without a payment, as was not unusual. The remains were re buried and are remembered with a stone.

Many local old friends and families are buried in the church yard and remembered with affection and flowers.

The church given its age, is in need of constant upkeep to withstand the elements, and to allow it to stand into another millennium. Recently the church has become a focus for the community with musical and family events. Everyone is welcome and a small donation is always helpful