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Some notes on the history of Coedcanlas, Pembrokeshire

Prepared by John Gossage - May 2001


During the Middle Ages Coedcanlas was a manor within the lordship of Carew.  Although there are no known surviving manorial documents, an inquisition following the death of John de Carew dated 5th July 1363 tells us that the manor was held by a John Percival as the moiety of a knight’s fee[1].  The manor passed from the Percivals to the Butlers by marriage during the Wars of the Roses.  In 1531 William Fellow, Lancaster Herald, reported in his visitation of South Wales d the March  “Elizabeth, daughter and sole heir to Percival of Pembrokeshire, was grandmother to the said John Butler the younger[2].”

The Butlers came from Dunraven in Glamorganshire, where they had been a powerful landowning family for several centuries.  Tradition has it that the first Butler had been a cup bearer to William de Londres, who played a prominent role in establishing the Anglo-Norman hegemony[3].  Certainly a William Butler witnessed a de Londres deed of c.1180-3, and there is a thirteenth century Butler effigy in the church at St. Brides  Major, Glamorganshire. 

The Butlers held about 600 acres in the Ogmore lordship, but they had also been moving westwards for some time.  An Isabella Butler is recorded as the second wife of Thomas White in the splendid double tomb to be found in St.Mary’s parish church, Tenby.  The White’s were leading members of the merchant oligarchy in the town, which Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, had chosen to fortify in preference to Pembroke itself.  Thomas was mayor six times in the second half of the fifteenth century and is reputed to have helped Jasper and his nephew Henry escape to Brittany after the crushing Lancastrian defeat at the battle of Tewkesbury (for which he was subsequently well rewarded).    Tradition also has it that Arnold Butler of Coedcanlas  actively assisted Henry fourteen years later when his small band of adventurers landed at Mill Bay in August 1485 and started the campaign that would end in victory on Bosworth Field.  There are, however, difficulties with this story.  The account on which it is based is considered unreliable.  For example it states that Rhys ap Thomas met Henry shortly after he landed, whereas it is now accepted that Rhys stayed put in Carmarthen, and left Richard III guessing about his true intentions.  It is also difficult to identify Arnold Butler in the surviving genealogical evidence.  There are, however, references to Butlers serving as yeomen warders to both Henry VII and Henry VIII.

Coedcanlas was not the only estate to be owned by the Butlers in Pembrokeshire.  They also established themselves at Johnston on the other side of the Cleddau  (in a house which much later became the seat of Lord Kensington).  It is frustrating to report those Butlers who gained most prominence during Tudor times seem to have been drawn from the Johnston line, although in true Pembrokeshire style they intermarried with their cousins at Coedcanlas and may even have resided there.[4]  The estate passed at the time of the Civil Wars of the seventeenth century into the hands of the Owens of Orielton.  The Butlers were ardent Royalists, and although no direct evidence has been found of sequestration, the records are far from complete, and Fenton’s conjecture that this was the cause of the transfer is highly plausible.[5] 

The Owens were a gentry family from Anglesea.  In 1571 Hugh Owen, second son of Owen ap Bodeon, married Elizabeth daughter and heiress of George Wyrriot.  The Wyrriots of Orielton were a long established Pembrokeshire family.  After the turn of the century the Owens  built a large and imposing mansion at Landshipping, adjacent to Coedcanlas.  Charles I bestowed a baronetcy on Hugh Owen in 1641 in the vain hope that he might enlist the support of the family in the forthcoming conflict.  In 1670 the first baronet left Coedcanlas to his second son, Arthur, who had recently acquired Johnston, albeit heavily encumbered with mortgages[6], by marrying Elizabeth, heiress of Captain John Horsey whose father had acquired it from the Butlers.  Indeed most of the will of the first baronet is given over to this bequest, indicating that the bulk of his property had already been settled on his first son, and that Coedcanlas had probably come into his possession afterwards.  This cadet branch of the family was distinguished in its own right.  Arthur Owen took the borough seat in Parliament in the Whig interest, and was probably considered by Shaftesbury to be a rather more reliable than his brother Hugh, the second baronet, who took the county seat.  Arthur survived into the next century, and had a son about whom little is known and who does not seem to have survived him. 

At some point in the eighteenth century the estate was inherited by the main Owen line.  It is probable that it was after this had occurred that the status of Coedcanlas descended from being a gentleman’s country house to being a tenanted farm.   Orielton was rebuilt on a grand scale in 1743, and from then onwards would have eclipsed Landshipping as the principal Owen residence, shifting the attention of the family away from the area around Coedcanlas.  The farm remained in Owen hands into the nineteenth century, when the family fortune was dissipated by Sir John Owen[7]  in political activities and ill advised estate management.  The land and buildings were sold in 1857.


The physical evidence

The remains of a large formal garden in the field to the south of the house, and the size of the establishment reflected in the hearth tax returns in the latter seventeenth century attest to the high status of Coedcanlas in the early modern period.  The main building was originally a first floor hall house with a vaulted undercroft, a characteristic mediaeval building in south Pembrokeshire.  Although the earliest reference to the manor dates from 1363 there is no reason to suppose that the current house dates back so far.  Probably the earliest feature is the gothic arch on the ground floor leading into the former undercroft, dated as fifteenth century by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales. 

The large chimney on the eastern wall is a later addition and probably Tudor. There was once a doorway on this wall at first floor level where it meets the north wall, possibly leading to a guardrobe. The internal stone wall on the ground floor is also a later addition since it displaces a doorway, and probably was constructed at the same time as the chimney to facilitate the removal of the east end of the stone vault which would have raised the ceiling of the room housing the fireplace, allowing the smoke that failed to be drawn up the chimney a space to accumulate above head height.  The floor level on the first floor would have been several feet higher than the current level, as can be seen by examining the former window openings, to accommodate the vault.  There is also the remains of a chimney corbelled out from the first floor on the western wall where it meets south wall of the house.  The original entrance to the first floor was probably on the south wall, above and slightly offset to the already mentioned gothic arch.  There is evidence of the root of an internal stone wall at first floor level that would have been supported by the vault of the undercroft.  It lies adjacent to the door opening, and may well have screened the private apartments from the more public area of the great hall.    The stone mullion windows are probably early seventeenth century, and those sporting a rounded Renaissance arch are particularly noteworthy.

The walls were raised and the pitch of the roof reduced in the early nineteenth century.  This, together with the removal of the remaining undercroft vault, allowed the insertion of a second floor in the building.  The roof timbers are signed and dated by the carpenter on the second truss with the inscription “John Gay  1811”  The new roof was constructed of Baltic softwood, and being an early example is somewhat over trussed.  It seems reasonable to conclude that the south façade was re-fenestrated in an approximately symmetrical fashion at the same time, and a replacement doorway constructed on the north façade taking advantage of an earlier window opening.  The ceiling in the ground floor room housing the Tudor chimney would have been lowered, and two beams inserted in front of the beam carrying the weight of the chimney, presumably to support a heavy stone fireplace in the room above.  There is evidence of an earlier fireplace at the old floor level to the left of the current first floor fireplace.

There are two internal plaster lines in the vicinity of the two corners to the north wall, which cannot have been for windows, and may indicate the existence of earlier turrets.  There is also a blocked doorway on the ground floor in the northwest corner which would be consistent with this, however in the absence of further corroborating evidence this conjecture remains speculative.


[1] Calendar of Inquisitions Post Mortem, vol.XI, No.300, p.237

[2] College of Arms MS H 8, fol.9

[3] It has been suggested that William was granted the lordship of Ogmore by Fitzhamon in 1091, but  R.R. Davies believes this to be highly conjectural   “. . . too little is known about Norman sub-enfeoffment in England, let alone in Wales, to speak with such certainty.  It is perhaps more likely that William was entrusted with the custody of a motte and bailey castle on the bank of the Ogwr, and authority to subject  the inhabitants of the area  to his control; it is even remotely conceivable that he married a local Welsh heiress, as the neighbouring Turberville of Coety is said to have done.”” Glamorgan County History, Ch VI, pp 286-7

[4] Glanmore Williams relates an interesting tale concerning the actions of Hugh Butler in  1597.  “Two Spanish ships were also driven ashore on the Pembrokeshire coast where, ironically enough, the only warlike action arose out of the rivalry of the local gentlemen, Hugh Butler and John Wogan, reminiscent in miniature of the furious competition among English commanders at Cadiz.  Wogan fired on Butler and wounded him before rifling the ship of all her goods, money and things of value.  The other ship, coming ashore near Caldy, was carrying treasure for Dunkirk and was allowed to escape unscathed  because of the disorderly behaviour of some of the locals.”  Renewal and Reformation Wales p.366

[5] “Adjoining Landshipping, and part of the same property, is a tract of very rich land gently sloping to the river called Coed Gantlais, where once stood the seat of a family of the name of Percival, whose daughter and heiress married a Butler, a branch of the family of Dunraven in Glamorganshire, who for a century and a half kept their ground in this county, ending with the great loyalist Lieutenant-colonel Butler, who to avoid the tyranny and persecution of sequesters followed the fortunes of Charles the Second, in whose service it is probable he died abroad, for I have not been able to trace him after that time.”   Richard Fenton A  historical tour through Pembrokeshire, 2nd edition, p.136

[6] Francis Jones states that the mortgages were foreclosed after 1681, depriving Arthur Owen of the Johnston estate, and thereby, one may infer, increasing the importance of Coedcanlas.  See “Owen of Orielton”  in The Pembrokeshire Historian No.5, 1974  p.21

[7] Sir John Owen was descended from Joseph Lord who had married Corbetta Owen, youngest sister of Sir Arthur Owen, 7th Baronet.  He was created the first Baronet of the second creation.