Llantrithyd Place

Posted: July 31, 2013 in Historic Buildings

Llantrithyd Place PIC

Today Llantrithyd Place lies derelict and ruined in fields between Cardiff and Cowbridge, but the house was once owned by Wales’s most powerful ruling class: the gentry.
Llantrithyd Place is associated with three gentry families: the Bassetts, the Mansels and the Aubreys. The house was built in 1546 by John ap Thomas Bassett, probably on the site of an older building. He was a member of the family who owned the nearby castle of Beaupre.
The Bassetts were of English origin, but the family had been resident in Glamorgan since the 13th century and had become thoroughly Welsh. The house he built consisted of a double-pile main block with adjoining wings, forming three sides of a courtyard which was open to the west.
Bassett had trained as a lawyer and used his wealth to buy land where he purchased extensive estates near Llantrithyd including Peterson-super-Ely, Bonvilston and Talyfan, close to Cowbridge. These purchases gave him considerable power and prestige in the locality, and laid the foundations of the future influence of Llantrithyd Place in South Wales.
Bassett entered the service of Queen Catherine Parr and was involved in the distribution of land and riches from the monasteries dissolved by Henry VIII. The profound upheavals of the Reformation and the high politics of the English Court are mixed into the mortar of Llantrithyd Place. Bassett sat in parliament on three occasions, and died while representing Glamorgan during Queen Mary’s reign in 1551, leaving money in his will for the “reparation of my house of Llantrithed”. He gave Llantrithyd to his daughter, Elizabeth, who married Anthony Mansel, a member of another prominent gentry family in Glamorgan. It was she who built part of the magnificent monument in Llantrithyd church commemorating her parents. Five of Anthony and Elizabeth’s children died young, including, crucially at this time, all three potential male heirs.
However, the couple did have two surviving daughters, Mary and ‘Cissill’. They were very tempting marriage prospects as co-heiresses of the huge Llantrithyd estates.
Mary caught the eye of another successful lawyer, Dr William Aubrey of Breconshire, who concluded a match between her and his second son, Thomas, in 1586.
Sir Thomas Aubrey (as he became) left behind some unique documents which are now housed among some miscellaneous materials (including an unidentified but centuries-old box of hair) at the National Archives in Kew. These constitute a set of paper household accounts kept by Sir Thomas during the 1620s and 1630s. They record expenditure on a wide variety of goods and services, and give us an unrivalled picture of the household dynamics at Llantrithyd in this period. These documents reveal that the house and its gardens were a major (and expensive) priority for Aubrey. This was not simply a home for Sir Thomas and his family, it also functioned as a symbol of his wealth and pre-eminence in the local community. The house and its environs were the setting in which he could demonstrate the qualities of a gentleman as husband, father, employer, landlord and local magnate.
There was remodelling and new building going on throughout the period of the accounts, including the building of a ‘ladies chamber’ which was varnished with 4 lbs of broken amber. Keeping up with the Joneses (literally in his case as there was a gentry family of that name not too far away) was not the invention of the consumer age.
Described in 1591 as a “fair domain, with parks, warrens and orchards and groves of goodly trees in abundance”, it possessed walled gardens and terracing descending to rectangular fishponds, a rarity at this time, which were linked by a canalized stream.
Sir Thomas cultivated an orchard of nectarine and cherry trees, even importing some from London. His impressive deer park remains a feature of the area with the commercial production of venison continuing in this ancient setting.
The accounts also reveal that Shakespeare’s old company of players, The King’s Men, visited Wales in 1621, with Aubrey paying them 20 shillings after a performance just down the road at St Nicholas.
Sir Thomas’s last recorded accounts are dated in 1637 and he died in November 1641. His son, John, was a passionate supporter of Charles I and a beacon of royalism in South Wales, and Llantrithyd Place became a haven for royalist refugees during the civil wars, with the future Archbishop of Canterbury Gilbert Sheldon, the Irish Archbishop James Ussher, and the principal of Jesus College, Oxford, Francis Mansell, sheltering there from the parliamentarians.
One London royalist who took refuge at Llantrithyd Place in 1652 clearly saw it as a haven from the political and social turmoil elsewhere, describing it as a “Welsh paradise for building, situation, pleasure and plenty”.
During the course of the 18th century they developed into wholly English gentlemen and were notorious absentees from their Welsh lands, which were administered on their behalf by stewards. Llantrithyd was abandoned in the early 19th century.

Llantrithyd Church  PIC
Llantrithyd Church:
A 16th century family altar tomb dominates the tiny interior. The figures on the tomb are John ap Thomas Bassett and Anthony Mansel along with their wives and children.

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