Gower - Encyclopedia

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GOWER, a seigniory and district in the county of Glamorgan, lying between the rivers Tawe and Loughor and between Breconshire and the sea, its length from the Breconshire border to Worm's Head being 28 m., and its breadth about 8 m. It corresponds to the ancient commote of Gower (in Welsh Gwyr) which in early Welsh times was grouped with two other commotes stretching westwards to the Towy and so formed part of the principality of Ystrad Tywi. Its early association with the country to the west instead of with Glamorgan is perpetuated by its continued inclusion in the diocese of St Davids, its two rural deaneries, West and East Gower, being in the archdeaconry of Carmarthen. What is meant by Gower in modern popular usage, however, is only the peninsular part or "English Gower" (that is the Welsh Bro-wyr, as distinct from Gwyr proper), roughly corresponding to the hundred of Swansea and lying mainly to the south of a line drawn from Swansea to Loughor.

The numerous limestone caves of the coast are noted for their immense deposits of animal remains, but their traces of man are far scantier, those found in Bacon Hole and in Paviland cave being the most important. In the Roman period the river Tawe, or the great morass between it and the Neath, probably formed the boundary between the Silures and the Goidelic population to the west. The latter, reinforced perhaps from Ireland, continued to be the dominant race in Gower till their conquest or partial expulsion in the 4th century by the sons of Cunedda who introduced a Brythonic element into the district. Centuries later Scandinavian rovers raided the coasts, leaving traces of their more or less temporary occupation in such place-names as Burry Holms, Worms Head and Swansea, and probably also in some cliff earthworks. About the year I roo the conquest of Gower was undertaken by Henry de Newburgh, first earl of Warwick, with the assistance of Maurice de Londres and others. His followers, who were mostly Englishmen from the marches and Somersetshire with perhaps a sprinkling of Flemings, settled for the most part on the southern side of the peninsula, leaving the Welsh inhabitants of the northern half of Gower practically undisturbed. These invaders were probably reinforced a little later by a small detachment of the larger colony of Flemings which settled in south Pembrokeshire. Moated mounds, which in some cases developed into castles, were built for the protection of the various manors into which the district was parcelled out, the castles of Swansea and Loughor being ascribed to the earl of Warwick and that of Oystermouth to Maurice de Londres. These were repeatedly attacked and burnt by the Welsh during the 12th and 13th centuries, notably by Griffith ap Rhys in 1113, by his son the Lord Rhys in 1189, by his grandsons acting in concert with Llewelyn the Great in 1215, and by the last Prince Llewelyn in 1257. With the Norman conquest the feudal system was introduced, and the manors were held in capite of the lord by the tenure of castle-guard of the castle of Swansea, the ca put baroniae. About 1189 the lordship passed from the Warwick family to the crown and was granted in 1203 by King John to William de Braose, in whose family it remained for over 120 years except for three short intervals when it was held for a second time by King John (1211-1215), by Llewelyn the Great (1216-1223), and the Despensers (c. 1323-1326). In 1208 the Welsh and English inhabitants who had frequent cause to complain of their treatment, received each a charter, in similar terms, from King John, who also visited the town of Swansea in 1210 and in 1215 granted its merchants liberal privileges. In 1283 a number of de Braose's tenants - unquestionably Welshmen - left Gower for the royal lordship of Carmarthen, declaring that they would live under the king rather than under a lord marcher. In the following year the king visited de Braose at Oystermouth Castle, which seems to have been made the lord's chief residence, after the destruction of Swansea Castle by Llewelyn. Later on the king's officers of the newly organized county of Carmarthen repeatedly claimed jurisdiction over Gower, thereby endeavouring to reduce its status from that of a lordship marcher with semi-regal jurisdiction, into that of an ordinary constituent of the new county. De Braose resisted the claim and organized the English part of his lordship on the lines of a county palatine, with its own comitatus and chancery held in Swansea Castle, the sheriff and chancellor being appointed by himself. The inhabitants, who had no right of appeal to the crown against their lord or the decisions of his court, petitioned the king, who in 1305 appointed a special commission to enquire into their alleged grievances, but in the following year the de Braose of the time, probably in alarm, conceded liberal privileges both to the burgesses of Swansea and to the English and Welsh inhabitants of his "county" of English Gower. He was the last lord seignior to live within the seigniory, which passed from him to his son-in-law John de Mowbray. Other troubles befell the de Braose barons and their successors in title, for their right to the lordship was contested by the Beauchamps, representatives of the earlier earls of Warwick, in prolonged litigation carried on intermittently from 1278 to 1396, the Beauchamps being actually in possession from 1354, when a decision was given in their favour, till its reversal in 1396. It then reverted to the Mowbrays and was held by them until the 4th duke of Norfolk exchanged it in 1489, for lands in England, with William Herbert, earl of Pembroke. The latter's granddaughter brought it to her husband Charles Somerset, who in 1506 was granted her father's subtitle of Baron Herbert of Chepstow, Raglan and Gower, and from him the lordship has descended to the present lord, the duke of Beaufort.

Gower was made subject to the ordinary law of England by its inclusion in 1535 in the county of Glamorgan as then reorganized; its chancery, which from about the beginning of the 14th century had been located at Oystermouth Castle, came to an end, but though the Welsh acts of 1535 and 1542 purported to abolish the rights and privileges of the lords marchers as conquerors, yet some of these, possibly from being regarded as private rights, have survived into modern times. For instance, the seignior maintained a franchise gaol in Swansea Castle till 1858, when it was abolished by act of parliament, the appointment of coroner for Gower is still vested in him, all writs are executed by the lord's officers instead of by the officers of the sheriff for the county, and the lord's rights to the foreshore, treasure trove, felon's goods and wrecks are undiminished.

The characteristically English part of Gower lies to the south and south-west of its central ridge of Cefn y Bryn. It was this part that was declared by Professor Freeman to be "more Teutonic than Kent itself." The seaside fringe lying between this area and the town of Swansea, as well as the extreme north-west of the peninsula, also became anglicized at a comparatively early date, though the place-names and the names of the inhabitants are still mainly Welsh. The present line of demarcation between the two languages is one drawn from Swansea in a W.N.W. direction to Llanrhidian on the north coast. It has remained practically the same for several centuries, and is likely to continue so, as it very nearly coincides with the southern outcrop of the coal measures, the industrial population to the north being Welsh-speaking, the agriculturists to the south being English. In 1901 the Gower rural district (which includes the Welsh-speaking industrial parish of Llanrhidian, with about three-sevenths of the total population) had 64.5% of the population above three years of age that spoke English only, 5.2% that spoke Welsh only, the remainder being bilinguals, as compared with 17% speaking English only, 17.7 speaking Welsh only and the rest bilinguals in the Swansea rural district, and 7% speaking English only, 55.2 speaking Welsh only and the rest bilinguals in the Pontardawe rural district, the last two districts constituting Welsh Gower.

More than one-fourth of the whole area of Gower is unenclosed common land, of which in English Gower fully one-half is apparently capable of cultivation. Besides the demesne manors of the lord seignior, six in number, there are some twelve mesne manors and fees belonging to the Penrice estate, and nearly twenty more belonging to various other owners. The tenure is customary freehold, though in some cases described as copyhold, and in the ecclesiastical manor of Bishopston, descent is by borough English. The holdings are on the whole probably smaller in size than in any other area of corresponding extent in Wales, and agriculture is still in a backward state.

In the Arthurian romances Gower appears in the form of Goire as the island home of the dead, a view which probably sprang up among the Celts of Cornwall, to whom the peninsula would appear as an island. It is also surmised by Sir John Rhys that Malory's Brandegore (i.e. Bran of Gower) represents the Celtic god of the other world (Rhys, Arthurian Legend, 160, 329 et seq.). On Cefn Bryn, almost in the centre of the peninsula, is a cromlech with a large capstone known as Arthur's Stone. The unusually large number of cairns on this hill, given as eighty by Sir Gardner Wilkinson, suggests that this part of Gower was a favourite burial-place in early British times.

See Rev. J. D. Davies, A History of West Gower (4 vols., 18 771894); Col. W. LI-Morgan, An Antiquarian Survey of East Gower (1899); an article (probably by Professor Freeman) entitled "Anglia Trans-Walliana" in the Saturday Review for May 20, 1876; "The Signory of Gower" by G. T. Clark in Archaeologia Cambrensis for 1893-1894; The Surveys of Gower and Kilvey, ed. by Baker and Grant-Francis (1861-1870). (D. LL. T.)

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