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Mr. Jacob's Lily -  A single flower seen in a hedge and a lost settlement  revealed.

The Lily was a most unexpected sight in a hedge so far from the nearest garden. It was only after we carried out some research at the National Library of Wales that we found out  the Lily was the sole reminder of a lost community. 

We dated the hedges in this area using Max Hooper's Law and found them to be as much as 800 years old. CLICK HERE  to go to our 'Ancient Hedgerows' page.

(an abbreviated version of this article by Rod Attrill was published in the 
        'Country Quest' magazine, West Wales, April 1998.)

Roadside banks - especially those alongside ancient lanes are a natural haven for wild flowers. Here they grow without fear of ploughing, herbicides or other disturbance. They may be trimmed in the summer as rampant growth narrows the lane, but they often have time to set their seed ready for growth the following year. They survive in what amounts to a very narrow and very well protected meadow.

Most of the flowers are relicts of the old meadows and woodlands, but a few are more recent; relative newcomers remaining as clues to a way of life long gone, and to individuals and families long forgotten.

In West Wales a little country lane leads only to Goitre and Motygido Farms near New Quay. The lane is very old, its road surface deep set between high banks. Today the banks are topped by a well trimmed hedge of Ash, Sallow, Dog Rose and Hawthorn. The hedge borders a field - a very ordinary field of Rye grass with grazing sheep. There is nothing on the other side of the hedge to suggest that at any time things were very much different; nothing at all to mark the field as unusual. However, among the Stitchwort and Red Campions of the road side bank is an improbable splash of gold; a garden Lily tenuously hanging on in isolation among its more numerous wild neighbours.

To many it is just another wildflower, but in reality it is more - much more. For this flower is a survivor; a solitary reminder of past times, and an indicator that this lane was once a very different place.

A closer look at the plants in the bank turns up two more species that don't belong there. No more than five metres from the Lily is a large clump of red flowered Sedum, a plant that like the Lily is normally found in gardens. Close by, among the Hawthorn and Hazel are the swelling fruits of a Gooseberry.

The question begs: why should a cultivated Lily, a Sedum and some Gooseberry plants be growing in a country hedge some considerable distance from the nearest habitation? The Lily, as we later discovered, is a survivor; a reminder of a garden that no - one can remember. To find out more, we must look back into history, to a time when life was very different.


A little research reveals why these flowers are here. It tells us why the lane turns through so many corners, and how the landscape has changed in both its use and appearance. Years ago, the field above the bank contained a home and a small farm. Across the lane in another field were two more houses. Where the sheep graze today, generations of country folk once lived out their lives.

Some of the answers can be found in the National Museum of Wales, where, on the Tithe map of 1840 can clearly be seen a cottage with the name Rhyd - y -Pynau. So who lived there, and why did this home disappear? The census records give us at least a few of the answers.

The census for 1861 tells us who lived in the cottage. It was the home of David Jacob, 67 years old and born in 1794. He is listed as a labourer living with his wife Ruth, and his daughter Mary aged 42. There was another daughter Catherine 28, a grandson David, a Shoemaker's Apprentice aged 16 and five year old John - presumably another Grandson. Quite a house full.

With a little imagination we can picture the quaint little home standing in its cottage garden with fruit trees, vegetables and flowers, and with chickens scratching in the dirt.

David Jacob and his family were probably proud of their garden, and would have gained pleasure from their lilies. They had been planted along the road, and would have been the first thing seen by both visitors and passers by alike. They required little care and could be guaranteed to flower year after year. Little could he know they would still be adding a splash of colour to the roadside one hundred and fifty years later!

With thick cob walls and tiny windows, the cottage would have been dark and cramped. Like most of the homes in the area at the time, its roof would have been thatched.  A few cottages of this age still remain in Gilfachreda, 'Rose Cottage' close to the old Mill, and 'Doldeg' (on left) in the back garden of 'Ty Rhos Mair' are both of stone and cob construction with thatched roofs remaining beneath the protective covering of corrugated iron (Rose Cottage has been re-roofed in slate since this was written). Candles or oil lamps provided light. The cottage had no plumbing, nor was there a spring. Ruth and Mary Jacob would have carried their water from the nearby stream in buckets.

At one end of the building a constantly burning open fire would have given both heat and light, its smoke rising past the old iron kettle into a blackened hazel branch and lime plaster canopy before passing out through the short clay-lined chimney. Broth may have simmered in a big iron pot, maybe cawl tato - nothing more than potatoes, herbs, hot water and a little salt, although the occasional chicken, rabbit or local fish would have found its way into the pot. There would have been some iron pots and a wooden settle beside the fire. It is likely that at the back of the main room a partitioned area boarded with pine planks enclosed the head of the family's bed, while a loft above in the angle of the roof provided a sleeping area for other members of the family. Examples of this arrangement can be seen in 'Doldeg' and in the reconstruction in the Ceredigion Museum in Aberystwyth.

Lodged in the rough branches supporting the gorse and wheat thatch there may have been a single small shoe - a token for good luck at the time. The photo on the left shows a tiny shoe found in the roof at 'Doldeg' (measurement in cms). 

Ten years later in 1851, the records show us that only three of the family remained at the house, Grandfather David, continuing his labours at 77, his Daughter Catherine still unmarried and her son John, now at the age of 15 a Tailor's Apprentice.

By 1881, the records show that the Grandfather had died, and the Householder was now his daughter Catherine, living with her niece Margaret Evans aged 13. We can only speculate that John had gone elsewhere to continue his Tailoring - possibly to Aberaeron or further north to Aberystwyth.

This 2-room cottage, just a mile or two away would have been similar to that of David Jacob and his family.  'Doldeg' is in the garden at Rosemary Cottage - seen here on the right of the photo. 'Doldeg' is grade 2 listed and has walls partly of stone and partly of cob under a wheat straw and gorse thatch. The old thatch is now covered with a tin roof.

Jacob is an unusual name in the area today, with only three entries in the South West Wales telephone directory. We can only guess that had his wife given birth to sons - or at least to sons who had lived, then Jacob could well have been a more common name today

In the locality, the disappearance of small houses is nothing unusual. Just a mile to the west along the track into the valley of Cwm Gido south of Gilfachreda, a dozen or more small homes remain in the woods as nothing more than piles of tumbled stones. Research into the old records tells us who lived there, their ages, and their trades.

These bottles  - similar to pieces found around the ruined cottages in Cwm Gido  are the type of English Ale and Porter bottle used by the Pirates. 
Where there were once small fields and gardens there is now dense woodland where carpets of early Snowdrops push through the moss, and where Ferns flourish in the dampness. There is little evidence of their garden plants today, just some raspberries, a few currant bushes and the occasional Gooseberry.

The photo shows some fragments of glass, pottery and porcelain recovered from around the ruined cottages in Cwm Penrhiwgaled. At top left is the base of a free-blown ale or porter bottle similar to those above and below it the base of a tiny clear glass medicine bottle. The fragments of pottery all date from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


Recent forestry work has turned over soil to reveal fragments of long buried pottery. We have found pieces of delicate hand painted porcelain and pearl ware, clay crock and heavy jagged shards of thick black glass from Ale and Porter bottles; tantalising clues to the lifestyles of the long dead residents of this tranquil area. 

Why have the families gone? No doubt there were changes in land ownership and usage, a reduction of the labour force due to mechanisation,  rising rents,  old houses becoming dilapidated and past repair, new styles and a beckoning modern lifestyle for the new generation in the towns and cities.

Then there was the Great War; young men going away and not coming back. There was also the lure of the sea for so many young men in the New Quay area. For whatever reason, all the homes in the upper part of the valley fell into disrepair. What had been a thriving community in the early part of the nineteenth century is now no more than  a few mossy boulders and some tumbled walls. 

Most of the farms of the area remain, some almost unchanged for the last hundred years or more; the larger buildings and greater acreages continuing to provide for the resident families. Such cannot be said for the scattered smaller country cottages of the labourers, and the host of crafts people that were essential a hundred and fifty years ago. Many of their homes - like that of David Jacob, have not stood the test of time and have either become dilapidated or disappeared entirely. All that can be seen are the few surviving plants of the garden. 

Were it not for the Lily, who would be thinking about the Jacob family today? 

2003 Rod Attrill