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The village of Llangynog (named after the Celtic Saint Cynog) stands where the Rivers Eirth and Tanat meet, near the head of the Tanat Valley. A quiet place with a population of under 300, it was once a thriving centre for mining and quarrying and home to over 2000 people.
A hundred years ago it was important enough to have its own railway. There were four pubs, five or six shops and three chapels, and like most villages Llangynog had many tradesmen who made it largely self-sufficient.
Today quarrying has ceased and the shops have gone but the village still offers a church, two functioning chapels and two inns as well as a fine Memorial Hall. In a beautiful setting in the heart of the Berwyn it retains much of its distinctive atmosphere and character as well as evidence of its long history.
Welsh was the first language of most Llangynog residents until well into the 20th Century, and it is still widely spoken among local people. With the influx of English speakers there has been some decline, though some have made impressive progress as learners.
Ysgol Pennant and Llanfyllin High School provide a bilingual education and the primary pupils in particular have enjoyed great success at eisteddfod events. Welsh language services are maintained at the chapels, Llangynog residents sing with the well known Penybontfawr Male Voice Choir and frequent cultural events are held at the Memorial Hall.
Llangynog lies in the shadow of Craig Rhiwarth (height 532m.), known locally as Craig y Llan – the Village Rock. On its summit is an iron age hillfort, one of the highest in Wales, defended to the north by a long stone rampart and occupying an area of 24 ha. It contains the remains of many circular stone structures thought to be late prehistoric houses.
Settlement may have begun in the late bronze age in association with copper mining: a bronze axe was found near the village in the 19th century. The hilltop is best approached from Cwm Orog, half a mile up the Bala Road.
Llangynog is likely to have its origin in the time of St Cynog, who was born around 434. He was the son of Brychan, king of what is now Breconshire, and one of a family of Celtic saints who undertook missionary journeys and founded churches across Mid and North Wales during the Fifth Century. He or one of his followers may well have founded the church here: the shape of its churchyard, more or less round, is generally taken as a sign of antiquity. Today the church stands at the heart of the village which grew up around it.
The first written mention of Llangynog church is in the Norwich Taxation of 1254. The original church was almost certainly a wooden building, later rebuilt in stone. Little is known of it before 1791-92, when it was rebuilt in Georgian style with round-headed doorways and windows with wooden frames. These details must have offended the Victorians and a further rebuilding took place a century later. The architect chosen was W H Spaull of Oswestry. His are the windows with their simple geometrical tracery, the south porch, the vestry and the little bellcote.
Externally the design is timeless and pleasing: internally the impression is of a simple village church, though one might wish Spaull had been less thorough. The arch-braced roof, the pews and the colourful tiles in the chancel date from the restoration: the chancel woodwork was given in 1941 in memory of Captain Arthur Lloyd whose family owned the slate quarries on Craig Rhiwarth. The churchyard contains many interesting gravestones made from local slate.
A more detailed guide is available in the church.
Three miles from Llangynog, in a beautiful setting near the head of Cwm Pennant, stands the historic pilgrimage church of St Melangell with its celebrated medieval shrine.
More information can be found on www.stmelangell.org.
Penuel Chapel, just up the Pennant Road, belongs to the Calvinistic Methodists (Presbyterian Church of Wales): it was built in 1868 and altered in 1912.
The chapel makes an attractive group with the former minister’s house, Bronhefin, and has an extensive graveyard.
Carmel Chapel, next to the New Inn, was built by the Wesleyan Methodists in 1875 and designed by Richard Owens of Liverpool.
The former Ebenezer Chapel, by the bridge at the entrance to the village, was built by the Independents (Congregationalists) in 1895: it is now a private house. Its predecessor, now a cottage, stands beside the Pennant road.
The Tanat Valley Hotel, formerly the Miner’s Arms, is an older building, dating in part from the 16th Century.
The house beside the Tanat opposite the Ebenezer Chapel was formerly the Powis Castle Inn, and there used to be another, the Cross Keys, up the nearby lane.
The village also had many small shops, but none survive today.
It is likely that metal mining had been undertaken at Llangynog since prehistoric or Roman times, but the first major discovery of lead ore came in 1692.
In the early 18th century the Llangynog lead mines were among the richest in Britain. Most of the shafts were sunk on the slopes of Cyrniau, south of the village, with galleries extending under the valley floor, but there were other mines on Craig Rhiwarth and in Cwm Orog. Spoil heaps are visible on Cyrniau and in the area now used by the Revolution Bike Park: the chimney of a smelter has survived further up the lane that leads there. Lead mining ceased in 1916.
Slate quarrying was also a major industry, and was certainly under way by 1705. Llangynog slates were well known for their quality and durability. The largest quarry (in fact an underground mine) was to the north of the village on the slopes of Craig Rhiwarth, where the line of the main incline is visible from the car park among large areas of slate waste: other quarries can be seen above the village on the ridge known as Y Gribin and up the Pennant road. Slate production ceased during the Second World War.
Granite quarrying was also important during the first half of the 20th Century. Today the scars are healing, and employment locally is restricted to agriculture and small scale craft or leisure enterprises.
The Tanat Valley provides a useful east-west route which may have been used by the Romans, though the evidence is not conclusive. The present road from Llanfyllin through Llangynog and over the Berwyn to Bala was built as a turnpike under an act of 1769.
Ambitious proposals to use the valley for a major railway line serving the route to Ireland came to nothing, but the Tanat Valley Light Railway linking Llangynog to the Cambrian Railway at Porthywaen was authorised in 1899 and opened in 1904. Its station is now the site of the Glendower Caravan Park by the River Eirth, and the track once crossed the road to a siding serving the granite quarries. Passenger trains ran to Oswestry and minerals, coal and agricultural goods were carried.
The line closed in 1952 after a life of less than fifty years.
The corn mill by the River Eirth, accessible by public footpath from the Rhiwarth or Bala Road, ground corn into the 1930’s, but was also used from the 1920’s for generating electricity.
Power was low, but the service was maintained until a mains supply reached Llangynog in 1954.
Several cast iron water fountains can be seen around the village. Mains water did not arrive until the early 1960s.
The first council houses were built at Dolhendre, opposite the Memorial Hall, in 1948 and represented a new, higher standard of accommodation for many families. House building has continued, though not on a large scale: many of the older cottages have become holiday accommodation or second homes.
During the 18th and 19th centuries a number of day and Sunday schools were founded in the village, mostly short-lived. Only after the Education Act of 1870 was a universal system of free, state-sponsored education introduced.
Llangynog’s Board School was opened in 1878 and soon had over a hundred pupils: the fine stone building, with its master’s house, can be seen up Rhiwarth Road.
It is now used as workshops: primary age children were transferred to Ysgol Pennant, Penybontfawr, in 1972.
It was opened in 1937. An extension at the back, with an entrance hall and toilets, was completed in 2002 and a new games room is under construction. The hall is one of the finest in the district and well used for concerts and village functions.
Much information on the history and landscape around Llangynog and the Tanat Valley can be found at www.cpat.org.uk/projects/longer/histland/tanat/tanat.htm.
Useful books include:
Wilfred J Wren: "The Tanat Valley, its Railways and Industrial Archaeology" (David & Charles)
R.A. Williams: "The Old Mines of the Llangynog District" (Northern Mine Research Society)
Mike Lloyd: "The Tanat Valley Light Railway" (Wild Swan Publications Ltd)
J D Loyd: "Memories of Old Llangynog" published by the Author, on local sale.