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Genealogy Places of Interest


   There had been no England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales until fairly recent history and in the 6th century B.C. there were just two islands known as Ierne (Ireland) and Albion (England, Scotland and Wales). The total population at that time was somewhere between 4 and 5 million, concentrated mainly in the south-east of modern day England. This population was made up of  tribes, each with its own king, king's followers, surfs and slaves, these tribes constantly squabbling amongst themselves over lands and "captives", especially women. They still managed however to trade with each other.

   About 325 B.C. a Greek geographer described the islands as Pretanic, a genuine Celtic word used to describe a form of speech, later to become Brittonic or the language of Britton (Britain). In Latin the islands became known as Brittania. The Celts of Ireland spoke Goidelic and of Wales it became Brythonic, from which modern Welsh is descended, including some Latin and the P-Celtic of French. The formation of modern Welsh was completed by about 700.

   The Romans invaded about 50B.C. and progressed until about 10 B.C. when they had some influence on "Wales" in the north and south but not in the middle hill country. The Romans power lasted until about 200A.D. before they withdrew from Wales and started slowly leaving these islands over a period of many years.


   This part of the islands consisted of modern day Wales plus most of Cheshire, Shropshire, Hereford and Monmouth, later known as "The Marches" between the rivers Dee and Wye. The word ‘march’ comes from the French for border.

   In 10 A.D. the population of Wales was about half a million, a savage people dressed in skins and living in tribes or kingdoms. All Europe then spoke a relatively common Celtic language.

   Wales was divided into five kingdoms known as the Deceangli (north-west), Ordovices (the mountainous central area), Demetae (south-west), Silures (south) and Cornovii (the Marches and east Wales except Monmouth). It would appear that the Derwas families were the Kings and Princes of the Cornovii tribe, later to become Powys and the West Midlands.

   During the Roman occupation the various tribes were "overseen" from capitals and fortresses situate at Deva (Chester), Moridunum (Carmarthen), Isca (Caerleon near Newport), Venta (Caerwent, between Newport and Chepstow) and Viriconium (later Wroxeter near Shrewsbury). It may be noticed that the Ordovices were free of a "capital" but they did have a small civil site at Caersws.

smap.jpg (18274 bytes) Shrewsbury was known as Amwithig by the Romans but was Pengwern to the Welsh builders, reputed to mean 'the hill of alders'. By the ninth century it was part of the kingdom of Mercia and the Anglo-Saxons had changed the name to Scrobbesbyrig, meaning 'town on the scrub-covered hill'. It was during the latter part of the Roman occupation that the European "Celtic" language started to break up into dialects with varying influences to become "national" languages, the most specific of which were German, French and Irish. The south-east of England spoke mainly in French whilst the Welsh spoke Irish, both with some corrupted Latin thrown in, so deviating from the pure language on both sides. The Celts of Ireland spoke Goidelic, whilst those of Wales spoke Brythonic which, with some Latin and P-Celtic French added became the Welsh language and was complete by about the year 700.

   The Welsh language was not evolved in its current form until very much later. Compared with English the Welsh language has more vowels and with some letters combined and pronounced differently than would be the English pronunciation. Examples of this are 'w', used in Welsh as a vowel and pronounced 'oo', 'y' has a pronunciation sounding like 'er', 'll' is coupled and sounds like 'lth', ‘dd’ sounding as ‘th’ and ‘u’ pronounced as ‘i’.

   The post-Roman history of Wales is very sketchy but it is known that Cymbeline, king of the great Brythonic tribe of the Midland plains, died about 50 B.C. and left a son Caratacus to fight the Romans. He was slowly forced back until he took refuge in the mountains of Wales but was later captured and taken to Rome. From then on the Welsh fought guerrilla type warfare from the hills.

   From 379 to 395 troops were withdrawn from the Marches (Marches comes from the French for border) to be used in the north of England. District officers, called 'praefecti', were commissioned to rule districts as petty kings and pass title to their heirs. Maximus, an officer under Theodosios the Great, was one of these in Wales, as was General Flavius Stilicho in the last years of the 4th century.

   It is thought that Powys comes from the word ‘pagenses’ meaning 'the people of the countryside'.

   Viriconium (Wroxeter) was still occupied at this time and in 1967 a stone was found there with the inscription CUNORIX MACUS MA QVI COLINE - interpreted as "The mighty King Cunorix, son of the Holly". The Latin word QVI means 'related to' rather than 'son' in its strictest sense but 'son' could be an interpretation. The word 'Holly' was thought suspect and perhaps 'Holy' was meant. The word for holly cannot be found in the Latin to which I have access and the ancient word for holy is given as 'sacer' or 'sanctus' so judgement must be reserved. The stone has been dated to the latter part of the 5th. Century and he could even be an ancestor, though Mercia’s rulers were attributed to the kings of Wessex in the late 6th. Century. According to W.O. Hassell’s Who’s Who in History, Hadrian, c76-138, famous for his wall, was responsible for the architecture of the baths and forum at Wroxeter.

   Cunorix, (also known as Cunedda and Wledig, ‘the burner’) with many sons, originated from Gododin in 'Scotland' in the 5th. Century and took over the whole of north Wales, driving out the Irish, and setting his six sons up to rule areas named after them. It is thought their names were Ceredigion, Meirionydd, Dunoding, Rhufoniog, Edeyrnion and Dogfeiling. They are the founders of most Welsh kingdoms.

    It must be stated here that pronunciation of Cunedda in Welsh is ‘Kinetha’ which it is thought the Saxons took as ‘King Arthur’.


   Many locations have been written as the location of Pengwern, which if broken down into the two Welsh words of 'pen' and 'gwern' means 'head of swamp' but others claim means 'hall of the Welsh'. These locations include Wroxeter, Shrewsbury, somewhere between the two, at Bury Walls to the south of Shrewsbury and at Berth which was a fortified hillock linked by causeways across the marshes near Baschurch where Cynddylan is buried and has also been described as a 'white town near the Alder Woods'. Shrewsbury as such was not in existence in the 7th century when Pengwern is reported to have been destroyed in 642 A.D. the location at the old St. Chad's, the highest point in 'Shrewsbury' sounds correct.

   Shrewsbury is situated in a loop of the River Severn and is currently the major divide between Wales and England. The Severn once belonged to the Welsh and has been known previously as Hafron, Habron, Sabrina (Roman?) and Seefron (Saxon?) before becoming the Severn. It was given the name Habron after the daughter of Locrinus (son of Brutus) and his lover Estrildis, a German woman of great beauty, who was thrown in the river to drown when his wife found out. 

   In 550 to 600 the Anglo Saxons and Jutes had taken over the whole of Eastern Britain from the Isle of Wight to the eastern tip of Scotland so influencing the English and turning them into Anglo Saxons and later split from the Welsh by Offa's Dyke, the Welsh having lost most of Cheshire, Shropshire and Hereford. The Saxon kings referred to the Welsh as "weallas". By this time the Welsh were calling what was left of the Britons 'cymry' or 'fellow countrymen' but soon there were no true Britons left and the Welsh began calling themselves Cymry. So the Welsh 'Cymry' and the English 'Weallas' or Wales was born.

   Welshmen generally were known by a single name which, if popularly used, would often be followed by his trade, description, etc., such as 'tall', 'red haired', 'the carpenter', etc. More usually his ancestors, using the intermediary ‘ap’ meaning ‘of’, would identify him.  Thus we could have Thomas ap Jones ap Brown ap etc., which would positively identify a specific person and is very important when reading a family tree and cross referring to text.


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Having come across a copy of an ancient map of Wales for the 12th and 13th centuries the locations of Penrhos, Penrhyn and Pengwern are found endorsed on same was situate about where Machynlleth is now in the middle of Cardigan Bay. Penrhyn on the other hand was situated at the north-west end of the Menai Strait and was on the present sight of Bangor. The distance between Penrhos and Penrhyn was 46 miles direct, so would be 3 or more day’s journey in those days, being through the heart of Gwynedd and with Snowdon between. 

The journey would have included fording 10 rivers and numerous streams. This moves the family from Mid Wales to Gwynedd by the 13 to 14th centuries.

     It is thought they both got their names from the Roman fort of Pennal, situated only two miles from Penrhos. Penrhyn in Welsh means promontory or headland.

   Cyndrwyn, a chieftain at Pengwern, and his son Cynddylan were present at the defeat of Oswald at Maserfeld, later Oswaldes-treow (Oswalds Tree or Oswestry). He was also grandfather of St. Aelhaian the Patron Saint of Guilsfield Parish Church, when the court at Pengwern and the city of Uriconium was overthrown by the West Saxon levies under Caewlin (see poems of Llywarch Hen) in the latter part of the 6th century. The West Saxons later marched on Chester but had hardly crossed the Cheshire border when they were met by a powerful combination of the Cymry led by Selyf the young son of Cynan Garwyn. In 584 A.D. this battle was won by the Cymry who then continued to rule from Pengwern. In 613 A.D. Selyf (sometimes recorded as Solomon) was defeated and slain at Chester by Aethelfrith but Powys Kings remained at Pengwern for another 150 years. This further 150 years at Pengwern has now been disproved, as it is known that it was destroyed in the year 642 (see later).

   In the time of his great-great-great-grandson Gwylioc, they lost their capital 'fair Pengwern' to Offa, King of Mercia and Gwylioc was killed at the battle of Cyveiliog (Buttington ?) in 844. 

   After the building of Offa's Dyke about 781 A.D., the Princes of Powys removed their court to the Vale of Meifod and took up residence at Mathrafel, probably in the old fort and later building a castle there or adjacent. The site is very old and said to be of Roman origin, some Roman remains having been found in the region. The castle occupied over two acres and was a noble fortress with a tribute of 'four tons of honey' being paid yearly to the reigning Prince of Aberffraw or Gwynedd. The first occupant is said to have been Mervyn ap Rhodri Mawr, but some sources say Eliseg, who had a special crown and chain of twisted gold links, and armlets and anklets of gold, the badges of Sovereignty of Powysland. The medieval period was a happy and prosperous one at Mathrafel on the banks of the Vernwy. It was used until the 12th century when Gwenwynwyn moved to Powys Castle.

   The Rev RD Thomas says in his History of St. Asaph, page 774, "From very early times Meifod has been a place of great importance, ecclesiastically as well as civil, owing chiefly no doubt to its having been at first 'Mai-fod', the 'Summer Residence', and after the abandonment of Pengwern the permanent abode of the Kings of Powys, whose castle stood at Mathrafel and whose favorite burial place was the church at St. Tysilio. This Tysilio was a son of Brochwel Ysgythrog a King of Powys in the early 7th century. St. Tysilio was the 3rd Bishop of St. Asaph and founded churches at Llantysilio and a second church at Meifod.

   The map giving the locations of Penrhos and Penrhyn, above, shows Pengwern to be located on the south bank of the river Dyfrdwy (Dee) which would place it some 25 miles north-west of Amwythig (Shrewsbury) and was situated where Llangollen is currently placed. This of course goes against the previous belief of Pengwern being on the Shrewsbury site, but there may have had a form of headquarters on the ‘headland’ at Shrewsbury also named Pengwern, after the family home, which was the subject of the ‘loss’ and the poems written.

   Many other locations have been suggested for Pengwern, the case for Shrewsbury being given by Geraldus Cambrensis who wrote ‘there were three royal castles in Wales: Dinevor in South Wales, Aberfraw in Anglesey and Pengwern in Powys, now known as Shrewsbury’. He later says ‘the place where Shrewsbury Castle now stands was once called Pengwern’. Common sense dictates that it is unlikely that Pengwern would be built in the neck of a loop of the Severn with a wide river with no escape at their back.

   Rhos Pengwern and Pengwern Hall are both found at Llangollen but could be too far north-west for a headquarters site close to eastern borders constantly fighting. Other sights considered include Trewern, (just south of Breidden), the Berth near Baschurch (allegedly scene of Cynddylan’s death) where a pre-Roman cauldron was found, Nescliff Hill ‘the craggy land’ mentioned where Cynddylan was killed is also a possibility. Melville Richards proposed that the Wrekin was Pengwern but has been discounted because it lies too far east of the Tern. An Oswestry Pengwern has also been discounted. Other sites include Wrockwardine, Yeavering, Wroxeter and Atcham.

   My own location would be at Market Drayton at the top of the sharp hill just above the source of the ‘Tren’ or Tern with the township of Tren situate on the other side of the valley around Fouralls. This has the advantage that the Trent also rises within half a mile and runs north east; at this time opposition came from the east not the north. 


   Identified as the Tern River in north-east Shropshire it rises just south of Market Drayton in a big southerly loop to join the Severn at Atcham just east of Shrewsbury. There is a small township on the river called Tern. The river was always presumed to be the eastern boundary of  Powys as it was always mentioned in poems, etc. marking its importance.