Blaenau Uchaf Farm

From 1741 to 2010, Maesyronnen Chapel held in trust a small farm nestled under the ridge of the Black Mountains. In the collection of indentures, there are several documents that refer to its original purchase, its sale to the chapel and subsequent transfer from one set of trustees to the next. The early indentures in particular give a history of ownership going back several generations before the chapel took over. They also record several name changes of the farm. Let’s begin with the original purchase on 7th May 1741……  

Mr Samuel Watkins was a made a trustee of the chapel in 1731 whilst living in Llanigon and 10 years later in 1741 he bought a farm called Gwern y Bydy ‘situate lying and being in the parish of Glasbury in the county of Brecon’ from Margaret Thomas, widow of Evan Thomas, for the sum of £180. By this time, Samuel had moved to Bryn y Groes, Bronllys and Margaret lived at the Blayney, Talgarth. She was:

  ‘… sole daughter and heir of Margaret Bevan the wife of Thomas Bevan of Llanspyddid and who was the only daughter and heir of Phillip William Prosser second son of William Prosser Watkin formerly of the parish of Llanstephan in the county of Radnor deceased and also cousin and heir at law to William David who was the only son and heir of David William Prosser who was the eldest son and heir of the said William Prosser Watkin deceased’  

Unfortunately, we have no dates for any of this. It is interesting to note that this is the only time such an extensive family tree is given in any of the indentures and that Margaret is one of the few women mentioned. Her family tree looks like this:

At the time of the sale in 1741, the farm was known as Gwern y Bydy but had previously been called Tŷ Thomas John Rosser. The farm had been sold by Thomas Rosser to Roger Sollers, who in turn sold it to William Prosser Watkin. Again, there are no dates available but this line of inheritance and sales must put Thomas Rosser’s ownership in the second half of the 17th century if not earlier.  

The indenture shows that Gwern Y Bydy farm covered 77 acres (probably including some hill grazing) and consisted of:

   ‘…one messuage one cottage one barn twenty nine acres of land eleven acres of meadow twelve acres of pasture ten acres of wood and fifteen acres of furze and heath with the appurtenances in the parish of Glasbury in the said county of Brecon’  

Two months after Samuel Watkins bought the farm from Margaret Thomas, on 16th July he sold it - for the same price of £180 - to five gentlemen who thus became trustees of the farm on behalf of Maesyronnen Chapel. Samuel’s reasons for doing this are stated in the indenture of sale thus:

  ‘….that in consideration of the great liking approbation and esteem that the said Samuel Watkins now hath and beareth …. unto the way and manner of religious worship usually practised and followed by and amongst protestant dissenters of the Presbyterian persuasion and to the intent and purpose that an additional subsistence may from henceforth be made allowed provided and continued to and for the ministers and preachers successively of the congregation of protestant dissenters meeting for divine worship at a certain place or meeting house called Maes yr Onnen situate in the parish of Glasbury and county of Radnor aforesaid for and towards their better maintenance and support and that some provision may be hereby made for the poor resorting to and joining in the said congregation or for any other use or uses as by the trustees shall be thought convenient’  

The money for this sale was provided by Thomas Lewis of Blaenllyndeg, one of the chapel trustees named 1720, and together with others he provided funds ‘for the better subsistence of the minister or preacher at Maes Yr Onnen aforesaid and other charitable uses’. Conditions laid out in the indenture state that out of the profits of the farm £7 a year should be paid to the minister or preacher ‘for their better and more liberal maintenance’ with the remaining surplus of the farm profits to be distributed amongst the poor of the chapel congregation at the discretion of the trustees. Further, similar to a condition in the chapel indentures, should the number of trustees fall to three then replacement trustees should be selected from the chapel congregation.  

However, despite this clause it wasn’t until 50 years later on the 9th September 1791 when the only surviving trustee arranged for new trustees. At this point, the farm was occupied by a yeoman, John Watkins (possibly a relative of the original purchaser, Samuel). It is unclear when the farm’s tenancy transferred from John Watkins to Richard Williams, but by 28th May 1833 the farm had passed on from Richard Williams and was ‘now in the possession and occupation of Evan Prosser and William Prosser’. A glance down the list of the 1833 trustees reveals the name of Charles Prosser, so again it suggests that the farm was occupied by relatives of trustees. It is here that the farm became known as Blaenau Bach. The various conditions in the indentures of £7 a year to the minister, the remaining profits distributed to the poor and a minimum of 3 trustees were repeated both here and again in the indentures of 1867 and 1897. The farm was listed in the tithe maps of 1868, with ‘Blainau Fach’ shown as being 40 acres in size and tenanted by William Williams, one of the trustees.  

According to a chapel accounts book, by the 1950s the payment of £7 a year to the minister plus profits to the poor had changed to a straightforward rent of £20 a year paid to the chapel by the tenant at the time. Almost 60 years on, the same family were paying a rent of around £250 a year. As the legal implications of being trustees were increasing, the decision was taken, in conjunction with the United Reformed Church, to sell the farm to the tenants in 2010. At the time of the sale, the cottage had been unoccupied for a century and was little more than a pile of stones, with the barn, too, in a poor state of repair. The land consisted of just less than 39 acres with 21 acres of pasture and the remainder being wood and scrub, whilst on the Ordnance Survey maps the farm was now called Blaenau Uchaf. Thus ended Maesyronnen’s 269 year ownership of the farm, having seen 4 different names over this time.