Local & Family
History Society


Cymdeithas Hanes
Lleol & Theuluoedd

Cefn Cantref – the history of a Breconshire farm

Researched by John Ball, 2013


Early in 2013, the new occupant of a converted barn near Brecon contacted the BLFHS in the hope of discovering something about the history of his property. The request stimulated my interest enough to take up the challenge and research the history of the former farm known as Cefn Cantref.
A few weeks later, I presented my findings to the client in the form of a 'timeline' report plus full source documentation. I have since expanded the report and adapted it for publication here on our website, as an interesting piece of local history and an example of 'house history' research methodology.

Locating Cefn Cantref


The first task was to identify the position of the former farm buildings on a modern Ordnance Survey map (left), accessed through the Streetmaps website, and a satellite image (right) from the Google Maps website.
The two maps, which cover the same area of land, show Cefn Cantref to be situated southeast of Bailyhelig Farm, and about two kilometres due south of Brecon. The boundaries of the surrounding fields are easy to identify on both maps.
I then examined the same location on a late 19th-century large-scale Ordnance Survey map (below) on the Old-Maps website.


Below: This large scale map, published in 1889, is from the Ordnance Survey 1:2500-scale series.


Above: This enlarged section of the map shows the cluster of buildings enclosing the farmyard, and the surrounding garden or 'nursery'. To the south, a large pond, just across the lane from the farm, is still a prominent feature of the local landscape today.

Identifying the parish and tithe district

The next major step would be to examine the Cefn Cantref area on a tithe map. If Cefn Cantref could be identified on the tithe map, I could find out who owned the land and who occupied the farm when the tithe survey was conducted circa 1840. But first I had to discover in which tithe district Cefn Cantref was located. Tithe districts generally correspond to parishes, so I used the parish boundary maps published on CD by Kain and Oliver in 2000. The authors researched the boundaries of parishes and their subdivisions for the whole of England and Wales, and they superimposed the boundaries on...

A Brecon Street Scene

and its link to the 'Beat Generation'

by John Ball, August 2014

Bethel Square ArchRecently, I received a request for help to identify the location in Wales of the scene depicted in the photograph (right). It was taken in 1961 and the writer of my email was not the photographer. He was Jim Pennington, a printer, publisher and bibliophile based in London.

Residents and visitors in Brecon will recognise at once that this is the entry to Bethel Square off Lion Street, the square that was once the site of Bethel Calvinistic Methodist Chapel (now Boots the Chemist). Originally the archway was the entry to the historic Golden Lion Inn, a coaching inn where guests could disembark under the arch and out of the weather. The horses could also be Breconshire Coal & Lime Company Advertstabled overnight in the yard through the archway.

Notably in the photograph there is also the signboard of the Breconshire Coal & Lime Company Limited. An advertisement (left) in 'The Official Guide to Breconshire' published in the 1960s gives the location of its head office as 'Lion Chambers'. The enlargement of a segment of the 1961 photo (below left) certifies the identity of the chapel as it shows one of the distinctive windows of Bethel Chapel (outlined in blue). The same window is clearly evident in the photograph of Bethel Chapel (below right) taken by Peter Richards of Brecon in the mid 1970s.

Comparison photos for the Chapel Window
The same chapel window outlined in the 1961 photo (left) and mid 1970s photo (right)
[Photographs (left) © Harriet Crowther; (right) © Peter Richards] 

Below are three photos of the Bethel Arch, an iconic image of a walkway distinctive to Brecon, but which has undergone great change through the years: from 1961 (left) to the present day (right). The arch is now taller and narrower than the original.

Bethel Arch through the decades
The Bethel Arch from 1961 (left) through the 1970s (centre) to the present day (right).
[Photographs (left) © Harriet Crowther; (middle and right) © Robert Eckley]

To Jim Pennington, my thanks for sending me the email and photo, and double thanks for arranging the permission from Harriet Crowther for the photograph to be used in the BLFHS collection of old images of Brecon.

The Man in the Archway
But like me, you will be especially intrigued as to identity of the gentleman in the trilby underneath the arch. Was he a local resident who just happened to be in the shot, or was he the real subject of the photograph? Jim Pennington knew all about him. I was even more intrigued by his reply to my query.....