The Post-medieval Plas and Farm: Great Abbey or Mynachlog Fawr
In the modern era following the Dissolution of Strata Florida the main Abbey buildings became part of successive secular gentry estates. For a time, c.1560 to 1745, it was home to a gentry family, the Stedmans, who also created a Renaissance-style designed landscape around it. When it passed first to the Powells of Nantoes and then to the Vaughans of Trawscoed, Earls of Lisburne, it became a leasehold property, part a house and part a tenant farm. In the mid-twentieth century the farm and its buildings became a freehold in the possession of the Arch family whose previous generations had lived there since 1870.
A. The StedmansFollowing the Dissolution in 1539, the site of the Abbey and its estates passed first to the Devereux family. These were then dispersed in the next decades to a number of old Welsh gentry families and to a small number of in-comers, most notably the Stedmans. By 1567 the Stedmans owned the Abbey site and then went on to acquire various of the former Abbey granges. Their hey-day was the second half of the sixteenth and first half of the seventeenth centuries. It was during this period that they seem to have refurbished part of the Abbey's buildings and created a designed landscape around. This would all have befitted their status as rising county gentry in Tudor and Stuart Cardiganshire, reaching by 1600 the office of High Sheriff and marrying into the older Welsh gentry families.
Most notable among these older families were the Powells of Nanteos and the Vaughans of Trawscoed who are also prominent in the Strata Florida narrative. By 1745, the last direct male member of the Stedman family, Richard, died without issue as his daughters had previously passed away as commmemorated in the parish church. The Strata Florida estate had already been signed over to his brother-in-law, Thomas Powell, to whom Richard had been in debt.
The Trust is extremely grateful to Gerald Morgan who has researched the Strata Florida Stedmans for us and on whose historical account this web entry is based.
B. The Stedman Plas and its landscapeThere is reason now to believe that the first plas or mansion of the Stedmans was created out of the medieval West Range of the Abbey's claustral complex. This was not excavated by Stephen Williams in the 1880s and still remains today as a ruin within the Cadw monument and so is available for us to test this hypothesis. The main evidence is two inventories to Stedman wills in 1613 and 1617 where there is mention of 16 and 20 beds respectively which suggests a much larger house than the one on the site today. Another clue is the avenue of trees depicted on the 1765 map which heads for the West Range. All this suggests that the present house, dated by Smith on architectural grounds to c. 1700, was a modernisation and reduction of the orignal Stedman house by Richard Stedman.
This house which still stands today at Strata Florida is a grade II* listed building, first depicted on a Buck engraving of 1741. It may have been part (the southern end) of the first house, as its fabric (notably the east wall) was once part of hthe Abbey's Refectory. In its original form the new house was entered though a door to the right of the present one and into a large lobby leading on to a grand stair-case. The gentry arrangement of other buildings, enclosures, gardens, avenue and other trappings of a gentry house can still be seen on an estate map of 1765 when it had already ceased being occupied by the Stedmans. On this map can be seen two yards and a square garden to the west, at the other ends of which are two buildings, one (still extant) a large threshing barn of late 17th or early 18th century date and the other (pulled down c.1870 for the modern road) a large gatehouse and outbuilding.
C. Great Abbey FarmAt some time, perhaps in the later 18th century, the new house was modified to look mnuch as it does today. It was still probably a gentleman's residence, since it was leased out separately from the land of the tenant farm of 'Great Abbey'. In the later nineteenth century (c. 1870) house and land were reunited with the land and it became the farmhouse it is today. That was also when the Arch family began to occupy the house and then take over the running of the farm which the family still does today. It was at this time too that the estate passed from the Powells to the Vaughans of Trawscoed (Earls of Lisburne) and they reareranged the famr buildings intoe hcourtyard arrangemtn that exists there today. It retained the older threshing barn, but added a stables and two cattle sheds as well as realigning the road.
D. The post-medieval archaeologyA lot of the history of Mynahclog Fawr is locked up in the buildings and as we restore them much more information will come to light. Beneath the buildings are considerbale deposits of rubble from teh collapse of eh origianl monastic buildings, the walls of which in palces can be seen poking through the rubble.
To the east of Mynachlog Fawr farmhouse there are also extensive earthworks, most of which seem to be traces of the later sixteenth or early seventeenth gardens at the back of the original Stedman house. But also traceable in the earthwork plan are hints of the medieval arrangements which lie below. We have conducted four trial excavations locating traces of the post-medieval garden and the remains of two medieval structures: a water-powered mill or forge; and what seems to be part of the Infirmary complex in its normal position to the south-east of the Abbey church.