[Penmon Dovecote]

Penmon is a promontory, village and ecclesiastical parish on the south-east tip of the Isle of Anglesey in Wales, about 3 miles (4.8 km) east of the town of Beaumaris. It is in the community of Llangoed. The name comes from Welsh: pen (which can mean “head”, “end” or “promontory”) and Mon, which is the Welsh word for Anglesey. It is the site of an historic monastery and associated 12th-century church. Walls near the well next to the church may be part of the oldest remaining Christian building in Wales. Penmon also has an award-winning beach and the Anglesey Coastal Path follows its shores. Quarries in Penmon have provided stone for many important buildings and structures, including Birmingham Town Hall and the two bridges that cross the Menai Strait. The area is popular with locals and visitors alike for its monuments, tranquillity, bracing air and fine views of Snowdonia to the south across the Menai Strait.

According to tradition, a monastic community (clas) was established on a site near the tip of Penmon in the 6th century AD. There was a growth in the Christian Church in Celtic Britain around that time and simple monasteries were often founded by hermits and holy men in remote locations. The scattered medieval township grew up around its monastery, founded by St. Seiriol. The monastery prospered, and two crosses were set up at its gate. In 971 Vikings destroyed much of Penmon. The two crosses and the decorated font remain from this time. During the 12th century, the abbey church was rebuilt under Gruffydd ap Cynan and Owain Gwynedd. In the 13th century, under Llywelyn ap Iorwerth, monasteries started a newer more regular kind of rule, and Penmon became an Augustinian priory with conventional buildings. The priory expanded. After surviving the conquest of Wales by King Edward, it was eventually dissolved in 1538. The buildings were transferred to the ownership of the Bulkeleys of Beaumaris, a prominent local family, and are still in use today. The Bulkeleys also used most of the land for a deer park, and built the dovecot near the church.

Penmon has some interesting buildings with histories to match. These buildings (the Priory and church, the dovecot and the well) are close together on the site of the old monastery. There is also an island of note nearby, Puffin Island.

The monastery (called St. Seiriol’s monastery) grew in size and had a wooden church building by the 10th century. This wooden building was, however, destroyed in 971 and then rebuilt in the 12th century in stone, from 1120 to 1123. The oldest parts of the church nowadays date to the year 1140. It survived the initial Norman invasion of Gwynedd between 1081 and 1100, defended by Prince Gruffydd ap Cynan of Gwynedd. The priory church was enlarged in the early 13th century, at the time of the Augustinian Rule. There are records for the election of Priors in the Calendar of Patent Rolls back to 1306, when one Iowerth the Prior is mentioned. The dining hall was on the first floor, with a cellar below and dormitory above. In the 16th century, a kitchen and a warming house were added at the east of the building. The eastern range of buildings has gone, but the southern one, containing the refectory with a dormitory above, still stands.

Llywelyn Fawr and his successors made the church wealthy, giving it land. This was taken away at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536 but the church survived. The priory was in decline before 1536 in any event, and had only the Prior and two other members at that time.

[St. Seiriol’s Church, Penmon]

St. Seiriol’s Church, which was the centrepiece of the monastery, is now part of the Rectorial benefice of Beaumaris, within the Diocese of Bangor. The church was given a grant by the Welsh Assembly Government of £20,570 in May 2004. This was to repair the leadwork, the rainwater goods, repointing and limewashing of the tower roof and the superstructure of the building. Another building in Penmon, the Priory House (which is set around the cloister court of the church), received £21,600. This was to repair the chimneys, the walls, the windows and the roof of the house.

St. Seiriol established a cell and a community on Puffin Island (in Welsh, Ynys Seiriol or Seiriol’s Island) half a mile from the coast at the same time as he founded the monastery. There is a tower of a 12th-century church on Puffin Island still. There is a tradition that St. Seiriol and perhaps Maelgwn Gwynedd (king of Gwynedd in the first half of the 6th century) were buried there. The island once had large numbers of puffins and guillemots. However, rats reduced the bird population to 40 in the 1890s.

In 1748, Lewis Morris made a hydrographic survey of the coast of Wales and suggested that the tower of the ruined church on the island be converted into a lighthouse. However, this suggestion was not implemented. On 17 August 1831, The Rothesay Castle, a wooden-hulled paddle steamer on a day trip from Liverpool, sank in very heavy seas. Of more than 140 on board, only 23 people survived. Afterwards, the Trwyn Du Lighthouse and a lifeboat station were built to try to prevent similar tragedies. The lifeboat station was closed in 1915 as it had been superseded by a lifeboat at Beaumaris. In its years of operation, the Penmon lifeboats saved at least 143 lives.

The beach at Penmon has been awarded a 2006 Seaside Award by the “Keep Wales Tidy” group. To be awarded the yellow and blue flag, beaches have to meet mandatory standard water quality and must be clean, safe and well-managed. Penmon is classified for these purposes as being a “rural” beach and as a result the standards for a Seaside Award differ from those applied for “resort” beaches, which are expected to have a wider selection of facilities such as toilets and car parks. The beach has been awarded the flag from 2003 onwards.


All images & text reproduced under Creative Commons licence

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