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Court Farm, Pembrey Carmarthenshire

Court Farm at Pembrey is one of Carmarthenshire’s few remaining ancient manor houses. Court is named from the ‘court leet’ that would have been held there, under the supervision of the lord of the manor, dealing with rents and tenancy disputes.

The earliest document relating to Court is dated 1361, now in the National Library of Wales, stating that John le Boteler of Penbrey was one of the principal landowners in the Lordship of Kidwelly. The le Botelers, or Butlers, were an Anglo Norman family who were granted the Pembrey estate by the Lord of Kidwelly Castle. A document of 1416 tells us that John Butler held the manor of Pembrey and that he had to attend at 'the Court of Foreignry of Kedewelly' every month, and provide the Lord of Kidwelly with five archers in times of war, and that his tenants had to provide a day's ploughing to the Lord, and help with the hay. Evidence of the Butlers can be seen in the Butler heraldry in the south window of St Illtyd's church, Pembrey - a terracotta plaque depicting three covered cups, and other plaques depicting the arms of other Welsh gentry families they married into, such as the Bassets of Beaupre. A later John Butler, in 1438, borrowed the sum of £40 from Richard de Caunville, Prior of Kidwelly. It is not known if the debt was repaid! Six generations of Butlers, all with the first name of John, lived at Court until c1500, when Anne Butler married into the Vaughan family of Bredwardine, Herefordshire, bringing the Pembrey estate into the Vaughan family.

The Vaughans prospered at Court for nearly two centuries, squires of an estate of 21,000 acres of woods, pasture and salt-marsh. They were wealthy landowners, with estates at Dunraven, in Glamorgan, and Porthaml, near Brecon, with a yearly value of £1,500 p.a., enabling them to purchase the Fallersdon estate in Wiltshire. Walter Vaughan was appointed High Sheriff of Carmarthenshire in 1557 and Court was rebuilt in its present form, as a large Tudor mansion. In May, 1610, Sir Walter Vaughan, and his wife, Dame Dorothy, granted a lease for 21 years to a yeoman, William Bonnett, of Dorset, of the Caldecott Farm in Pembrey parish, at a yearly rent of £16 and 40 pairs of conies (rabbits). Sir George Vaughan backed the wrong side in the Civil War, supporting King Charles I, and was fined £2,609 for 'delinquency' by the victorious Cromwellian Parliament. He was forced to sell the Dunraven and Wiltshire estates in order to pay his debts. Bridget, the last of the Vaughans, married John Ashburnham of Sussex in 1677. The Ashburnhams were soon raised to the peerage as barons and later earls of Ashburnham.

Court ceased to be an important mansion, as the Ashburnhams continued to reside in Sussex, having no need of a residence in remote Pembrey. Lord Ashburnham (as he had now become) visited his Welsh estates in 1687, and noted Court as ‘an old house, large enough, and kept in pretty good repaire’. The Ashburnhams employed stewards to run their extensive estates, including the Daltons at Pembrey. Rich in coal seams, drift mines were being dug from the seventeenth century. The most lucrative asset was the right of wreckage, entitling the Ashburnham estate to seize the cargoes of ships which had run aground on the treacherous Cefn Sidan Sands: '1763 Received balance left unpaid of wine (salvaged) sold this year, 8s 10d. For salvage of the tobacco ship that came ashore at Pembrey, 5gns. For timber that came ashore, £1 10s.'

So Court became the home of tenant farmers. This saved it from later rebuilding, so it survives as an unaltered example of a 16th century house.

Sited prominently on the hillside looking out to sea, Court became an important navigational aid to shipping in the Burry Estuary, featuring on several maps. Perhaps its most notorious resident in the 18th century was William Emmanuel, or Wil Manni, farm servant and footpad. He took to robbing passers-by on the mountain road from Pembrey to Trimsaran, but was eventually caught and hanged for his crimes, which included murder. Wil Manni’s body was gibbeted just above Court, as a terrible warning to others.

The Earls of Ashburnham continued to own the Pembrey estate until 1922, when it was sold to a Mr Butler [no known links to the original Butlers] who rented it to a family who resided there until 1948, when it was sold unexpectedly to the Bonnells. They only wanted to use the land for farming, so the Court buildings, unlived in and unwanted, fell into disrepair and were abandoned in the 1960s.

Court Farm was first listed on the 3rd March 1966 as ‘Court Farm and Outbuilding’. On the 25th November 2003 it was re-listed as part of Cadw’s resurvey of the whole area. This time the house was listed as ‘Court Farmhouse' and the barn was separately listed as ‘Outbuilding on S side the right of wreckage of Court Farm’.