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Outline of RAISE resource pack on Court Farm


Setting the scene.

Court Farm is an ancient manor house, situated on the edge of the small village of Pembrey in Carmarthenshire. It has a long and eventful history, and fine architectural features surviving from the medieval and Tudor periods. For many centuries, it was the most important house in the village, the centre of an estate of some 21,000 acres. From the 18th century onwards, it became a tenanted farm of the Ashburnham estate, until it was sold as a private farm in the 1920s. Th last owner moved out in the 1960s, and the house fell into ruin.

I have worked as a teacher at Pembrey School for the past 20 years, and have always been interested in Court Farm. In 2006, I formed a group, the Friends of Court farm, to try and rescue this interesting building. Court Farm appeared on the BBC tv series Restoration as one of 3 Welsh buildings that the public could vote to try and help save, after hearing of its plight. The campaign to save the Court has involved the whole community (including my school), as a roadshow was organised in Pembrey to co-incide with the broadcast of the programme. The children were involved in a pageant which told the story of the characters who lived at Court over the centuries. This was filmed and shown on BBC2.

So I was delighted when I heard of the RAISE project, and realised that I could combine my interest in Court with creating an educational resource pack for children in the area. At first, though, I was unsure how to go about this. I had the building, and there were many records and documents in the Ashburnham Collection at the National Library of Wales relating to the Court. I thought about different approaches, until I realised that children aren’t particularly interested in dry dates and dusty documents. Children are interested in people and events.

So I decided to tell the story of Court through the lives of the people who lived there, combining their lives with important events in Welsh history. I have created a monologue for each historical character. Local people are being invited to take on these roles, costumes are being made and then the characters will be filmed in a suitable historic setting. Although the characters all speak English in the monologues, quite a lot of Welsh is used, where appropriate.


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1400s: John le Boteler (or Butler) is living at the Court in a tower house. This is enclosed by a high, protective wall. His family (all with the same first name of John) have been in Pembrey for several generations. Although the family were originally Norman in origin, they have gone native, intermarrying with local people. So when the Glyndwr rebellion breaks out in 1403, and Kidwelly castle is besieged by John Dwnn, (John’s friend), the Butlers support the rebellion.  John is an older man in the monologue, and he shares his memories with us. I have also related his life to primary sources, for instance a document dated 1361 which shows that his father borrowed £40 from the Prior of Kidwelly. A copy of this is enclosed.

1500s: Sir Walter Vaughan is living at Court in 1557, during the reign of Mary Tudor. He is an important man, for he is the High Sherriff of Carmarthenshire. He has had the Court modernised and extended in the latest Tudor style, with many tall chimneystacks and mullioned windows. His family came originally from Herefordshire, but married the last of the Butlers and settled at Pembrey. Court is one of the great houses of the county, and Sir Walter enjoys living there, as he has the right to wreckage, which means that he is entitled to take any cargo from shipwrecks on the notorious Cefn Sidan sands.

But Sir Walter is less happy about all of the religious changes that have happened in the country since the time of Henry VIII. The country was all Catholic, with the Pope as head of the church. Then Henry made himself head when the Pope wouldn’t grant him a divorce. Then his son, Edward VI brought in many changes, and churches such as Pembrey were vandalised by protestant reformers. Sir Walter was not happy about that. Now Mary is queen, she is tryin to take the country back to the Catholic faith, which pleases Sir Walter. But he knows that when Mary dies, her sister, Elizabeth, who is a protestant, will bring in more religious changes.

Sir Walter is a witness at the burning of Bishop Ferrar in Carmarthen. He has mixed feelings about this; he sees Ferrar as a heretic, but he thinks that burning is a terrible method of execution too.

1600s: Bridget Vaughan is the last of her line. She is a wealthy landowner who was born and lives at Court. She is the only surviving child of Sir Richard Vaughan and inherited his estates when he died. She tells us about her father, because he supported the King during the Civil War, which meant that he was imprisoned and fined when the war ended. Bridget has a distant memory of hiding in the woods behind Court when she was a young girl, when Cromwell’s soldiers came looking for her father.

But Bridget will soon be leaving the Court, as she is going off to marry a wealthy English gentleman, John Ashburnham, and will live with him in Sussex. She isn’t really in love with him, but there is no-one as grand as her living in Carmarthenshire, so she has to look elsewhere for a husband. Also, Bridget doesn’t take much of an interest in the running of her estates. She speaks some Welsh, and says that when she moves to England, she ill speak Welsh to her companion, Betsi, so that the servants won’t be able to understand what they are saying!

1700s: William Emanuel (or Wil Manni) is a farm servant living at Court Farm. He works for Mr Thomas, a tenant on Lord Ashburnham’s Pembrey estate. The Court farm is now a tenanted farm, and the old manor house has been divided up and two families are living there.

Wil Manni is a ruffian and a troublemaker. His father was a brutal man, who used to attack Wil and his mother, and smash up the house. Wil runs away from home and goes to the hiring fair in Carmarthen. Mr Thomas offers him a job at Court Farm. At first, things go well for him and he even gets married and sets up house with a servant from the Court. But he soon starts drinking, and gets into fights. He even attacks and robs people, stealing their money and possessions. His wife throws him out of the house and he moves back into Court. The local magistrate, Mr Rees, is fed up of Wil Manni appearing before him, and threatens him with transportation. But he keeps his job at the Court because he is a good worker and doesn’t steal from Mr Thomas.

One day, he spots an old woman walking past the Court. Wil Manni follows her up the mountain and attacks her. But she puts up a terrific struggle and fights back. Things get out of hand and she is killed. When her body is discovered, with a piece of Wil Manni’s coat clutched in her hand, he is quickly arrested. The judge sentences him to death, and he is hanged. Afterwards, the corpse is gibbeted on Pembrey Mountain, the scene of his crime, as a terrible warning to others.

1800s: Mr Hugh Thomas is a tenant farmer living at Court. He farms 179 acres, and has a mixed farm of arable land and livestock. Mr Thomas talks about the crops and animals on the farm in some detail, and explains how the farmland is used. His family have been living at the farm since the late 1700s. The big house, Court, has now been divided into tenements, although Mr Thomas’ family live in the main part.

Hugh Thomas tells us about the many changes that have occurred in the area since the opening of the railway in the 1850s. There is now a much bigger population, and many of the new people work in the coal mines and factories that have sprung up. The census will be used as a primary source for information,  as a comparison between the 1831 census and the 1881 census will show the huge increase in population and the much greater variety of trades and crafts in 1881, as the area is transformed from a largely agrarian economy into an industrial one.

Hugh also talks about one of the key events in the 19th century history of Wales, the Rebecca Riots. His father had attended the huge farmer’s meeting on Mynydd Sylen in 1843, and had supported the protests, but not the accompanying violence. Hugh recalls his father’s memories of tollgates being attacked, and of the Carmarthen workhouse being ransacked.

1900s: Mr Dennis Thomas was living at Court during the 1930s and 1940s. He has vivid memories of his time there, accompanied by many photographs. I am in the process of interviewing him at the moment. This is taking some time, as Dennis is not in the best of health and doesn’t like to talk for long. The interview is being filmed, and will provide a valuable resource as Dennis has many interesting tales to tell. The interview focuses on his family, the building, life on the farm and memories of the Second World War.

Dennis lived at the Court with his parents, his brother and his sisters. There is a charming photograph of them sitting outside Court in the 1930s, along with Mae West, their servant. His father, an Irishman, used to breed Welsh Mountain ponies which worked in the local coal mines. They also had a dairy herd, and the milk would be taken by the Burry Port train to the Welsh Valleys. The Thomas family of Court were an unusual family as they were practising Catholics, rather an odd thing to be in protestant 1930s Wales. For that reason, the landowner would not sell the Court to them.  Dennis is an enthusiastic supporter of plans to rescue the Court from dereliction, and he tries to recall everything that would be of interest to the Friends of Court Farm.

2000s; The Court is now a ruin. The last owners moved out in the 1960s, and the house quickly fell into dereliction and decay. The weather and vandalism took their toll on the building. Trees and ivy growth made the ruins almost impenetrable.

But in 2006, Dominic Conway formed the Friends of Court Farm. This is a group of local people who are dedicated to saving this fine building, restoring it to its former glory and finding an end-use for Court once restored. The Friends highlighted the plight of the building and it appeared on the BBC tv series Restoration. Although Court didn’t win the competition, the building’s profile was raised. The WAG Culture Minister, Alun Pugh, came to visit Court Farm.


List of characters


John le Boteler                               Martin Davies

Walter Vaughan                             Geraint Bevan

Bridget Vaughan                            Helen Jacob

Wil Manni                                     Dominic Saunders

Hugh Thomas                                Dominic Conway


I would like to thank the above friends for taking the parts of the historic characters at Court Farm. I am also grateful to the staff at the County Museum, Carmarthen; Dinefwr Parc, Llandeilo and Kidwelly Castle for their unfailing help and courtesy, in allowing us to use their properties for filming.

Special thanks are due to Doug Neil, the cameraman, who spent many hours putting these films together, and to Pat Neil, who carried out meticulous research and then produced such magnificent costumes.

Diolch yn fawr i pawb,


Dominic Conway, January 2011.


working in education

working with the council

Cadw Sir Gaerfyrddin Cyf the Carmarthenshire Historic Buildings Trust


The Trust is a registered charity and is affiliated to the Architectural Heritage Fund (AHF). The aim of the Trust is rescue historic buildings of importance and return them to a useful and sustainable new life. If a profit were made (and it probably would not be much) on one project, the money would be ploughed into another project.   At present there are five trustees who undertake work for the Trust on a voluntary basis. The Trust has undertaken three feasibility studies in Carmarthenshire; for Whitford Lighthouse, Neuadd Fawr at Cilycwm and Court Farm. The Court Farm study was undertaken in 2003 by Davies Sutton Architects, a highly respected firm of conservation architects which has undertaken many similar projects, notably Sker House near Porthcawl.


The Trust and the Friends


The Trust and the Friends have agreed to work in close partnership for the duration of the restoration of Court Farm. The Trust will manage the project, obtain funding and the Friends will back them up with fund raising and ensuring that the local community is involved and informed throughout. To this end a steering group has been set up comprising of two trustees and the Chairman and Secretary of the Friends. This will meet on a regular monthly basis. If you have any comments or suggestions these can be put the steering group via the Secretary.



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