Earliest settlement indications within the parish relate to Bronze Age remains on the upland to the west between Llanfair and Llangybi and the Roman Road called Sarn Helen constructed up the eastern uplands on a route towards the Carmarthenshire border and the Roman Empire’s outpost at Pumpsaint.
There are two places of worship here, both taking their names from the parish’s name. St Mary’s is the older and a building on its site existed before the early 1500’s, whilst the newer Capel Mair was built in 1825, though worshippers met elsewhere locally before this date. The location of the two buildings illustrates the economic development of the parish. St Mary’s was located close to the historic site of the Lord of the Manor’s house of Plas Llanfair (demolished in the early 19th century) and not far from where the River Clywedog, being united from the three previous upland streams surges across the lower and flatter land leading to the Teifi. Capel Mair was built on the western side of the River Teifi, close to the ancient bridge across the river and at a spot where 19th century commerce in the form of Llanfair Bridge Shop and the Llanfair Bridge Inn both developed. The independent Capel Mair was established and grew very rapidly in its congregation and in the face of competition from the more well established Church of Wales alternative centre of worship, as the population within the parish grew rapidly in the first half of the 19th century.
From a relatively small population of 308 in 1801 the population grew rapidly to reach 614 by 1861. Thereafter, the numbers began to decline as the local economy changed and some people began to move away in search of a more secure and potentially more prosperous life in places elsewhere in South Wales for activities such as mining, or London. They sought higher wages and urban living.
The growth in the 19th century saw numbers engaged in the traditional agricultural sector rise, as the common lands of Llanfair Mountain were settled by poor land hungry families, whose legal right to be there was only resolved legally in 1859 by Act of Parliament. These families built small houses on the upland, enclosed a few acres of land and sought to make a living out of some of the most inhospitable lands in the area. This development saw small holdings established up to a height of about 1200 feet. The subsequent decline in population saw many of these small farms gradually abandoned in a process of depopulation which extended over a period of 50 to 75 years. Some of these small holdings are now enclosed within the large Forestry Commission plantations. Not many people live and farm on the uplands today, though a number of the relatively small number of houses which have survived are still occupied, often by English families who have moved to Llanfair in search of an alternative lifestyle.
Another reason for a growth in population was the development of lead and silver mining on the edge of the Clywedog valley. This developed from 1750 on lands owned by the Thomas Johnes family of Llanfair Mansion or Plas Llanfair. The silver content produced from the underground workings was said to be amongst the richest of any mine in Wales. People moved in to Llanfair to work at the mine(s), some from Cornwall and Derbyshire and waterwheels were constructed to power the mine shaft lift, along with leats to carry water. Buildings for the management of the process and to house workers were constructed. By the middle years of the 19th century the mining had ended as the quality of the ore being extracted declined.
Also developed in the 18th and 19th centuries was a small textile industry. Initially this consisted of knitting of socks by women in their own homes. Later along the Llanfair Road a textile industry grew up with a small factory producing woollen cloth and a tucking or fulling mill for the cleaning of cloth. The woollen industry ended in the 1920’s.
Large areas of Llanfair parish were, until relatively recently, largely owned by a few wealthy families. Several of these became Members of Parliament, including Walter Lloyd in the 1640’s and several men called Thomas Johnes in the 18th century. The last Thomas Johnes is the man who developed the famous Hafod estate near Devil’s Bridge. Thomas Johnes’ Llanfair estate was bought by Lord Carrington in the early 19th Century, whose family retained it until 1868 when William Jones, a prominent local banker from the Black Ox bank bought the lands and many houses and farms which were all occupied by tenants. Today the era of the very rich land owner has ended. Most farms and houses are owned by their occupiers. These buildings are predominantly located on the lower land, on either side of the Teifi valley.
Population decline continued until 1971. Since then it has recovered and now stands at about 240. The increase is largely due to an influx of English incomers who have appreciated the high quality scenery and peaceful nature of this beautiful area. The civil Llanfair parish council is now no more, but has been amalgamated into a larger community council area which includes the nearby former parish of Cellan. In addition the Llanfair Board School, which opened in 1877, was closed in 1976 and children travel to Ysgol yr Dderi in Llangybi for their primary education.
Llanfair has several significant architectural features which are notable. Along the Llanfair Road is Felin Llanfair (a corn mill). This building which is very old has all its old machinery, including a waterwheel and leat intact, though it has not operated since about 1950. There was a mill on this site as early as 1669. More central within Llanfair is Capel Mair, whilst on the other side of the River Teifi is St Mary’s Church. Capel Mair was built in 1825 on land provided by Lord Carrington. In terms of St Mary’s Church the evidence suggests that a church has existed on this site for over 700 years. There is an ancient yew tree and very old and large graveyard which serves the whole of the community. The present building dates from 1888 and is at least the third St Mary’s building to have been constructed on the site. An early 19th century predecessor had a thatched roof.
Today Llanfair Clydogau still has a shop, with a Post Office, St Mary’s Church and Capel Mair. The community is a mixture of a number of Welsh speaking families who have been here many years and English incomers. There is a very high level of community cohesion and a strong commitment towards the encouragement and maintenance of Welsh culture, the quality of life and safeguarding the environment. A number of high quality community organisations exist with vibrant and stimulating programmes for participants. These include: the Women’s Institute, Village Hall, ‘Twine and W(h)ine’, History Group, People’s Kitchen and Women in Tune.
Alan Leech 8th June 2009.