The Llandaff Act Books: Introduction

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Cardiff Records: Volume 5. Originally published by Cardiff Records Committee, Cardiff, 1905.

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Chapter 1. The Llandaff Act Books.

OF the muniments belonging to the Dean of Llandaff, the most important are the Act Books, which contain Minutes of the official business of the Bishop, Dean or Archdeacon and Chapter of a diocese. The Act Books of the Diocese of Llandaff are in the custody of the Chapter Clerk, Mr. J. E. Gladstone, Solicitor, and are preserved in the offices of his firm, Messrs. Williams & Gladstone, Great Western Approach, Cardiff. I must express my acknowledgments to the Very Rev. The Dean, for his kindness in allowing me free access to the records of his Chapter, and to the Clerk for the courtesy with which he facilitated my research. (fn. 1)

The Acts of this diocese are written in a series of folio paper books, bound in calf, the first of which comprises the years 1573–1721. The earlier portion is only a copy, however; for in the year 1664 the old Act Books were found to be so worn out, that the Chapter ordered their contents to be transcribed into a new book. This was done before Midsummer 1666, when it was decreed that the transcript should be examined. A few leaves of the original are still preserved with the other records.

At the commencement of the first volume, the business of the Chapter is entirely in Latin; but the use of that language was already on the decline, and it becomes rarer and rarer, until, towards the middle of the 17th century, English is employed for all but the most formal entries. Latin hardly occurs at all after 1663.

These records relate practically to every parish in the counties of Glamorgan and Monmouth, but I have extracted only what has reference to the Cardiff district. The town of Monmouth (north-east of the river Monnow) with the parish of Dixton in that county, was at this time in the diocese of Hereford; but Newland in Gloucestershire, on the left bank of the Wye, belonged to Llandaff. The business comprises the election of the Bishop, the appointment of the Prebendaries and other office-holders, the granting of Chapter leases, the repair of the Cathedral, the appointment to livings in the Chapter's gift, the oaths taken by ecclesiastical dignitaries, the correction of misdemeanant clerks, the licensing of chapels, the custody of the Cathedral library, the conduct of divine worship, the preaching of sermons, the relief of poor persons, the "entertainment" of the Chapter, &c.

In 1573 we find the name of William Evans as Treasurer of Llandaff Cathedral. (See Vol. IV., p. 52.)

Not the least interesting of the matters dealt with by the Acts is the repair of the Cathedral fabric. In 1592 a firm of Bristol plumbers were granted an annuity of six pounds, to keep in repair the leads of the roof. In 1594 the Chapter lament the "ruinous and decayed state" of their Cathedral, which they describe as being "more like a desolate and profane place than like a house of prayer and holy exercises." Mr. Mathew of Llandaff in that year undertook to pave, repair and maintain the east end of the north aisle (formerly the Chapel of Saint Dubricius) in which his ancestors lay buried, upon the condition that no one should in future be there interred but members of his family. All this marks a pleasing revival of reverence for the unfortunate Cathedral, which reforming prelates and avaricious Canons had reduced to such a lamentable condition of dilapidation.

As the 17th century advanced, this return to the older order became still more marked, and in 1630 it was decreed that the Prebends should attend Chapter in gown, hood and surplice, and not in secular attire, while a certain salary was assigned for choristers. In the following year arrangements were made for the repair, maintenance and regular use of the bells. In 1638 the windows were ordered to be again glazed.

The Civil War was approaching, however, and devastation was once again to be the fate of Llandaff Cathedral. After the Restoration, some regulations were made for the orderly performance of public worship in the ancient building. Thus in 1662 a man was employed to keep dogs out of the church, a gown was bought for the clerk or sexton, and order was taken for the daily reading of prayers by the Vicars Choral in their surplices, and for the performance of "high service" in the choir on Sundays.

Towards the end of the 17th century this temporary revival waned. Mr. Mathew had neglected to repair the north aisle, and apparently the whole Cathedral was in a bad state. In 1691 the choir-singers were discharged, and their salaries discontinued; and instead of the choir, the schoolmaster was appointed a deacon "to give the singing-psalms" for four pounds a year. About this time various important parishioners were allowed to erect private pews in the choir. The great bell fell down in the steeple, but was afterwards put up again and the clock restored. New corbels for the roof were ordered to be made out of the old roof-timber in 1697. In the same year the Clerk drew an appointment of an organist, "to play with the psalm and to give the usual voluntary"; but the Chapter struck this out, and would only continue the office of a man to "give the psalms." However, in 1699, "being capitularly congregated," their reverences appointed a Mrs. Gyles to sweep the church and keep it "clean and decent."

It would, indeed, have been unreasonable to expect the Chapter to lay out considerable sums of money in repairing the Cathedral of a diocese the greater part of whose revenues had been appropriated by its Bishops. Even the slender funds which remained were drawn upon for other than ecclesiastical purposes. In 1610 the Chapter granted to Sir John Herbert a life "pension" of ten pounds per annum, which had previously been enjoyed by Sir William Herbert, deceased, "for so long a time as the same church shall have means sufficient and be able to pay the same," and a similar pension of £6. 13s. 4d. to the Earl of Northampton. Advowsons and rectories had to be granted, and leaseholds demised, to the relatives of the Bishop and Prebendaries, on easy terms. There was thus little or no money to be dissipated in repairing stone walls and maintaining preachers.

These records are rich in place-names. A curious instance is the acre of land at Canton called Petty Callys (Little Calais). It would be interesting to know the origin of this name. In the early part of the 17th century lands (in such cases known as "concealed lands") were still from time to time found to have been anciently granted to religious uses, and were consequently forfeited to the King and from him purchased at a low price by the Chapter. Often the first lease of them was made to the discoverer, provided he would be at the cost of proving them to be "concealed."

The books in the Chapter Library were sometimes lent to the Prebends, on their giving a written undertaking for their safe return. The most noteworthy volume in that collection was the Llyfr Teilo (Saint Teilo's Book) or Book of Llandaff. This famous manuscript, the ancient register and cartulary of the see, had fortunately survived the Reformation, and long remained in the custody of the Chapter. For an account of its valuable contents and its later history, the reader is referred to the admirable edition lately published at Oxford; (fn. 2) which contains also an account of another MS. anciently belonging to Llandaff Cathedral, viz., the Book of Saint Chad. The Llyfr Teilo was occasionally lent, and in 1619 the Bishop had a difficulty in getting it back from Mr. Robotham, one of the Prebendaries; but this seems to have been because of some dispute in the Chapter.

In 1626 the Chapter resolved that the rectory of Eglwysilan, "being the chiefest support of the church and prebends," should, at the approaching expiration of the lease, be converted to the "best use and most valuable advantage of the said church," without taking any fine. In virtue of that self-denying ordinance, they hope that God will bless their design "and that posterity shall see here the face of a Church." Curiously, they conclude with the ancient preReformation Latin formula: "He who keepeth it, let him keep it; he who violates it, let him be anathema"—a sentiment which had been dormant for nearly a century of plunder and sacrilege.

In 1662 reference is made to the Welsh service in the Lady Chapel, which was continued weekly down to the last quarter of the 19th century. The Lady Chapel of the Cathedral is the parish church. This is the earliest allusion to a Welsh service at Llandaff.

The second volume of the Acts extends from 1722 to 1816, and is hardly less interesting than the former. In 1726 the Chapter invested in a State Lottery ticket, and measures were taken to raise a fund for the repair of the Cathedral. They themselves agreed to subscribe £200, but afterwards rescinded the resolution. In 1732 the well-known John Wood, of Bath, makes his appearance in the Acts. He was the architect of the egregious classical temple which eventually arose amid the Cathedral's dismal ruins. In 1738 we find the name of Thomas Omar, the intelligent carpenter whose acute observations on the remains of antiquity in the Cathedral may be read in Bishop Ollivant's account of the fabric, (fn. 3) where (p. 24) Omar records the discovery of the entombed remains of Saint Teilo. It is so rarely that the work of a joiner in a church merits more praise than than that of a bull in a china-shop, that tribute should be paid to the memory of good Thomas Omar.

Antiquaries will appreciate the few notes on the older documents belonging to the Cathedral of Llandaff, which conclude the present chapter.

N.B.—The reader may be referred to the "History and Survey of the Cathedral Church of Llandaff," by John H. James, M.S.A. (Cardiff, 1898), for particulars concerning the architecture of this ancient church.


  • 1. I desire also to thank Mr. J. E. Williams, M.A., for shewing me some seventeenth-century Court Rolls of the Manor of Talyvan, of which he is Steward.
  • 2. The Text of the Book of Llan Dâv, reproduced from the Gwysaney Manuscript by J. Gwenogvryn Evans, M.A., and John Rhys, M.A. Oxford. 1893.
  • 3. Some Account of the Condition of the Fabric of Llandaff Cathedral. By the Bishop of Llandaff. 2nd ed. London. 1860.