Cowbridge Gem Articles

Published July 20th 2000

Penlline Village Wells History.

by R F Caple

In the long hot summer of 1875 there was a drought in the Vale of Glamorgan and all the wells ran dry. All that is except a very few springs which come from a thin band of shale that is contained within the thick layer of hard crystalline limestone which runs from the Brecon Beacons way down below the coalfield to emerge with a few ripples in the Vale. This huge depth enables it to store enormous quantities of water so that come even the longest drought a steady trickle of water can still escape through the porous shale where it peeps through the hard rock.

One of these peep holes is the spring in the centre of Penlline another is at Llysworney. In 1875 the year of Queen Victoria's Jubilee, scores of people from Llansanoor, St. Mary Hill, Llangan, Treoes and Colwinston gathered around and queued to scoop with a cup the precious water into buckets for themselves and their desperate cattle. Within a few generations we have forgotten the terror that drought could cause to country villages when the wells run dry. The worst we fear nowadays is a hosepipe ban.

The water bearing shale emerges in a hollow at the centre of Penlline midway between the Mediaeval Castle, the Mediaeval Common land at the Graig and the Tudor Court. It is a very old site and the first spring was covered with a masonry wellhead about the fourteenth century and possibly earlier. Later, about the 1600's a second spring was created upflow in the shale to improve the volume of water and this was covered with a masonry arch and a small niche was set in the back for a statuette to represent the spirit of the well or for a saint to invoke the prayer of the village that the well never run dry. It was a very muddy spot approached by a sunken path, which is still visible, and over the years the area was built up with stone, to give dry access, and broken pottery, for over time hundreds of crude jugs and basins were shattered as the fell on the stone. When the area was recently archaeologically cleared for conservation thousands of fragments were collected from the top few inches alone to give a history of the long usage of these wells. A third open spring was added in 1910 when a new owner of the Court, Mr Thomas Llewellyn Evans, wished to improve the volume of water and cut into the shale higher again and added steps, bridge and lined pool.

About the 1840's the owner of the land, which was part of the Court, decided that the wells must be made clean in the interest of hygiene, for Cholera had now been firmly linked with dirty drinking water. Hence the masonry was all repaired, paths paved and proper drainage for the overflow made. The owner was Doctor William Salmon and the wells thereafter were called Salmon's Wells. His action is not so altruistic when it is realised that both he and the residents at the castle had had to draw their water from these wells for hundreds of years. The village lies upon a thick ridge of limestone through which water disappears quickly down sinkholes to run quickly to the River Thaw in what were the marshes. Without access to a natural aquifer by wells all rainwater had to be collected in cisterns and every large house had them. Fresh drinking water had to collected daily by every household up until 1937 from the wells. The wells remained in use until the war when the RDC abandoned cleaning them and put up notices to declare the water unsafe. The area became rapidly overgrown with saplings rooted through the masonry and bushes deep in leaf mould so that newcomers to the area were unaware that the wells existed.

The newspaper can add its own account hereof the actions of the Residents Association, the Listing, the availability of the site for teaching local history and memories of older residents as children scooping water by cup for the cattle and washing the intestines of newly killed pigs in the pool

Val Caple

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