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The Boundaries of Gwynedd
According to the "Dictionary of the Place Names of Wales", the meaning of the name Gwynedd is the land of the Veni (Ueneda in Irish and Venedotis in Latin). By the fifth century this area of North West Wales had developed into a political unit and by the sixth century it was one of the most prominent kingdoms of Wales. The power and status of the princes of Gwynedd continued from this early period to the Edwardian conquest of 1282-83.
Attempting to trace the boundaries of Gwynedd during the Middle Ages is an extremely complex task. Expansion would occur under a successful prince, however if the political situation was weak, the kingdom would shrink.
The core of the kingdom was Gwynedd Uwch Conwy, the lands to the West of the river Conwy, including Arfon, Anglesey, Llyn and Western part of Meirionnydd. The princes also claimed sovereignty over the Perfeddwlad or Gwynedd Is Conwy. This meant that the boundaries of their realm sometimes extended almost to the walls of the city of Chester. The cantref of Penllyn in Meirionnydd became a permanent part of Gwynedd in the second half of the twelfth century, while parts of Powys and Ceredigion were sometimes under the direct control of Gwynedd.
Following the death of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd in Cilmeri in 1282 and the execution of his brother, Dafydd, the following year a new order was introduced. As part of the Statute of Rhuddlan, 1284, six counties were created, based on the English pattern. These counties were Meirioneth, Caernarfon, Anglesey, Flint, Carmarthen and Ceredigion. The rest of Wales remained subdivided into a number of Marcher Lordships.
During the reign of Henry the Eighth, two important laws were passed, namely:
- "An Acte for Laws & Justice to be ministered in Wales like four in the Realme." (1536)
- "An Acte for certaine Ordinaunces in the Kinges Majesties and the Principalitie of Wales" (1543)
These laws (often referred to as the "Acts of Union") introduced many far-reaching changes to the legal system. The Marcher lordships were abolished and replaced by seven counties, namely Denbigh, Montgomery, Radnor, Brecon, Pembroke, Glamorgan and Monmouth (although Monmouthshire was not part of the Court of Great Sessions system). This meant that Wales was now divided into 13 counties, which historians refer to as the "historic counties".
This order remained relatively unchanged until a series of laws that were enacted during the nineteenth century. The first of these was the "Counties (Separate Parts)" Act (1844). Its purpose was to remove exclaves, parishes or parts of parishes that were administratively part of one county but geographically in another. One example of an exclave was at Llandrillo yn Rhos.
In 1889 the Local Government Act was passed, creating a system of administrative counties in parallel to the historic counties.
The following century also witnessed numerous changes to local government boundaries
In 1974 the 13 administrative counties were abolished and replaced by 8 new counties - Gwynedd, Clwyd, Powys, Dyfed, West Glamorgan, South Glamorgan, Mid Glamorgan and Gwent. In 1996 these counties were replaced by 22 Unitary Authorities, including Anglesey, Gwynedd, Conwy, Denbigh, Flint and Wrexham in North Wales.
Legislation has therefore led to many changes in County and parish boundaries and family historians should be aware of this and not limit their research to one county only. Some parish boundaries have been altered, parishes (or parts of them) have been transferred from one county to another, new parishes or communities have been created and some historic parishes have disappeared. The attached pdf lists some parishes that have been within the boundaries of two or more counties.
- Index of Place Names (IPN) - Office for National Statistics.
- Historic Parishes of England & Wales. An Electronic Map of Boundaries before 1850 with a Gazetteer and Metadata.
The following cross boundary administrative units should also be considered when searching for genealogical sources:
Several Meirionethshire parishes belong to the diocese of St Asaph rather than Bangor. These are Betws Gwerfil Goch, Corwen, Gwyddelwern, Llandderfel, Llandrillo yn Edeirnion, Llandudno, Llanfor, Llangywer, Llanrwst, Llanuwchllyn, Llanycil.
The Civil Registration Act of 1836 established a new system of registration for births, marriages and deaths. A network of registration centres and areas was created. Many of the original registration areas included parishes from more than one county:
- Corwen - Denbigh and Meirioneth
- Llanrwst - Denbigh and Caernarfon
- Conwy - Denbigh and Caernarfon
- Dolgellau - Meirioneth and Montgomery
- Machynlleth - Meirioneth and Montgomery