Capel is a well known district of Llanelli but how did it get its name? Old plans of our town point to a farm called ‘Capel Isaf’ or ‘the lower farm of a chapel’. This farm was named after a ‘chapel of ease’ that once stood on the site of the waste land that lies east of Capel Terrace. This ancient chapel was dedicated to a saint called Gwynllyw. Although the earliest known reference to this chapel has been traced to an inventory of church goods appointed by King Edward VI in 1552, when it possessed a chalice and a bell, it is likely to be much older as the name is linked to a time known as the ‘Early Medieval’ or ‘Dark Age’ period – ‘The Age of the Saints’!
From the ancient religious writings called the ‘Lives of the Saints’ we learn that Gwynllyw is said to have been a warrior king who lived about the time of Arthur. He is said to have ‘disgraced his life with crime and was given to carnal allurements and frequently instigated his soldiers to robbery and plunder’. In short he led a pretty wicked life!
Seeing the wicked acts of his father, his son St Cadoc sent St Elli his disciple, to convert him from his errors of malice and wickedness.
The chapel at Capel must have been of some importance for it appears on some of the famous 16th, 17th & 18th century maps of Wales, but in 1729 it was recorded as a ‘ruin’. The Royal Commission for Ancient Monuments also recognised its historical value as it was recorded by its inspector in 1912.
Although nothing remains today of this medieval chapel, its site and the land around it may hold vital archaeological information about our town’s past.
As with the ruin of Capel Dewi in Llwynhendy this chapel of ease may also have included an early grave yard or burial ground. Interestingly, Capel district falls into the hamlet known as ‘Westfa’. There are a number of references to a ‘Westfa’ or ‘gwestfa’ as being the ancient land donation to a church or monastery to provide the supply of food etc.
Much of Llanelli’s ancient past was swept away during the Industrial Revolution, a time when little consideration was given to our local culture and heritage. Much has been lost, what little we have left in Llanelli is important. We are often told that tourism will play an important part in the future of our economy, every reason to investigate these sites before they are lost forever.