Caldey Island: Ynys Bŷr

Caldey Island (Welsh: Ynys Bŷr) lays just off the shore of Tenby in Pembrokeshire, Wales. 

It is thought that the first people to resided at Caldey almost 12,000 years ago. At that time Cadley Island would still have been connected to the mainland by a strip of marshland.

Excavations of Potters Cave, the Cave of the Ox and Daylight Rock have brought up both human and animal remains dating 10,000 – 4,5000BC, as well as flint tools and crockery.

Eighteenth century excavations of the Priory uncovered the Caldey Ogham Stone. An Ogham stones are common in Wales, Scotland and Ireland. They are inscribed in the early language of the Irish Tribes that settled across the waters.  The Cadley  Ogham Stone dates from the 5th/6th Century. The Stone bears the name of ‘Dubricius’ (St. Dyfrig) who was an early Bishop of Llandaff who would visit Cadley Island each year for Lent.  Later another incretion was added (9th century) asking for prayer for the soul of ‘Catuoconus’ (Cadwgan).

During the Twelfth Century the Island belonged to Robert FitzMartin. He was given this Island by King Henry I for his part in the Norman Invasion of Wales. Robert gave this Island to his mother who later gave it to the Monks of St. Dogmael’s in 1131. The Priory at Cadley is said to be a fortified house that was originally built by Robert FitzMartin.  Also around this time the Watch Tower above Priory bay was built. During 1291 Caldey Priory was valued at £3-6s-8d by Pope Nicholas IV.

In 1536 a thousand year of monastic presence at Caldey ended with the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII. John Bradsaw then leased St. Dogmael’s Abbey and all of its assets (including Caldey) from the Crown. He then built a manor house from the stones of the abbey.

In 1603 St. Dogmael’s is described as a ‘ruin’.

In 1798 Caldey Island was purchased by Thomas Kynaston (of Pembroke) who wanted to exploit Caldey’s limestone. 18,000 tonnes of limestone a year was exported from High Cliff Quarry. When Thomas died in 1812 his son, Cabot Kynaston took over.

When Cabot died in 1866, the Island was bought by James Wilson Hawksley for his son James Taylor Hawksley.

In 1897 the Island was bout by Rev. Done Bushell. He used the Island as a sanctuary and holiday retreat for his mentally handicapped son. The farm land and cottages were then leased out to the Island’s quarrymen.

In 1900 Rev. Done Bushell invited Dom Aelred Carlyle (Abbot of and Anglican group of Benedictine Monks) to use the Island as a temporary home.  10th January, 1901 (the arrival of the monks) marked the first monastic settlement of the Island since the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536.

This a Brothers diary extract from that day:

“How the very stones of the vaulted roof seemed to take their share in the praise of God, and multiply our voices and re-echo out notes till it seemed as if the old dwellers in the long deserted cloister had returned, and were blending their voices with ours to welcome our arrival on this hallowed spot..”

After the death of Rev. Bushell’s son, he put Caldey up for sale. It was purchased by Dom Aelred Carlyle for the price of £12,000. Carlyle went on to build St. Philomena’s guest house, workmen’s cottages, Ty Gwyn, shop, post office and clubroom. Later with the help of an architect he built the present Abbey.

In 1913 Dom Aelred Carlyle and twenty two Anglican Monks left the Church of England and became Catholic.

In 1925 the Island was purchased (under the influence of the Pope) by the Order of Reformed Cistercian Monks.

During World War Two a number of the Monks at Caldey Island had been conscripted to serve under Belgian and French forces. During the September of 1940 the southern wing of the monastery suffered disastrous fire damage. The library and church were both destroyed by the blaze. It was not until 1951 that the new church was fully rebuilt by the monks. 

Caldey Island Timeline:

500s: The first monastic settlement was founded on the Island.

900s: The Vikings started raiding the Welsh coast.
They gave the Island the Norse name of Caldey or Cold Island. Norse: Kald - Cold, ey – Island

1113: Henry I give Cadley to an Anglo-Norman nobleman, Robert FitzMartin who then passed the Island to his mother Giva.

1136: The Island is given to the Monks of St. Dogmael’s, near Cardigan. They then opened a priory at Cadley.  

1536: With the dissolution of the monasteries the Monks are expelled from Caldey. The Island is then leased from the monarchy by John Bradsaw.

1597: During this year the Island was passed to Walter Philpin.

1653: The Island is purchased by Reeve Williams of Llanrhidian and Robert Williams of Loughor.

1786: The Island is purchased by the Earl of Warwick for the price of £3,000.

1798: Caldey is purchased by Thomas Kynaston.

1812: After the death of Thomas Kynaston the Island is passed to Cabot Kynaston.

1867: Cadley is purchased for the price of £15, 950 by James Wilson Hawksley for his son James Taylor Hawksely.

1894: The Island is purchased by Thomas Smith Cunninghame for the price of £12,750.

1897: The Island is purchased by Rev. Done Bushell for the price of £12,000.

1906: The Island is purchased for £12,000 by Dom Aelred Carlyle’s Anglican community of Benedictine monks.

1907-1910: St. Philomena’s guest house, workmen’s cottages, Ty Gwyn, shop, post office and clubroom are built. The water supply and sewerage system are also modernised.

1910-1913: Designed by an architect the present Caldey Abbey is built.

1913: Dom Aelred Carlyle and twenty two Anglican Monks leave the Church of England and become Catholic.

1925: The Island is sold to the Order of Reformed Cistercians for the price of £60,000.

1928: The Benedictine Monks left Caldey and moved to Prinknash Park, near Gloucester.

1930: The first party of Monks arrived from the mother house of Notre-Dame de Scourmont Abbey, near Chimay, Belgium.  The new Cistercian community was founded on the 6th of January, 1930.  

Author: Christopher Howells
Illustrator: Ross Grieve 

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