KENVIG (CEFN-Y-FIGYN), LOWER, with Pyle, a parish, comprising the greater portion of the borough of Kenvig, in the union of Bridgend and Cowbridge, hundred of Newcastle, county of Glamorgan, South Wales, 11½ miles (S. S. E.) from Neath; containing, exclusively of Pyle, and including Skeir, 297 inhabitants. This place, which is of considerable antiquity, derives its name from its situation on a ridge of ground above a bog. It was anciently of much more importance. As forming part of the great lordship of Glamorgan, it passed by right of conquest, with the other possessions of Iestyn ab Gwrgan, the last Prince of Glamorgan, to Fitz-Hamon, the Norman invader, who included Kenvig among the estates reserved to himself and not apportioned to his companions. Under FitzHamon, his descendants, and their successors, the town increased in importance; and in the reign of Edward II., its immunities were augmented through the influence of this monarch’s favourite, the younger Spencer, who obtained for it, in common with other towns in his lordship of Glamorgan, a new charter from the crown. The castle, town, and lordship of Kenvig, about the middle of the fourteenth century, formed part of the dower of the widow of Hugh le Despencer, on her marriage with Guy de Brien. The charter endowing the place with municipal privileges was confirmed by Thomas le Despencer, lord of Glamorgan, in 1360, and renewed by his son Edward, in 1396, and by his daughter Isabel, in 1423. According to the Annales Marganenses, the town was attacked by the Welsh in 1232.
The decay of the old town, castle, and church are ascribed to an overwhelming inundation of the sea, which took place about the middle of the sixteenth century, and covered with sand an extensive tract in the neighbourhood of the coast. From the desolating effect of this calamitous event the town has never since recovered; it now forms only a small straggling and insignificant village, near the open coast of the Bristol Channel. Kenvig contains about 750 acres of inclosed land, and 800 acres of waste, which latter are principally composed of sandbanks and rabbit warrens, about twelve miles in extent, reaching from Skeir rocks to Briton-Ferry. These sand-banks have been planted with the arundo arenaria, in order to bind them: and, on taking a farm on the adjoining moor, the tenant usually covenants in his lease to give annually the labour of a day or more, in proportion to the extent of his farm, for planting it. The bog referred to in the etymology of the name of this place has, from time immemorial, formed a lake, which is nearly two miles in circumference, and, though situated close to the seashore, and encompassed with sand, never imbibes any muriatic properties. Prior to the desolation caused by the furious encroachment of the sea, the road from Cardiff to Swansea and Carmarthen passed through the town; it was subsequently diverted so as to pass about a mile and a half to the north.
Kenvig still retains its municipal privileges, and is governed by a constable of the castle, a portreeve, an unlimited number of aldermen, a recorder, hayward, two ale-tasters, and an indefinite number of burgesses. The constable of the castle is appointed by the lord of the manor; and the portreeve is chosen by the constable out of three burgesses selected by the aldermen at the court leet held at Michaelmas: the aldermen consist of persons who have served the office of portreeve. The recorder and hayward are named by the portreeve; the sergeantat-mace is appointed by the constable from a list of four burgesses returned to him by the jury at the October court leet, and the ale-tasters are chosen by the same officer. The burgesses are elected by the portreeve and a jury of eight burgesses, who may be sworn in at any time, and may confer the freedom on whomsoever they please, and of whom, according to ancient municipal regulation, the freedom can only be claimed by the sons of burgesses born after their father’s admission. All the burgesses are entitled to common pasture, without stint, upon the extensive wastes belonging to the borough, of which there are about 250 acres that are fit for pasture; and the revenue of the corporation is about £25 per annum. The borough comprises within its jurisdiction the whole of Lower Kenvig, the whole of the hamlet of Higher Kenvig, and part of that of Trissient, the two last being in the adjoining parish of Margam. It also forms a lordship of itself, with a superior manorial jurisdiction over North Cornelly, South Cornelly, and Scarveur.
This borough, which is one of the most ancient in Wales, prior to the passing of the act of 1832, for “Amending the Representation of the People,” was contributory with Cardiff, Aberavon, Cowbridge, Llantrissent, Loughor, Neath, and Swansea, in the return of a member to parliament; the right of election here being in the burgesses at large, resident and non-resident, in number 230. It is now contributory with Swansea, Aberavon, Loughor, and Neath, which have been raised into an independent district, returning one member. The right of election is vested in the old resident burgesses, and in every male person of full age occupying, either as owner, or as tenant under the same landlord, a house or other premises of the annual value of not less than £10. The number of tenements of this value within the limits of the borough is very inconsiderable. The mayor of Swansea is the returning officer. The town-hall, of which the lower part has been converted into a public-house, was built about the beginning of the present century, at an expense of £400. Two fairs were formerly held annually; the first commenced on Whit-Tuesday, the second on the eve of St. James the Apostle, and each continued eight days. The line of the great South Wales railway passes in the vicinity of Kenvig.
The living is a discharged vicarage, with that of Pyle consolidated, rated in the king’s books at £4. 8. 11½., endowed with £800 royal bounty and £800 parliamentary grant, and in the patronage of the Lord Chancellor; present net income, £95; impropriator, C. R. M. Talbot, Esq. The ancient church, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene, was confirmed and granted, with its appurtenances, about the commencement of the thirteenth century, to the abbey of Margam, by Henry, Bishop of Llandaf, on the petition of Walter, abbot of Tewkesbury. The present parish church is at Pyle. Of the castle, there are no other remains than part of one of the towers, rising to the height of about twelve feet above the sand, beneath which the remainder is buried; and some vestiges of the moat that surrounded it. About 300 yards to the south of it were the ancient church and cemetery, where human bones are frequently exposed to view by the drifting of the sands. The Roman Via Julia Maritima is supposed to have taken its course by this place, between which and the village of Margam is an inscribed stone, about five feet in height and one in diameter, on which are the words Punpeius Carantorius, with some curious characters that have exercised the ingenuity of antiquaries. On the south-east side of the parish is a large extra-parochial farm, called Skeir, containing 21 inhabitants, the boundary line between which and Kenvig having been covered with sand by the storm above noticed, a commission was held for ascertaining it, pursuant to an act obtained in 1554, relating to the destruction caused by the seasand in Glamorganshire.
A Topographical Dictionary of Wales