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History of Ysbyty Ifan

A view of the village of Ysbyty Ifan, Gwynedd, on the River Conwy. There's a collection of Welsh-stone houses and an arched stone bridge over the river in the foreground.
The village of Ysbyty Ifan and the River Conwy | © National Trust Images/Ian Shaw

This peaceful village with its rolling hills, farmsteads and stunning scenery has attracted many visitors over the years. Delve back into medieval Wales, and find an exciting history of knights, pilgrims, and bandits.

Knights of St Johns

Until 1190 Ysbyty Ifan was known as Dôl Gynwal (Welsh for Gynwal's Meadow). It was renamed Ysbyty Ifan (meaning hospital of St John) after it came to the attention of the Knights of St John, an order of Hospitallers, who were bound to protect pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land and on religious journeys.

Hostel for pilgrims

They chose to set up a hospital and hostel to care for pilgrims in Ysbyty Ifan as it was located on several ancient pilgrimage routes, including Bangor-on-Dee and Holywell in north-east, and to Ynys Enlli /Bardsey Island off the tip of the Llŷn peninsula.

Gwylltiaid Mawddwy

The Knights had the privilege of sanctuary, and in the troubled time after the Glyndwr uprising in the 15th century, Ysbyty Ifan was one of the hideouts to some of Wales’ most famous outlaws and rebels, including gwylltiaid cochion Mawddwy (the red bandits of Mawddwy), and became known as a haven for criminals.

Writing at the end of the 16th century, Sir John Wynn of Gwydir said Ysbyty Ifan had been ‘a receptacle of thieves and murderers.’

Red dragons and religion

With the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII, the hostel was abolished in 1540, but the neighbouring church remained, to act as the parish church. The building was replaced in around 1860 by the present church, in the Victorian 'early English' style.

The church contains artefacts from the earlier church, many of them from the 14th to 16th centuries. Many of which highlight the connections between Ysbyty Ifan and the Tudor uprising.

Tudor uprising

One effigy is said to depict Rhys ap Maredudd, who recruited soldiers to help Henry Tudor, as he was seen in Wales as the “mab darogan” or the son of prophecy, who would rise and lead the Welsh to defeat the English. Henry was born in Pembroke Castle, so made as much use of this prophecy as possible to garner support.

Death of King Richard III

Rhys ap Maredudd took a local army to meet young Henry Tudor on his way to defeat King Richard III at Bosworth in 1485. Rhys carried the Red Dragon standard of Cadwaladr on the battlefield, and some poets insisted it was he who killed Richard. There is no way we can prove this, but the family did well out of the Tudor victory, with their local power, influence and estate growing.

Modern-day history

In 1951 the Ysbyty Ifan estate came into our care after being transferred from the Treasury, who received it in lieu of death duties from the estates of the then late Lord Penrhyn.

Ysbyty Ifan was transferred along with mountainous Carneddau and Glyderau estate, which boasts the largest continuous stretch of mountainous land in the country, and the impressive building and grounds of Penrhyn Castle.

Visitors at Penrhyn Castle and Garden, Gwynedd, Wales
Visitors at Penrhyn Castle and Garden, Gwynedd, Wales | © National Trust Images/Paul Harris

Ysbyty Ifan is one of the largest agricultural estates we care for with 20,316 acres of uplands, all of which fall within the boundaries of the Snowdonia National Park.

The estate consists of 51 farms and 30 houses. Farming is based mainly on the rearing of sheep and beef cattle, who do well on the uplands and open moors.

Close local community

The relative remoteness of the estate has helped to foster a close local community and has safeguarded the area as a Welsh speaking heartland.

The Migneint which is the large stretch of moorland and blanket bog on the south of the estate is all designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on account of its plant communities and its bird life.

According to the 2011 Census, the population was 196 in 76 households, with over 79 per cent of the population were able to speak Welsh.

A view of the village of Ysbyty Ifan, Gwynedd, on the River Conwy. There's a collection of Welsh-stone houses and an arched stone bridge over the river in the foreground.

Discover more at Ysbyty Ifan

Find out how to get to Ysbyty Ifan, where to park, the things to see and do and more.

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