The name Llanddowror may come from a corruption of the Welsh dyfrwr, a fisherman. There is a legend (depicted in stained glass at Eglwys Cymyn church) of St Teilo rescuing seven young men who drowned while fishing in the Taf, converting them to Christianity and baptising them then and there in the waters of the river.
Dyfrwr can also mean ‘water-drinker’. Many of the early Welsh saints were famous for their abstinence. St David, another of the saints in the stained glass at Eglwys Cymyn, was nicknamed ‘Dewi Dyfrwyr’.
In the Middle Ages, Llanddowror was a stopping-place on the great pilgrimage route to St David’s. The lane to the north of the church is known locally as the Pilgrim’s Way - but now it leads only to the river and a crossing with no bridge. On the far side of the rugby field behind the church (Sian Rees describes this as ‘a peculiarly Welsh situation’ for a monument) are two stones about 1,000 years old with crosses carved on them. According to local tradition they are the graves of pilgrims.
More recently, the main road through the village was used by drovers on their way to the cattle markets of London. It is now bypassed by the A477. The village pub has closed but the Old Mill Cafe on the side road south of the village is well reviewed.
The Llanddowror village pound was first built in the Middle Ages. Animals found straying on the village common land would be kept here until their owners paid a fee for their release. More recently, in the nineteenth century, animals were kept here for safety during village gatherings, and thirsty travellers stopping at the Coopers Arms would have left their stock there. The pound was reconstructed in 2000 as part of the celebrations of the Millennium.
Llanddowror Church is worth a visit but you will have to track down a key. It has an imposing sixteenth-century tower. In the years just before the Reformation, church bells became fashionable and many parishes acquired a few bells and a tower to hang them in. Leaving money for bells or a bell tower was a popular way of making sure you would be remembered in your community. Every time the bells rang out, people would say a prayer for your soul.
The church also has a fifteenth-century font and the tomb of Llanddowror’s most famous inhabitant, the Rev. Griffith Jones, and his wife Margaret. Griffith Jones became rector of Llanddowror in 1716. He soon realised that his parishioners needed education - but it had to be education in the Welsh language. In an agricultural parish, and at a time when even young children were expected to work in the fields, school had to be held in the winter when people could attend. Teachers were scarce, so he founded what he called 'circulating schools'. Pupils (adults and children) were taught to read for about three months, by which time they were expected to be able to read the Bible in Welsh. The teacher would then move on, leaving the pupils to progress on their own. In 1761, Jones claimed that over the previous 25 years some 3000 schools had been held in 1600 different locations. This makes him the father not just of popular education and literacy in Wales but of lifelong learning as well.