The wicked squire of the west

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Sir Herbert Lloyd of Maesyfelin and Peterwell just outside Lampeter can arguably be acknowledged as one of the wickedest men Wales ever produced.

In many ways he was the archetypal evil squires so beloved by romantic writers and early film makers. If he had been born and lived a hundred years later it would be easy to imagine him tying delicate young maidens to railway tracks and laughing as the train came ever closed.

In the 18th century, of course, there were no railway trains and Lloyd's wickedness took him in other directions.

Born in 1720, Sir Herbert Lloyd succeeded to the family estate of Maesyfelin after the death of his brother John in 1755 but had little liking for the place, preferring his own inherited property, the nearby land and house at Peterwell.

Indeed, he literally plundered the riches of Maesyfelin - its contents, its treasures, even the very stones of the place - in order to embellish and enrich his favourite house at Peterwell.

However, by inheriting the estate at Maesyfelin, Lloyd also succeeded to control of the court sessions at Lampeter.

As a JP he was brutal and vindictive, always seeking to fill his own pockets. Thanks to the corrupt nature of voting in the mid 1700s - servants and tenants of Lloyd's estates being enrolled as voters - he also became member of parliament for Cardigan Boroughs in 1761.

Representing his constituents meant nothing to Lloyd, it simply gave him more opportunity for lining his coffers, invariably at the expense of others. As someone once said of him, "he will never cease to persecute. It is become second nature to him."

Aided and abetted by his steward Oakley Leigh, Lloyd became famous for his violent and tyrannical lifestyle, heading up a band of friends and retainers who were soon regarded as being as dissolute as Lloyd himself.

He was vain, greedy and arrogant and during his time as Lord of Lampeter his control of the courts and their finances - their revenue meant to be a means to enforce things like road repairs and trade tariffs - was brutally enforced. Fines increased dramatically, much of the revenue undoubtedly finding its way into Lloyd's pockets.

The tale of the black ram

So vicious and violent was Herbert Lloyd's reputation that many of his deeds have gone down in Lampeter and Ceredigion folk lore. There are dozens of stories about the man but none is more powerful than the tale of the black ram. There was even an opera about the events written in 1957.

Apparently, Sir Herbert Lloyd wanted to gaze out at only his own lands from the roof of Peterwell - a vantage point that, amazingly, boasted an elegant roof garden. Unfortunately his vista was broken by the lands of one Sion Philip, an old farmer. He refused to sell his land to Lloyd and so a dastardly scheme was hatched by the owner of Peterwell.

Lloyd's prize black ram was taken and hidden away. Declaring the ram to have been stolen, Lloyd conducted searches all over the area. This went on for several days. Then, one dark night, servants from Peterwell climbed onto the roof of Sion Philip's cottage and carefully lowered the ram down his chimney. Philip and his wife slept on, unmindful of the fact that they were about to be charged with what was then a capital offence.

Sir Herbert Lloyd immediately sent for the Lampeter constable and, together with Oakley Leigh, headed for the cottage. The noise of the ram being lowered down the wide chimney had woken Philip but before he could do anything the constable and Sir Herbert burst in through the door. Philip was arrested and, apparently, marched off to jail, a journey of 30 miles through deep snow and frost.

The old man refused to confess to something he had not done and spent several weeks chained up in jail before a jury - hand-picked by Sir Herbert Lloyd, of course - convicted him for sheep stealing. He was duly hanged and Sir Herbert quickly acquired his lands.

At this distance, it is hard to say whether or not the story is true. Certainly Sion Philip existed and his small parcel of land did eventually end up as part of the Peterwell estate. And Sir Herbert was cruel and greedy enough to resort to such tactics. However you view it, it remains a fascinating tale and there are many people who still believe it implicitly.

In another country legend from the Lampeter area, the house and estate at Maesyfelin were subject to a curse, placed upon them by the local vicar. When Herbert Lloyd died in London on 19 August 1769 - some say by his own hand, others from natural causes - the two Lampeter estates were in severe financial difficulties. Most of the problems, it seems, were due to Lloyd's bad management and dissolute ways.

It seems, however, that the curse was effective. Sir Herbert Lloyd died childless and his estates soon passed into ruin. Many of the locals claimed that the curse on Maesyfelin was transferred to Peterwell along with the stones that Lloyd had moved from the original building to his favourite house.

By the end of the 19th century neither Maesyfelin nor Peterwell remained, the houses smashed down and left to moulder. Now all that remains of Peterwell is a pile of old stones and a stately avenue of trees. And, of course, the legend of Sir Herbert Lloyd, west Wales' very own wicked squire.

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