Lost villages are former settlements that have been abandoned over the centuries for various reasons. In Gower usually little physical evidence remains other than earthworks or crumbling church ruins or foundations.
Common explanations for village abandonment are besandment during the 13th to 15th centuries and the Bubonic Plague.
According to Reverend J. D. Davies of Llanmadoc and Cheriton, there once existed a medieval village and church called Llanelen, off Welsh Moor, during the reign of Edward VI. Yet today, other than a monument erected here, nothing exists of this mysterious settlement, except a few scattered stones.
Folklore tells us that a ship, returning from a cruise abroad, foundered in the Burry Estuary and the survivors climbed ashore and up the hill to the sanctuary of Llanelen. The kindly villagers welcomed the ship's crew, unaware that they were infected with the plague. Within a week the entire village had either succumbed to the deadly illness or had fled for their lives.
Archeologists began excavations of the site in 1973 until 1985, with additional research carried out during the winters of 1991-2 and 1994-5. Experts found evidence of a two-chambered stone building considered to be a 12th century church, overlying an earlier timber construction. The foundations of a further simple domestic stone building were found nearby along with 31 graves and numerous domestic objects made from stone, pottery and metal.
It is theorised that the original church building was turned into a farmhouse in the second half of the 13th century at the same time the second domestic building would have been constructed. This certainly suggests that the site was used by humans from before the 12th century, but there is not enough evidence to correlate with J. D. Davies' account of the existence of a village here. However, evidence found during the archeological excavations alongside investigations into the history of Llanelen and its sudden demise could not discount the legend of the plague ship.
Pottery finds at the site of the old farmstead date to around 1350, suggesting that the building had been abandoned during the time of the first arrival of the plague in Wales.
Stone is known to have been salvaged from the site buildings to construct a bridge nearby, at Wernffrwd, and legend suggests that the remaining stones left on the fated site will curse all those who dare to touch them.
Two memorial stones for this lost village can be observed embedded in the gate posts of Llanrhidian Church.
Curses and the supernatural
That two of the scant remains of this village - i.e. the plaques at Llanrhidian Church, are rumoured to be cursed is perhaps understandable considering the devastating history of the village where they once resided. And that bewitchment still attaches itself to the grounds where the village once stood is further evidenced by the tale of a farmer who, whilst wandering around the ruined site, found a dressed stone amongst the rubble and took it away with him for use on his farm.
Every night thereafter his sleep was disturbed by the sound of the stone rolling restlessly around the farmyard and his sleep was not restored again until the stone was returned to the site where it rightfully belonged.
Again not unexpectedly, there is also a ghost attached to this forlorn area - a spectral lady in white who is said to roam the various debris and trees that has sprung up around here, weeping as she walks around the ruins that was once Llanelen.
A further tale of the supernatural is also connected with Llanelen. The land around and including the old village site once belonged to the family of Lieutenant-Colonel Bowen. A renowned womaniser, his series of indiscretions led him away from parliament and into exile in Ireland. His wife, however, remained at Llanelen with their children.
One night, she was awakened by the sound of what she later described as a whirlwind, raging around the home. Sitting up in her bed, she became terrified when violent bangs began to sound against the walls.
The following night matters got worse. Again the sound of a whirlwind and angry bangs sounded around the house. This time, however, they were also accompanied by an overwhelming scent of decaying flesh and sulphur.
At her wit's end, Colonel Bowen's wife pleaded for her husband to return to the house, which he did for a short period of time. Despite his presence, the house continued to be attacked by this unseen evil force and the family moved to Ireland to escape the haunting.