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Thursday, 31 October 2013

Violence, Murder & Ghosts – a colourful history of Old Plas

Recently the Royal Commission has undertaken a new interpretation of Old Plas, Llantwit Major, to record the building through a restoration project, part funded by Cadw, that will see the ruinous mansion become a home once again. Through the research to accompany the survey a number of interesting stories came to light about the Vann family that once lived here.

Old Plas in Llantwit Major has a long history, dating back some five hundred years; it holds a full history as the second seat of the Vann family of Marcross. The Vanns were not the most peaceful family Llantwit Major had seen, with tales of violence and corruption; they found themselves the suspects of murder, civil unrest and eventually they become a part of the ghosts of ‘Llantwit Castle’.

The first of which comes in the year 1527 when Thomas Vann is found guilty of the murder of a John Fleming underneath the Town Hall. After first pleading innocent, Thomas admits that it was him that held the knife that was driven into John Fleming, killing him in cold blood; but Thomas was spared prison and the executioners block, being tried and duly pardoned. The Vann had done it, he had gotten away with the ultimate crime, albeit with a fine and the knowledge that he would not be able to rise through the ranks of the gentry.

Later that century, the Vanns are at it again, in 1598 Edmund and his younger brother Edward are hauled in front of The Court of the Star Chamber for inciting violence. The incident unravelled in an interesting manner... On Sunday 9 October 1597, Edmund, Edward and a number of accomplices burst into St Illtyd’s Church during service to attack the Seys of Boverton. This started with the stabbing of one of the Seys, before continuing around Llantwit Major for several hours where they are reported to have caused ‘a ryott and other misdemeanours’, with the use of daggers and throwing of stones causing utmost damage to the town and people. Several hours passed before Sir Edward Stradling of St Donats, a Justice of the Peace, put an end to the violence, with the use of a small armed band of soldiers, and escorted the Seys home under armed guard. So, forward in time to 28 August 1598 and The Court of the Star Chamber; Edmund, Edward and their accomplices are being held in Fleet prison before both sides give evidence. Needless to say the brothers were found responsible for the incident and, by 9 February 1599, fines were handed out, Edmund was fined £1,000 (over £160,000 today!), with £100 to Roger Seys, whilst Edward was fined 500 marks. After this the family became more peaceful, until it died out in the early eighteenth century...or did it?

Over 100 years pass and we find ourselves in the early nineteenth century, the industrial revolution is gathering pace and the parents of Llantwit Major want to control their unruly children. Old Plas becomes the focus of a haunting, a floating spectre is said to be seen haunting the old mansion; a ‘Dutch’ ghost is in residence. The ghost is said to have been that of a sailor, but whether he met an unfortunate end in Old Plas or on the rocky shores nearby, it is not known. The idea of the Dutch ghost is intriguing, the story is said to have come about to help control the local children, who were causing mischief and mayhem in the town. It is likely that the name Vann had remained in local memory and, with increased mobility during the industrial period it was probably linked with the Dutch prefix of ‘Van’, hence the ghost becoming Dutch!

Link to Coflein:

By Ross Cook

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