enquiries@tywigateway.org.uk Parc a Gerddi yr Esgob, Abergwili, Sir Caerfyrddin SA31 2JG


The Bishops Park and Gardens has been a place of learning, faith and scenic beauty for hundreds of years.

The Bishops Park and Gardens is brimming with history.  From the ancient trees which have stood watch here for centuries, to the walled garden which provided exotic food and flowers for the bishop’s table, to the oxbow lake and the shifting landscape of the Tywi Valley flood plain, to the medieval bishops palace which the Park surrounds and the people that lived and worked here.

Working with Museum staff and volunteers the Trust has brought together stories about the Bishops of St David’s, their palace and its gardens in Abergwili and the communities which have lived and worked here.  This is a work in progress and we are continually looking to add to our archival material and share the stories of the Palace and Park – so if you’d like to research or contribute – get in touch! 

Why build here?

From before the creation of the Bishops Palace, the bishops have influenced the lives of the people of Abergwili.  At the end of the thirteenth century Bishop Thomas Bek decided to build a church college in Abergwili – one of four towns in Carmarthenshire owned by the bishops of St David’s. The reason he chose Abergwili is not clear – but good transport connections with Carmarthen, the oldest town in Wales still inhabited, must surely have been one.

A Place fit for a Bishop

The college remained in Abergwili until the mid 16th century when Bishop William Barlow, finding St David’s too remote a place to live, decided to move the college to Brecon so he could turn Abergwili into his new home.  His palace remained the home of the Bishop’s of St David’s for the next 431 years.

Home of the Welsh Renaissance

In 1561 Bishop Richard Davies turned the palace into the home of the Welsh Renaissance. Artists and writers and poets came to Abergwili including William Salesbury, the leading Welsh scholar of the Renaissance. Whilst staying in Abergwili and working with Bishop Davies he produced the first Welsh translations of both the New Testament and the Book of Common Prayer.  By creating a Welsh language bible he helped to secure the continued future of the Welsh language.

Development of the Park and Gardens

Meanwhile, evidence for the gardens and parkland at Abergwili comes late in the site’s history. Even a list of the property owned by the Bishop’s of St David’s written in 1326 doesn’t even mention whether a garden or park existed here.  It is not until 1713 and records compiled under Bishop Ottley that the gardens at Abergwili are first mentioned.  Explore the development of the Park and Gardens.

The Tywi Valley Landscape

One of many bishops to undertake refurbishment of the palace and grounds, Bishop Lord George Murray carried out major alterations at the start of the nineteenth century. This was when, as a result of a severe flood in 1802, the River Tywi changed its course away from the Bishop’s Park further south across the valley floor, leaving only an ox-bow lake on its original course.  This lake became known as the ‘Bishop’s Pond’ and lies at the eastern end of Bishop’s Park, a haven for wildlife and plants.

Bishop Jenkinson’s Pleasure Grounds

Only a few years after Murray’s rebuild in 1825, when John Jenkinson became bishop, the palace was again described as being in a state of near ruin. At his own expense, Bishop Jenkinson had the building almost completely rebuilt in the Elizabethan Style and remodelled the grounds in a picturesque fashion with view points through the trees across and up the valley. In the 1840s it was said that he had ‘added much to the beauty of the pleasure grounds by judicious improvements’. It is this design, captured in a plan of the palace and grounds in 1843, which has been used to guide the restoration works and inspire the design of the new Jenkinson’s entrance garden.

(c) Caryl Thomas

Palace People

From the mid 19th century onwards more evidence survives of the Bishops’ households, and not just wives and children. For example in 1861 the census records a house keeper, cook, head nurse, 2 housemaids, kitchen maid, under nurse, dairy maid and footman all living in the palace along with Bishop Connop Thirlwall and his grand nephews and niece aged 5, 3 and 2, two of whom were born in Abergwili.

Help us discover more about the Park

More stories about the palace, its grounds and the people that lived and worked here have been found by our volunteers are we are constantly adding to the archive and publishing new material on our website.  To help or contribute, get in touch!