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Origin of the name

The earliest reference might be in Leland's 'Itinerary'. Visiting Glamorgan in the wake of the Acts of Union from 1536, John Leland noted that there were but 'three gentlemen of fame' in Senghenydd, two of them being Edward Lewis and David ap Richard.

He describes David Richarde, dwelling at ‘Kellhle Gare’ in ‘Huhkaihac’. ‘Kelthle Gare’ is from another reference and is the parish we now call Gelligaer, and it would seem reasonable to assume that ‘Huhkaihac’ is an attempt to transliterate ‘Uwch Caiach’, ‘The House’ above the (river) Caiach. "The spelling 'gare' also indicates that the local pronunciation today has not changed substantially in four hundred years.

The next reference we can find is in Edward Prichard's marriage settlement of 1578, which mentions 'a capital mansion house called Glankayach', Here 'Glankayach' means '(the house) on the bank of the (river) Caiach'. This name is used throughout the following century, usually in the form 'Glancayach' but seems to have been changed to 'Llancaeach' sometime in the eighteenth century and later still to its modern spelling.

A series of investigations during the first stages of restoration of Llancaiach Fawr by the Welsh School of Architecture uncovered a number of highly unusual features as well as confirming that the house was much older than originally thought before any in depth studies were undertaken. It became clear that the house had been constructed with the security of its occupants as the main objective.

This accounts for the extraordinary number of steep mural stairs in the building. Even today the house suggests a defensive enclosure, with its massive walls, small ground floor windows and forbidding air.

Other evidence shows there was intense rivalry at the time and in later generations - between the Lewis branch of the family at the Van and the Prichard branch at Llancaiach Fawr.

It may be that the house was so constructed as protection against offensive action or possible reprisals.
It is the survival of the evidence for this Tudor defensive arrangement that makes Llancaiach Fawr unique.