Twm Sion Cati, the Welsh Robin Hood
by Ben Johnson
Thomas Jones, otherwise known as Twm Sion Cati was born around 1530 at Tregaron, Cardiganshire, in the mid-west region of Wales. His mother was Catherine (or Cati) Jones, and although some stories claim that he was the illegitimate son of the local squire, it is more likely that his father was actually John (Welsh form Sion), son of David ap Madog ap Howel Motheu.
Although the original tales of Tom, or Twm, were undoubtedly expanded on before being passed down through the generations by word of mouth, the first pamphlets and books recording his exploits began to surface from around 1763.
Twm Sion Cati earned a reputation as a sort of Welsh Robin Hood, roaming the rugged west and mid part of Wales, robbing from the rich, but somehow forgetting the bit about giving to the poor. It is thought that Twm had some formal education and from the tales told, appears to have developed from a common thief and highwayman into quite a crafty and clever conman.
One story tells how a farmer came looking for Twm after one of his bullocks went ‘missing’ and in his search he called at Cati’s house. Outside the house a beggar apparently confirmed that Twm did indeed live there and obligingly offered to hold the farmer’s horse and whip, thus allowing him to dismount and enter the house to search it. The beggar, aka Twm, is said to have jumped onto the horse and galloped off to the farmer’s home, where he spun the tale to his wife that the farmer was in serious trouble and needed money urgently. Twm pointed to her husband’s horse and whip as conclusive proof that he had in fact been sent by the farmer. The farmer’s wife acknowledged such and paid up. With money in his pocket and a sturdy horse underneath him, Twm then set off for London town.
Twm is perhaps best remembered for the ‘sensitive’ treatment he is said to have metered out to his many victims. In an attempt to avoid hurting or killing them, he is reputed to have been able to fire an arrow which would pin his victim to the saddle of their horse, leaving them helpless but unharmed.
Twm often hid from his arch enemy the Sheriff of Carmarthen in a cave on the slopes of the densely wooded and rugged Dinas Hill, about 12 miles north of Llandovery, close to the village of Rhandirmwyn. Here the mountain river Pysgotwr joins the larger River Towy and roars through the rocky gorge below the cave.
Today Dinas Hill is a designated RSPB nature reserve. A footpath runs right round the hill, with a branch leading to Twm’s cave, which is also clearly marked on the Ordnance Survey Explorer map 187.
Later in life, this lovable rogue is said to have cast off his villainous ways and married Joan, also known as the heiress of Ystradffin and the daughter of Sir John Price, going to live in a grand house near Tregaron. He is said to have become a wealthy landowner and a Justice of the Peace, well qualified perhaps for sitting in judgement on others! When he died aged 79, this Welsh Robin Hood was considered a pillar of society, much respected and much beloved.