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Caersws Basin
Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Making of the Caersws Basin Landscape


Historical development

Historic settlement and land use patterns in the historic landscape area are influenced markedly by the topography. The area radiates from a nucleus of river confluences at Caersws, with the valleys of the Severn, Garno and Cerist/Trannon dividing distinct blocks of higher ground around the rim of the basin. At all periods, settlement generally appears to have avoided both the highest ground and the lower-lying ground along the principal rivers where there is a period risk of flooding. Arwystli was a relatively poor area, with substantial areas of moorland in the western part of the cantref. Historically, therefore, the more fertile lowlands of the Caersws Basin have tended to form an important regional focus for settlement and intensive land use.

Earlier prehistory

As noted in a section on environmental history above, a study of a valley-bottom peat deposit just to the west of Caersws suggests that in the Neolithic period, about 3500 BC, the local environment was characterised by broadleaved woodland and scrub in which oak, hazel, lime, pine and some alder were dominant. There is as yet no clear evidence of major human impact upon the local environment at this period, although there is clear evidence for clearances and settlement further downstream already by this time, especially in the area between Berriew and Four Crosses, and it is likely that from at least the later Mesolithic period, in the period between about 8,000-4,000 BC onwards, that the at least seasonal exploitation of the natural resources of the Caersws Basin by human groups and communities had started though no certain evidence of this has yet been found.

The earliest evidence of human activity is provided by a cluster of chance finds towards the western side of the area, on lowlying land in the lower Cerist, Trannon and Garno valleys. These include a fragment of early Neolithic pottery from near Blackhall Cottages to the south of Llanwnog, and Neolithic stone axes found near Perth-eiryn and near Park. A perforated mace-head of Neolithic or early Bronze Age date is also known from Pontdolgoch.

Confirmation of probable early prehistoric activity in this area of Neolithic or early Bronze Age date is provided by a cluster of about 5 ring-ditches known from cropmark aerial photography in a small area west of the Garno and north of the Cerist near Maesgwastad and Tyddyncanol on ground slightly elevated above the valley floor. Two further ring-ditches have been identified in this area, to the east of the Garno in the area between Blackhall Cottages and Llawnog. The ring-ditches perhaps represent burial monuments, or possibly roundhouses in some instances, of communities permanently settled in the area in the late 3rd or early 2nd millennium BC. Possible Bronze Age burnt mounds have been identified close to the bank of the Garno near Maesteg, between the two groups of ring ditches. Other similar sites, possibly representing other distinct communities, have again been identified from the air at similar topographical locations elsewhere within the Caersws Basin historic landscape area, including a cluster of three possibly penannular ring-ditches to the north of Porth Farm, south of the Severn, and a possible ring-ditch to the south of Red House farm.

Later prehistory

Tribal structure probably continued to develop during the Middle and Later Bronze Age and by Iron Age the dominant tribal grouping in the region in the later prehistoric Iron Age appears to have been the Ordovices which like later Celtic society is likely to have had an hierarchical organisation in which lesser tribal chieftains at the head of local clans owed allegiance to more powerful leaders above them.

At some period during the Iron Age it seems likely that the prominent hillfort at Cefn Carnedd north-west of Llandinam was built as a fortified settlement on the upland spur between the Severn and the Cerist. It has multiple banks and ditches which enclose an area of over 3 hectares, and it may represent the focus of one of the lesser tribal groupings whose leader exercised power and authority over the Caersws Basin, the nearest comparable fortified sites of this period being between 7-10 miles away in either direction along the Severn valley. The site is unexcavated, but evidence from similar sites elsewhere in the region suggests that it may have been occupied intermittently or more or less continuously during the period between the end of the Bronze Age in about 700-800 BC through to the Roman conquest in the 1st century AD, taking the form of a fortified village composed of numerous roundhouses and other buildings and structures.

A group of smaller, rounded defended settlements of possible later prehistoric date is known on the higher ground on the north-west side of the basin. Wyle Cop enclosure lies on the side of a stream to the north of Llanwnog and the Gwynfynydd enclosure lies on sloping ground north of Caersws, both enclosing areas of about 0.3 hectares. A larger possibly unfinished enclosure, enclosing an area of up to about 4 hectares has been identified just to the east of the Manthrig Brook, to the north-east of Caersws village, which has been shown by radiocarbon dating to probably date to the period 550-150 BC.

Little is known of the economy or nature of land use during this period, but the nature and location of the later prehistoric hillfort and smaller defended enclosures and the scarcity of evidence for occupation on the valley floor may suggest a predominantly pastoral economy, dependant upon the exploitation of lowland pastures during the winter months and upland pastures during the summer, together with some arable cultivation.

The Roman period

Despite the resistance of certain native British tribes, much of the south and east of Britain was rapidly conquered following the landing of the Roman forces in the south-east of Britain in AD 43. Within a handful of years Rome had established a heavily policed frontier to the new and valuable province of Britannia along an at least temporary boundary which excluded what is now Wales and Scotland. Early resistance to the Roman army appears to have been orchestrated by Caratacus (also known as Caractacus, Caradoc), a native prince who had fled into Wales from his tribe, the Catuvellauni, in south-east Britain. The Roman army probably first campaigned in pursuit of Caratacus under the governorship of Ostorius Scapula in about AD 51. The Roman historian Tacitus tells us of a final battle held in Ordovician territory at a point where Caratacus had mustered a native army on a steeply-sloping hill approached across a treacherous river. The precise location is unknown, though the Iron Age hillfort of Cefn Carnedd to the north-west of Llandinam, is one of the places which it has been thought may have been the site of the battle. The native forces were overcome by an army composed of up to 20,000 men drawn from several Roman legions and various auxiliary units, though Caratacus himself fled and the army failed to secure control of the territory. Further campaigns were undertaken during the 50s and 60s, until Ordovician territory was finally subdued by about the year AD 78, during the governorship of Julius Agricola.

The conquest and subsequent policing of the territory of the Ordovices is represented by a network of Roman forts and military roads including the two successive forts for Roman auxiliary soldiers at Caersws, an early campaign base at Llwyn-y-brain, on the banks of the river Severn, just to the north-east of the village, and a later, more permanent fort just to the north-west of the village core.

The more permanent fort at Caersws covered an area of about 3 hectares and probably housed cavalry units. It initially lay in advance of a legionary fortress at Wroxeter and an intermediate fort at Forden Gaer, before the legionary base was moved to Chester in the 80s. Caersws is probably to be equated with the name Mediomanum which appears in the 7th-century Ravenna Cosmography, a 7th-century manuscript based on earlier sources. Stamped tiles found at Caersws suggest that at one stage the fort was garrisoned by a military unit raised in the Roman province of Iberia.

Towns, which were the usual centres of civilian administration throughout the Roman world, failed to develop in the region and it is possible that legal and financial affairs continued to be administered by the Roman army throughout the Roman period, between the later 1st century and the beginning of the 5th century AD.

A civilian settlement, known as a vicus, was developed on the southern and eastern sides of the Roman fort in the village at Caersws which housed merchants and craftsmen drawn from elsewhere in the Roman empire. The settlement, which appears to have covered an area of up to about 8 hectares, may have consisted of up to several hundred probably mostly timber buildings, would have been sanctioned by the Roman army and was laid out within a carefully laid out grid of streets and lanes which stretched almost to the floodplain of the Severn to the south and beyond the Manthrig Brook to the east.

The civilian settlement was evidently a flourishing industrial and commercial centre, supplying goods and services to the garrison. Excavations have shown that bakehouses and a tavern or gaming-house were set up and that smithies and workshops were set up for the production of iron weapons and bronze jewellery. A tile kiln was built for the production of floor tiles. A bathhouse probably drawing water from the Garno was built to the south of the fort and a cemetery also appears to have been set up in this area. A large range of exotic merchandise was imported from throughout the empire, including fine tableware and glass, querns for grinding corn, wine, cooking oil and pigments, creating a small enclave of Roman citizens which may have remained culturally distinct from the native population in the surrounding countryside.

A cluster of small, single or double-ditched rectangular and sub-rectangular enclosures up to about 0.3 hectares in extent have been found by aerial photography lying within 1-2 kilometres of the Roman fort at Caersws, some of which lie fairly close to the line of Roman roads north and west of the fort and might be associated with them. Examples are known between Henfryn and Gwynfynydd to the north of Caersws, near Maesgwastad to the west, and near Gellidywyll to the south. Smaller sites are known on the valley floor south of Dolhafren and on a slight rise to the south of Llandinam Hall. This group of enclosures are undated and some may be much earlier or later in date, but they may represent part of a more widespread pattern of Roman farmsteads in the Caersws area.

Possibly during the course of the Roman period much of the Caersws Basin became fairly intensively farmed, with the more valuable ploughlands and meadows on the lower-lying ground already partitioned into fields, encircled by hillslopes cloaked in remnant ancient woodland and higher ground providing rough summer grazing for herds of cattle and sheep.

The civilian settlement at Caersws appears to have been relatively short-lived, however, and seems to have rapidly declined after about AD 120 when the larger part of the garrison of the Roman fort was moved to help secure the northern frontier of the province. The fort at Caersws seems to have been maintained until at least the 3rd or 4th century, possibly as an administrative centre with a much reduced garrison.

Early medieval and medieval periods

By the end of Roman rule at the beginning of the 5th century AD it seems likely that at least the lowland areas of the Caersws Basin were reasonably intensively farmed, with perhaps a fairly close-knit network of lowland farms and fields with a mixed farming economy taking advantage of the better grade arable lands above the floodplain of the major rivers, summer meadows and winter grazing along the river edge and woodland resources and summer grazing. The meadow land was particularly valuable since it governed how many animals could be overwintered.

Little is yet known of the political, religious or judicial institutions that came into being during the early medieval period, between the 5th and earlier 11th centuries AD, within the kingdom of Arwystli and its constituent commotes, but the development by the Middle Ages of nucleated settlements, the collection of tribute and the sharing of common land by neighbouring communities all suggest the emergence of a hierarchy of lesser native lordships with the ability and authority to organise the landscape, and perhaps based upon an evolving pattern of parishes and townships that are known from later times.

Elements of the present-day landscape of settlement and field pattern had probably also become established in the early medieval and medieval periods. Parts of the area, notably on the rising ground around the margins of the Caersws Basin, probably continued to be farmed from dispersed farmsteads which originated in the Roman period, held by families of free farmers or tenants of larger estates, and though there is as yet no clear evidence of the form or distribution of farmsteads of this period it is likely that some are represented by present-day farms. Many of these farms are probably to be associated with patterns of large or small irregular fields which represent a landscape which evolved over the course of many centuries by the gradual and piecemeal clearance and enclosure of woodland and scrub from later prehistoric times onwards. At the present day these fields are often bounded by ancient hedges composed of many different species of trees and shrubs, and on more steeply-sloping ground are sometimes associated with lynchets indicating where ploughing for cereal production was once more prevalent. The surviving unenclosed common lands or ‘wastes’ were the joint property (cyd-tir) of freeholders and could be used for grazing livestock such as cattle, sheep and ponies, and as at later periods a source of building stone, fuel, and animal bedding.

A different pattern of settlement and land use originating from the early medieval and medieval periods is represented by the small nucleated church settlements at Llandinam to the south and Llanwnog to the north of the river, both of which, to varying degree, are associated with reasonably distinct patterns of long, elongated strip-like patterns of fields, more distinct in the case of Llanwnog, and generally bounded by hedges which have the appearance of having derived from the enclosure of former open, jointly cultivated arable fields, some of which are still associated with surviving traces of broad ridge and furrow. This suggests that the nucleated settlements may have arisen from the evolution of manorial and associated ecclesiastical centres, to which houses and cottages may have become either drawn or which were deliberately created by the enforced evacuation and creation of open fields.

It is possibly significant that the administrative focus of the area had moved away from Caersws by the early medieval period, when it seems possible that the two new church settlements at Llandinam to the south and Llanwnog to the north of the river had come into being, and perhaps even deriving from ownership patterns that had already emerged during the later Roman period. The demise of the former military administrative centre at Caersws is further marked by the dismantling of the defences of the former Roman fort at Caersws, a process which is thought to be represented by the squared blocks of red sandstone that form part of the earliest surviving fabric of Llanwnog church.

The two earthwork castles within the historic landscape area, the Bronfelin and Moat Farm motte and baileys on the rising ground to the south of the Severn, both appear to be associated with the period of Anglo-Norman conquest in the late 11th century, and although they may only have had a short-lived military significance they appear to have continued, perhaps as manorial centres, into the later medieval period. Other small manorial centres had developed at Park (Pen-prys) by the later 13th century and by the early 14th century part of Llanwnog parish was held formed an ecclesiastical manor held by the bishop of Bangor.

There are suggestions that attempts were made perhaps during the 13th or 14th century to establish a borough with weekly markets at Caersws by the lords of Arwystli or Powys, between those which were created further upstream at Llanidloes and further downstream at Newtown. By the 16th century, however, it was simply a small hamlet within the smallest township within the parish of Llanwnog, probably simply having failed to develop.

A little can be gleaned of the social and economic life of Arwystli in the Middle Ages from slight documentation relating to a number of the larger holdings. The cantref was evidently relatively poor and like most of Wales was an area of mixed farming, though some areas were only suited to rough grazing in the summer months. The early 14th-century tenants of the bishop of Bangor at Llanwnog paid cash rents which had replaced former renders of ground oats and reaping services. The tenants of the lord of the manor at Park in the early 13th century, likewise paid cash rents which had replaced renders of ground oats, flour, poultry and milk, reaping and weeding services and billeting for the lord’s huntsmen and hounds, which indicated that Park was the centre of a hunting park in the Middle Ages. Herds of pigs belonging to the Augustinian canons of Haughmond Abbey in Shropshire were allowed forage in the wood of Pen-prys. Livestock husbandry was probably an important element of the economy of the area during the Middle Ages, but although by the early 16th century it is evident from the ecclesiastical tithes owed to the portionary rectors of Llandinam that produce included corn, lambs wood and milk, there is no direct mention of cattle.

Hostilities between the Welsh kingdoms of Gwynedd and Powys during the 12th and 13th centuries, the plagues of the 14th century and the Glyndŵr rebellion at the beginning of the 15th century are all likely to have had a significant impact upon the development of settlement and land use in the historic landscape area and probably led to marked changes to customary tenurial and land use patterns.

Post-medieval and modern periods

As noted below in the section on buildings, a resurgence in the rural economy in the 16th to early 17th centuries appears to be marked by the construction of a cluster of larger lowland farmhouses and high status manorial or estate centres at Llandinam Hall, Maesmawr, Perth-eiryn, Park, Carneddau and Llwyn-y-brain. The distribution of these buildings suggests widespread changes in patterns of ownership, particularly in the lowlying lands along the Severn, Garno and Cerist and Trannon valleys, involving enclosure and emparkment of fairly extensive areas of lowland common meadow for animal husbandry in association with farms which evidently developed specialized agricultural economies.

Renders paid by the tenants of the manor at Park in the early 13th century, note above, make it clear that this was a hunting park in the Middle Ages, which was probably one of the reasons why it became a royal horse stud by the later 16th century, in the reign of Elizabeth I. The earls of Pembroke had been granted all demesne, lands, and meadows in ‘Park Penprise’ in 1562, and it is probably significant that during this period William, earl of Pembroke and Robert, earl of Leicester, successively the steward and lord of Arwystli, also both held office of Master of the Horse. Powys had been a noted centre of horse breeding since the Middle Ages, Gerald of Wales surmising that the blood-stock in the later 12th century could be traced back to Spanish horses imported by the earl of Shrewsbury, in the late 11th or early 12th century.

Disputes about the enclosure of lowland common meadows in the Caersws Basin were probably the basis of complaints, possibly during the reign of Edward VI, that the ‘parkes of Caersouse [Caersws]’ had been ‘given awaie . . . from the burgesses to keep the king’s breeding mares’ at Park. Continued clearance and enclosure of woodland around the margin of the basin are also indicated at this period. At about this time, in the later 16th century, ‘Park Penprise’ was said to fall within ‘the forest of Fryth called Frith Penryse’. The term ffridd implies enclosed land on the upland edge, and probably relates to the rising ground north of Park which forms the north-western rim of the basin, in the area in of the former wood of Pen-prys in which the canons of Haughmond had pannage for their pigs. Specific reference to encroachments on the wastes of Arwystli, formerly unenclosed upland and possibly lowland commons, is given in a survey of the lordship of Arwystli prepared on behalf of the earl of Leicester in 1574.

During the course of the later 16th and 17th centuries many of the larger farms and estate centres that had arisen during the 15th and 16th centuries continued to gain greater prominence by the purchase and amalgamation of holdings and by intermarriage, until by the later 17th and early 18th century no more than a handful of landed families owned a disproportionately large share of the best agricultural land in the Caersws Basin. Prominent families by this time included the Pierces of Llwyn-y-brain, the Prices of Park, the Davieses of Maesmawr Hall, the Glyns of Maesmawr Farm, the Joneses of Trewythen, and the Reads of Llandinam.

Various radical changes to patterns of settlement and land use were to follow from the improvements in agricultural practices and road transport that swept the country during the later 18th and earlier 19th century. The manorial rights of Arwystli were inherited by Sir Watkin Williams Wynn of Wynnstay, a prominent improving north-Walian landowner, accorded the unofficial title of ‘Prince of Wales’, who actively promoted the enclosure of the commons and wastes of the hundred which were said to be ‘of little value in their present state’. Enclosure would permit investment to be made in clearance, fencing and drainage which would improve the productivity of the land, would allow for the cultivation of fodder crops to assist with the overwintering of stock, and play an important role in controlled breeding programmes. The enclosure act for Arwystli was passed by Act of Parliament in 1816 and came fully into force in the 1820s.

The enclosure act affected an area of almost 6 square kilometres, just under 20 percent of the total area of the historic landscape area. Most of the enclosed land was rough pasture on which freeholders had turned out their sheep and cattle, whose boundaries had in most instances never previously been mapped or defined and which under the terms of the enclosure act were now subdivided between the lord of the manor and those landowners who had rights of grazing. It included part of the higher ground west of Pontdolgoch, a swathe of rising ground near Gwynfynydd to the north-east of Caersws, the spur of higher ground encircling Cefn Carnedd to the north-west of Llandinam, a substantial area of the higher ground between Moel Iart and Penstrowed Hill along the southern edge of the Caersws Basin, but also included were significant areas of lowland meadow in an around the village of Caersws, the lower Garno near its confluence with the Severn and the lower Manthrig Brook just north of Caersws. Distinctive fieldscapes were created as a result of the enclosure movement, characterised by small, large and very large straight-sided fields or moorland enclosures often defined by single species hedges or by post and wire fences. Some relatively small areas of ‘sheepwalks’ (areas of rough grazing) in Llandinam, part of Moel Iart remained as unenclosed common land. Allotment of the landscape led to the better control of stock and a decline in the importance of animal pounds of the kind that once existed at Pound just next to a former area of unenclosed land on the road running north from Caersws.

Woodland plantations were established during the 19th century in some areas which were enclosed as a consequence of the Arwystli enclosure act, notably on the hills to the west and north-west of Llandinam. Other areas of woodland were planted in the 20th century, as for example the Alltwnnog conifer woodland, planted in 1954.

The Arwystli enclosure act made provision for the compensation of cottage encroachments. All encroachments which were over 20 years old for which no rent or fines had been paid, became the occupier’s property, but were not entitled to any allotments of the commons. Where encroachments were less than 20 years old or where rent had been paid such encroachments were counted as the property of the person to whom the rent was paid, but these ‘illegal’ encroachments or cottages were eligible for compensation if their inhabitants were poor. Clusters of cottages in the area of Little London, on the hills north-east of Llandinam, and in and around the village of Caersws, thus both appear to represent encroachments of more than 20 years standing, dating from the late 17th century or earlier, that became legitimized by the enclosure act of 1816. Some of these cottages became unsustainable and there are now a number of house sites abandoned in probably the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries in some marginal areas, as for example near Little London and Belan Hill.

Land improvements to increase agricultural productivity in the 19th and 20th centuries have left their mark in some upland and lowland marginal areas. Drainage schemes involving drainage ditches and buried ceramic drains were being undertaken probably from the earlier 19th century onwards, including extensive systems on seasonally waterlogged ground around Llwyn y Brain north-east of Caersws, on land bordering the Manthrig Brook to the north of Caersws, and in the lower Cerist and Trannon valleys west of Caersws. Narrow ridge and furrow was probably also created to improve drainage in some areas, as for example near Gwynfynydd Farm north of Caersws. Visible evidence of land clearance and the improvement of upland pasture is represented by stone clearance cairns in some areas, as for example on Moel Iart.

The villages of Llanwnog, Llandinam and the hamlet of Caersws continued to develop and expand in piecemeal fashion, gradually accruing semi-urban functions. A school had been established at Llandinam during the Elizabethan period under the patronage of local landowners, and later at Llanwnog and Caersws. Manorial courts, the court leets, at which various local disputes were settled, came to be held twice a year, alternately at Llandinam and Caersws. Improvements to the road network and the construction of new or improved bridges as a result of the turnpike roads in the later 18th and early 19th century resulted in the appearance of inns at both these centres and at Llanwnog.

The hamlet at Pontdolgoch may have begun to develop in the Middle Ages, in the vicinity of a corn watermill harnessing the power of the Garno. Between the 17th century and the later 19th century is gradually expanded, to include a sawmill, corn mill and woollen mill with associated mill houses and workers cottages. The coming railways in the early 1860s had some slight impact upon development of Pontdolgoch and Llandinam, though the impact was most marked in the case of Caersws, close to the junction of the Cambrian and the Mid Wales lines and from the early 1870s the junction of the Van Railway serving the lead and barytes mines north of Llanidloes. The decline of the woollen industry in the early 19th century added to the problem of rural poverty and was a contributory factor in the construction of the Caersws and Newtown Poor Law Union Workhouse built on the eastern outskirts of Caersws in the 1830s, which at its peak housed 258 paupers, many from the woollen industry.

The modern rural landscape is characterized by scattered farms of varying sizes. Permanent grassland on the better grade land and rough grazing on the hill land is now the dominant land use throughout the area. Some dairying is still undertaken on lower-lying ground, herds being overwintered indoors during the winter months. Cattle production is largely for calves for store market, most cattle being overwintered in yards and loose boxes. Moorland pastures are used only in the summer months, largely for sheep production, with fattening and lambing mostly on lower-lying ground during the winter months. Little or no arable crops are now grown. Small-scale pig farming was once more important judging from the late 19th and earlier 20th-century pigsties surviving at a number of farms and smallholdings but is now uncommon. Many farms originally part of larger estates that were sold during the 1920s to sitting tenants who continued with family enterprises though many farms are now operated by a single farmer. The intensification of farming in the later 20th century led to the amalgamation of smaller farms especially, to create more viable units. The rural income is supplemented by estate pheasant shoots and by trout fishing in the Llandinam area.

Buildings in the landscape: the character of settlement

The three nucleated settlements at Llanwnog, Caersws and Llandinam have very different characters. Llanwnog is focused on the medieval church, and includes at least one building of 17th-century date. The village is dominated by a series of farms, and retention of farm buildings contributes much to its character. Notwithstanding its Roman origins, Caersws has the character of a roadside village developed at an important river crossing, road junction and former railway junction. Although there is at least one traditional vernacular building in the village, its character is in many respects much more urban and industrial than rural, albeit on a very small scale. Thus development includes a series of terraces, one of which is three-storeyed, probably of early 19th-century date, and is reminiscent of the rows associated with the woollen industry in Penygloddfa, Newtown. Much of the rest clearly post-dates the railway and there are a number of small units where light industry is carried out. The earliest part of Llandinam appears to have early origins, with a number of buildings surviving from 17th century, and there are several small vernacular buildings clustered in an informal pattern reminiscent of squatting. To this informal settlement, an overlay of planned development has been added by the Dinam Estate, and the focus of later building shifted to the main road.

Building traditions

The extant buildings of the Caersws Basin make a significant contribution to both the character and coherence of the historic landscape area, within which a number of significant architectural themes can be identified. The area is notable for its long chronology of building, with surviving medieval fabric in the churches at Llandinam and Llanwnog and with a number of houses from at least the 16th and early 17th centuries, some indicating a period of relative prosperity at this time. It is interesting, however, that some relatively small buildings have survived from the 17th century. There are some good 18th-century houses, but a distinct flurry of building activity evidently took place during the 19th century, associated with improvements in the network of turnpike roads, the development of a number of the larger estates, and the coming of the railways. Although smallholdings from this period are still firmly in the vernacular tradition, many of the farmhouses and other buildings spring from polite architectural traditions. 20th-century building includes the county council smallholding movement, continued building on the Plas Dinam estate, and some council house building. There has also been significant private development in the countryside, notably in the block of land north-east of Llanwnog in the 20th century.

Building materials

The area as a whole is remarkably diverse in the use of building materials. Timber framing was used in the earliest buildings but appears to have continued for longer in the case of those of lesser status. The survival of several cruck-framed buildings in the area suggests an earlier tradition. The farmhouse at Llwyn-y-brain, to the east of Caersws and Porth-gwebedyn on the south side of the valley to the south-east of Caersws both originated as cruck-built hall houses in probably the 15th or early 16th century. A cottage at Pontdolgoch includes both cruck- and box-framed trusses.

Cruck-framed barns of perhaps 16th-century date are known at Berthddu just beyond the south-west margins of the historic landscape area. A cruck-framed barn with timber-framed walls at Tre-gastell, towards Aberhafesp, which was demolished in the 1980s, is a relatively recent loss of a building of this kind, though no doubt many others of this tradition have disappeared from the area without record.

A number of isolated, lowland, gentry houses survive in the area, such as Llandinam Hall and Maesmawr Hall just above the floodplain of the Severn and Perth-eiryn near Llanwnog, which illustrate the conspicuous use of timber continuing into the 16th and throughout the 17th century for box-framing with close-studding, which is a particular indication of high status. Llandinam Hall was acquired by John Read, high sheriff from the Herberts of Chirbury in the mid 17th century. Maesmawr (now a hotel) was the home of Griffith Lloyd, high sheriff in the 1570s, and was again home to high sheriffs in the 1660, during the Civil War. A number of other prominent houses and farmhouses also began life as timber-framed structures, and were probably all originally thatched. A house of the Herbert family at Park, formerly Pen-prys, near the confluence of the Garno and Trannon, was similarly build in closely-studded timber towards the end of the 17th century. Carnedd, between the Cerist and Severn was again originally of half-timbered construction, and a timber-framed cross wing was added to the earlier cruck-framed hall at Llwyn-y-brain farmhouse at this period.

Timber-framed construction probably continued in common use for lesser buildings into and beyond the 17th century, The Little House north-west of Llandinam, dated 1692, probably being a rare survival of a small, single-storey half-timbered rural building that was once much more common in the area. There are several cottages including, for example in Llandinam village and on the roadside south of it, which have the spindly timbers characteristic of later timber-framing traditions as late as the 18th or even early 19th century. Weatherboarding is the almost ubiquitous finish for timber-framed agricultural buildings whereas domestic buildings are typically ‘black and white’, with the box framing infilled with plastered panels.

Stone was adopted early on for the construction of the medieval churches at Llanwnog and Llandinam where there is some surviving medieval stone fabric of the 13th to 15th centuries which is thought to include, in the case of Llanwnog at least, some reddish sandstone taken from the defences of the Roman fort in the village of Caersws. Stone was in widespread use for domestic, agricultural and small industrial buildings, probably from the early 17th century onwards and there are distinct variations in the way that it was used, ranging from rough rubble to well squared and coursed blocks. A number of small quarries scattered across the area were probably early sources of building stone but from the earlier 19th century and probably earlier the existing commercial stone quarry at Penstowed, just beyond the south-eastern boundary of the historic landscape area, was in production. These variations reflect social status and the organisation of building work as much as building chronologies.

Brick was employed at number of higher status houses in the 18th-century and came into more widespread use during the course of the 19th century, whilst often remaining the material chosen for relatively high status buildings. Until about the first half of the 19th century it appears that bricks were produced locally, using based glacially-derived deposits of good brick clay which occur in a band running from the Cerist and Trannon valley, north of the Severn to the area north and north-west of Caersws, Roman tile kilns being known in the village of Caersws itself. There is an 18th-century house in the village of Llandinam which uses brick decoratively in a manner which suggests considerable confidence in the material, and indicates its status. Perth-eiryn, the high-status 17th-century timber-framed house in Pontdolgoch has an 18th-century brick front. The former Caersws and Newtown Poor Law Union Workhouse at Caersws (subsequently Llys Maldwyn Hospital, and recently converted to residential accommodation) was built between 1837-40, partly in bricks produced in brickworks set up in the fields just to the north-east and partly in stone from the Penstrowed quarry. Local handmade bricks also appear to have been used for the construction of complexes of farm buildings in the area, as at Carnedd and Trewythen-fawr.

In the later 19th century the use of coloured bricks came into vogue alongside the more traditional red, this use of polychrome possibly indicating local production though it is sometimes thought to be a post-railway feature when transportation became easier. The use of coloured brick is also often seem to be associated with estate patronage, such as Church House Farm, the largest farm in Llanwnog which has a number of features including diagonally offset chimneys which suggest an estate character. A number of commercial brickworks had become established in the neighbourhood by the second half of the 19th century, including the Parry and Jones brickworks just to the north of the Severn at Newtown. Various buildings in both Caersws and Llanwnog display a particularly good variety of brick types and colours for both houses and other buildings, including the use of yellow brick for the Van Railway engine shed built in 1871.

Another more obviously industrial material is corrugated iron which began to be widely used from the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century for sheds and outbuildings, such as those associated with Ty Coch mill at Pontdolgoch, and especially hay-barns. It occasionally also appears as cladding for vulnerable gable-ends of houses.

Although there is broadly a succession of building materials from timber to stone to brick, the use of materials is also closely linked to social status and timber was used for smaller buildings long after stone or brick had been adopted for buildings of higher position. The succession of materials is graphically illustrated in those buildings rebuilt or partially rebuilt in a ‘new’ material, but materials could also be used in combination and there are examples of buildings using timber-framing between stone gables: these may be seen as stages in the development of building techniques, but the use of a ‘new’ material may also be a status marker. North Welsh slate became ubiquitous as a roofing material from the 19th century.

Building types and social and economic history

Caersws and Llandinam have numbers of houses without land, but outside these settlements, most of the buildings have an obvious connection to agriculture, whether as farms or smallholdings. There are clear variations in the size of farm, including several large ones west of the Severn, but also a series of much smaller holdings in this area and elsewhere, including some with minimal agricultural outbuildings. There remain some farm cottages scattered across the area, of which a number date from the 17th century.

A distinction can perhaps be drawn between smaller upland farms (typically with buildings in-line) and the larger lowland farms where buildings are detached. Some of the smaller holdings often look like encroachments, but many of the larger farms have the appearance of estate farms, both by the architectural character of the farmhouses and the form and layout of the farm buildings themselves, which include a number of examples of well-planned 19th-century brick-built ranges, as for example at Carneddau and Trewythen-fawr, mentioned above. These seem generally dedicated to the accommodation of stock, and are sometimes in addition to much earlier timber-framed and weather-boarded farm buildings, also probably associated with stock. These complexes of buildings seem to represent the impact of farm improvements implemented by a number of the larger estates during the 19th-century, such as the Reads and Crewe-Reads of Llandinam Hall and Plas Dinam and the Williams Wynns of Wynnstay.

Corrugated iron haybarns, which appear to be a feature of estate farms in particular, represent a further period of investment towards the end of the 19th century and into the 20th century, emphasising the continued importance of stock-rearing in the agricultural economy. There is also an important series of early county council smallholdings in the area, including, for example, Maesteg, Wig Lane, Caersws.

Architectural character

A number of the larger houses and farms in the area, such as Llandinam Hall, Maesmawr Hall and Park had been formed as estate centres from the 16th and 17th centuries, but this earlier phase of estates seemed to exert little influence beyond the immediate affluence of the main house itself. In the 19th century the influence of the estates on the character of buildings in the historic landscape character area became much more pronounced. The high architectural language of the Italianate Broneirion (now a conference and residential training centre for the Guide movement) with its associated Gothic lodge and other buildings (Fron Haul and Bryn-Hafren) gives the first indication of this. The complex, which lies just above the floodplain at the foot of the hills to the west of Llandinam, was built for the eminent industrialist David Davies in 1864-65 to a design by David Walker of Poundley and Walker. Plas Dinam is an exceptionally fine country house, with which are associated a series of offices east of the house was built. The house, designed by W. E. Nesfield in an English medieval vernacular style, was built on a new site in 1873-74 for Captain J. O. Crewe-Read of Llandinam Hall, and subsequently occupied by David Davies’s descendants.

The village of Llandinam also carries the mark of estate patronage, in the series of cottages along the roadside north of the village which employ a distinctive Arts and Crafts vocabulary with their white roughcast walls and small-paned casement windows, but also in the village institute, school and lavishly endowed chapel. Elsewhere, the scale and character of farm-buildings also suggests estate-sponsored work, and there are some farmhouses which were probably also rebuilt through estate patronage, including Middle Gwern-eirin to the west of Broneirion, and Caetwp to the north-east of Plas Dinam, which are both examples of later 19th-century building in a Gothic style. Neuadd Lwyd, south of the village, belongs to an earlier generation, about 1830-40, but its polite Georgian character and hipped roof may also be indications of estate patronage. On the whole, though, the evidence suggests that the estate underwent a period of enlargement during the 19th century, its building work overlying or adding to earlier established prosperous farms as a clear phase of improvement. The village of Llandinam appears to have undergone a similar history, in which the existing village was enlarged under the auspices of the estate.

Other estates may also have had a hand in shaping the landscape. In Caersws for example, Dolaethnen is a mid 19th-century house of polite architectural character associated with the Williams Wynn estate. The tall, stone-built estate house of mid 19th-century date at Pen-y-borfa fawr, on the main road north-west of Caersws village, may again have been built for the same estate.

For earlier periods, whilst building work all belongs within a vernacular tradition, there is a notable range of size of house and sophistication in planning and construction. Thus Llandinam Hall and Maesmawr Hall are significant not only for their considerable size and lavish use of materials, but also for their regionalised planning, having a lobby-entry plan characteristic of the Severn Valley in the early 17th century. Many other 17th- and 18th-century buildings were much more modest, both in construction and planning, but in the 19th-century there was another burst of building activity in which vernacular traditions were abandoned for all but the most lowly buildings. This is marked firstly by the introduction of brick, and then by the use of polite Georgian vocabulary. Later, as noted above, other styles were introduced including Italianate and Gothic at Broneirion, and an English medieval vernacular style at Plas Dinam.

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