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Caersws Basin
Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Making of the Caersws Basin Landscape


Throughout history the Caersws Basin, lying at the confluence of the river Severn and its tributaries, the Trannon, Cerist and Garno, has formed part of an important communications corridor giving access to central and west Wales from the borderland and English Midlands to the east.

The area lay far beyond the point at which the river Severn was considered to be navigable in the 18th century, though it seems possible that as well as carrying light craft the river had been and continued to be used until perhaps the earlier 19th century, at least seasonally, for the transport of timber and perhaps other goods downstream, though there is little certain evidence for this activity.

Roman roads

The Roman fort and civilian settlement in the village of Caersws lay at the hub of a strategic network of military Roman roads linking with Roman forts elsewhere.

One of the principal roads led eastwards towards the fort at Forden Gaer and then on to the successive legionary fortress and Roman city at Wroxeter. Well-preserved stretches of the Roman road survive as an upstanding earthwork in the historic landscape area in fields to the south of the river Severn, between Maesmawr Hall and Red House, from which point eastwards it probably underlies the present-day road towards Newtown. The road evidently crosses the Severn to the west of Maesmawr Hall, to enter the south gate of the Roman fort near the former primary school in Caersws, but most of this stretch of the road and the Roman bridge across the river have probably been destroyed by gradually shifting river meanders.

The course of the road leading from the east gate of the fort has been traced from both cropmark and surviving earthwork evidence, taking a course parallel to Manthrig Lane, Caersws, and then swinging to the north of Llys Maldwyn and running out of the historic landscape area roughly along the line of the modern road at Llwyn y Gog. The road has been intermittently traced about 10 miles towards Dolanog in the Banwy valley. Its ultimate goal has not yet been established but it may have continued across the Berwyns towards the Roman forts at Llanfor or Caer Gai near Bala, in the Dee valley.

The course of the Roman road leading from the north gate of the Roman road has been established for a distance of about 100 metres, running in the direction of Llanwnog. Thereafter its course is uncertain, though it is thought to run along the Garno valley more or less along the line of the A470 and possibly on towards the Roman fort at Pennal in the Dyfi valley west of Machynlleth.

The road leading from the west gate of the fort can be traced for a distance of about 1.5 miles to the point it leaves the historic landscape area within the valley of the Trannon and Cerist streams. After crossing the river Garno its course is represented by intermittent stretches of earthwork and partly by the course of the modern road between Tynrhos and Coedyparc. The road is thought to run westwards to the Roman fortlet at Penycrogbren and possibly then also on towards the Roman fort at Pennal.

The course of the Roman road south from Caersws towards the Roman fort of Castell Collen near Llandrindod Wells is less certain, though a section of the road have been identified in the playing fields just to the south of the river in Caersws, from where it is thought to run for a distance along the Severn valley past Llandinam more or less along the line of the modern road before cutting across the hills to the south.

It is unknown how long the Roman road network remained in use, but there is evidence that the forts at Forden Gaer and Caersws remained in commission, perhaps on a reduced basis, into the 3rd or 4th century AD and it therefore seems likely that some elements of this local network remained in use until that period.

Medieval and later roads

Little is known of the course of medieval or later roads in the area until the widespread improvement that were made during the course of the later 18th and early 19th century. Early maps by Saxton (1578) and Camden (1637) indicate the main centres of population but generally give little detail of the principal through routes during this period.

Cattle drovers’ roads

By the 18th and earlier 19th centuries the Caersws Basin had become a significant nodal point on drovers’ roads that had developed to transport cattle on the hoof from mid and west Wales to markets in towns along the borderland and further afield. Two distinct routes through the area appear to have become important. One route from the Machynlleth area ran through Staylittle and Trefeglwys via the valley of the Trannon and Cerist to Caersws, then taking a lowland route along the upper Severn valley to Newtown, Welshpool and Shrewsbury and beyond. A second route from the Cwmystwyth and Rhayader areas, led to Llangurig, and Llanidloes to enter the historic landscape area at Llandinam, and then took the higher ground south of the Severn valley past Little London, splitting east of Mochdre either along a more northerly route along the Kerry Ridgeway to Bishop’s Castle or southwards via Bettws y Crwyn in the direction of Ludlow and beyond. By the later 19th century a number of cattle traders had become established in the Caersws area to exploit this trade.

Turnpike roads and improved bridges

Significant improvements were made to the network of major roads in the later 18th century following the passing of the Montgomeryshire Turnpike Act of 1769, enacted from the 1790s onwards, which gave powers for the repair and widening of various specified roads and to pay for these works and continuing maintenance by raising tolls by means of turnpike gates. These improvements can be traced on a new series of road maps that were published from this period onwards, including John Evans’ Map of North Wales (1797), G. Coles’ Map of Montgomery (1809), and Philip and Sons’ Map of North Wales (1853).

Early on, improvements were made to the road from Newtown to Machynlleth running north of the river Severn via Aberhafesp (B4568), which crossed the historic landscape area via Llwyn-y-brain Cottage, Llanwnog and Pontdolgoch. Subsequently the new turnpike to the south of the river called the ‘Long Length’ (A489) was constructed, which ran through Llandinam and on to Llanidloes and also branched northwards to Pontdolgoch via Caersws. A new turnpike was also constructed from south of Pontdolgoch towards Trefeglwys via Wig (along the line of the B4569). Milestones were erected along at least a number of these roads, of which several probably late 18th-century examples survive, including ones near the entrance to Ty-mawr and opposite the driveway and lodge to Plas Dinam, on the A489, near Aelybryn and to the west of Llanwnog on the B4568.

Roadside inns serving the increasing number of road travellers during the later 18th and earlier 19th centuries came into being at Caersws (Unicorn Inn), Llandinam (Lion Inn) and Llanwnog (Temperance Hotel, now renamed Talbot House).

A number of road bridges were also built or rebuilt during this period as part of the general improvements. Caersws bridge with its three stone arches was rebuilt shortly after 1821 once taken over by the county, and designed by Thomas Penson, the County Surveyor for Montgomeryshire, replacing an earlier stone bridge said to have had two arches and described as being ‘in a very bad state’. The Wig road bridge with a single stone arch was built in 1847, again to design by Penson, to replace two smaller bridges across the river Garno. Two other bridges across the Garno by Penson have been substantially altered. These include the stone bridge with a single arch at Pontdolgoch, rebuilt in about the 1870s and topped with concrete and metal rails when the road was widened in the 1980s, and a second bridge just west of Caersws, on the former turnpike to Trefeglwys, that was rebuilt in 1835 replacing two earlier bridges but subsequently reconstructed in concrete and metal in about the late 1980s.

The cast-iron road bridge with a single arch across the Severn at Llandinam, was again to a design by Penson. It was completed in 1846 and was Montgomeryshire’s first iron road bridge, replacing an earlier timber bridge. The components were cast by the Hawarden Ironworks and adopting similar type of construction to that used by Telford. The contractor for the new road approaches and the retaining wall for the road was the famous industrialist David Davies of Llandinam, this being his first public contract.

The footbridge known as Festival Bridge across the Severn near the eastern boundary of the historic landscape area near Ty-mawr is said to date from 1951 Festival of Britain.

The Railways

The Llanidloes and Newtown railway was completed in 1859, with a station within the historic landscape area at Llandinam. The line, which was isolated from the rest of the national railway network for several years, was built using local labour and capital and helped to launch the career of the Welsh industrialist David Davies of Llandinam. David Davies was also involved in the construction of the Oswestry to Welshpool Railway in 1859/1860 and the Welshpool to Newtown line in 1861, to which the Newtown and Llanidloes Railway was connected at Newtown. In 1862 the Newtown and Machynlleth line was built, branching from the Newtown and Llanidloes line at Moat Lane, south of Caersws, where there was a halt and engine sheds. The line became part of the Cambrian Railway network in 1864. Stations on this line were built in the area at Caersws and Pontdolgoch. In 1864 the Mid Wales Railway line south from Llanidloes to Rhayader and on to Builth Road and Three Cocks had also been opened, which amalgamated with the Cambrian Railway Company in the 1860s. In 1871 the Van Railway was built which served the lead and barytes mine at Van, north of Llanidloes, branching from the Newtown to Machynlleth line at Caersws and running westwards along the valley of the Cerist and Trannon streams, and also carried passengers from 1873 and after some difficulties the line was reopened for freight by the Cambrian Railways in 1896. An engine shed and the railway manager’s office were built at Caersws.

The construction of the railways had some impact upon local drainage patterns. The channel of the river Severn was altered downstream of Llandinam during the construction of the railway to Llanidloes in 1859, and in 1871 about 5 miles of the river Cerist diverted into a deep artificial channel to enable the construction of the Van Railway.

Following the first world war the Cambrian Railway became part of the Great Western Railway, which was nationalised as British Railways in 1948, and denationalised in the 1990s. The Newtown to Machynlleth line remains in operation but the other lines in the area are now closed. The Van Railway was closed in 1940, lingering on for 20 years after the closure of the Van lead mine in 1920. The Newtown to Llanidloes line was closed to passengers south of Moat Lane Junction in 1963, but carried some freight until 1967, having been kept open to transport materials used for the construction of the Clywedog reservoir west of Llanidloes, whose construction was completed in 1966.

Caersws Station with stationmaster’s house and attached signal box continue in use but the former railway station and stationmaster’s house at Pontdolgoch has now been converted to a house and only the sites of former station at Llanidloes and halt and engine sheds at Moat Lane survive. The Van Railway engine shed survives on the western outskirts of the village of Caersws, now used as a store in an industrial yard. The course of the dismantled Mid Wales railway line running along the south side of the Severn valley south of Moat Lane and of the former line of the Van Railway line west of Caersws continue to form prominent landscape features, with cuttings and embankments transecting earlier field boundaries and culverted streams.

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