Cymraeg / English
Historic Landscape Characterisation
The Clywedog Valley:
Llanbrynmair and Trefeglwys communities, Powys
Upland plateau dissected by streams which formed part of medieval monastic grange, with early encroachments possibly originating from seasonal settlements, partly subject to parliamentary enclosure in the early 19th century, with possible Roman and medieval and more extensive 19th-century metal-mining remains and associated settlement evidence.
A substantial part of the area, between the Afon Bachog and the Dengwm (perhaps the south-flowing tributary of the Clywedog at Dyfngwm-isaf) appears to have fallen within the grazing lands of Bothreiswall and Pannaubacho granted to the Cistercian abbey of Strata Marcella near Welshpool by Gwenwynwyn, prince of southern Powys, in 1187 and probably held by the abbey up until its dissolution in the mid 16th century. The area formerly fell within the manorial township of Penegoes Uwchycoed in the 19th-century Montgomeryshire tithe parish of Penegoes and subsequently within a new ecclesiastical parish based upon the former St David’s Church at Dylife created in 1856 out of the parishes of Llanbrynmair, Darowen, Penegoes and Trefeglwys.
Key historic landscape characteristics
Upland plateau, generally between 380-520 metres above sea level, dissected by the stream valleys of the upper Clywedog and its tributaries which drain into the Clywedog Reservoir to the south-east, and by the Nant Bryn-moel, Nant Dropyns and Nant yr Iâr streams, tributaries of the Afon Twymyn, which drain north-eastwards into deep, 200-metre deep gorge which extends into the character area. Predominantly loamy permeable upland soils overlying rock, with peaty horizons, supporting moorland and grassland of moderate grazing which historically have been best suited to stock rearing and conifer woodland, with some dairying on improved ground. The area includes a number of small conifer plantations planted during the 20th century.
Recorded placenames in the area are mostly topographical, though that of the of former farmstead Ty’n-y-fuches in the Clywedog valley and Fuches, which applies to the extensive area of grazing north of the Clywedog valley, contain the element buches (‘herd, fold’) which indicate an historical association with upland grazing. The name Dylife derives from dylif (‘flood, deluge, torrent’) and is first recorded in the 1640s when the first documentary references to mining in the area begin.
Early settlement and land use, possibly originating as upland seasonal settlements in the medieval to early post-medieval periods, is represented by a cluster of relict house platforms and by small farmsteads along the north side of the Clywedog valley and in the valley of the Afon Twymyn, some of which such as Dyfngwm-isaf and Ty’n-y-fuches have since been abandoned. These appear to represent encroachments onto formerly unenclosed upland grazing. Much of the modern pattern of large straight-sided fields, especially on the higher ground, represents patterns of enclosure carried out since the 1880s.
Despite the evidence of early agriculture, visible archaeological remains are dominated by the mining industry. Early metal mining activity is suggested by the presence of the Roman fortlet of Penycrocbren on the upland ridge between the valley of the Clywedog to the south and the Nant Dropyns and Afon Twymyn to the north. The fortlet has provided evidence of activity during the 2nd century AD, and may have played a role in the policing of mining activity in the area during the Roman period. The trackway to the north of the fortlet is thought to lie on the line of a Roman road from the Roman fort at Caersws along the Trannon valley. It has been suggested that the road may have continued westwards towards the Roman fort at Pennal but as yet there is no evidence of this. Early workings, possibly of Roman date, are thought to be represented by opencuts, levels, trials and shafts on the north-western slopes of Pen Dylife opposite the Rhanc-y-mynydd cottages. There are further early workings possibly of Roman date further south at Dyfngwm.
Further metal mining and processing in the period between about 1640 intermittently up to the 1930s is represented by extensive relict mining landscape scattered over an area of about 75 hectares stretching from Dylife in the valley of the Nant Dropyns to the north, across the exposed upland ridge at Pen Dylife and on to the mines at Dyfngwm in the Clywedog valley to the south. The mines exploited three principal veins known as the Esgairgaled, Llechwedd Ddu and Dylife or Dyfngwm lodes which yielded lead, silver, zinc and copper ores.
The earliest workings at Dylife consist of opencuts, levels trials and shafts which were superseded by a series of five main shafts from which ore was transported by a number of trackways to processing areas within the valley bottoms of the Afon Twymyn and Nant Dropyns which continued in operation up to the 1920s. One of the shafts was eventually sunk to a depth of 167 fathoms, making it the deepest in mid Wales. Reservoirs created on the streams at Pwll Rhyd-y-porthmyn and on the Nant Dropyns carried water by a series of leats and launders which provided water power used to drive winding and pumping machinery at the main shafts and for driving stone crushers, jiggers and buddles. There are visible remains of most of the mining and working processes though the processing areas are now relatively poorly preserved.
The Pen Dylife mine workings extend for about a kilometre along the exposed upland ridge to the south of Dylife and cover an area of about 30 hectares, at a height of between about 400–450 metres above sea level, encompassing the Roman fortlet of Penycrocbren whose earthwork banks and single entrance remain clearly visible. Apart from its possible Roman origins, the old trackway to the north of the fortlet marks the line of the former turnpike road between Llanidloes and Machynlleth. A substantial bank to the south probably marks the boundary between the Pen Dylife and the Dyfngwm mining setts. The well-preserved mining remains at Pen Dylife are dominated by a line of small pits and larger shafts exploiting the mineral vein running along the ridge and which towards the west merge with the substantial opencast workings of the Dyfngwm mine. Earlier mining activity, probably mostly of the 17th and 18th centuries, is represented by the smaller shafts in this series as well as by earthworks representing a network of leats and small reservoirs which suggest that the process of hushing was employed. The scale of mining operations increased dramatically from the mid 19th century, accompanied by the sinking of a new shaft and the construction a steam-powered engine house, the highest to be installed in Wales, whose site is still visible. The absence of large spoil tips which tend to characterize 19th-century workings elsewhere was due to the fact that the ore mined at Pen Dylife was processed either at Dylife, or later at Dyfngwm. In 1865 the Dylife mine was connected to the deep adit at Dyfngwm, making a through passage about a kilometre long beneath the mountain.
Surviving remains of the Dyfngwm mine in the Clywedog valley includes substantial opencast workings in the north side of the valley where initially metal ores would have been exposed in the natural rock exposures, and a deep adit which connected with two substantial shafts further uphill, adjacent to the Pen Dylife mine, as well as numerous scattered trials. Early workings, perhaps of Roman or medieval date, are represented by opencuts, adits, shallow shaft-mound type workings, some of which have produced evidence of manual dressing in the form of stone mortars buried in the tips. Visible remains associated with the larger shafts include whim circles, an incline with the base of a winding drum, and the earthworks of a large square enclosure which like similar examples at a number of other mine sites in mid Wales, may have been used to impound horses employed at the mine. In the Clywedog valley below, there are significant remains of ore-processing including the poorly preserved remains of a crusher house and processing mill, extensive spoil-tips, a possible jigger platform and associated jigger waste, and a series of interconnected slime pits along the south bank of the Clywedog. Water power was harnessed for the ore extraction and processing, water being taken from a leat taken off the Clywedog further upstream in addition to the use steam-power. Working continued up until 1935.
The site of a former gallows (Welsh crocbren), thought to date to about 1700, is marked by a small mound to the west of the Roman fortlet of Penycrocbren which translates into English as ‘Gibbet Hill’. The site was excavated in 1938 when gibbetting irons and a human skull were discovered, now housed at the National History Museum at St Fagans. Folklore associates the gallows with a local blacksmith (Sion y Gof) living at Felin-newydd, who is said to have murdered his family and disposed of their bodies down a mineshaft, and subsequently made to forge his own gibbeting irons.
The present-day settlement is represented by a pattern of small dispersed farms, which probably in some instances originated as seasonal settlements or encroachments upon former areas of open grazing and upland common during the medieval to early post-medieval periods, upon which was superimposed the dispersed mining community of mostly later 18th and 19th century date at Dylife. The latter includes the row of about 20 miners’ cottages at Rhanc-y-mynydd (‘Mountain Rank’), to which small vegetable allotments were attached, as well as the shorter row of cottages at Bryn-goleu and a scatter of other houses or short rows which may also be related to the mining industry. At one time the settlement also included Independent, Baptist and Calvinistic Methodist chapels, St David’s Church and vicarage, and school, which were all in existence by the 1850s, as well as a smithy and several inns, including the extant Star Inn. The collapse of the mining industry led to the gradual demise of the settlement, charted by the closure of the school in 1925, the disrepair of St David’s Church early in the 20th century and its eventual demolition of the church in 1962, and the recent conversion of two of the chapels to houses.
Historic Environment Record; modern Ordnance Survey 1:10,000, 1:25,000 mapping and 1st edn Ordnance Survey 1:2,500 mapping; Barton 1999; Bick 1975; Bick 1977; Bick 1985; Bick 1990; Brown 2005; Burnham 1995; Davies and Jones 2006; Foster-Smith 1978; George 1970; Gregory 1997; Jarrett 1969; Jones 1922; Jones 1961; Jones 1994; Jones et al. 2004; Jones and Moreton 1977; Moore-Colyer 2002; Morgan 2001; Putnam 1961-62; Soil Survey of England and Wales; Thomas 1977; Timberlake 1996; Walters 1994; Williams 1990; Williams 2002; Williams and Bick 1992
For further information please contact the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust at this address, or link to the Countryside Council for Wales' web site at www.ccw.gov.uk.
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