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Historic Landscapes

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Clywedog Valley

CPAT PHOTO 06-C-246

Introduction

The following description, taken from the Historic Landscapes Register, identifies the essential historic landscape themes.

The River Clywedog in Mid Wales drains the north eastern flanks of the Cambrian Mountains, into which its narrow, winding valley has been deeply incised. The Clywedog is a tributary of the much larger River Severn which it joins at Llanidloes. From the site of this distinctive and picturesque historic market town, the hills and ridges on either side of the Clywedog Valley rise gradually from 300m above OD to reach 500m above OD near Dylife, just beyond the watershed in the north west. The fortunes of the Clywedog Valley and the area of its catchment identified here are generally linked with the contrasting industries of lead mining and wool, which have had a considerable impact on the landscape.

The early importance of local lead ore is demonstrated by the large, late Bronze Age/Iron Age hillfort at Dinas, the size and location of which has been assumed to be a result of a wish to guard and exploit the rich natural resources. There are also smaller Iron Age settlements that ring the edges of this area. However, the later development of the area, its land use and settlement patterns, are inextricably linked with lead mining. The earliest evidence is possible Roman working at Dylife, which lies adjacent to the Roman fort at Penygrocbren, but the main period of mining began during the 17th century and continued until earlier this century. The village itself is a good example of a small mining settlement little altered in recent years. The influence of mining is still clearly evident, with remains of shafts, tramways, and two reservoirs which provided power for the dressing floors.

Dylife is the focus of several folk tales, the most famous of which dates to the early 18th century and concerns one of the most horrific murders in Welsh history, when the local blacksmith murdered his family and threw their bodies down a mineshaft. He was soon discovered and when found guilty was forced to make his own head and body cages and the gibbet iron. In the 1930s, the iron head cage with the skull still inside was found at Penygrocbren, the site of the gallows, and is now kept at the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans, Cardiff.

The other concentration of mining stretches in an eastwest band to the north of Llanidloes, incorporating the mines of East Van, Van, Bryntail and Penyclun. All of these were active mostly during the latter half of the 19th century, when the Van Mine was the largest in the world, and much of the mining landscape remains despite land reclamation projects. Between 1870 and 1878, Montgomeryshire produced between 7000 and 9000 tons of lead ore per year, almost all of which came from the Van-Dylife complex. In 1879, lead production in Wales fell rapidly, because of large ore finds elsewhere, and Van produced only 200 tons that year.

The origins of Llanidloes are set firmly in the medieval period, with the town being granted a charter by Edward I in 1280. At the centre of the town stands the timber-framed market hall dating to around 1600, which is the finest in Wales. The prosperity of the town is linked historically with the fortunes of the woollen and textiles industry and the important lead mining area to the north west. During the 1830s Llanidloes was one of the most active centres of the Chartist movement and during the height of the riots local weavers held the town for five days before they were overwhelmed.

The Clywedog reservoir forms a modern centrepiece to the landscape. As well as providing drinking water for consumers from Llanidloes to Bristol, its principal function is to smooth out natural fluctuations in rainfall which would otherwise cause erratic flows, thereby reducing the risk of flooding in the more low-lying areas of the upper Severn valley. The 72m high structure of the main dam was completed in 1966, utilizing 200,000 cubic metres of concrete to become the highest mass concrete dam in Britain. More recently, the dam and its reservoir have developed as a popular tourist attraction.

The Making of the Clywedog Valley Landscape

The forces which have helped to form this landscape of special historic interest in Wales are outlined in the following sections.

Natural Environment

Administrative Landscape

Rural Settlement and Land Use

The Origins and Growth of Llanidloes

Industry

Transport and Communications

Sources of information

Information on the Clywedog Valley can be found in various published sources.

Published sources of information

Character areas

The following historic landscape character areas have been defined within the historic landscape area.

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Character areas defined in the Clywedog Valley Historic Landscape


CPAT PHOTO 06-C-214

1187 Dylife character area. 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. Photo: CPAT 06-C-214. (back to map)

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CPAT PHOTO 06-C-184

1188 Staylittle character area. Upland basin at the head of the river Clywedog with cluster of earlier prehistoric burial monuments; the area formed part of a medieval monastic grange and provides some evidence of seasonal upland settlement of medieval to early post-medieval date together with loose cluster of upland farms, nonconformist chapels, church and early Quaker cemetery that emerged during the later 18th and 19th century on the former droversí road and turnpike road between Llanidloes and Machynlleth; new forestry village of 1949/50 associated with the planting of Hafren Forest. Photo: CPAT 06-C-184 (back to map)

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CPAT PHOTO 06-C-221

1189 Hafren Forest character area. Extensive conifer woodland planted by the Forestry Commission upland plateau and hill edge from 1937/38 onwards; the area formed part of a medieval monastic grange and prior to afforestation contained dispersed upland farmsteads of possible medieval to early medieval farmsteads, some possibly originating as seasonal settlements; discrete area of 18th and 19th century metal-mining remains. Photo: CPAT 06-C-221 (back to map)

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CPAT PHOTO 06-C-243

1190 Clywedog Reservoir character area. Concrete dam and reservoir constructed during the 1960s in the steep-sided upper Clywedog valley to regulate water supplies in the Severn valley. Photo: CPAT 06-C-243. (back to map)

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CPAT PHOTO 06-C-174

1191 Craig-y-dduallt character area. Hill edge and prominent hilltops flanking the northern side of Clywedog Reservoir and including the large, later prehistoric hillfort of Dinas; fieldscapes predominantly representing 19th-century enclosure of former common land, with some earlier possibly seasonal settlements and encroachments resulting in widely dispersed farms. Photo: CPAT 06-C-174. (back to map)

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CPAT PHOTO 06-C-191

1192 Bryn y Groes character area. Upland plateau and hill edge south and west of the Clywedog Reservoir with widely dispersed farms of possibly medieval or early post-medieval origin associated with irregular fieldscapes and extensive 19th-century enclosure of former and existing common land; discrete mining landscapes. Photo: CPAT 06-C-191. (back to map)

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CPAT PHOTO 06-C-163

1193 Fairdre character area. Upland plateau and wooded hill edge and stream valleys with dispersed farms of medieval origin associated with irregular field patterns together with areas of more regular field pattern representing 19th-century enclosure of former common land. Photo: CPAT 06-C-163. (back to map)

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CPAT PHOTO 06-C-164

1194 Bryn y Fan character area. Distinctive hills east of Clywedog Reservoir with small Iron Age defended settlement on a lower spur; largely regular fieldscapes representing 19th-century enclosure of common land. Photo: CPAT 06-C-164. (back to map)

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CPAT PHOTO 06-C-145

1195 Manledd character area. Valley bottoms, lower hills and steep hill edge around the lower Clywedog and upper Cerist and their tributaries; dispersed farms, some of medieval and early post-medieval origin, associated with irregular field patterns; extensive 19th-century enclosure of former common land in intervening areas represented by more regular field patterns and associated with former encroachments and with new farms; widespread largely 19th to early 20th century mining remains along the Van lode; sites of former 19th and early 20th-century woollen mills along the bank of the Clywedog. Photo: CPAT 06-C-145. (back to map)

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CPAT PHOTO 06-C-131

1196 Llanidloes character area. Modern Severn valley town with medieval origins, which rapidly expanded to become an important regional industrial and commercial centre between the later 18th and earlier 20th centuries due initially to the woollen industry, later sustained by other manufacturing industries, and by metal-mining in its hinterland and its strategic siting on trans-Wales routes on former droversí roads, turnpike roads, and railway network, and a modern trunk road. Photo: CPAT 06-C-131. (back to map)

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CPAT PHOTO 2273-03

1197 Gorn Hill character area. Steeply sloping hill edge south of the Severn valley with widely dispersed farms, woodland plantations of 19th-century origin and mostly regular fieldscapes probably representing enclosure of former upland grazing and former common land in the 18th and 19th centuries. Photo: CPAT 2273-03. (back to map)

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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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1197 Gorn Hill 1196 Llanidloes 1190 Clywedog Reservoir 1194 Bryn y Fan 1193 Fairdre 1191 Craig-y-dduallt 1188 Staylittle 1187 Dylife 1189 Hafren Forest 1189 Hafren Forest 1192 Bryn y Groes 1195 Manledd