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Clywedog Valley
Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Making of the Clywedog Valley Landscape


THE ORIGINS AND GROWTH OF LLANIDLOES

Although distinct in character from the surrounding area, the origins and development of Llanidloes reflect many of the themes so far discussed.

The date of the earliest settlement is uncertain, though it possibly originated as a church and associated settlement in the early medieval period. The borough, created by the lords of Powys in the second half of the 13th century is first documented in 1263, and as noted earlier has a grid-like street layout characteristic of planted medieval towns with four principal roads focused on the original market cross where the Old Market Hall is now sited. The right to hold weekly markets and twice-yearly fairs was in 1280. A corn mill was in operation by the 1290s. The town grew rapidly during the final decades of the 13th century and the end of the first decade of the 14th century but remained relatively small and of little more than local importance. It is thought to have been provided with defences during the Middle Ages, probably with a number of gateways.

St Idloes’ Church, with some surviving 14th- and 15th-century fabric and possibly the only surviving medieval building in the town, underwent considerable rebuilding in the middle of the 16th century when the hammerbeam roof was built and when substantial parts of the former fabric of the Cistercian abbey at Cwmhir were incorporated within it.

Some evidence survives of a post-medieval tradition of timber-framed construction within the town but was more clearly apparent in the later 18th and earlier 19th century, as evident in the following description from Evans’s Beauties of England and Wales, published in 1812, which also provides a graphic impression of the general sanitary conditions within the town at that time:

‘yet having very few good houses, and, the greater number being built of timber frames, and the intermediate spaces formed with what is technically denominated, wattle and dab, that is, laths, or sticks, intertwined, and the insterstices filled up with mud: add, together with the irregularity of their position, to give an awkwardness to its appearance, not very inviting to the passing visitant. The width of the streets, which in most places is deemed a great advantage, here becomes an abominable nuisance, from the custom the inhabitants have of accumulating their ashes, &c. in large heaps before their respective doors; the exhalations from which in hot weather must be very offensive to persons’

Similar scenes are also evident from Hugh Hughes’ painting, The Llanidloes Pig Fair, set in Great Oak Street, which shows the continuing impact of the market upon the town at about this date. As in the case of other towns in Wales during the earlier 19th century a local health board was established to try and remedy the insantiary conditions.

The use of wooden shingles is the locality is recorded in the following description in Thomas Pennant’s A Tour in Wales, published in 1793:

‘A coarse slate is found in the neighbouring hills; but there still remains, in many parts, the ancient covering of the country, shingles, heart of oak split and cut into form of slates’

The town underwent a period of rapid growth during the later 18th and 19th centuries due particularly to the local woollen industry which during the course of the early 19th century gradually developed from one that was essentially domestic to one based on large industrialized mills. During this period the town also became an important commercial and communications centre and was strongly influenced by the development of the mining industry in its immediate hinterland. By the 18th century, if not earlier, the two main streets meeting at the market hall had become fairly densely built up. The 19th century saw the development of the open land behind the medieval street frontages as well as a considerable amount of rebuilding and the refronting of earlier buildings with brick facades. The rapid gentrification of the town during the first few decades of the 19th century is clear from the following description in Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Wales, published in 1833, which clearly harks back to Evan’s description of the town twenty years earlier:

‘[the town] has of late years been greatly improved by the erection of several more respectable buildings on the site of more ancient houses of timber frame-work and plaster, which formerly prevailed throughout the place, and by the removal of the numerous heaps of cinders which had previously been suffered to accumulate in front of the houses’,

Significant variations in the size of house became evident during the 19th century, typically with substantial three-storeyed houses and purpose-built inns and shops close to the town centre and smaller two-storeyed terraces representing the houses of industrial workers especially in the back streets.

The domestic and commercial area of the town gradually expanded beyond its original medieval limits, with terraces extending along the approach roads to the town and suburban development to the south and east and across the river to the north of the Severn. The outer suburbs fringing the town, particularly those with a more picturesque setting to the north and west, include a significant number of substantial houses or rural ‘villas’ belonging to more wealthy landowners and industrialists, noted approvingly in Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary:

‘On the south-eastern side is a very handsome large house, now in progress of erection, which, when completed and the grounds laid out, will form an ornamental feature in the scenery of the place. A little nearer the town a beautiful house has been lately built, having handsome grounds disposed with great taste, and planted with trees, flowering shrubs, and annuals. Dōl Ll~s, in this parish, commands a delightful view of the Vale of Severn, with the windings of the river and the rich and finely varied scenery on its banks, terminated by the high mountains in the distance’

As a result, there is an exceptionally good sequence of 19th-century domestic and commercial architecture in the town together with some important public buildings and institutions, including the Gaol, the Police Station, Public Rooms built to include a flannel market as well as a court and concert room. The town also became an important regional centre of nonconformism, with chapels of a number of different denominations.

The later 19th-century industrialized woollen mills within the historic landscape area were generally sited to the west and north-west of the town, especially across the Long Bridge and Short Bridge, close to the banks of the Severn and Clywedog to exploit the use of water power, including the Cribynau and Glynne Mills up to 2 kilometres or more further up the Clywedog. The coming of the railway in the late 1850s gave a further boost to the industrial development of Llanidloes. Later industries which developed from this period onwards included the former gas works, railway works and iron foundry, which all being dependent upon access to the railway were sited together with the imposing railway station and other railway buildings and structures including a goods shed, engine shed and turntable, on the northern and eastern sides of the town. Additional housing was required for workers, a significant example being Foundry Terrace, built in about 1860 within yards of the railway works. During the course of the 20th century housing estates expanded, particularly on the south and south-eastern sides of the original core of the town. The town grew in importance as an educational centre and saw the development of primary and secondary school campuses to the south of the town during the 1950s and 1960s on land that had once formed part of the Lower Green common.

The woollen industry came under increasing pressure of competition with mills in northern England from the 1860s. Some mills amalgamated, others were converted to other uses, such as the Spring Mills tannery and leatherworks which took over the premises of a former woollen mill in 1908. The Cambrian Mill was likewise converted to a leatherworks in the 1930s. With the closure and subsequent disappearance of most of the mills and smaller woollen factories, the railway works and iron foundry and the closure of the railway during the course of the 20th century Llanidloes lost many of the former landmarks of its industrial and transport history, though significant remains include the former Bridgend Woollen Mill, recently converted to domestic accommodation, occasional surviving open woollen lofts such as that at Highgate Terrace on Penygreen Road, representing the earlier ‘domestic’ phase of the woollen industry in the town, industrial workers’ housing, such as Foundry Terrace, the Railway Station, and the Public Rooms of 1838, built to include a flannel market as well as a court and concert room. Other public buildings such as the Police Station, and inns, purpose-built shops and nonconformist chapels provide significant visual reminders of Llanidloes’s importance as an administrative and commercial centre.

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