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Elan Valley
Historic Landscape
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Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Elan Valley: Deuddwr
Llanwrthwl and Rhayader Communities, Powys
(HLCA 1139)

CPAT PHOTO 03-c-0691

Undulating lowland fieldscapes and farms of medieval and later origin along the lower Elan valley and its confluence, between Elan Village and Llansantffraid Cwmdeuddwr, to the west of Rhayader.

Historic background and key historic landscape characteristics

Early activity in the area is indicated by a possible complex of prehistoric burial and ceremonial sites including ring-ditches, a pit circle and henge monument near Coed-y-mynach farm, on a slight terrace to the north of the river Elan. Although there is little known evidence for early settlement in the area it is likely that a pattern of dispersed habitations based upon a mixed farming economy emerged as a result of gradual woodland clearance and land improvement between the early prehistoric to medieval periods.

The area formed a major portion of the lowland of the early medieval commote of Cwmwd Deuddwr, and was included within the extensive grange granted by Rhys ap Gruffydd to the Cistercian abbey at Strata Florida in 1184. A grange centre was established on a fertile area of land in the Llanmadog area, to the north-east of Elan Village, which may have operated as an administrative centre for the grange and where cultivation was undertaken by or on behalf of the abbey. Traces of the grange chapel, known as Capel Madoc, are said to have been visible in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Tenanted and freehold farms emerged within the area probably emerged during the course of the Middle Ages, a number of new farms being created following the dissolution of Strata Florida abbey in 1539 and the subsequent sale of its lands.

The later 16th to later 18th centuries saw the growth of a number of landed estates based upon the gentry properties at Rhydoldog, Noyadd, Dderw and Gwardolau, which between them owned much of the land in the area and which spearheaded the introduction of a number of agricultural improvements. Several watermills were in operation on the Nant Gwynllyn stream to the north-west of Rhayader from the later 17th century to about the end of the 19th century, for grinding locally-produced corn and for carding or fulling wool from the herds of sheep grazed on the mountains to the west. Corn-drying prior to grinding or storage, in the late 17th century or earlier, is suggested by field-name evidence. Extensive tracts of broadleaved woodland still survived into the late 18th century, when significant quantities of oak trees were being felled on land at Upper Llanfadog.

Pressure for improved transport resulted in the creation of the Rhayader to Aberystwyth turnpike road via across the mountains via the upper Elan valley in the late 18th century, replaced by the less direct valley route via Llangurig in the early 19th century. Further improvements in longer-distance travel came with the opening of the Mid-Wales Railway running between Llanidloes and Builth Wells which crosses the eastern side of the area. The railway is now closed but its course can still be traced in embankments and cuttings and a short length of tunnel south of Rhayader.

Though lying beyond the Elan valley reservoirs the area was nonetheless affected by their construction between 1894 and 1910. The area was crossed by the Elan Valley Railway which linked the construction works with the Mid-Wales Railway at the Elan Valley Junction, south of Rhayader, and was crossed by the aqueducts carrying water to Birmingham. The course of the dismantled Elan Valley Railway remains a distinctive landscape feature, particularly alongside the road from Rhayder to the reservoirs. The course of the aqueduct is visible where it crosses the Nant Madog, Nant yr Haidd and Nant Caethon streams, an air valve chamber to the north of Noyadd farm, and the distinctive, brick-built washout chamber on the hillside to the north-east of Coed-y-mynach farm

The predominant fieldscape within the area is one of small irregular fields bounded by hedges. A small area of possible strip fields on the southern outskirts of Llansantffraid Cwmteuddwr may be a remnant of medieval open field cultivation associated with the medieval nucleated settlement. There are a number of small areas of small regular fields, including a more extensive area in the vicinity of the monastic grange centre at Llanmadog, some of which appears to be associated with ridge and furrow cultivation. This field system might be of medieval origin or derive from the enclosure of a monastic holding following the dissolution of Strata Florida abbey. There are a small number of areas of more straight-sided fields, such as those to the south of Fron-dorddu farm, which have the appearance of 18th or 19th-century enclosure around the margins of the upland common.


Banks 1880; Baughan 1991; Bidgood 1995; Cadw 1999; Cragg 1997; Howse 1949; Jones & Owen 2003; Judge 1997; Kidner 2003; Price 1936; Pugh 1931-40; Ridyard 1994a, 1994b, 1997, 1998; Smith & Jones 1963; D. H. Williams 1990, 2001; J. Williams 1848; S. W. Williams 1894; Regional Sites and Monuments Record.

For further information please contact the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust at this address, or link to the Countryside Council for Wales' web site at

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