Cymraeg / English
Historic Landscape Characterisation
East Fforest Fawr and Mynydd-y-glôg:
Ystradfellte community, Powys
Upland valley with a coherent and well-preserved pattern of dispersed farms and generally small irregular fields of medieval and earlier origin with boundaries formed by drystone walls and hedges, together with some larger areas of enclosed grazing on the moorland edge
Environmental and historical background
The character area occupies the broad, shallow, upland valley of the Afon Hepste and covers an area of about 280 hectares. The boundaries of the characterised area are largely drawn to include the enclosed farmland within the valley, which is mostly between a height of 290-340 metres above sea level, but has been extended to include historically enclosed upland pasture, most notably to the west which extend up to about 410 metres. The somewhat arbitrary south-western boundary generally follows that indicated in the historic landscapes register, though for convenience it has been drawn to match more explicitly the line of modern roads and property boundaries.
The underlying solid geology is predominantly Carboniferous Limestone, with some sandstone in the western part of the area on Gweunydd Hepste. There is a large swallow hole called Pwll y Felin into which a stream drains on the south-western side of the area. In the lower-lying parts of the area bordering the Afon Hepste soils are mostly slow draining and seasonally waterlogged loams of a kind which have historically been best suited to dairying and stock rearing on permanent or short-term grassland with some cereal growing in drier areas. On the higher ground to the west and northern side of the area the soils are a combination of seasonally waterlogged and drier loams which have historically provided moorland grazing of only moderate or poor value.
Practically the whole of the area was already enclosed at the time of the Brecknock Forest (Fforest Fawr) enclosure acquired by Christie in 1818, part of which lay immediately to the north and east. The properties at Tir-yr-onen are shown on maps of the Tredegar Estate dated 1780-81. Many other properties and boundaries are first shown on the Penderyn tithe map and schedule of 1840. Until local government reorganisation in 1974 the area fell within the Breconshire civil parishes of Ystradfellte and Cantref.
Key historic landscape characteristics
Limited evidence of the settlement and land use history of Dyffryn Hepste is provided by place-name evidence. The name Dyffryn Hepste (‘Hepste valley’) is first documented in 1503. The river name is thought to derive from the elements hesp (‘dried up’) and te(u) (‘darkness’) possibly due to the fact that the river is periodically dry because if flows over porous limestone. Older, possibly originally higher-status houses are suggested by the names Ty-mawr (‘large house’) and Neuadd (‘hall’) in the lower part of the valley, the latter first appearing in the form ‘Tyr y noyadd’ in 1618, though in many cases it is evident that the place-name elements were used to to distinguish dwellings that might only be a little larger than average. The place-name element tyr, tir (‘land, territory’) also occurs in a significant proportion of other farm names in the valley, including Tirmawr, Tir-dyweunydd, Tir-yr-onen and Tir-Shencyn-Llewelyn (renamed Llwyncelyn), the last of which is first recorded in 1819. Vegetation is indicated in the names Llwyn-y-fedwen (‘birch, birch grove’) (first recorded in 1650) and Tir-yr-onen, the latter including the element onn (‘ash, ash wood’). As noted above, the probable former farmstead at Heol-las (‘green lane’) derives its name from the trackway which provides access for the valley-bottom farms to the mountain pastures beyond the head to the valley. Little indication of former land use is provided by place-name evidence, though the area name Gweunydd (or Gwaunydd) Hepste, the enclosed area on the moorland edge on the south-west side of the area and the farm name Tir-dyweunydd both includes the plural of gwaun (‘moor, mountain pasture’).
Prehistoric settlement is suggested by the presence of two hut circles in an area of enclosed moorland pasture north of Heol-las farm. These form part of an extensive area of early land use and settlement in the unenclosed moorland to the north and north-east which is likely to have been obscured during the course of later clearance and enclosure in the lower-lying parts of the valley.
The lower-lying parts of the area are characterized by a pattern of small irregular fields generally under 3 hectares in extent which appear to represent a gradual process of clearance and enclosure probably from at least medieval times. The concentric field patterns around Llwyn-y-fedwen and Blaen-hepste suggests that these and possibly other farms close to the moorland edge may have originated as isolated encroachments like Hepste-fechan which lies in the moorland to the north-east, perhaps in the later medieval to early post-medieval period. Clusters of more regularly-shaped fields close to the farms at Tirmawr, Tir-dyweunydd, Llwyncelyn and Hepste-fawr suggest some reorganisation of field boundaries, probably during the 19th century. Beyond this is a pattern of much larger irregular enclosures along the margin of the unenclosed moorland probably dating to the late medieval to early post-medieval periods. These are generally over 8 hectares in extent and enclose areas of rough pasture some of which has now reverted to moorland. Part of these moorland enclosures on Gweunydd Hepste, on the western side of the character area, now forms part of a more extensive area of conifer woodland, first planted in the second half of the 20th century.
Ancient routeways within the valley are represented by the modern lane along the valley and by a partially surviving pattern of green lanes used for communication and for herding animals, including one running along the western side of the Hepste past Hepste-fawr and the significantly named Heol-las (‘green lane’) giving access to the moorland pastures of Fforest Fawr to the north. Another lane can be traced on the eastern side of the Hepste, running from Llwyncelyn past Neuadd, Tirmawr and again out onto the moorland to the north. Communications from one side of the valley to the other were by means of green lanes with fords or stepping stones across the Afon Hepste between Tirmawr and Llwyn-y-fedwen and between Llwyncelyn and Tir-dyweunydd. It seems likely that in the late 18th or early 19th century the farms Tirmawr, Neuadd and Llwyncelyn on the eastern side of the valley reorientated their principal access to take advantage of the newly constructed turnpike road from Hirwaun to Brecon (A4059). Prior to this it seems likely that the only means of accessing these farms was by means of the green lanes and fords crossing the Afon Hepste joining the route on the western side of the valley.
Most field boundaries and green lanes are represented by drystone walls which are now often supplemented by post-and-wire fences though some of the later reorganised boundaries are hedges. Some of the probably earlier drystone boundaries are largely composed of field clearance material including a high proportion of rounded boulders of Old Red Sandstone probably derived from glacial drift. Some probably later boundaries, especially those defining the boundaries of the areas of enclosed rough pasture along the moorland edge, are made of quarried sandstone or limestone.
Present-day settlement is characterized by a coherent pattern of small dispersed upland farms of medieval and later origin, generally 200-800 metres apart, characteristic of a mixed farming economy. Earlier farms are indicated by the form or arrangement of buildings. In the case of the stone-built longhouse at Hepste-fawr, the ground plan indicates that the farming family and their animals were housed beneath a single roof and is likely to be of medieval or late medieval in origin. The building, referred to in Iorworth Peate’s The Welsh House (1940), was set across the slope and formerly had direct communication between the living quarters with its open fireplace and provision for cattle accommodation. The farmhouse at Neuadd is similarly set across the slope and possibly had a similar origin. The farmhouse at Tirmawr, by contrast lies along the contour but most probably replaced an earlier building of medieval origin represented by an abandoned house platform. Other abandoned habitations of medieval or post-medieval origin are known on moorland edge east of Tirmawr, represented by house platform, an enclosure, and by clearance cairns.
Many of the farmhouses appear to have been substantially rebuilt or replaced before the end of the 19th century, however, as in the case of the farmhouse at Llwyn-celyn which is probably 18th-century, though this and a number of others are likely to have had earlier origins. The 19th-century farmhouse at Tir-dyweunydd is associated with a range of buildings further down slope which may possibly include an earlier house. The later 19th-century farmhouse and outbuildings at Tai-hirion, close to the valley entrance, are of stone with brick details, but the farm name is first recorded in the early 19th century, indicating an earlier foundation. Further investment in agriculture during the later 18th and 19th centuries is indicated by characteristically small corn barns with ventilation slits and central cart doors, stables, cowhouses and granaries, sometimes combined into a single structure, of which examples survive at Hepste-fawr, Tirmawr and Neuadd.
A number of small farms were evidently abandoned during the course of the later 19th century, possibly as a consequence of the amalgamation of smallholdings into more viable economic units. Examples include a house between Tirmawr and Tir-yr-onen and a possible smallholding on moorland edge west of Llwyn-y-fedwen, abandoned or in a ruinous condition by the 1880s. The isolated barn at Heol-las, is possibly all that now survives of an former farm complex abandoned in the 19th century. Other farms, such as Blaen Hepste, were abandoned for similar reasons in the 1920s.
The area contains a number of industrial remains of probably the late 18th to early 20th century, including two limekilns near Neuadd Farm which were in operation by the 1880s and single limekilns west of Blaen Hepste, and east of Tirmawr Farm which were also in operation by the 1880s, the latter is said to have been still working up to the 1920s or 1930s. Small undated stone quarries, north of Tir-dyweunydd farm and north of Hepste-fawr farm are shown as old quarries in the 1880s and were possibly used as a source of stone for buildings or field walls or for limeworkings.
The area includes a number of deposits of palaeoenvironmental potential including for example a peat bog shown on earlier editions of the OS bordering watercourse leading to Pwll y Felin.
Historic Environment Record; Ordnance Survey 1st edn 1:2,500; Cadw Listed Buildings Lists; Haslam 1979; Jones and Smith 1972a; Leighton 1997; Morgan and Powell 1999; Peate 1944; RCAHMW 1997; National Library of Wales, Tredegar Estate, Brecon Estate Vol. 2, 1780-81; Kain and Chapman 2004; Chapman 1991; Owen and Morgan 2007; Peate 1944; Peate 1963; Powell 1988/89; Smith, J. T., 1963; Smith, P. 1975.
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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