Cymraeg / English
Historic Landscape Characterisation
East Fforest Fawr and Mynydd-y-glôg:
Hirwaun community, Rhondda Cynon Taff
Upland valley with a diffuse and dispersed pattern of farms and abandoned farms and generally small irregular fields of medieval and earlier origin together with some larger areas of enclosed grazing on the moorland edge; field boundaries formed by drystone walls and hedges.
Environmental and historical background
The character area occupies the broad, shallow, upland valley of the Nant Cadlan and Ceunant Du streams, tributaries of the Afon Cynon, covering an area of over 380 hectares. The boundaries of the characterized area are largely drawn to include the enclosed farmland within the valley, which is mostly between a height of 250-350 metres above sea level, but have been extended to include historically enclosed upland pasture, around the fringes of the upland which extend up to about 400 metres in some more sheltered areas. 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.
Much of the underlying solid geology is of sandstone, with a band of Carboniferous Limestone along the southern edge of the area and a small area of Old Red Sandstone south of Beili-Helyg on the eastern side. On the higher ground around the margins of the enclosed land the soils are slow draining and seasonally waterlogged loams which have historically provided moorland grazing of moderate to poor value. In the lower-lying parts of the valley along the Nant Cadlan 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.
Until local government reorganisation in 1974 the area fell within the Breconshire civil parish of Penderyn. At least one property in the valley, Gelli-ffynonau (Gelly Funnonanna), is shown on a map of the estate of the Hon. George Venables Vernon dated 1776. Most other properties are first mapped and named on the Penderyn tithe map and schedule of 1840. Some other farms belonged to the Bodwigiad estate, passing through various hands of a number of substantial Breconshire landowners including the Games family, Lord Venables estate passing to Lord Jersey, owner of the Margam and Briton Ferry estates and thence in 1815 to the Revd Reynold Davies a well-known figure in London literary circles and then to Morgan Morgan. On the tithe map of 1840 most of the farms are shown as holdings of between about 15-40 hectares (40-100 acres) with a mixture of fields used for arable, pasture and meadow.
Cwm Cadlan is associated with the notorious Lewis Lewis, the son of Jenkin, butcher, and Margaret Lewis of ‘Blaencadlan’, Penderyn, possibly to be identified with the Beili-helyg farm. Lewis, who took a leading role in the Merthyr Rising in 1831, is a figure of some significance to the social and economic history of south Wales in the early 19th century.
Key historic landscape characteristics
Limited evidence of historic patterns of settlement and land use is provided by place-names. Unlike the Hepste valley, the elements ty (‘house’) and tir (‘land, territory’) are much less frequent. Tree and woodland names abound. The element celli (‘grove, copse, woodland’) appears in Gelli-ffynhonnau-isaf and Gelli-ffynhonnau-uchaf, the pairing of these two neighbouring farmsteads distinguished by isaf (‘lower’) and uchaf (‘upper’) suggests the subdivision of an earlier family holding resulting from traditional Welsh inheritance patterns. Woodland is again referred to by the celli element in Gelli-dafolog and Gelli-neuadd and by the element coed (‘forest, wood, trees’) in the name Coed Cae Ddu. The latter name is probably based on the place-name element coedcae/coetgae which has a wide range of potential meaning including ‘land enclosed by a hedge, field, enclosure’, ‘land taken out of wood’ or ‘land fenced with pails’. The term was also sometimes used as the equivalent of ffridd in the sense of ‘enclosed mountain pasture’ and the location of the farm close to the 330 metre contour and the margin between the smaller and more lower-lying enclosed fields in the valley and the larger enclosed mountain pastures higher on the moorland edge is probably therefore significant. Fields and enclosures are referred to by the element cae in Cae’r-Arglwydd and by the element beili (‘bailey, back-yard’) in Beili-Helyg which also includes the element helyg (‘willow’). Historic limitations upon land-use is indicated by the element gwern (‘swamp’) in the farm names Gwern-pawl and Wernlas and the stream name Gwern Nant-ddu and also by the element garw (‘rough’) in the farm names Pant-garw and Garw-dyle (formerly Garw-dylau). Trackways are indicated in the farm names Heol-las (‘green lane’) next to the modern A4059 north of Penderyn and by the element tyle in the name Garw-dyle (‘steep path’) on the line of the steep trackway up to the former farm at Cae’r Arglwydd.
Prehistoric activity in the area, during the early to middle Bronze Age, is indicated by the partially excavated Bronze Age burial cairn south-east of Nant-maden and by the characteristically crescent-shaped burnt mound on western end of Cefn Sychbant, though as yet there is no explicit evidence of settlement and land use. The marginal siting of the burnt mound, close to the moorland edge, and the large dimensions of the Nant-maden cairn, originally about 20 metres in diameter and 1.8 metres high, may explain the unusual survival of these monument types within this essentially enclosed landscape, other slighter monuments of these types having possibly been cleared away during the course of later clearance and enclosure.
The lower-lying parts of the area are characterised by a pattern of small irregular fields generally under 3 hectares in extent representing a gradual process of clearance and enclosure probably from at least medieval times onwards. The concentric field patterns around Gelli-ffynnonau-isaf and uchaf suggest these and possibly other farms close to the moorland edge may have originated as isolated encroachments. Areas of more regularly-shaped fields close to the farms at Glyn-perfedd, Garw-dyle, Gelli-dafolog, Wern-las and Nant-maden suggest small-scale a 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 about 6 hectares in extent and enclose areas of rough pasture some of which has now reverted to moorland. A significant area on the southern side of the area is designated as the Cwm Cadlan Nature Reserve.
Field boundaries are predominantly drystone walls, but with some hedges and post and wire fencing. As in the case of Dyffryn Hepste many 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.
The present-day settlement pattern is characterized by small dispersed upland farms of medieval and later origin, generally 300-500 metres apart, and often established next to streams or springs. The settlement pattern appears more haphazard and diffuse than in the neighbouring Dyffryn Hepste valley, probably due to signficant number of farm abandonments during the 19th and 20th centuries. Surviving farm buildings, often combining small corn barns with vertical ventilation slits, cowhouses and stables, are characteristic of a mixed farming economy in more marginal areas. Farmsteads and cottages at Gwern-pawl and Blaen-cadlan-isaf were already ruinous in the 1880s, those at Cae’r Arglwydd, Gelli-ffynhonnau-isaf and Blaen-cadlan-uchaf appear to have been abandoned since early in the 20th century. The isolated barn at Esgair-y-gadlan is all that now survives of a former farm complex. The stone-built farmhouses of 17th- to 18th-century date at Nant-m aden, Coed Cae Ddu and formerly at Gelli-ffynhonnau-isaf, were aligned across the slope, suggesting the rebuilding of structures of medieval or early post-medieval origin. The layout of farm-buildings at Beili-helyg, with 19th-century farmhouse, corn barn and cowhouse in line, also appears to represent the rebuilding of an earlier complex. Investment in farming during the 19th century is indicated by ranges of stone-built buildings combining corn barns with either stables or cowhouses both here and at Garw-dyle and Coed Cae Ddu and by the barn at Esgair-y-gadlan, the later buildings in some instances being detached and set along the contour. More extensive building work is evident Wern-las where the farm layout suggests a 19th-century model farm, probably to be associated with the rationalisation of field boundaries mentioned above and the farmhouse at Gelliffynhonnau-uchaf where the present farmhouse, possibly of 19th-century date, has some details in yellow brick.
The modern road in the valley probably forms part of an ancient routeway linking farms along the valley and thence across the moorland to other communities in the Taf Fawr valley further east. Other early routeways are indicated by patterns of trackways, green lanes and fords linking Cae’r Arglwydd, Garw-dyle and Glyn-perfedd, and Gelli-ffynhonnau-uchaf, Egair-y-gadlan and Wern-las, some of which once gave access to moorland pastures on the surrounding hills.
Industrial remains probably mostly of 19th-century date are represented by a group of three limekilns west of Coed Cae Farm and by single kilns near Heol-las, Gelli-dafolog, and Cae’r Arglwydd. The western end of the area is clipped by the course of the former railway used in the construction of the Ystradfellte Reservoir in the early 20th century.
Historic Environment Record; Ordnance Survey 1st edn 1:2,500; RCAHMW 1997; Crampton and Webley 1964; Stephens 1998; Glamorgan Record Office WGRO D/D BF E/164 (map of the estate of the Hon. George Venables Vernon, 1776); Jones and Smith 1972a; Thomas 1992; Lloyd, Davies and Davies 1959; Penderyn tithe map and schedule, 1840.
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.
Privacy and cookies