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Vale of Llangollen
Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Making of the Vale of Llangollen and Eglwyseg Historic Environment


The Natural Landscape

The Vale of Llangollen is a dramatic, steep-sided valley cutting through Ruabon and Llantysilo Mountains to the north and the Berwyn Mountains to the south. In origin it is a broad rift valley, sculpted by the action of glaciers during the last glaciation. Llantysilio Mountain to the west and the Berwyn Mountain to the south are composed of Silurian slates and shales, with Ordovician shales to the north of Cyrn-y-brain. Ruabon Mountain, by contrast, is composed of underlying strata of Carboniferous limestone which form the dramatic escarpment of Creigiau Eglwyseg and Trevor Rocks, overlain by a band of sandstone and by Coal Measures including sandstones and marls which extend towards Ruabon and Wrexham and which outcrop at the south-eastern corner of the study area. The floor of the Vale lies at between about 80–100 metres above Ordnance Datum whilst the surrounding hills rise to over 500 metres.

CPAT PHOTO 89-c-53

Aerial view of the limestone escarpment of Trevor Rocks. Photo: CPAT 89-C-53.

During the last Ice Age the area was affected by two ice sheets which met approximately along the eastern boundary of the study area, one moving southwards from the Irish Sea and the other which had formed over the mountains of central Wales to the south. Pre-existing river meanders between Llantysilio and Valle Crucis and in Pengwern Vale to the south-east of Llangollen were blocked by ice, forcing the river Dee to cut new narrower river channels, isolating these earlier river meanders. Ice action resulted in a scattering of erratic boulders which are to be found in various places on the surrounding hills. Frost action as the ice retreated gave rise to the scree slopes at the base of the limestone escarpment of Creigiau Eglwyseg. Following the late glacial period alluvial deposits have built up within the floor of the Vale which now contains the meandering course of the river Dee.

Little detailed study has been made of the early environmental history of this part of the Dee Valley or the surrounding hills. However, it is likely that in common with other areas of north Wales that there was a general sequence in the post-glacial period which began with the establishment of pine forest in the early colder periods leading to the development of extensive broadleaved woodland dominated by oak, elm, lime and hazel and birch and alder scrub in the uplands. Much of this original woodland cover has been gradually cleared by human activity since early prehistoric times though some small areas of ancient or replanted broadleaved woodland survives on some of the steeper hill slopes and stream valleys. Some more extensive areas of woodland are recorded in the 14th century. One forest called ‘Cwmcath’ lay on the higher ground to the south of Llangollen and another known as ‘Isclawdd’ lay in the Froncysyllte and Trevor area were managed by the forester of the marcher lordship of Chirkland.

The Administrative Landscape

From the 7th or 8th century the area formed part of the Welsh kingdom of Powys. The eastern borders of the kingdom came under threat from the neighbouring Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia whose frontier in the later 8th century was formed by Offa’s Dyke which lies just beyond the eastern boundary of the study area. Eliseg’s Pillar, the lower portion of a stone cross near Valle Crucis, was erected in the first half of the 9th century by Cyngen in honour of his great-grandfather Eliseg who had reunited the kingdom by retaking land which had once been conquered by the English. The siting of this important monument at a focal point of a tributary valley of the Dee, suggests the presence a royal estate here in the Eglwyseg valley in the 9th century.

CPAT PHOTO 1766-150

Eliseg’s Pillar, erected in the mid 9th century by Cyngen in commemoration of his great-grandfather. Photo: CPAT 1766-150.

On the death of Gruffudd Maelor in 1191 Powys was subdivided into the kingdoms of Powys Fadog in the north, which included the area of the Vale of Llangollen, and Powys Wenwynwyn further to the south. The area of the Vale fell within the commotes of Nanheudwy to the south, Maelor Gymraeg (Bromfield) to the north-east and Iâl (Yale) to the north-west.

The portion of Powys Fadog containing the commotes Iâl and Nanheudwy, fell to Madog ap Gruffudd who founded the Cistercan monastery at at Valle Crucis in 1201 which subsequently became the dynastic burial ground. Following Madog’s death in 1236 the kingdom was inherited by his son Gruffudd ap Madog Maelor. Gruffudd built the castle at Dinas Brân in the 1260s as the administrative centre of the kingdom, before his death in 1269.

Edward I took possession of the kingdom of Powys Fadog in 1282 during the course of the conquest of Wales by the English crown. Powys Fadog ceased to exist as a separate entity thereafter, and from this time Dinas Brân lost both its military and administrative significance. The land to the south of the Dee, as well as the portion of Iâl which included Dinas Brân and Valle Crucis to the north of the river, were granted to Roger Mortimer, son of Roger, lord of Wigmore, and went to form part of the marcher lordship of Chirkland (Swydd y Waun), administered from Chirk Castle. The remaining lands to the north of the river were granted to John, earl of Warrene, and formed part of the newly created marcher lordship of Bromfield and Yale, administered from Holt Castle.

CPAT PHOTO 1766-321

The gaunt remains of the Welsh medieval Castell Dinas Brân, built within the ramparts of an early Iron Age hillfort by Gruffudd ap Madog in the 1260s. Photo: CPAT 1766-321.

The marcher lordships of Chirkland, and Bromfield and Yale passed through various hands but continued to be ruled as independent territories until the Act of Union in 1536 when they came to form the hundreds of Chirk, Bromfield and Yale in the newly created county of Denbighshire.

Denbighshire formed part of the new county of Clwyd created in the local government reorganisation of 1974, but was reconstituted again as the unitary authority of Denbighshire in the local government reorganisation of 1996. The community of Llangollen Without, at the eastern corner of the study area, was transferred to Wrexham County Borough Council in 1997.

In ecclesiastical terms the parochial structure of the area was dominated by the Cistercian monastery of Valle Crucis (Llanegwestl) founded in 1201 by Madog ap Gruffudd, the ruler of Powys Fadog, which eclipsed a number of the pre-existing ecclesiastical parishes in the area. The abbey held extensive possessions scattered across southern Denbighshire and depended to a significant extent on its tithes. These included the tithes of the appropriated churches at Llandysilio-yn-Iâl and Llangollen which may have been founded in the 6th or 7th centuries and which in the case of Llangollen had probably formed the mother church of the commote of Nanheudwy. Valle Crucis underwent a long period of decline before its dissolution in 1536, during the reign of Henry VIII.

In the 19th century the parish of Llantysilio was, divided into the townships of Coedrwg, Maesyrychain, Llandynan, Cymmo-Dupart and Cymmo-Traian (Brithdir). The parish of Llangollen included the townships of Trevor Isa, Trevor Ucha, Dinbren, Eglwyseg, Cysyllte, Llangollen Fechan, Llangollen Fawr, Llangollen Abbot, Pengwern, Bache, Vivod, and Rhisgog.

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