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Maelor Saesneg Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

Maelor Saesneg

The Settlement Landscape

Prehistoric and Roman Settlement

Environmental evidence from Fenn's Moss and elsewhere is lacking in specific detail about the precise dating and extent of forest clearance and cultivation in Maelor Saesneg and there is little other evidence of early settlement during the prehistoric and Roman periods. This may reflect a genuine absence of early settlement in the area, but might alternatively be a reflection of later land use. Intensive arable cultivation and the creation of ridge and furrow in certain areas during the medieval period will have tended to erode any earthwork evidence of early settlement. The subsequent conversion of much of the medieval ploughlands to grassland in the post-medieval period will have reduced the opportunities for the recovery of chance finds from field surfaces and will also have created unfavourable conditions for the recovery of cropmark evidence by aerial photography.

Late Neolithic or Bronze Age activity, perhaps in the period between about 2500-1200 BC is represented by a number of burial mounds, including a single mound at Bryn Rossett (Hanmer) to the east of Horseman's Green, a pair of large mounds within about a hundred metres of each other just to the north of Whitewell (Bronington) and a loosely defined group of three mounds to the west of Iscoyd Park (Bronington) at Warren Tump, Crossfield, and Waenreef Farm. One of the two barrows at Whitewell was dug into in the late 19th century when a probably Bronze Age cinerary urn was found with fragments of human burial. It seems probable that the burial mounds were associated with local farming communities at this period, though no contemporary settlement sites have been found. It is perhaps significant that most of the known sites lie on land that may have been enclosed at a relatively late date, and may therefore have survived because they escaped intensive ploughing during the medieval period. The only prehistoric chance find from the area is a Middle Bronze Age bronze axe of a type known as a palstave found near Iscoyd Hall. A similar palstave was found in Whixall Moss, across the border in Shropshire, embedded in a pine stump, and perhaps significantly indicating early clearance.

Little certain evidence has been forthcoming of later prehistoric settlement or Roman settlement though possible rectangular and subrectangular enclosure sites of these periods may be represented by cropmark evidence recorded by aerial photography near Pigeon House (Hanmer), south-west of Horseman's Green, and on Blackhurst Farm, Bettisfield (Maelor South). Iron Age settlement is perhaps indicated by the earthwork remains of a double bank and ditch defending a slight promontary of less than a hectare in Gwernheylod Wood (Overton) overlooking the banks of the Dee. Roman activity is represented by a single coin of early to mid 2nd-century date at Cloy House (Bangor Is-y-coed) and eight coins of late 3rd and early 4th century date from Eglwys Cross (Hanmer) but the nature or extent of settlements in the area at this date is speculative.

Early medieval settlement

Settlement in at least part of the area in the late 6th century is indicated by the early medieval clas at Bangor Is-y-coed, a major regional centre of learning, evangelising and education, sited on a river bluff next to one of the important strategic crossing points across the River Dee. The place-name has as its root the Welsh word bangor, meaning 'wattled enclosure', and though one of the few ancient British place-names surviving in Maelor Saesneg is first known from Bede's History of the English Church and People written in the early 8th century referring to it as the monastery called in the 'lingua Anglorum Bancornaburg', and elsewhere as Bancor. Nothing is known about the form or extent of this important establishment though it appears to have been a complex institution, probably generously endowed with land, housing monks, bishops and learned men, perhaps forming the focus of a dispersed rural community in the surrounding countryside, characteristic of early Welsh settlement patterns. The size of the community is open to speculation, possibly numbering hundreds rather than the thousands mentioned by Bede, many of whom were slaughtered at the battle of Chester in about 616, as noted above. There is some uncertainty whether the institution recovered from this massacre, though it was evidently to retain some significance as an ecclesiastical centre until well into the Middle Ages even though it appears not to have formed significant centre of population until more recent centuries. The omission of Bangor's name from the Domesday survey of 1086 does not necessarily mean that a settlement had ceased to exist by that date, but it perhaps implies that it had no significant administrative functions. The location of the early settlement at Bangor is uncertain though the local topography has been significantly altered by subsequent changes in the course of the Dee, recent studies of the river meanders suggesting that the river channel has only stabilised along its present course in about the last three centuries.

Maelor Saesneg together with the neighbouring border counties of Cheshire and Shropshire appears to have been fully integrated within the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia by the mid 8th century at the latest. By the later 8th century it fell well within the boundaries of the kingdom demarcated by Offa's Dyke, up to 10km to the west of the Dee. Though many of Maelor Saesneg's historic place-names are first recorded in relatively late sources between the 13th and late 17th centuries it appears that many of those with English place-name elements probably represent settlements of one form or another dating to the 8th to 10th centuries, providing important evidence of the settlement history of the area. The Old English place-name elements -tun or ingtun are found in Bronington, Broughton, Gredington, Halghton, Knolton, Overton, Tybroughton, Willington, Wallington. Some of the names appear to describe the local landscape: Halghton possibly includes the element healh ('corner of land'), perhaps the angle between two local streams; Overton, possibly derived from ofer tun ('bank'), probably describing the old river bank next to the present village; Knolton, perhaps from cnoll tun ('knoll'); and Broughton, possibly including the element broc ('brook'), though in each case the absence of early forms of the name makes more certain interpretation impossible. A number of names appear to be of mixed English and Welsh origin, as in the case of Brynhovah which is probably derived from the Welsh bryn ('hill') and the Old English ofer ('bank').

The nature of these early settlements is open to question. The place-name elements have a potentially broad range of meanings associated with settlement, such as 'enclosure', 'farmstead' and 'estate, village', though it is perhaps significant that none formed the focus of medieval ecclesiastical parishes and only two are associated with nucleated settlements of any size, neither of which probably owe their origin to the Saxon period. Overton was an Edwardian planted town of the 13th century which simply adopted the name of a pre-existing manor, and the present-day settlement at Bronington has the appearance of a relatively late 'green' settlement.

A number of other place-name elements in Maelor Saseneg probably have Saxon origins. As noted above, Penley and Musley include the Old English element -leah ('wood, clearing in a wood'). The Old English element -feld ('field') appears in earlier forms of Bettisfield. Wolvesacre may derive from the personal name Wulf, which is known in Old English sources. Hanmer, though first documented in the 13th century, is thought to derive from the Old English personal name Hagena, meaning 'Hagena's pool', in reference to the natural lake at here. Many other natural features such as streams (Wych Brook, Millbrook, Emral Brook, Cumbers Brook, Red Brook, Shell Brook), bogs (Cranberry Moss, Fenn's Moss, Cadney Moss), and pools (Croxton Pool) are English in origin, though the name of Llyn Bedydd, east of Hanmer, derives from the Welsh llyn ('lake') and bedydd ('christening, baptismal'), though the antiquity of the name is unclear.

Of the Saxon place-names noted above only Bettisfield and the lost manor of Burwardestone appear in the Domesday Book of 1086. A number came to form townships whilst others became small hamlets or became area names and it seems likely that as Saxon settlements they represented little more than individual holdings or small clusters of holdings within larger estates, though nothing is known of these settlements apart from this place-name evidence. These early settlements are quite widely dispersed throughout Maelor Saesneg with the exception of the area around Fenn's Moss, spaced at distances of about 2.5km from each other. It appears to be significant that most of these settlements fall within areas of former arable agriculture, represented either by ridge and furrow or by strip fields (see also section on agriculture below).

Possible evidence of settlements of the 10th century is provided by two further place-names, noted above, the place-name Croxton, just to the east of Horseman's Green, which may be derived from an Old Norse root meaning 'crook, bend', and Worthenbury whose name seems to be derived from a compound of wordig and burh, the former element with meanings encompassing 'enclosure, yard, homestead' and the latter element meaning 'stronghold'. Again there is little evidence apart from the place-name evidence, although possible traces of defensive outworks have been identified to the east of Worthenbury which may form part of a defensive structure.

Medieval settlement

A more detailed picture of settlement in the 11th century emerges from the Domesday survey of 1086 which also provides in some instances details dating back to the years before the Norman conquest in 1066. The relatively small number of manors in Maelor Saesneg which are listed in the survey, indicating settlement of some form or another, are Bettisfield (Bedesfeld), Worthenbury (Hurdingberie), Burwardestone, specific reference also being made in Domesday to farmland at Bettisfield, presumably associated with settlement, earlier in the 11th century, held during the reign of King Cnut (1016-35). Each of these three manors were said to have been 'waste' at the time of the conquest, but there is no clear indication of whether this was a condition of long standing or whether or not it was the result of hostilities by possibly Welsh or Norman action. It seems improbable that the Domesday survey provides a reliable guide to the extent of settlement during the later 11th century, however, and there is every likelihood that numerous other contemporary settlements were omitted from the survey for one reason or another. The general picture which emerges from the Domesday survey, however, is that Maelor Saesneg, in common with the neighbouring areas of Cheshire and Shropshire, was relatively poor and sparsely populated at this period in comparison with other areas of southern and midland England at this date, possibly still with extensive areas of native woodland surviving.

Many elements of the modern settlement pattern in Maelor Saesneg, appear to have their origin the Middle Ages, similar in many respects to neighbouring areas of Cheshire and Shropshire, which have shared a similar topography and farming economy. Distinctive elements in this diverse pattern, quite distinct from those to be found in many other areas of Wales, include large villages, moated halls, and parishes with only a few large farms, occasionally clustered in small hamlets.

Origins of towns and villages

Four medieval nucleated settlements are to be found in Maelor Saesneg, and though the history and origins of these settlements were probably quite distinct they each appear to have been ecclesiastical and in some instances manorial centres from an early date. Bangor, Worthenbury and Overton are lowland villages of ancient origin, bordering the lowlands of the Dee, with a similar location to a number of Cheshire villages further downstream, the siting of both Bangor and Overton owing something to the strategic crossing points across the river, as noted above. The siting of Hanmer, next to Hanmer Mere, has a similar location to Ellesmere and Colemere in north Shropshire, whose origin was probably related to the resources provided by this sizeable natural lake which extends to over 17 hectares.

Bangor Is-y-coed is a village of many names, being known variously as Bangor Dunawd (after St Dunawd), Bangor Monachorum ('Bangor of the monks'), and Bangor-on-Dee, the suffixes in each case added to distinguish it from the cathedral city of Bangor, Caernarvonshire. The form Bangor Isycoed ('Bangor below the wood') is first recorded by Lhwyd in the late 17th century. As noted above, the settlement had become a flourishing monastic centre of the British church probably by at least the late 6th century with a self-sufficient community to be numbered perhaps in hundreds. The nature of the settlement which housed this community is quite unknown, and though it is likely to have suffered a severe setback at the battle of Chester in about 616 when numerous of its adherents were massacred. It has remained in existence as a parochial centre perhaps continuously ever since, though as a settlement it appears to have remained relatively small throughout the Middle Ages and failing to attract manorial or other civil administrative functions. Bangor Is-y-coed is omitted from the Domesday survey, but this should not be taken to imply that there was no settlement or church here in the 11th century. Something of the social structure of the church community in the early 14th century is indicated by two heraldic grave slabs of about 1300, both with swords and checky patterned shields, perhaps to be associated with the English family of the Warennes, earls of Surrey and lords of Bromfield and Iâl, though perhaps significantly there are no later, medieval, high-status slabs or effigies and none indicating the graves of prominent ecclesiastics.

Worthenbury (Welsh Gwrthymp) likewise appears to have its origins in the early medieval period, and may possibly have formed a small nucleated settlement from the early 10th century onwards when, as noted above, it may have formed a Mercian stronghold. In the 11th century it formed the focus of a non-parochial manor held by the Norman baron, Robert FitzHugh. Again the form of the settlement is unclear, though something of the nature its social structure is given by the Domesday survey, which lists one serf, three villeins, three Frenchmen, one radman, a new mill (presumably with a miller), a knight with an undefined number of men, of which it can perhaps be assumed that some if not all lived in a nucleated settlement in the area of the present village, on level ground on a low spur on the eastern edge of the Dee floodplain. Worthenbury was to remain a chapelry, first mentioned in 1388, within the parish of Bangor Is-y-coed until the late 17th century.

Overton has again been known by several names -- Overton Madoc (after Madog ap Meredudd, to distinguish it from Overton in Cheshire) and by its Welsh forms, Awrtun, Owrtyn and Owrtyn Fadog. As noted above, place-name evidence that Overton originated as a Saxon settlement of some kind in perhaps the 8th or 9th century. The settlement lies on flat ground close to an old river scarp above the Dee, its name, first recorded in 1201, being derived from the Old English place-name elements ofer tun ('tun on the bank'). The settlement is unmentioned in the Domesday survey of the later 11th century though by the earlier 12th century, following the reabsorption of Maelor Saesneg into the kingdom of Powys, it had evidently become an important Welsh manorial centre, a castle being built here by Madog ap Meredudd, ruler of Powys, in about 1138. The site of the castle is unknown but it possibly lay 2 kilometres away from the town, close to the Dee in the Asney area. Whether a reliable witness or not, Leland in the 1530s noted that 'one part ... yet remaineth the Residew is in the bottom of Dee'. The only surviving castle in Maelor Saesneg, Mount Cop, near Eglwys Cross (Hanmer) is just under 50 metres in diameter and with no certain traces of a bailey, is prominently sited near the point where the road from Whit church forks to either Bangor Is-y-coed and Overton. The castle appears to have no recorded historical associations, but probably belongs to the late 11th to early 13th century, and like the now missing Overton castle, would have been accompanied by a timber fortification.

Overton had become an important manorial centre forming part of the estate of Gruffudd Maelor, the Welsh ruler of northern Powys by the early 13th century, the Welsh form of the name, Awrtun, perhaps significantly being first recorded at about this period. A market was established within the manor at Overton in 1279, shortly after Edward I's earlier campaigns against Llywelyn ap Gruffudd and from this time and perhaps especially following the Edwardian conquest in 1282-83 the present-day nucleated settlement with its grid-like pattern of streets expanded around the medieval marketplace occupying the broader part of High Street, to the north of the church. In 1286 Edward granted Maelor Saesneg to Queen Eleanor, who had commissioned glass windows for 'the queen's chapel at Overton', perhaps the earliest reference made to the present church of St Mary. Overton's future as an important regional administrative centre for centuries to come was assured by the borough status conferred upon it by royal charter in 1292, at which time the town's population included fifty-six taxpayers, the boundaries of the borough probably being those of the former parish of Overton. Like many other planted boroughs created in Wales by Edward, English settlers were encouraged to settle, Reginald de Grey, the chief justice of Chester being ordered to go there in 1293 to arrange for the remaining plots to be disposed of, with offers of free timber and land, and exempt from the payment of rents for the first ten years of residence. During the uprising led by Madog ap Llywelyn in 1294, partly in protest at the loss of rights and increases of rents endured by the Welsh tenants of the manor, resentment was expressed by the burning down of the manor, the seat of royal bailiff, and the place where the manorial court was held, which may have either been within the town or at the site of the lost castle. Although a grant of murage was awarded to the town in 1300 it is perhaps unlikely that a start was ever made on the construction of town defences. By the early 14th century some relatively well-to-do Welsh families were occupying the town, however, as witnessed by the sepulchral slab of c. 1300 commemorating Angharad, wife of Einion, within St Mary's Church. In 1331 it was granted with other lands in Maelor to Ebola Estrange of Knockin, Shropshire, brother-in-law of Llywelyn ap Madog, son of the last Welsh ruler of Maelor Saesneg and probable steward of the lordship at this date. The town was damaged to such an extent during the revolt of Owain Glyndŵr in 1403 that it was abandoned by its English inhabitants. The consequences of this devastation were evidently long lasting, its population level still evidently having failed to recover by the 16th century. Despite its borough status and the chantrey established by endowments at St Mary's church, the borough church, Overton was to remain a dependent chapelry of Bangor Is-y-coed throughout the Middle Ages, only becoming a separate parish in 1867.

The medieval village of Hanmer is sited on a glacial moraine in a prominent position at the head of Hanmer Mere, a natural glacial lake which like Ellesmere and Colemere in Shropshire, has given its name to the adjacent settlement. A noted above, the place-name is of Saxon derivation and probably of 8th- to 9th-century origin, but was only first recorded in 1269. The settlement is not named in the Domesday survey of 1086 but is probably to be linked with the manor of Bettisfield (Bedesfeld) formerly held by Earl Edwin of Mercia and after the conquest by the Norman baron, Robert FitzHugh, to which a priest with a landed endowment was attached, probably to be associated with the present parish church of St Chad's. As noted above, land in Bettisfield formerly held by the see of Lichfield had been unjustly lost 'in King Cnut's time' (1016-35), possibly pushing back the origins of a nucleated settlement around the church to this period as the Ecclesia de Hameme. The church is first specifically recorded in 1110 when it was gifted with other lands to the Augustinian abbey at Haughmond, Shropshire, and is again recorded in the Lincoln Taxation of 1291. The church was substantially rebuilt in 1490 to replace one that had been ruined in 1463, during the Wars of the Roses. By the later medieval period, if not earlier, the church was the focus of an extensive ecclesiastical parish occupying most of the south-eastern portion of Maelor Saesneg, and which at one time included the townships of Bettisfield, Bronington, Halghton, Hanmer, Tybroughton, and Willington. By the Middle Ages the village had evidently become the focus of a substantial manor, the possible moated site to the east of the village, the only circular moated site in north-east Wales, possibly being of manorial or ecclesiastical origin. The Hanmers became closely associated with the village from the later 13th century onwards, being a family newly settled in Maelor Saesneg during the reign of Edward I which adopted the name of the village of Hanmer as a surname, the manor presumably forming one of their holdings. They were to become one of the prominent borderland families, Sir David Hanmer, father-in-law of Owain Glyndŵr, rising to be one of the chief justices of the King's Bench by 1383. On the dissolution of the monasteries in the mid 16th century, the local property and rights of Haughmond Abbey were purchased by Sir Thomas Hanmer, leading to the growth of one of the important local family estates, initially focused on Hanmer and from the later 16th century on Bettisfield. The village of Hanmer remained relatively small. It comprised no more than twenty-five houses in the late 17th century, which as today were grouped around the church, though elevated to the status of a 'little town' by Thomas Pennant in his Tour in Wales published in the late 18th century.

Moated sites

Medieval settlement in the countryside of Maelor Saesneg is most clearly represented by a notable concentration of moated sites, of which at least ten and possibly up to twenty sites are known from surviving water-filled earthworks, aerial photography, and historical records. Moated sites were mostly constructed during the period between the 13th and early 14th centuries and less commonly up until the 16th century. With the exception of the possible circular moat near Hanmer, noted above, the other moated sites in the area were square or rectangular in shape and were often sited to ensure that their moats were filled with water, and seem to range in size from about 35-50 metres across internally, with continuous outer ditches between about 6-10 metres wide. None of the sites in Maelor Saesneg have been excavated and though few if any have any surviving documentary evidence relating to them it seems probable that each of them enclosed domestic structures and outbuildings. Most of the moated sites would probably have been accessed by a timber bridge, though traces of a stone bridge or stone bridge abutments are apparent at Penley.

About eleven fairly certain moated sites have been identified in Maelor Saesneg, including five in the community of Hanmer (Bryn, Peartree Lane, Halghton Hall, Halghton Lodge, and Haulton Ring), three in Willington Worthenbury (Emral Hall, Holly Bush Farm and Tallarn Green), one in Overton (Lightwood Farm), one in Bronington (Wolvescre Hall), and one in Maelor South (Penley Hall). About a further nine moated sites have been suggested, including two further examples in Hanmer (Horseman's Green, Peartree Farmhouse), two in Willington Worthenbury (Mulsford Hall, Yew Tree Farm), three in Bronington (Fenn's Old Hall, Maes-y-groes, and near Bronington itself), one in Maelor South (Hill Farm), and one in Bangor Is-y-coed (Althrey). A number of other less certain sites are suggested by place-name evidence which, combined with the fact that a number have only been discovered in recent years suggests that further sites still await discovery. Emral possibly had its origins in the 1280s, Sir Roger Puleston (d. 1294) being described in 1283 as 'de Embers-hall'.

The moated settlement is to be seen as very much an English cultural phenomenon, no doubt partly with a practical, defensive purpose as well as symbolising the status or social aspirations of its builder. The obvious historical context for the proliferation of moated sites in Maelor Saesneg is the evident expansion of farming which took place in the area in the wake of the Edwardian conquest, in the years shortly after 1284, when the confiscated lands of Welsh tenants being granted to free-holding settlers, and at a time when Edward and his queen were eager to optimise the rentals which could be charged on the Crown lands in Wales. Many of these settlers were perhaps of English origin, like the Hanmers of Hanmer, descended from Sir Thomas de Macclesfield, an officer of Edward I, and the Pulestons of Emral who derived their name from Puleston in Shropshire and trace their beginnings in Maelor Saesneg in the 1280s.

The distribution and associations of moated sites in Maelor Saesneg appears to confirm the suggestion that they represent a phase of farming expansion during the later 13th and 14th centuries. The distribution of moated sites generally appears to avoid the pre-existing settlements such as the small towns and villages of Bangor Is-y-coed, Worthenbury, Overton or Hanmer, or even the foci of dispersed farms of Saxon origin represented by -tun place-names, strongly suggesting that they represent a colonising phase of settlement involving the creation of new farmland by the clearance of woodland and scrub in the surrounding countryside. The landscape context of the moated sites is distinctly agricultural. Many are surrounded by ridge and furrow of probable medieval origin and some were converted into ploughland once they were abandoned.

The social context of the moated sites in Maelor Saesneg is reasonably clear from the buildings associated with them, the buildings they were replaced by, or from later historical associations which include a number of the smaller landed families in the area, such as the Pulestons of Emral, the Lloyds of Willington, the Dymocks of Penley and Halghton, and the Hanmers of Hanmer and Bronington. Horseman's Green and Althrey Hall are associated with late medieval high-status aisle-truss halls of the later 15th and earlier 16th centuries, though perhaps replacing earlier mansions which were contemporary with the construction of the moats. Other moated sites were to be replaced by later gentry houses or substantial farms, particularly of the later 17th and earlier 18th centuries, which either overlay the partially infilled moat (as in the case of Emral, Holly Bush, Mulsford, Halghton, Peartree House and Wolvesacre), or were to be built alongside (as at Penley) or at a little distance (as in the case of the apparent replacement of Haulton Ring by Bettisfield Old Hall, just over 1 kilometre away). A similar pattern of moated sites being superseded by fine half-timbered houses is also found across the border in Cheshire and in Shropshire, as in the case of the 16th and 17th-century houses on the south-east side of Whixall Moss at Alkington Hall, Bostock Hall, Sandford Hall and Lowe Hall. Many of the medieval moated sites survived as stable economic units for many centuries, though some (such as Halghton Lodge, Peartree Lane, Bryn and Yew Tree Farm) have no obvious successor, perhaps due to the process of farm amalgamation and the creation of early estates in the 16th and 17th centuries.


Many of the existing dispersed farms, particularly in some of the outlying areas of Maelor Saesneg probably have their origin as the farms and smallholdings of freehold farmers and tenants from the 12th and 13th centuries onwards in a process which probably continued into the early post-medieval period. Many of these farms were probably created by individual effort by woodland clearance or by the reclamation of heathland, and worked by farmers who were not bound by medieval communal regulations and who were probably more dependent upon pastoral farming than upon arable for their subsistence. A number of farms, such as Caelica Farm and Arowry Farm, for example, fall within a landscape of either large or small irregular fields suggesting piecemeal enclosure in the later medieval and early post-medieval periods, beyond the boundaries of the medieval open fields. The context of other farms, such as Gelli Farm, suggests that they originated from continuing woodland clearance.

As we have seen above, English place-name elements in Maelor Saesneg are frequent in parish, hamlet, township and locality names. In the case of farm names, however, the situation is quite different, suggesting a much higher Welsh-speaking element in the population than might at first appear. Many of the farm names and field-names encountered in medieval and Tudor documentary sources are of Welsh derivation, whilst many of the English farm names are of relatively recent origin. Examples of modern Welsh farm names or those with Welsh elements to be found in Maelor Saesneg include the following, though not all are necessarily of early origin: Adre-felin, Althrey, Argoed, Arowry, Bron Haul, Bryn, Brynhovah (also containing the Old English element ofer), Bryn Rossett, Bryn-y-Pys, Cae-Drinions, Cae-Dyah, Caelica, Gelli, Dolennion, Gwalia, Maesllwyn, Maes-y-groes, and Trostree.

Some potentially early farms are surrounded by their own fields, such as Pen-y-bryn, Nant, Plas yn Coed and Wern, though others lie on or near the modern roadside, some of which probably originated as medieval highways, lanes and trackways.

In most cases all trace of medieval farmhouses and buildings will have been replaced and overlain by later structures and will only survive as buried archaeological evidence, though there appear to be a small number of early abandoned farmsteads represented by building platforms, banks and hollow-ways.

Specialized industrial settlements

Specialized industrial settlements which probably emerged during the early medieval and medieval periods were probably a number of hamlets or holdings along the Wych Brook associated with salt production. At least one of these centres was in production as in the early 11th century, but as yet no certain settlement evidence associated with them has been identified.

Post-medieval and modern settlement

With a predominantly agricultural economy and few natural resources Maelor Saesneg escaped the rapid industrial development that engulfed many of the adjacent areas of north-east Wales, and consequently the modern pattern of settlement of small villages and scattered farms shows many elements of direct continuity from the medieval period. A wide variety of different settlement types made their appearance in the landscape of Maelor Saesneg between the 16th century and the modern day, representing a broad and diverse social spectrum. New farms and smallholdings were created following the enclosure of former open arable and the drainage and enclosure of the mosses, as estate owners strove to maintain or increase their revenue. New small nucleated settlements resulted from encroachment onto the ‘greens’ or rapidly diminishing areas of common grazing. Country houses set in parkland sprang up in many areas of the landscape of Maelor Saesneg, in many cases in direct succession to medieval manorial centres. As communications improved, new wayside linear settlements sprang up at road junctions, along the turnpike roads, canal and railways, some with more ancient township or area names.

Post-medieval development of medieval towns, villages and farms By the early 19th century the larger villages of Maelor Saesneg had possibly changed relatively little in terms extent or size of population from those they had attained in the Middle Ages. Edward Lhwyd recorded 26 houses in the village of Bangor Is-y-coed in the late 1690s, a settlement dismissed by Daniel Defoe in the early 18th century as ‘a poor contemptible village’. By the end of the 19th century it consisted of houses spread along the High Street and beside the Whitchurch Road with a few close to the church on the Overton Road and apart from its medieval church included a cottages, coaching inn, rectory, nonconformist chapel, shop, free school, and brewery, with a station on the Wrexham-Ellesmere line just to the east. During the course of the 20th century the eastern side of the settlement underwent a substantial expansion in new housing.

Overton had become the administrative centre for Maelor Saesneg during the Middle Ages. By the 18th century had become relatively prosperous and in architectural terms at least developed something of an urban and picturesque air, evident from the following description from Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary published in the 1830s:

The village is pleasing and prepossessing in its appearance, and, with its venerable church, as seem from almost every point of view, forms a picturesque and highly interesting feature in the landscape . . . . There is neither trade nor manufacture of any kind carried on . . . . The market has long been discontinued.

By the end of the 19th century the village remained unindustrialised but had acquired a wide range of buildings including workers’ cottages, substantial middle-class houses, police station, church school, coaching inn, shops, almshouses, cocoa rooms, estate office for the Bryn-y-Pys estate, Methodist chapel, malthouse, rectory, and cemetery chapel, and was served by the Wrexham-Ellesmere railway with a station at Lightwood Green. During the course of the 20th century housing development expanded over much of the former medieval open field to the east of the settlement. Notable 20th-century buildings include the mock half-timbered public house, Roman Catholic church and council offices.

Edward Lhwyd’s description of Hanmer, noted above, suggests that the village has changed relatively little since the end of the 17th century, with the exception of the recent housing development to the east of the main street, and by the end of the 19th century buildings included cottages, inn, vicarage, smithy, Methodist chapel and free school.

Little is known of the early development of Worthenbury, considered by Lewis as being ‘entirely agricultural’. Existing buildings in the village suggest that it underwent a spurt of growth during the 18th century, and by the mid 19th century the modern plan is already clearly recognizable, with a number of dwellings grouped around the road junction to the south-east of the village, along the lane past the church towards the Wych Brook, and with several buildings to the south-east. By the end of the 19th century the settlement included estate workers’ cottages, one or two larger houses, rectory, church school, malthouse, shop, farmhouse, and a smithy.

New farms from the common and waste

Many of the new farms and smallholdings that appeared in the late medieval and post-medieval periods seem to have resulted from continuing piecemeal enclosure of former open fields and heathland and from the drainage and enclosure of the margins of the mosses.

Many of the later farms and smallholdings of late medieval and post-medieval origin have English names, a high proportion of which fall into a number of distinct patterns, such as those named after greens (eg Big Green Farm, Lightwood Green Farm), those named after trees (eg Yew Tree Farm, Cherrytree Farm), those named after the lanes they lie upon (eg Chapel Lane Farm, Sandy Lane Farm, Drury Lane Farm), and those named after woodland (eg Blackwood Farm, Middle Wood Farm). Some are named from their topographical siting (eg Bank Farm, Brook Farm, Top Farm, Hillside Farm) and some from association with non-agricultural uses (eg Crab Mill Farm, Smithy Farm), but relatively few were given the name of the original owner or tenant.

A high proportion of the later farms and smallholdings lie on public roads, and are often either grouped in small clusters or form diffuse linear patterns, spaced out along a road, as for example along Halghton Lane (Hanmer) and Green Lane (Bangor Is-y-coed).

The origins of many of these farms is poorly documented, though in some instances a general indication is given by the context in which the farm is found or by the dating of the associated farmhouses. A number of farms, for example, such as Dolennion Farm, Higher Lanes Farm, and Old Post Office Farm, appear to overlie earlier strip fields, suggesting that they were created from the enclosure of medieval open fields. In other cases, such as Yew Tree Farm and Smithy Farm, the adjacent field patterns suggest that they were created from the drainage and enclosure of heathland and mosses. Associated farmhouses, which include both timber-framed and brick-built structures, suggest a date range for this phase of settlement activity of between the early 17th and 18th centuries, continuing into the early 19th century in the case of some of the newly-drained land on the edge of the mosses.

Piecemeal clearance and the enclosure of the once more extensive areas of common grazing during the later medieval and early post-medieval periods gradually gave rise to a number of small pockets of unenclosed land from which a number of ‘green’ settlements emerged, perhaps largely of later 17th- and 18th-century origin, which are considered in the next section.

‘Green’ settlements

A significant element in the settlement history of Maelor Saesneg is the widespread occurrence of the place-name element ‘green’ indicating an area of common grassy land which appears, for example, in Tallarn Green (Willington Worthenbury), Lightwood Green (Overton), Horseman’s Green (Willington Worthenbury), Crabtree Green (Bangor Is-y-coed), Little Green (Bronington), Chapel Green, Far Green, Little Green, Big Green (Maelor South), Kil or Kiln Green, and Mannings Green, Painters Green, Hall Green (Bronington). This English place-name element, perhaps without a direct Welsh equivalent, indicates an area of common grassland and makes its first appearance throughout the English-speaking areas of Britain from the 15th century onwards and which in settlement terms invariably appears to indicate relatively late encroachments of former grassy commons. Lightwood Green, for instance, was not finally enclosed until 1877.

A range of different land-use histories are evidently indicated by the ‘green’ settlements in Maelor Saesneg and the immediately surrounding area. Lightwood (in an open position on a low plateau) and Penley (in flat, open countryside), both of which are associated with ‘green’ names, appear to indicate woodland clearings which may have originated in the early medieval or medieval periods. Horseman’s Green, first appearing in the form ‘Horse Math’s Green’ (again lying in flat, open countryside), is perhaps to be derived from the obsolete English dialect word math meaning ‘a mowing’, suggesting meadow land. Tallarn Green, lying on a narrow spur between the Wych Brook and_talwrn ‘place, field’. None of the ‘green’ names in Maelor Saesneg are to be found in medieval documents. Both Horseman’s Green (in its earlier form) and Tallarn Green, for example, only being first recorded at the very end of the 17th century, other names first appearing in 18th-century enclosure awards or in the tithe survey of the 1830s and 1840s. Similar names are also to be found in neighbouring parts of Cheshire include Threapwood Green and Shocklach Green. In this context it is significant that Threapwood remained extra-parochial until the early years of the 19th century, as we have seen above contains a place-name element indicating ‘debateable land’ along the Wych Brook, which forms the boundary between the counties of Cheshire and Flintshire. Shocklach Green occupies another marginal area for settlement, near the floodplain of the Dee, at its confluence with the Wych Brook.

One of the earliest surviving buildings within one of the ‘green’ settlements of Maelor Saesneg is a timber-framed cottage of perhaps the late 16th or early 17th century at Horseman’s Green. Elsewhere most of the surviving buildings are of 19th- or 20th-century date, though it is possible that some of the earliest buildings associated with these settlements were relatively low status, timber structures, of a kind which would be less likely to survive, and possibly as at Lightwood Green, represented by now-abandoned building platforms. Typical of the larger surviving buildings in the ‘green’ settlements are the earlier 19th-century nonconformist chapels at Horseman’s Green and Crabtree Green, the later 19th-century church and vicarage at Tallarn Green, and the Temperance Hall and the Kenyon Cottages for widows also at Tallarn Green.

A number of other settlements in the region appear to be ‘green’ settlements in all but name. Bronington, for example, being shown on an enclosure map of the 1770s as a group of buildings set around a long central green or common, now occupied by modern dwellings, to the south of the present School Lane, perhaps having simply adopted the township name dating back to the Saxon period.

In terms of the chronology of settlement and the evident expansion of settlement in Maelor Saesneg during the medieval period it seems significant that a number of the ‘greens’ are associated geographically with moated settlements, including those at Lightwood Green, Horseman’s Green, Tallarn Green and possibly Little Green (Bronington), which as we have seen appear to be associated with a period of colonising settlement in probably the late 13th and early 14th centuries, and seeming to confirm the suggestion that some of the ‘greens’ lay in areas that were marginal to earlier settlement. The date at which the ‘greens’ were first established is uncertain, though it is probably significant that none are associated with an early church or chapel of ease. Many of the ‘green’ settlements were clearly well established by the late 18th century when the first enclosure maps were being drawn up, which in the case of Tallarn Green and Lightwood Green show a significant number of dwellings set out around the edge of an open area marking the final residue of what had presumably once been a much more extensive common

Country houses

A distinctive phase in the settlement history of Maelor Saesneg was the emergence of the country houses which sprang up particularly in the period between the mid 18th and 19th centuries, matching similar developments in the neighbouring counties of Cheshire and Shropshire. In many instances these country houses developed in direct succession to medieval manorial centres, though in other cases they were new creations of the late 18th to early 20th century, and often forming the centres of a number of the larger estates that were growing to prominence during this period.

The combination of the country house and ancillary service buildings, set in landscape parks or extensive gardens, and often associated with gate lodges and drives, and estate cottages, has had a significant visual impact upon the landscape in certain areas. Iscoyd Park (Bronington) has survived relatively intact within its landscape park, though in many other instances, old and established family seats at Emral (Bangor Is-y-coed), Broughton (Willington Worthenbury), Gwernheylod, Knolton, and Bryn-y-Pys (Overton), Gredington and Bettisfield Park (Bronington) the original country houses were entirely demolished or substantially reduced in size during the 20th century, leaving only elements of the original parkland, stable blocks or gate lodges. So effective has the transformation been in some instances, as in the case of Bryn-y-Pys, that the name of this once important estate is no longer to be found on modern maps. A number of later country houses have survived, including Llannerch Panna (Penley), renamed Tudor Court, built in the later 19th century, and a series of small country houses on the edge of existing settlements, such as The Brow in Overton, and The Manor and Quinton in Worthenbury.

Wayside linear settlements

Bettisfield (Hanmer) is in many ways typical of some of the later wayside linear settlements in Maelor Saesneg, which emerged in the later 18th century. The stimulus to the expansion of Bettisfield was the construction of the Whitchurch branch of the Shropshire Union Canal in the 1790s which resulted in a cluster of houses next to the canal, just to the south of Bettisfield Bridge, together with ribbon development along the minor roads leading to Cadney Moss and Northwood, further stimulated by the construction of the Oswestry, Ellesmere and Whitchurch Railway in the 1860s, and with some modern residential development. The Chequer (Bronington) began to become established along the Bangor Is-y-coed to Whitchurch turnpike (now the A525), beginning as a scatter of houses and Methodist chapel in the early 19th century. Similar smaller hamlets became established at a number of road junctions, as at Holly Bush (Bangor Is-y-coed) which already consisted as a small cluster of farms and a number of small dwellings in the late 18th and early 19th century.

A different pattern of development is evident at Penley (Overton) which grew up along the Overton to Hanmer road. Until the 1940s the settlement remained relatively dispersed, with little more than a scatter of houses, smithy, and 19th-century school, vicarage, and chapel (now the parish church) and nonconformist chapel serving the surrounding rural community. The settlement was transformed during the course of the Second World War when the US Army hospital (and subsequent Polish Hospital) was built, parts of which still dominates the village.

Modern patterns of settlement

A number of distinct changes in the patterns of settlement have occurred within Maelor Saesneg during the last thirty to forty years which has resulted in some impact upon the historic landscape. Many of these changes, though as yet less acute than in many other areas, are typical of the pressures which affect rural areas on the fringes of larger towns and cities throughout Britain, which have arisen from various diverse factors including a decline in the number of people working on the land, the growth in privately-owned vehicles, and the perceived desirability of living in the countryside.

As noted above, the larger nucleated settlements of medieval origin at Bangor Is-y-coed, Overton and Worthenbury have undergone significant expansion during the last few decades, often at the expense of areas of former medieval open fields representing the agricultural basis upon which the settlements were founded. A number of the ‘green’ and wayside settlements of post-medieval origin, including those at Bronington, Bettisfield, and Tallarn Green, have also undergone expansion in recent year. The boom in post-war agriculture was the spur behind a number of small rural local authority housing schemes such as those at Highfields, Higher Lanes Bank, (Bronington), Welsh View, New Hall Lane (Bronington), and near Top House Farm, south of Hanmer. Increased mechanisation and farm amalgamations has led to the demise of many of the smaller farms and smallholdings in the area, liberating numerous 18th and 19th-century brick-built farmhouses and outbuildings for conversion into dwellings especially in the eastern part of the area for families who no longer have an economic dependence upon agriculture. A emergence of modern roadside bungalows thoughout Maeor Saesneg has also led to a nett increase in the number of houses in the countryside, often continuing a pattern of encroachment onto the medieval open fields that began in the early post-medieval period.

For the enjoyment of visitors and those living in the area it important to limit the impact of modern housing upon the historic environment in terms of the sypathetic expansion of existing nucleated settlements and the sensitive conversion of historic farm buildings. Significant measures include those of limiting the physical and visual impact upon important elements of the historic environment including fieldscapes, deposits relating to the early history of nucleated settlements of medieval and post-medieval origin, and aspects of the agricultural history of the area represented by ridge and furrow and marl pits for example.

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