CPAT logo
Cymraeg / English
Middle Usk Valley
Historic Landscape
Character area map
More photographs

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Middle Usk Valley: Llan-ddew
Brecon and Llanddew communities, Powys
(HLCA 1173)


Undulating lowland fieldscapes to the east and north-east of Brecon, composed of large to medium-sized regular fields, probably of medieval and later origin, together with the shrunken medieval village of Llan-ddew and a number of widely dispersed larger post-medieval farms and possibly later prehistoric hillfort and enclosure.

Historic background

Later prehistoric settlement is probably indicated by the large and strategically sited Slwch Tump hillfort and adjacent enclosure site, just to the east of Brecon, the hillfort probably representing an Iron Age tribal centre. The Roman road from Brecon Gaer to Kenchester (Herefordshire) is thought to cross the northern side of the area, passing through Llan-ddew, but as yet no physical evidence of its existence has been found within the character area, nor yet has any other evidence of Roman activity been found. It is thought that a church had been established at Llan-ddew by about the early 6th century, which by the early medieval pre-Conquest period had become a clas church—a regionally prominent ecclesiastical centre.

In the early medieval period the area formed part of the cantref of Cantref Selyf within the kingdom of Brycheiniog, which following the Norman conquest under Bernard de Neufmarché formed part of the marcher lordship of Brecon. A masonry castle and palace belonging to the bishop of St David’s was established at Llan-ddew in the 12th century, associated with the management of an episcopal manor in the area which survived until the Reformation in the mid 16th century. An earthen castle was also established at Alexanderstone on the eastern edge of the character area, perhaps during the 11th to 12th centuries, which may have formed one of a number of smaller estates established within the area following the conquest. The place-name Alexanderstone is first recorded in the later 14th century, being derived from a personal name with the English suffix -ton denoting a farm or settlement.

Following the Act of Union the area later formed part of Pencelli Hundred. It subsequently formed parts of the 19th-century tithe parishes of Llan-ddew, Brecon St John, Brecon St Mary and Llanhamlach.

The Breconshire historian Theophilus Jones records that extensive land improvement was undertaken in the vicinity of Llan-ddew during the later 18th century by a number of the larger landowners.

Key historic landscape characteristics

Predominantly rural landscape of large and medium-sized regular fields with hedged boundaries, generally between about 150-260 metres above sea level. The general regularity of the field pattern throughout the area, together with some strip fields and fields with dogleg boundaries and the presence of some remnant ridge and furrow around Llan-ddew and near Alexanderstone suggests that an extensive proportion of the field pattern in the area may result from the enclosure and amalgamation in the later medieval period or early post-medieval periods of medieval open-field furlongs associated with the town of Brecon, the episcopal manor at Llan-ddew and other smaller secular manors.

Settlement in the early medieval and medieval period appears to have focused on the larger ecclesiastical manorial centre at Llan-ddew and the smaller centre at Alexanderstone. The small village of Llan-ddew possibly maintains its medieval plan. The large cruciform church with central tower dates from the 13th century but is thought to have originated as a religious centre from the 6th century. It is set in a large curvilinear churchyard of which the boundary is partly defined by a dry-stone wall. The settlement was granted a market charter in about 1290 and was probably more extensive in the medieval period than today, being associated with now abandoned building platforms. The masonry castle to the north-east of the village centre was built by the bishops of St David’s during the 12th century as a residence for the archdeacon of Brecon. It was occupied by Gerald of Wales, archdeacon of Brecon, in the later 12th century but was in ruins by 1550. It is associated with a well traditionally ascribed to the 14th century, built into an arched recess in the south-west curtain wall, now equipped with a 19th-century cast-iron hand pump. The remains of earthwork fishponds probably associated with the bishops’ residence are visible to the south-east of the church. An extensive earthwork field system including some house sites and a substantial hollow way, occupies the field between the centre of the village and Llanddew Court, which are probably the remains of a medieval strip-field system and of some regional significance. Further earthworks indicating medieval field systems are visible to the north-west, north and south of the village centre, extending beyond Standel farm. A process of relatively modern rural depopulation is suggested by house plots within the settlement that have been abandoned since the mid 19th century.

There are a relatively small number of dispersed, larger farms within the character area. The large gentry farmhouse at Alexanderstone dates from the 17th-century but is probably on the site of an earlier manor house, associated with an earthwork castle probably originally associated with a medieval manorial centre established after the Norman conquest. Relict building platforms and ridge and furrow cultivation in the immediately surrounding area probably belong to this centre. Slwch Farm is a gentry farmhouse rebuilt in the early 19th century which together with three ranges of later 18th to mid 19th-century with characteristic stone-built outbuildings surround a farmyard, including cart and animal bays and a hay loft. Ffynnonau Farm has a late 17th to 18th-century house, with characteristic thick stone rubble walls.

St Elyned’s Chapel, a medieval, non-parochial chapel to the west of Slwch Farm, is first recorded in the earlier 12th century, associated with well and possible enclosure site, of which some masonry structure was recorded in the early 19th century.

There are a number slight but characteristic remains of rural industries within the character area including scattered stone quarries of medieval or later date for building stone, such as the abandoned stone quarries inside the Slwch Tump hillfort, the remains of the 19th-century and probably earlier Felin Cwm Anod corn watermill on the river Honddu on the western boundary of the area.


Cadw Listed Buildings Lists; CPAT Historic Environment Record; Burnham 1995; Charles 1938; Dorling 1999; Emery 2000; Haslam 1979; Jones, T, 1909; Jones N W 1991; 1993; Jones and Bailey 1909; King 1959; Martin and Walters 1993; Morgan and Powell 1999; Owens 1993; Rees 1993; RCAHMW 1986; Silvester 1993; Silvester 1997; Smith, L T, 1906; Smith, P, 1988; Smith and Jones 1965; Westwood 1885; Williams 1976

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

Privacy and cookies