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Mynydd Hiraethog Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

Mynydd Hiraethog

Industrial Landscapes

The landscape of Mynydd Hiraethog has been only lightly brushed by industry, the extraction of peat and stone probably largely dating to the 18th and 19th centuries, leaving their distinctive though generally unobtrusive traces across the moor.

Peat cutting, traditionally undertaken in the month of May, is represented by rectangular depressions and water-filled hollows in numerous of the peaty stream basins across the moor, and notably on the undulating plateau south of Afon Alwen and on the slopes and ridges east of Llyn Alwen. Many of the farms around the edge of the moor cut, dried and carried home supplies of fuel sufficient for their own needs. Some farms continued to cut peat until the 1950s, one farm being said to have continued the practice until the 1980s. The origins of the industry are uncertain, but as a source of winter fuel it is only likely to have become exploited once the natural woodland on the lower slopes of the mountain had become depleted, but was probably used to supply temporary or seasonally-occupied dwellings on the moorland from a much earlier date. The earliest documentary evidence to peat digging in the area appears in the Survey of the Honour of Denbigh compiled in 1334 which records the rights of turbary held by the tenants of a number of vills including one recorded as being on the common wast at Gwytherin, for which tenants gave 12d for the licence to dig turves. Peat cutting no doubt continued without interruption throughout the medieval and post-medieval periods and by the 1830s was considered by one commentator, along with cattle and sheep breeding and spinning and knitting, to be one of the principal occupations of the inhabitants of the area. A number of the mid nineteenth-century tithe maps of parishes bordering on to the moor mark 'turbaries' or peat cuttings on the moorland, sometimes approached by trackways connected with lowland farms. Other archaeological evidence of peat extraction is represented by peat drying platforms and even abandoned stacks of peat are occasionally to be found on the moorland, as on Moel y Gaseg-wen and at valley of the Nant Goch at the head of Afon Cledwen. Small cairns and scatters of stone found in some places may have resulted from peat cutting.

Lesser stone quarries for building farmhouses, outbuildings, walls are to be seen around the margins of the moorland area and often lying on tracks leading to lower-lying farms or associated with farmhouses and smallholdings which have encroached upon the moorland. Other small quarries were opened for roadstone, a number of characteristically small quarries for road construction and ancillary building works being evident along the course of the early 19th-century turnpike road which cuts across the moorland on the route between Pentrefoelas and Denbigh. Relatively small-scale commercial extraction particularly of slate slabs now represented by a number of disused quarries partly engulfed by the forestry plantations above Nantglyn, a number of the quarries here, notably the Nantglyn and Aber Quarries, having been particularly active in the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries and largely supplying local demands. Hand-sawing was most commonly used, though there is some evidence of mechanical sand-sawing at the Aber quarry. Production had ceased at the Aber quarry by the 1920s and at the Nantglyn quarry by the 1950s. A number of more recent quarries, as for example near Aled Isaf, appear to have been opened for the construction of some of the reservoirs and associated engineering works.

The spinning of woollen yarn and clothmaking had already become one of the recognised industries of the 'higher partes of Denbighshyre' from Elizabethan times, spinning and the knitting of stockings being considered to be the principal activity of womenfolk in the area in the 1830s. Most of the wool would have been derived from shearing in the spring, but odd remnants of naturally-shed wool was also traditionally gathered by some of the poorer inhabitants. Hand-spinning of wool on the moor itself, perhaps from the medieval period onwards, is represented by a number of 15th/16th-century spindleworls found during the excavation of a number of possibly seasonally-occupied house sites in the valley of the Nant-y-criafolen stream, on the eastern side of the moor, and by a number of chance finds elsewhere.

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