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Maelor Saesneg Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

Maelor Saesneg

The Architectural Landscape

Buildings in the landscape

Buildings form an important part of the historic landscape fabric of Maelor Saesneg. Relatively little survives from the medieval period, though notable structural remains include parts of St Mary’s Church, Overton and St Dunawd’s Church, Bangor Is-y-coed, parts of which date from the 14th century and are perhaps the only medieval stonework to have survived in the historic landscape area.

Timber rather than stone was evidently the most commonly-used material for secular buildings in the medieval period of which a number of relatively high-status structures have survived, most notably in the case of the 15th- to 16th-century halls at Horseman’s Green (Hanmer) and Althrey (Bangor Is-y-coed) and Penley Old Hall which in many respects appear to be the successors of earlier manorial moated sites, accompanied by an earlier horizon of timber buildings of which no trace survives. Horseman’s Green farmhouse had an aisled truss as a central open truss over the hall, with some ornately moulded timberwork. Althrey Hall was likewise built as an aisled hall involving the use of cruck construction and the spere-truss, originally with a central open hearth, with archaeological evidence suggesting that it was built on the site of an earlier building. The present house is probably of early 16th-century origin, being described by John Leland as ‘a fair house’ in the 1530s, probably built for Richard ap Howel. A portrait in the form of a wallpainting of mid 16th-century date inside the house is thought to be of Richard’s son, Elis ap Richard (d. 1558) with his bride Jane Hanmer. Penley Old Hall again appears to have been a hall house, probably of two bays, open to the roof with timber mullioned windows, possibly with a lateral chimney. The interior of the hall was extravagantly decorated, with swirls and various other trompe l’oeil motifs, including what appears to be a wall torch set in a bracket. Other traces of relatively high-status cruck-built halls survive elsewhere, as in the case of Llan-y-cefn (Overton). The nature of these buildings clearly expresses the wealth being generated from farming in the region during this period.

Box-framed timber construction continued as the dominant technique during the 16th and 17th centuries for both higher status buildings such as Knolton Hall (Overton) and Willington Cross (Willington Worthenbury) as well as a range of buildings of lesser status. These include a number of farmhouses scattered across the area which originated as a timber-framed structures, such as Buck Farm, Glandeg Farm, Oak Farm, The Fields (Willington Worthenbury), Chapel Farm, New Hall Farm, and Maeslwyn House (Bronington), Gwalia Farm and possibly Lightwood Farm (Overton), Top Farmhouse, Knolton Bryn (Maelor South), and The Cumbers and The Bryn (Hanmer). Surviving lesser houses and workers’ cottages of timber-framed construction include White Cottage (Maelor South), and Bridge Cottages (Willington Worthenbury). Other timber-framed buildings were built in towns and villages at this period, including Magpie Cottage (Hanmer), The Stableyard (Bangor), and the tiny half-timbered cottage near the churchyard in Overton, which may have originated as a shop. Other notable smaller half-timbered buildings in Overton include a number in the High Street and Pen-y-llan Street where timber-framing is exposed in rear elevations, and Quinta Cottage. Most early buildings were most probably thatched, the thatched roof at Magpie Cottage (Hanmer) being one of the few examples that still survives.

Timber was also clearly widely used for barns, an important example being the cruck-built structure at Street Lydan (Penley), dated to about 1550, which has now been re-erected at the Museum of Welsh Life at St Fagans, which stood on a stone sill and was no doubt typical of many which have since disappeared. Later timber-framed barns of which a significant number are recorded in Maelor Saesneg, include a large barn at Althrey Woodhouse (Bangor), probably of 17th-century date, and the outbuildings including a cow-house or stable range at Gwalia Farm and in the stable range at Llan-y-cefn (Overton).

The timber-framed panels would mostly have been infilled with wattle and daub, but as noted below, though unrecorded on the Welsh side of the border, peat appears to have been quite widely used for this purpose in the late medieval and early post medieval periods in the area of the mosses, across the border into Shropshire.

Bricks, both red and brown in colour, became widely used from the later 17th century onwards, generally in conjunction with slated roofs. It appears to have been initially employed for the construction of new and relatively high status buildings, but was subsequently used for refacing and extending many of the existing timber buildings of all kinds and for the infilling of panels in many of the timber-framed buildings that retained their timber elevations. Notable new early brick buildings include Halghton Hall (Hanmer), a brick building with stone dressings and a large doorcase with Doric pilasters, built in 1662, and Bettisfield Old Hall (Bronington), which (as at Plas yn Coed, Overton) were sometimes rendered. During the course of the 18th century brick became the predominant building material for many more buildings spanning a broad range of social status and functions from gentry houses to humble workers’ cottages, and including the terraces of town houses and workers’ cottages which form such an important element of Overton’s quasi-urban Georgian landscape.

Significant high status brick houses of the 18th century include Iscoyd Park (Bronington), built in about 1740, Hanmer Hall, a large brick farmhouse of 1756, and Hanmer Vicarage, close to the mere, Hollybush Lane Farmhouse, a large double-pile structure with a five-bay front. Some of the houses of this period, such as Gwydyr House in Overton and Argoed Farmhouse (Overton) have details such as stone-coped gables, expressing a refinement in vernacular building traditions stemming from increased prosperity and investment in both town and country at this period. Mulsford Hall (Wilington Worthenbury), with stone quoins and fluted keystones, built on part of the Emral estate, with the inscription ‘This house was built by C. Mathews, tenant of J. Puleston Esq. ‘Tis for my landlord’s good, and my own desire. AD 1746’. The architect is thought to have been the same as for St Deiniol’s, the brick-built church of 1736 at Worthenbury, which with stone dressings for pilaster strips, urn finials, balustrading and keystones, cited as ‘the best and most complete Georgian church in Wales’.

The growth of the landed estates in the 18th and 19th centuries gave rise to many new brick-built country houses and associated outbuildings, together with a range of ancillary buildings including lodges, estate cottages, almshouses and other buildings of philanthropic character. Many of the larger country houses originating in this period were also of brick, as at Bryn-y-Pys (Overton) and Emral Hall (Willington Worthenbury), the former demolished in 1956 and the latter 1936, parts of which were re-erected by Clough Williams-Ellis at Portmeirion. Other notable country houses in the area which likewise formed the centre of landed estates shared a similar fate, including Gwernheylod (Overton), Broughton Hall (Willington Worthenbury), and Gredington (Hanmer). Occasionally, isolated monuments of these former country house estates are to be seen, in the form of lodges, stable blocks, walled yards and gardens, icehouses (Emral Hall) and areas of former parkland. More often than not the 19th-century lodges, estate cottages and almhouses were built to be built either in half-timbered or in a stone neo-Gothic style favoured for such buildings. Characteristic buildings of this kind include the Emral Hall lodge (one of three original lodges), The Gelli lodges, Tallarn Green (Willington Worthenbury), the Bryn-y-Pys Estate Office in Overton, a pair of estate cottages at Mannings Green (Bronington) in Tudor style with elaborately decorated brick chimneys, a similar though plainer pair of cottages in Frog Lane, Worthenbury, the Bryn-y-Pys lodges in a neo-vernacular style, the row of eight brick-built cottages with arched doors and windows in Wrexham Road, Overton, and the Methodist Temperance Room and Kenyon Almshouses at Tallarn Green (Willington Worthenbury). Three former gothic-style ashlar almshouses in Salop Road, Overton, again characteristically bear the inscription ‘A.D. 1848. These almshouses were erected to the memory of Caroline Bennion, late of Wrexham Fechan by her affectionate sisters. Faithful in the unremitting exercise of charity to the poor and every Christian virtue, she departed this life on 6th February 1847’.

Other 19th-century town and country houses were to be built in a ‘revivalist vernacular style’, including notable examples of the work by the architect John Douglas who undertook much work on behalf of the Kenyons and whose buildings include the rectory at Bangor Is-y-coed, the parsonage at Tallarn Green, The Gelli (Willington Worthenbury) and Llannerch Panna (Penley), each of which employ half-timbering and brickwork, generally combined with varied rooflines and an asymmetrical design. Earlier 19th-century picturesque design is evident in the case of a number of middle-class houses in Overton, such at The Quinta, with oriel window, decorative barge-boards and arched windows and in the siting of houses such as The Brow and Min-yr-afon (Overton) which exploit riverside locations along the Dee.

The religious revival of the 19th century gave rise to the many new churches and nonconformist chapels which form a distinctive and characteristic element particularly of the rural landscape, ranging from the gothic style of St Mary Magdalene’s Church, Penley, rebuilt in sandstone in the 1870s, the late Georgian style of Chequer Methodist Chapel (Bronington) to the corrugated-iron misson church at Knolton (Overton). More unusual is Holy Trinity, Bronington, a brick church converted from an earlier barn in 1836.

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