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The Middle Wye Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Middle Wye Valley

The Architectural Landscape

The Middle Wye Valley historic landscape area has an rich heritage of historic buildings, which help to chart the social and economic history of the area in fine detail from the later medieval period onwards.

The Neolithic chambered long cairns at Pipton, Penyrwrlodd (Talgarth), Penyrwrlodd (Llanigon), Little Lodge, and Ffostyll show a variety of constructional techniques including orthostatic burial chambers, mass walling and drystone revetments which represent the earliest archectural expression within the area. The general form of the monuments suggests a 'house of the dead' though to what extent they bear any comparison with the houses of the living at this period in the area is unknown. The chambers are normally entered from the sides of the long cairns and there is usually a false portal at the broader end of the mound, suggesting a ritualised doorway to the other world. Little if nothing is known of building styles and techniques that were used in the area during the later prehistoric to early medieval periods, and it is therefore important to manage and conserve sites where evidence of this kind is preserved.

The earliest surviving buildings in the area are a number of 13th- to 14th-century stone-built churches, monastic establishments and castles. Foremost amongst the churches are those at Llanelieu, Llanfilo, Llanigon and Talgarth, where much of the medieval fabric survives, including fragments from the early 12th century in some instances, though there are no certain architectural fragments belonging to the pre-conquest period. Many of the other churches in the area were substantially rebuilt in the 19th century, though a 13th-century detached belltower survives at Bronllys, one of only a small number of surviving examples in Wales, and parts of the 15th-century church towers survive at Clyro and Hay. Reused fragments taken from earlier churches are to be seen here and there, including the 13th century doorway built into the Jacobean manor house at Old Gwernyfed, which is thought to have come from Llanthony Abbey, Brecon Priory, or from the former medieval chapels at Aberllynfi or Felindre. Other fragments of medieval fabric include the arched doorways in a barn at Court Farm, Clyro and in the house at Llanelieu Court, both of which are thought to have monastic associations of perhaps the 14th to 15th century. The building at Clyro appears to be a surviving portion of the monastic grange of Cwmhir Abbey in Radnorshire and the building at Llanelieu is thought to be a survival of a monastic cell of Llanthony Priory.

Important remains of medieval stone castles survive at each of the three principal administrative centres of the marcher lordships, at Hay, Bronllys and Talgarth. At Hay Castle are the remains of the square stone keep built in about 1200 and the main gateway refurbished in the 1230s. The round tower at Bronllys Castle was probably built in the period between the 1220s and the 1260s, and like the similar tower at Tretower in Brecknockshire was probably based on contemporary French concepts of military architecture, a second storey having evidently been added to the tower in about the 14th century. Part of 14th- to 15th-century rubble stone hall range also survives at Bronllys, incorporated within a workshop and gallery at Bronllys Castle House. The Tower House in the centre of Talgarth is probably of 14th century date, and is one of the few examples of its kind in Wales. Most domestic buildings of the medieval period are likely to have been of timber, though there is evidence of stonework at the possibly 14th-century moated sites at Lower House Farm (Clyro), Cwrt-coed and Hillis, with a fragment of stone roofing tile at Cwrt-coed, suggesting that the buildings associated with the moats were either stone-built or were timber buildings set on stone footings.

A significant number of domestic buildings in the historic landscape area have their origins in the later medieval period, in the 15th and 16th centuries, many of which originated as timber-framed building of cruck-framed construction. The buildings were sometimes set on platforms cut into the slope, when sited on sloping ground, the buildings with timber-framed outer walls most probably being set on sill walls of sandstone rubble construction. In many instances the timber-framed outer walls of these early buildings have either been rendered or more commonly replaced in stone, though some of the buildings appear to have had stone outer walls when first built. Only in a number of rare instances is there any surviving evidence of the wattle and daub panels that would once have filled the timber-framing. By the early post-medieval period many of the buildings appear to have had stone tile roofs, though the pitch of some roofs suggest that they may originally have been thatched.

This late medieval horizon includes a number of buildings in the towns and villages of the area, including houses in the settlements at Hay, Talgarth, Glasbury, Clyro and Llowes. One of the best preserved of the smaller medieval houses in the region is the Old Vicarage at Glasbury, with a 15th-century timber roof and stone outer walls. The 15th/16th-century Tithe Barn at Glasbury was cruck-built, again with stone outer walls. Other early buildings of this kind include a former cruck-framed hall house in the village of Clyro, the Old Vicarage and the Radnor Arms in Llowes, the Old Radnor Arms in Talgarth, and the Three Tuns in Hay, all of which appear to originate in the 15th and 16th centuries. Some of the buildings were hall-houses, and are in most are the earliest surviving domestic structures within the nucleated settlements in the area.

An even richer array of early buildings survive in the countryside, having escaping the redevelopment which resulted from the growth of many of the nucleated settlements during the course of the 19th century. Most of the early buildings were farmhouses, some evidently having begun life as multipurpose buildings of longhouse type, with a central hall and accommodation for animals at one end and for the family at the other end, specialised farm buildings of the 15th and 16th centuries, such as separate barns or granaries, being comparatively rare in the area. Buildings of this type have survived in both the upland and lowland areas, though there is a noticeable concentration in the former welshries of the lordships of Talgarth and Hay, in the foothills of the Black Mountains, where there had evidently been an emphasis upon cattle rearing from medieval times. Characteristic buildings of this type include the farmhouses at Penygenhill, Tynllyne, Ty Mawr (Llanigon), Llwynmaddy, Penlan, Middle Maestorglwydd barn, Lower Wenallt, Wenallt-uchaf, Old House, Maescoch and Cwmcoynant. The Middle Maestorgwlydd barn is a remarkable survivial. It originated as a cruck-built hall house in the mid to later 15th-century and is one of the few surviving buildings of this kind within the area which escaped conversion to a storeyed house in the 17th or 18th centuries, eventually being converted to use as a barn. The later history of the similar cruck-built hall house of longhouse type at Llangwathan in Cusop Dingle is more characteristic of the group as a whole. A chimney was inserted into the former open hall in the late 16th or early 17th century, and the walls rebuilt in stone in the 18th or 19th century, a time of transition in the development of the longhouses in the region. Other lowland farmhouses of the late medieval period include Upper Skynlais, which began as a winged open hall-house, later encased in stone, with internal timberwork indicating high social status, and Pentre Sollars, a small cruck-built house.

Great Porthamel, described as 'one of the more remarkable medieval houses of Wales', belonged to one of the notable ruling families which emerged in the area following the demise of the feudal manors in the richer lowlands. Other major medieval houses probably once existed at Old Gwernyfed and Maesllwch, but were substantially or wholly rebuilt during the 17th and 18th centuries, though part of the medieval roof still survives at Gwernyfed. Great Porthamel is a stone-built hall built by Roger Vaughan in the later 15th century. It is one of the greater houses of the Anglo-Welsh elite in the central and southern borderland, and accommodated Henry VII on his way to the Battle of Bosworth in 1485. The status of the house was emphasised by the walled precinct which once surrounded it, though this was largely demolished in 19th century. The precinct was entered by a two-storey stone gatehouse which fortunately still survives, and which is characteristic of a number of the more imposing 15th-century houses in the Marches.

A wider range of building types emerged during the 17th century, including several more specialised forms. Stone came to be more commonly used as a building material, perhaps due to the development of the quarrying industry as well as to an increasing scarcity of timber. A series of lowland farmhouses were built in rubble sandstone during the century, including those at Upper Sheephouse, Llwynbarried, Trevithel, Trebarried, and Tredomen Court. A number of new sandstone rubble farmhouses were also built on the upland farms, some evidently replacing earlier timber houses, as at Moity, Cefn, the farmhouses at Lower, Middle, and Upper Maestorglwydd, and Upper Dan-y-fforest, some of which like Lower Genffordd were now built across rather than up and down the slope of _hos, which appears to have had a stone ground floor with timber framing above. Earlier traditions of roofing continued, as shown by raised or upper crucks set on stone walls at Middle Genffordd. A number of later medieval timber farmhouses were also converted at this period, with sandstone walls replacing the outermost timber framing. A number of the farmhouses were also rendered either at this time during the 18th or 19th centuries.

Many of the farmhouses would originally have been associated with separate bakehouses or kitchens of which only a small number of examples have survived, as in the case of the detached stone kitchen at Cilonw Farm and the possible detached bakehouse at Gwrlodde. Specialised types of farm building began to emerge more clearly during the course of the 17th century, including cowhouses and threshing barns, often with distinctive local vernacular details, such as vertical ventilation slits. Stone barns of this period were erected at many farms across the area, including those at Lower Maestorglwydd, Gwrlodde, and Tredustan, though a number of weatherboarded timber-framed barns were also built during the 17th century, some combining cruck and box-frame construction, including the barns at Penlan, Llangwathan (mostly replaced in stone), Great Porthamel, and Lower Maestorglwydd. Some of the timber barns, like those at Bryn-yr-hydd and Pentwyn, were set on high sandstone walls.

An array of larger gentry houses and mansions also appeared in the countryside at this time, alongside the farmhouses.These were generally associated with the richer lowland farms, some of which had their origin in medieval manors and evidently replaced earlier buildings on the same site. Probably belonging to the period about the beginning of the 17th century are Old Gwernyfed, Llowes Court, Y Dderw, whilst those belonging to later in the century include Trefecca Fawr, Tredustan Court and Tredustan Hall. Two of the houses, Y Dderw and Old Gwernyfed have distinctive gabled front elevations which are characteristic of the period. A third house belonging to this group was Tregoyd Hall, which was destroyed by fire in 1900. A number of these houses belonged to families of some distinction. Old Gwernyfed was built by Sir David Williams, the High Sheriff of Brecknockshire. Tregoyd Hall belonged to Lord Hereford. Llanelieu Court is associated with the Aubreys, and has doorway erected in the 1670s, embellished with quotations from Virgil's Ecolgues and Ovid's Heroides. Most of the gentry buildings continued to be built of local sandstone rubble, with the occasional use of imported ashlar, the contemporary roofing material probably generally being of local stone tiles, as in the case of those which survive at Y Dderw and Tredustan Court.

In comparison with the countryside, few large town or village houses appear to have been built during the 17th century, one of the few notable examples being the Hay Castle Mansion, built in the 1660s in coursed sandstone rubble with freestone window dressings. Some of the town houses continued to be built in timber in the earlier part of the century, the Cafe Royal in Hay being a timber-framed town house of the early 17th-century, with a jettied upper floor. More characteristic of the nucleated settlements, particularly of the villages, are the stone cottages surviving from this period, including Rose Cottage, Sacred Cottage and a number of others in Clyro for example.

A considerably wider range of building types were constructed during the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, reflecting the various changes that affected the area during this dynamic period, including improvements in agriculture, the growth of the local towns, improved communications, the rise of nonconformism, and public education and welfare. The social upheavals of the period are evident in Samuel Lewis's comments of the area around Talgarth given in his Topographical Dictionary of Wales, published in 1833:

There were formerly in this parish many ancient seats, the residences of genteel families, which, having in course of time been abandoned by their proprietors, have fallen into neglect, and are now become comparatively insignificant. Among these is Porthaml . . . . Tregunter . . . . Tredustan.

Consequently existing buildings were rebuilt and many new buildings and new types of building were erected during the 18th and 19th centuries, reflecting this new social order, including townhouses, farmhouses, gentry houses, vicarages, country houses, inns and hotels, shops and other commercial and industrial premises, new churches, nonconformist chapels, public buildings including market halls, almshouses, workhouses, schools and hospitals, worker's housing, toll-houses, stables and coachhouses, merchants and manager's housing, and new farm buildings. Sandstone rubble remained the most common building material throughout most of the 18th century, though increasingly the stonework was rendered. Ashlar was more commonly used on some of the larger houses and public buildings from the early 19th-century onwards, especially for window and door openings and quoins, and slate appears to have gradually replaced the use of local stone tiles during the course of the 18th century. A number of brick buildings were erected during the 18th century, though the use of this material remained relatively uncommon until towards the end of the 19th century when yellow, red and blue bricks became more frequently used for window or door dressings. Glazed ceramic ridge tiles appear to have been in production locally near Whole House farm near Talgarth, in the period between about the mid 17th century and the early 18th century and were no doubt used in conjunction with either stone tile or slate roofs. Red ceramic ridge tiles, some crested, were in use in the area by about the mid 19th century. Notable brick buildings of the early years of the 20th century include Tregoyd Hall, rebuilt after a fire in 1900, and the farmhouse at The Rhos, which superseded the earlier stone and timber farmhouse.

A large number of stone farmhouses were rebuilt or substantially refurbished throughout the area during the 18th century, particularly in the case of the richer lowland farms such as Trephilip, Penyrwrlodd (Llanigon), New Forest Farm, Plas Celyn, Glan-hen-Wye, and Llwynfilly, some of the new farmhouses such as Lower Sheephouse being provided with genteel interiors. A similar process continued throughout the 19th century, with the stone-built and occasionally rendered farmhouses at Pipton, Maes-y-garn, and Great House Farm in Talgarth, some like Lower House in Llyswen with ashlar dressings and a genteel appearance, characteristic of the gentrification of the countryside at this period.

An increasingly wider range of specialised farm buildings such as cowhouses, haybarns, wainhouses, barns with central cartways and winnowing floors, granaries, and stables were constructed over the course of the 18th and 19th centuries to meet the needs of the improved farming techniques that were being introduced. Important buildings of this period include the stone barns at Y Dderw, Llwynmaddy, Lower Maestorglwydd, Pendre and Pipton, often with ventilation slits, and the 19th-century barns at Trephilip with characteristic red and blue brick dressings to the openings. The large 18th-century brick-built former barn at Great House Farm in Talgarth is relatively unusual in the area, as indeed are the 341 pigeon nesting boxes in the gable wall. Other pigeon lofts, on the smaller and more usual scale, are to be seen at a number of other probably 18th to 19th-century farms and farm buildings, including the gable wall of a barn at Pentwyn south of Talgarth, the gabled dovebox above the granary at Ty Mawr at Llanigon, the gabled dovebox in a barn at Y Dderw Barn with nest holes in the gable wall, and the small pigeon loft under eaves of the farmhouse at Pendre Farmhouse. The only separate dovecotes which appear to have survived within the area are the cylindrical stone pair in front of Old Gwernyfed, which are probably originally of late 15th- or early 16th-century date, though there are suggestions that others once existed at a number of farms until perhaps the late 18th or early 19th centuries, as possibly at Trefecca Fawr.

Various gentry houses were also built during the later 18th and earlier 19th centuries, especially in the towns and villages with improved communications or with easy access to the new turnpike roads. Notable houses of the period include Castle House in Bronllys, Woodlands, Parc Gwynne and Green House in Glasbury, Ashbrook House and Cae Mawr at Clyro, and Ashgrove House at Treble Hill. A number of the houses, such as Glasbury House, are substantial gentlemens' residences, and some of the houses like Aberllynfi House at Treble Hill and Bryn-yr-hydd on the main road midway between Glasbury and Llowes are conspicuously sited within the landscape. A majority of the houses of this kind are rendered or pebbledashed sandstone rubble, with several in coursed rubble. Other characteristic large village houses of the period include a number of large 19th-century vicarages and parsonages, including the Old Vicarage at Clyro and Vicarage House, Llowes.

The 19th-century saw the rise of the country house in the historic landscape area, normally built in ashlar masonry. The most prominent buildings of this kind in the area are Maesllwch Castle built in the 1830s in a castellated Tudor style, Clyro Court built in the 1840s, and Gwernyfed Park House and Pont-y-wal Mansion built in the 1870s and 1880s in a neo-Jacobean style. Gwernyfed Park appears to have replaced an earlier hunting lodge, set within the medieval deer park, and both Pont-y-wal and Maesllwch replaced 18th-century or earlier houses probably set within existing pleasure grounds and landscape parks. Other contemporary buildings and structures associated with these large country houses were stables and coachhouses, as at Clyro Court, Gwernyfed Park and Pont-y-wal, and with lodges and lodge gates, as at Gwernyfed Park and Maesllwch Castle. A number of the larger estates in the area, such as Llanthomas, had a significant impact upon the surrounding countryside, parkland furniture, gates, cottage windows and doors of distinctive styles being manufactured in estate workshops or commissioned by the estate from outside craftsmen.

Improvements to the turnpike roads during the late 18th and early 19th century, followed by the introduction of the Hay-Brecon tramway in the early 19th century and the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway in the later 19th-century, led to an increased the number of visitors to the area, and in turn gave rise to a number of new or substantially refurbished hotels and roadside hostelries. Prominent amongst these were the Griffin Inn, Bridge End Inn and Star House in Llyswen, the Maesllwch Arms Hotel in Glasbury, the Baskerville Arms Hotel in Clyro, and the Swan Hotel, Crown Hotel and George Inn (subsequently the vicarage) in Hay, the former Sun Inn at Llanigon, and finally the Tower Hotel in Talgarth. A number of earlier inns continued in use or rose to prominence during the period, including the Three Cocks Hotel, an early pre-turnpike hostelry, which has the distinction of having given its name to an area along the important communications corridor which sprang up between Bronllys and Hay. A wide range of other buildings emerged from the transport revolution in the Middle Wye Valley, including stabling and coachhouses associated with inns and private houses during the later 18th and early 19th century, as at the Old Radnor Arms, Talgarth, and at Glan-hen-Wye farm. Belonging to the Hay-Brecon Tramway are the Tramway Office at Broomfield and probably the stables at Llwynau-bach, both at Treble Hill, and railway stations and other railway buildings, of which examples survive at Talgarth and Trefeinion.

Both Hay and Talgarth witnessed a considerable expansion during the course of the later 18th and 19th centuries as the towns developed as service centres for the surrounding area. Numerous new town houses and shops were built, and especially noticeable at this period was the arrival of terraced workers' housing, often either in stone with brick dressings or wholly in brick. A number of the lowland villages also saw an expansion in the number of workers' houses, particularly during the 19th century, including Albert Terrace and Barn Cottage in Llowes, which probably represent farmworkers' cottages.

New and occasionally imposing public buildings were erected in the towns of Talgarth and Hay during the 19th century. Dating to the 1830s are the Harley Almshouses in Church Street and Brecon Road, Hay, the former being built, according to a plaque, 'for the reception of 6 poor indigent women AD MDCCCXXXII'. Also of the 1830s are the Butter Market and Cheese Market and Poor Law Union at Hay and dating to the 1870s is Talgarth's Town Hall. Hay's clock tower of the 1880s, in a 'High Victorian Gothic' style, provides a further expression of civic pride at this period. Many of the existing medieval churches were rebuilt in a Victorian Gothic style during the course of the 19th century including Bronllys, Clyro, Hay, Llowes and Llyswen. New churches were built in in the former parish of Glasbury at All Saints to the north of the Wye and St Peters to the south, following the abandonment of the medieval church site due to flooding in the 17th century. A further impact of the religious revival during the course of the century was the rapid expansion in nonconformist places of worshi_lasbury, built in the 1860s with rock-faced coursed sandstone rubble masonry with ashlar dressings, and the contemporary Treble Hill Baptist Chapel, built in red brick with sandstone dressings in a simple classical-style . The 19th-century rural chapels were invariably much simpler in style, and were generally constructed in rendered sandstone rubble, as in the case of the New Zion Primitive Methodist Chapel at Moity, and the Penyrheol Baptist Chapel.

A final distinctive element in the architectural landscapes of the Middle Wye Valley came with the arrival to the large hospital complexes at Talgarth and Bronllys, each built with an separate architect-designed chapel. The former Mid Wales Hospital at Talgarth, opened in 1903, was built in a severe institutional style. It is built of local stone with Grinshill sandstone dressings, its interior lined with bricks made on site. Bronllys Hospital was purpose-built as a tuberculosis sanatorium between 1913-20, designed on the widely-spaced pavilion system, and is still in use as a hospitable.

Historic buildings form an important element of the historic landscape of the Middle Wye and apart from their intrinsic architectural value they also provide a vital record of the social and economic history of the area. A number of buildings are also important from the point of view of their historical or literary associations: Maesyronnen Chapel is associated with the early nonconformist movement in Wales; Trefecca College and Trefecca-isaf (Trefecca College Farm), are associated with the 18th-century Methodist leader Howel Harris and hymn-writer William Williams, Pantycelyn; Ashbrook House and the Vicarage at Clyro, were home to the diarist Frances Kilvert during his curacy in the 1860s and 1870s; Clyro Court, is associated with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the writing of his novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles; and Glasbury Gate Cottage was the scene of the only recorded incident in the area during the Rebecca Riots against the imposition of the turnpike tolls in the 1840s. Individual buildings and groups of buildings also form an important visual element in the landscape. Management of the visual setting of a number of buildings is a particular priority, especially in the case of historic churches and castles, the landscape of historic towns and villages, and in the landscape setting of isolated country houses, farms, and upland chapels.

The management and conservation of the architectural landscapes of the Middle Wye historic landscape area presents many challenges for the future, particularly in finding alternative uses for buildings which have now become redundant. All the country houses in the area have been converted either to hotels or to institutional use, as has one of the two 20th-century hospitals in the area. Many of the larger 18th- to 19th-century gentry houses and some of the farmhouses have already been successfully converted to outdoor pursuit centres, and a number of former nonconformist chapels have likewise been converted into houses. The greatest priority is undoubtedly with regard to redundant historic farm buildings and farmhouses, especially in the more remote parts of the area, some of which are now in poor condition. Where conversion or conservation are not a viable proposition there is an urgent need to make a record of the individual buildings before they are lost. A further important priority from the point of view of management and conservation relates to a wide range of archaeological deposits which preserve the now-missing elements of the architectural history of the area. Of particular importance here are deposits containing evidence of buildings belonging to the prehistoric, Roman and early medieval periods, the form of early town and village houses and farmhouses and peasants' houses, monastic granges and castles, abandoned churches, and early industrial sites, of which relatively little is known. The archaeology of a number of standing buildings is also important, especially in relation to information about their original use, form and dating.

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