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The Middle Wye Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Middle Wye Valley

The Ornamental and Picturesque Landscape

The ornamental and picturesque qualities of the historic landscape area have been widely commented upon, as in the following description in Theophilus Jones's History of Brecknockshire.

The system of agriculture pursued in the low lands is not excelled any where within the county or neighbourhoods; the prospects from both sides of the Wye, particularly from Pen y lan . . . and from Maesllwch are as beautiful as imagination can paint; whether the eye be directed up or down the river, picturesque objects present themselves, though of a very different nature. Below, looking from Pen y lan are the wooden bridge at Glasbury, the luxuriant pastures and fertile banks of the Wye, at a little distance to the north east is a gentle rising ascent, thickly interspersed with wood, among which are apple, pear and cherry trees, which, when in full bloom, improve the scene and complete the landscape of a highly cultivated country. The view upwards consisting of a long reach of the Wye, the village of Llyswen, and the abrupt ascent to Craig lai, with a distant view of the Brecon beacons, forms a picture differing totally in the general features from the former, yet possessing great beauties, improved by the contrast; descending, however, from either of these enchanting eminences towards the turnpike gate, we find the river Llynfi, emptying itself into the Wye.

Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Wales published in 1833 no doubt expresses the sentiments of other early 19th-century travellers when he speaks of the countryside around Talgarth: 'it is characterized more by features of rugged boldness than of picturesque beauty, even in some parts bordering on the romantic'. The eye of the 18th and 19th century artist, however, was largely drawn to the scenery and antiquities of the valleys of the Wye and Usk rather than the surrounding hills, many of the views of Brecknockshire being published in books of views as well as in topographical and historical works. The earliest views to be published were those of Hay Castle and Bronllys Castle by the Buck brothers in the 1740s, views which were again sketched by the Sir Richard Colt Hoare, the antiquarian, during his tour with Richard Fenton in 1804. Bronllys Castle again appeared in Hugh Hughes's Beauties of Cambria, published in 1823, one of the other buildings of interest in the area of which views were published being that the Calvinistic Methodist College at Trefecca, which appeared from 1786 onwards.

Parks and gardens are a particularly important element of the landscape of the historic landscape area, a number of which appear in the Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales. A wide range of ornamental and recreational landscapes being represented in the area, including a late medieval or Renaissance deer park, the remains of Elizabethan and Jacobean formal gardens, 18th- and 19th-century landscape parks and pleasure grounds, and a some notable modern gardens.

The deer park at Gwernyfed appears to have originated in the late medieval period. This extensive tract of formerly unenclosed lowland, extended from the foothills of the Black Mountains near Felindre to the banks of the Llynfi at Aberllynfi, and appears to have survived with relatively little alteration until the later 18th century. The deer park formed part of a manor whose ownership by one of the major gentry families in the country can be traced back to at least the beginning of the 16th century and possibly earlier. The original manor house at Old Gwernyfed lay on the old highway between Talgarth and Hay, passing through Felindre and Llanigon. The house was extensively rebuilt in the early 17th century, and probably also belonging to this period are the remnants of a remarkable formal terraced garden laid out behind the house, integrated with orchards and possibly earlier fishponds. The primary residence of the owners transferred to Llangoed Hall near Llyswen in about the 1730s, though various ornamental elements were added to the deer park during the later 18th century and the early 19th century, including a series of radiating tree-lined avenues, a fountain and a maze. The new Jacobean-style country house of Gwernyfed Park was built in the northern side of the park in the 1870s and 1880s with walled kitchen gardens, its long drive, lodge and massive wrought-iron gates giving access to the new lines of communication between Talgarth and Hay passing through Three Cocks and Treble Hill to the north. Ornamental plantings of firs and beech were made throughout the park in the later 19th century and are still evident today, though following the break-up of the estate in the 1950s much of the parkland is now divided into arable fields.

The various ornamental landscape elements represented in sequence at Gwernyfed are repeated on a smaller scale elsewhere within the historic landscape. Hay Castle contains the remains of 17th-century terraced formal garden and 18th- to 19th-century pleasure grounds within the remains of the medieval castle and associated with the Jacobean manor house. Other traces of late medieval gardens are possibly to be seen within the 20th-century formal garden at Trefecca Fawr. Low earthworks associated with Trebarried suggest the remains further garden of the formal garden period. A number of mounds at Y Dderw and elsewhere may represent garden viewing mounds.

A deer park or early landscape park is shown surrounding Great Porthamel Saxton's early 17th-century map of Radnorshire. A picturesque landscape park appears to have been created along the brook to the west of the former gentry house at Tregunter in the later 18th century, partly by damming the stream which forms a tributary of the Dulas - being amongst the works carried out with the London-made fortune of Thomas Harris, an elder brother of Howel Harris of Trefecca. The late 18th- to 19th-century parkland, now forming the grounds of the former Bronllys Hospital was first built as a setting for a mansion of the 1750s and incudes a number of substantial parkland trees up to 200 years old. This mansion was replaced by the existing Pont-y-wal Mansion, a country house built in the late 19th century, with walled garden to the north-east of the house. The parkland belonging to Maesllwch Castle occupies an area enclosed from the former common open fields of Glasbury, probably created in the first half of the 18th century. The parkland was already in existence by the 1770s, and probably also belonging to this period is the ha-ha to the north of the house. The present form of the park dates from the 1840s when a large landscape park, with formal gardens, walled kitchen gardens to the west, and wooded pleasure grounds to the north, was created as the setting to the castellated country house, prominently sited overlooking the Wye valley. This involved the realignment of the public road from Glasbury up to Ffynnon Gynydd Common on the hills above. The effect of a landscape park has been achieved by 19th-century plantings around a number of other large houses in the area, including Trephilip, Felin-newydd, Tregoyd House, Boatside Farm and Clyro Court.

The apple, pear and cherry orchards attached to houses and farms were once an important element of the landscape in the Middle Wye historic landscape area, though sadly many are decayed today. Some of the orchards possibly date back to the medieval period, whilst others seem likely to date from the late 17th century onwards. The Revered Francis Kilvert, the curate of Clyro between 1865-72, provides a contemporary description in his diary in the spring of 1870:

The whole country is now lightened up by the snowy pear blossom among their delicate light-green leaves. The pear trees stand like lights about the gardens and orchards and in the fields. The magnificent great old pear tree opposite the Vicarage is in bloom.

The effect of the fruiting trees the autumn of the same year was equally evocative:

Just below on the orchard bank grew and apple tree whose bright red boughs and shoots stood up in beautiful contrast against the light blue mountains and the grey town and blue valley. And the grey tower of Clyro Church peeped through the bright red branches.

Several fishponds are known within the area in addition to those noted at Old Gwernyfed. These include the fishponds near Tregunter, earthworks near Fishpond Wood at Cwmbach, which seem to represent former fishponds, and the fishponds at Trefecca Fawr. The ponds at Tregunter appear to have been created in the 1760s or 1770s, but others are possibly of medieval origin. The ponds to the north of Trefecca Fawr appear to be those mentioned in a charter of the 1170s in a charter granting land to Brecon Priory by Roger de Baskerville.

The Middle Wye historic landscape area contains a notable concentration important parks and gardens which are important as expressions of the wealth and influence of the landed estates that emerged from the medieval manors in the richer lowlands along the Llynfi and Wye. The physical remains include earthworks, viewing mounds, garden structures, fishponds, remnant orchards, boundaries, walled gardens, and tree plantings. Of particular importance are the potentially medieval fishponds, the remains of medieval and Renaissance formal gardens, remnant ancient orchards, 18th- and 19th-century walled gardens or kitchen gardens, and landscape parks, which clearly raise a wide range of conservation and management issues.

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