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The Middle Wye Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Middle Wye Valley

Settlement Landscapes

Many elements in the settlement history of the Middle Wye Valley are reflected in the modern landscape, including elements derived from the early pre-conquest kingdom of Brycheiniog, from the manorial system imposed following the Norman conquest, the decay of medieval feudal system and the rise of landed estates in the later medieval period, the changes resulting from improvements in communications in the 18th and 19th centuries, the effects of rural depopulation in the 19th and 20th centuries, and the growth of nucleated settlements in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Little is yet known of the nature or extent of human settlement within the Middle Wye before the early medieval period. No settlement sites have so far been identified belonging to the earlier prehistoric period, though the distribution of earlier burial monuments, including both Neolithic long cairns and Bronze Age round barrows, suggests that a wide range of topographical areas were being exploited and that family groupings or clans were beginning to emerge, each perhaps with their own well-defined territory. The Iron Age saw the emergence of a handful of hillforts which appear to represent the growth of nucleated settlements, again to be associated with clan or tribal groupings. There are suggestions that a number of farming estates emerged during the course of the Roman period, though little is known of these.

Complex patterns of settlement had evidently developed throughout the early medieval period and it seems possible that the patterns of settlement which emerged following the Norman conquest, towards the end of the 11th century, developed from rather than simply replacing the pattern that existed within the kingdom of Brycheiniog before the conquest. Some elements of the Welsh patterns of settlement would have been familiar to the Norman overlords, being based upon a pattern of both nucleated and dispersed settlements, the nucleated settlements often occupying the richer, lower-lying ground and the dispersed settlements occupying the more hilly areas. Nucleated settlements were represented by a system not dissimilar to that of the English manors, and included a llys 'court' of the local lord, the land belonging to the lord, a maerdref 'bailiff's farm', and bond communities whose members held shares of arable land in return for labour services on the lord's land. Dispersed patterns of settlement were based on landholdings occupied by free hereditary family groups, or gwely, whose members had rights to arable, pasture, woodland and rough grazing, and which often gave rise to a pattern of settlement represented by clusters of tyddynau ('homesteads') surrounding relatively small arable sharelands.

Certain elements of the pre-conquest pattern are discernible in the landscape of the Middle Wye. Important pre-conquest administrative centres appear to have existed at the royal residence at Talgarth and the llysoedd at Llyswen and Bronllys. Each of these centres is likely to have been associated with maerdrefi and bond settlements, based on extensive areas of arable in the fertile valleys of the Wye and Llynfi, the courts at Talgarth and Llyswen associated with early church sites. The early churches at Llanfilo, Llanelieu, Llanigon, Llowes, and Glasbury probably represent other nucleated bonded settlement, but in these instances generally sited with more ready access to both upland and lowland and suggesting an economy combining upland and lowland patterns of land-use

The complex pattern of rural settlement which emerged within the Middle Wye Valley following the Norman conquest appears to be firmly rooted in the system that had developed in the pre-conquest period and may represent a strong degree of continuity rather than mass in-migration of English settlers and the displacement of the native population. One element is represented by the large lowland manors and bonded settlements with extensive open fields at Llyswen, Bronllys and Talgarth, whose inhabitants owed labour services to the lord of the manor. The continuing importance of these pre-conquest centres is emphasised by the status of Talgarth as the principal administrative centre of the lordship of Talgarth, a sub-lordship within the lordship of Blaenllynfi, and the status of Bronllys as the administrative centre of the lordship of Cantref Selyf, which extended to the western reaches of the later county of Brecknockshire. A second element in the rural settlement pattern of the Middle Wye Valley in the post-conquest period was the creation of numerous smaller manors and subtenancies such as those at Llanthomas, Porthamel, some possibly being based upon earlier bonded settlements. These manors were held by virtue of military service, and were initially often granted to those who had assisted in the conquest of Brycheiniog. A number of the manors were held by knights who held considerable properties elsewhere, as in the case of Humphrey Videlon, granted the tenancy of Trewalkin, who also held several manors in Berkshire, Oxfordshire and Suffolk. A third distinct element, which may either have had its origins in the pre-conquest period or may have been partly the result of a displaced native population, were the Welsh settlements or welshries, especially prominent in the foothills of the Black Mountains. The tenants of the welshries possessed cattle and pigs and worked arable strips, and owed tribute and services such as ploughing and harvesting to the lordship. Considerable expansion took place, particularly as a result of woodland clearance within the welshries, and by the late 13th and early 14th centuries permanent farmsteads had been established high up on the foothills of the Black Mountains and the hills elsewhere within the Middle Wye Valley historic landscape area.

A new element was the emergence of the lordship boroughs at Hay and Talgarth, with markets designed to increase trade and revenue and to act as administrative centres for their respective lordships. Hay was laid out on a virgin site next to a new stone castle and Talgarth at the assumed site of the pre-conquest royal court. There is no evidence of a foundation charter in the case of the fortified castle borough at Hay, and it appears to have become established by prescription or custom by some time in the early 13th century. Murage grants were made in 1232 and 1237, associated with the erection of a new stone castle, following destruction caused by King John in 1216 and Llywelyn ap Iorwerth in 1231. By 1298 the borough had 183 burgages, with a preponderance of English names. Talgarth became a borough in the early 14th century, and had 73 burgages in 1309. The borough was never to be fortified, though a stone tower was built within the town during the 14th century to safeguard its administrative interests.

The collapse of the medieval system of bond settlements was already well advanced by the end of the 14th century. This partly resulted from the severe plague, y Farwolaeth Fawr, which beset especially the marcher lordships of the south-eastern borderland in about the mid 14th century and which led to the shrinkage or desertion of a number of hamlets and villages. A possible example of this process is suggested by fieldwork evidence near Penishapentre, on the northern side of Llanfilo, where hollow-ways and house-platforms seem to represent represent part of the village abandoned during the medieval period. Similar evidence is suggested in the village of Clyro and in some marginal upland townships in the foothills of the Black Mountains.

The 15th century saw the formation of a new society and the development of new settlement patterns, with the breakdown of the social distinction between bondsmen and freemen, the rise of the uchelwyr or native gentry families, and the gradual consolidation of the scattered landholdings which had arisen from both the English manors and the Welsh gwely. The emergence of distinct farms and estates, some based upon earlier manors and subtenancies, were often to be known by personal or family names. Some were of Norman origin and belonging to knights who assisted Bernard de Neufmarché in the conquest of Brycheiniog, such as Tregunter (after the family of Peter Gunter) and Trewalkin (after Wakelin Visdelon), and others such as Trebarried (after ap Harry Vaughan), Trefecca (after Rebecca Prosser), Trephilip (after Philip ap John Lawrence Bullen) and Pentre Sollars (after Sir Henry Solers) were of medieval or Elizabethan origin. Some of the farm names also have earlier, English forms such as Ythelston from the personal name Ithel, for Trevithel and Phelippeston for Trephilip, both of which are recorded in 1380.

Most of the population in the Middle Wye until the end of the 19th century were engaged in agriculture, though the growth of industry in the South Wales coalfield and migration to the towns was represented by a marked drop in the population of some rural areas such as the countryside around Talgarth, where up to one house in ten had become uninhabited in the first decade of the 19th century.

Hay, like many other castle boroughs along the border suggered a decline in the 16th century due to loss of its military significance and loss of its former privileged position as the administrative centre of a marcher lordships. By 1460 the castle was already described as 'ruinous, destroyed by rebels and of no value', and the town was described by Leland in the 1530s as being 'wonderfully decaied'. The slowly growing trade in the region was being channelled through the towns, however, and Hay gradually emerged as an important service centre, with the development of processing industries including milling, woollens and tanning, and a market important for grain and provisions, horses, cattle and some sheep. During the later 18th and throughout the 19th century the town benefited from the improvements being made to communications, firstly from the introduction of the turnpike roads and subsequently from the Brecon-Hay Tramroad opened in 1818 and the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway which opened in the 1860s. The 1801 and 1891 censuses show that its population almost doubled during the course of 19th century. By 1900 Hay had become an important border town with new houses and hotels of 'highly respectable appearance' and all the trappings of provincial town life: a market hall of the 1830s, gas lighting in the 1840s, a new reservoir on Hay Common by the 1860s, almshouses of the 1830s and 1860s, new cemetery of the 1870s on Brecon Road former open fields, a clock tower of 1881, and a parish hall of 1890. Following a decline in the earlier 20th century the town has undergone a more recent regeneration as a cultural centre following the purchase of Hay Castle by Richard Booth as part of his vision of creating a rural centre of the purchase of books.

Talgarth's position dominating the Llynfi valley and the pass through the Black Mountain to the south, as a road centre and subsequent railway centre is probably responsible for its survival as a small town. It too developed as an important market town during the later 18th and 19th centuries, the markets at which cattle and some pigs were sold and its well-known horse fair being attended by drovers and dealers. Like Hay, many new buildings were erected during the course of the 19th century, including shops and inns, a hotel, a market hall and assembly rooms, a drill hall, almshouses and nonconformist chapels.

A number of smaller settlements expanded and some new settlement emerged in response to improvements to the transport system during the 18th and 19th centuries. Early developments included the roadside settlements of Felindre and Ffordd-las which sprang up along the former main road between Talgarth and Hay. A new focus of settlement was also to emerge alongside the road at Llanigon, a little distance from the historic core of the village. The linear settlement between Treble Hill and Three Cocks developed due to the improvements to the turnpike road between Bronllys and Hay, the construction of the Brecon-Hay horse-drawn tramway in the early 19th century, the development of the railway in the later 19th century, and the construction of the new bridges across the Wye at Glasbury and across the Llynfi at Pipton. Three Cocks is aptly named after a roadside hostelry dating from the pre-turnpike era, but refurbished when the improvements to the roads were made in the 18th century. Llyswen doubled in size during the first half of the 19th century, partly in response to the construction of a new toll bridge across the Wye at Boughrood in the 1830s. The new nucleated settlement at Cwmbach, to the north of Glasbury grew up partly as a consequence of the moving of the public road to make way for Maesllwch Castle Park, the new setting attracting a Wesleyan Methodist church built in 1818 and the new parish church of All Saints built in the 1880s. The cluster of cottages at Boughrood Brest seems to have developed partly as the result of the development of the new road between Boughrood and Glasbury along the river terrace to the north of the river, and partly as a result of the enclosure of the former common open fields which the road cut across. A further development which added coherence to a number of the smaller nucleated settlements during the 19th century was the development of village schools, which arose at Felindre, Llanfilo, Glasbury, Bronllys and Llanigon. Most of the nucleated settlements in the area have experienced sustained expansion during the 20th century, Hay on the west, Talgarth especially on the north, Clyro on the west and with infill development at Bronllys and Three Cocks.

The Middle Wye Valley historic landscape area is of particular importance in presenting a microcosm of the settlement history in the southern borderland of Wales from the prehistoric period up to the recent past. Much of the earlier history is quite sketchy, however, and the management and conservation of archaeological deposits, buildings and structures relating to settlement history are especially important in the early medieval and medieval periods. Of particular significance are archaeological deposits associated with the following: the older nucleated settlements relating to the history of llysoed, maerdrefi, and bond settlements; dispersed farms and houses emerging from early medieval and medieval bond settlements, farms and manors; the development of medieval and early post-medieval towns, including evidence of their layout, the buildings they contained, their defences, and the crafts and industries which took place within them. The visual character of historic towns and villages is also important, including the visual associations.

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