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The Middle Wye Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Middle Wye Valley

Transport and Communication Landscapes

It has been supposed that a Roman road leading eastwards from the fort at Brecon Gaer to Kenchester Roman fort in Herefordshire ran through the Middle Wye, possibly along the line of the A438 between Bronllys and Hay, but no certain evidence of this road has yet been found. The earliest visible evidence of transport history in the Middle Wye historic landscape area is represented by the winding roads, green lanes, hollow-ways, and trackways which linking the major settlements and isolated farms, many of which almost certainly have their origin in the medieval periods when the intensive settlement of the area began. Particularly distinctive of these earlier periods are the substantial hollow-ways, sometimes up to 5-6m deep, on the roads and trackways linking the lowland villages and farms with the upland commons, emphasising the considerable erosion that took place in the long period before the introduction of metalled road surfaces and road drains.

Fords across both major rivers and minor streams were an important feature of the historic landscape area until the late 19th or earlier 20th century, earlier fords often coming back into use when a bridge that had been built to replace it had been swept away by floods, which was a fairly common occurrence up to the middle of the 19th century. Early fords across the Wye are known at Llyswen, Glasbury and Hay, the narrowest crossings of the floodplain of the Wye, and have influenced the siting of settlements and other sites at these places which have controlled or taken advantage of the crossings, including probably the Iron Age fort at Pen-rhiw-wen near Llyswen, the early medieval clas or 'mother church' at Glasbury and the Clyro Roman fort, on the bank of the Wye opposite Hay. Ferries were often provided at these crossings, a ferry across the Wye at Glasbury being mentioned as early at 1311, and at Hay as early as 1337. The fords evidently continued to be used until these crossings were replaced by bridges and could be hazardous: John Leland, the English antiquary spoke of the difficulties in crossing the ford across the Wye at Hay in about the 1530s; 'for lak of good knowleg yn me of the Fourde did sore troble my Horse'. The earliest mention of a bridge across the Wye appears to be a reference in 1665 to a former bridge at Glasbury, further upstream from the present bridge, near the confluence of the Llynfi. The first bridge across the Wye at Hay dates to the mid 18th century and the first bridge between Llyswen and Boughrood to as late as the 1830s. Samuel Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Wales, published in 1833, mentions that 'a boat and horse are in constant attendance' at the Boughrood river crossing. Former fords across rivers and streams are recorded in places where bridges have since been built, as in the case of Old Ffordd-fawr across the Digedi Brook and Ffordd-las across the Nant Ysgallen. The ford across the Wye at Boughrood is recorded in the field-name Cae Rhyd to the west of the present bridge, the name of Boughrood itself being possibly (but by no means certainly) being derived from Bach-rhyd or 'little ford'. Numerous fords and footbridges across smaller streams in the area are marked on Ordnance Survey maps published in the later 19th century, many of which have now been culverted or replaced by small concrete bridges.

Little appears to be known about early river transport up the Wye, though it is likely that some commodities were moved up and down the river, at least on a seasonal basis, until about the mid 18th century, when improvements were being made to road transport in the area. The name of Boatside Farm on the opposite bank of the Wye at Hay, and the field-names Maeslan Cafan (from cafn 'boat'), Boatside Field, Boatside Ground Boughrood Bridge, recorded in the Llyswen Tithe Apportionment of 1838, probably all refer to the former ferries at these points.

Simple bridges across streams are likely to have been built from early times. Stone slab bridges crossing smaller streams were a feature of areas where suitable stone was readily available. A number of these have survived, including one near the entrance to Blaenau-isaf Farm, at the head of Felindre Brook.

There are indications that following the growth in the export trade of Welsh cattle to English markets in the earlier 18th century that the Middle Wye Valley became one of the important drovers' roads, the route from West Wales splitting at Brecon into a southern route via the Wye valley to Monmouth and via the Llynfi and Wye to Hereford.

Major changes to the road system took place with the road improvements carried out in the later 18th and earlier 19th centuries. Until this time many of the roads in the historic landscape area would have been 'little better than ditches, full of dust in summer and almost impassable in winter'. It was probably the state of the roads that led Defoe to repeats the jestful reference to the county as 'Breakneckshire' in his Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain, published in the 1720s. Richard Fenton on tour with Sir Richard Colt Hoare in May 1804 described the journey from Builth in the following words: 'and at last got to Hay, through most horrid roads, but a beautiful country, thank God, without any accident, and with only my Feet a little damped'

A start on road improvements in the county was made by the Brecknock Agricultural Society in the 1750s, who amongst other initiatives made available a road plough to interested parties. The Agricultural Society's interests in this sphere were superseded by a turnpike trust set up following an act of Parliament to allow for the improvement of some of the principal roads in Brecknockshire in the 1760s. A second act was passed in 1830, and a new road built south of Talgarth to Nant y Ffin. Some turnpikes were removed following the Rebecca Riots in the 1840s, the responsibility for all the former turnpikes being transferred to the county by the 1880s, by which time the road network resembled that of the present day. Some of the new roads cut through earlier field systems as in the case of the roads which cut through medieval strip fields just to the west of Llyswen and at Boughrood Brest, and the engineered road south of Talgarth which cuts through numerous possibly medieval field boundaries. A number of other roads were moved or removed for other purposes at this period, as in the case of the former road which connected Glasbury with the upland commons at Ffynnon Gynydd, which was diverted in the early 19th century to enable the creation of the Maesllwch Castle Park.

New more direct roads were built or existing roads straightened or widened and provided with ditches. Toll gates and toll houses were set up to pay for the improvements. New hedges were planted to prevent stock from straying and to protect growing crops from animals being moved along the roads. A significant number of milestones belonging to the turnpike era of road transport in the late 18th and early 19th centuries still survive within the historic landscape area, usually taking the form of sandstone slabs, often limewashed and with curved tops, which showed the distance by road to the major settlements in either direction. Surviving examples include the following: Bronllys Road in Talgarth, opposite Ty Arfon; opposite College Farm in Trefecca; near Marish farm on the Talgarth-Llyswen turnpike; near Little Eames and Y Dderw on the Aberllynfi-Llyswen turnpike; near the turning to Porthamel; in the centre of Clyro; to the north-east of Llowes; and to the east of Maesllwch. Few of the former toll houses along the turnpike roads in the area appear to have survived, a number such as Trefecca Gate on the turnpike road between Talgarth and Llangorse, and Dewsbury Gate near Penmaes on the turnpike between Bronllys and Hay having been demolished in the 20th century to allow for road improvements. The former Glasbury Gate Cottage, still surviving on the northern approach to the village, is shown on the Tithe Map of 1841. It was probably the scene of the only recorded local incident during the Rebecca Riots of 1843-44.

Many early bridges within the historic landscape area have been replaced in modern times, but a number of bridges survive from either the late medieval period or the age of improvements in communication in the later 18th and earlier 19th century, some built by turnpike trusts, some by the county authorities, and some by private estates. The three bridges spanning the Wye and linking the northern and southern sides of the historic landscape area have a particularly complex and chequered history. As noted above, the earliest reference to Glasbury Bridge is at some date before 1665, further west than the present bridge. A timber bridge which fell in 1738 was replaced by another timber bridge which continued in use for about 40 years, before being replaced by stone bridge with five arches in 1777. This fell as a result of flooding in 1795 and was replaced by a wooden bridge in 1800. The bridge suffered damage in 1850 and although it was made safe for foot passengers it again fell and replaced by a ferry boat. Plans were drawn up for the repair, to be of wood with stone piers. A legal dispute arose over the cost of the repairs, however, following the transfer of the southern part of Glasbury parish to Brecknockshire from Radnorshire in 1844, as a consequence of which the new bridge had stone piers on the southern side of the river and with wooden trestles on the northern side. The present concrete bridge was erected in the 20th-century. The first recorded bridge across the Wye at Hay was a timber bridge built in early or mid 18th century. This was replaced by the first stone bridge, a toll bridge with seven arches, built in the 1760s, the site of the former ford indicated by Wye Ford Road, about 200m to the north of the present bridge. This, like Glasbury Bridge, was in part destroyed by floods in 1795, and though repaired was destroyed again in 1854-55 and replaced by a ferry. A new toll bridge was completed in 1865, being subsequently replaced by the present prestressed concrete bridge in 1958. Boughrood Bridge, a stone with four segmental arches and with semicircular arches at the approach, was built in 1838-42. A toll-house of two storeys was added to the northern approach in the 1843, the occupants in the 1850s combining toll-collecting with running a cobbling business. The bridge was erected by a private estate to replace an earlier ford and ferry, having been built at the expense of the de Wintons of Maesllwch Castle to enable the carriage of coal, coke and lime into southern Radnorshire, tolls continuing to be levied until 1934

A number of bridges with early histories pre-dating the turnpike era, the earliest probably being Pont-y-twr ('Tower Bridge') across the Ennig in Talgarth. This is possibly of late medieval origin but repaired in 1801 and altered more recently. Other early bridges, few of which now survive in their original form, include Pontithel and Pipton Bridge across the Llynfi mentioned in 1686, 'Diwlas Bridge' across the Dulas Brook at Hay mentioned in the later 17th century, Pont Eiddil, south of Trefecca, mentioned in 1706, Llanthomas Bridge across the Digedi Brook, rebuilt in 1707. Many of these and other bridges and culverts were replaced in the turnpike period in the later 18th and early 19th century, some of which are still extant, often single centred stone arches with rubble stone parapets and flat slab copings. These include an ?18th-century bridge across the Ennig on the southern outskirts of Talgarth, the later 18th-century bridges at Pontithel and Pont Tregunter which have subsequently been widened, Llanigon Bridge and Old Ffordd-fawr Bridge both across Digedi, the first mentioned in 1803, and the second dated 1812. Other later 19th-century bridges include Pont Cwrtyrargoed north-east of Felindre, the road bridge adjacent to Tregoyd House, and the bridge over the Dulas Brook at Hay, rebuilt in 1884, some of which have brick arches. Modern concrete bridges which have in many instances replaced former bridges within the historic landscape area include Glasbury Bridge and Hay Bridge across the Wye, Glandwr Bridge, Pont Nichol, Coldbrook Bridge, Bronllys Castle Bridge and Pipton Bridge across the Llynfi and its tributaries, Felin-newydd, Pont Trephilip, Pontybat across the Dulas and its tributaries, and many other smaller croncrete bridges which have replaced earlier fords across streams

A number of coachhouses and stables were built in association with some of the gentry houses and coaching inns in the area following the improvements to the turnpike roads, especially during the course of the 19th century. Notable examples include the 19th-century coachhouse and stable range at Hay Castle, the stone-built stable block at Clyro Court dated to the 1830s, the stone-built stables and coachhouse of 1830-40 at Glan-hen-Wye, the former brick-built stable and coachhouse at Parc Gwynne, Glasbury of the 1860-70s, and the former stable block at Gwernyfed Park House, dated to the 1870s. New Hotels sprang up in the major settlements and alongside the new turnpike roads to meet the needs of the near coach travellers. The Swan Hotel of about 1812, which has formerly with stabling ranges to the rear, is of this period. Also dating to the period between the late 18th to mid 19th century is the Baskerville Arms Hotel at Clyro, with former coachhouse to the rear, the former Radnor Arms, Talgarth with stables to the rear, and the Maesllwch Arms Hotel, Glasbury, with stable and coachhouse to rear. The early 18th-century stables at Penyrwrlodd, south of Llanigon, is one of the few such buildings in the area belonging to the pre-turnpike era.

Further important developments in the transport system within the Middle Wye historic landscape area took place in the wake of the completion of the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal to Brecon in the late 18th century. Initially there were proposals to build a branch canal from the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal to join the river Wye at Hay, but the scheme fell through due to lack of capital. Eventually, the link was established by the Brecon-Hay horse-drawn tramway whose construction began in 1816, with iron rails set to a 3ft 6in gauge on stone sleepers. The tramroad was built by the Hay Railway Company, a consortium of landowners, coalowners, ironmasters and bankers, and was primarily intended for bringing coal, coke, lime, bricks and other commodities into the district from the South Wales coalfield, and thereby developing trade. The route from Brecon to Hay was completed in 1818, and in the same year the Kington Railway Company was formed to continue the line to Kington and Burlingjobb limeworks in Radnorshire, linking with the Leominster Canal at Kington. The tramroad continued in existence for over 40 years, competing with the improved turnpike roads for custom. In 1862 the tramway was superseded by the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway Company. Much of the former course of the tramway was followed by the railway, though traces of its former embankment and culverts survive in places, as in the case of the Trefecca Fawr embankment south of Tredustan and the terrace cut into the edge of the Wye floodplain at The Warren to the west of Hay. The railway, like the tramroad before it, mostly avoided existing buildings, but cut through earlier field systems throughout its course. The improvements to the line over the next few years included the digging the Glasbury Cutting at Treble Hill, the line being joined within a few years to the Mid Wales line to Llanidloes at Three Cocks junction. The Hereford, Hay and Brecon Company was amalgamated with the Midland Railway Company in 1874, subsequently becoming known as the Mid Wales Railway. Stations and depots existed at one time or another at Talgarth, Trefeinion, Boughrood, Three Cocks, Glasbury and Hay, the railway eventually closing to passenger traffic in 1962.

Various buildings and other structures are associated with the tramway and railway. Although the railway line is now dismantled, a series of bridge abutments of the 1860s still survive at Treble Hill and to the south-west of Talgarth, with a fine arched bridge of the same period with a brick vault surviving at Treble Hill. At Llwynau-bach, north-east of Treble Hill a former two-storey stone-built stable building, alongside the former embankment of the Brecon-Hay tramroad, appears to have been used for stabling the draught animals employed on the tramway, the buildings later becoming part of the home farm for Broomfield. The fine early 19th-century house at Broomfield was probably built by William Bridgewater, the operator of the Hay-Brecon Tramway. It lies next to a goods yard and tramway office formerly known at Glasbury Wharf, where there are the surviving remains of compartmented stores for coal, lime and other goods. Drivers and from Hay and Brecon exchanged horses and consignments at this depot. Other remains of the tramway and railway to be seen in the area include a number of the stone sleepers from the tramway, sometimes reused as gateposts, and occasional goods vans used as field sheds.

The 20th century saw the gradual dominance of mechanised road transport over other forms of transport in the historic landscape area, and the consequent archaeological impact of road-straightening schemes and car-parks, notably the Clyro bypass constructed in 1959 and the municipal car-park at Hay, built over part of the former open fields to the south of the town centre.

The Middle Wye historic landscape area includes a diverse range of structures relating to transport and communications history, raising a broad range of conservation and management issues, including the following: traces of earlier bridges, early tracks, hollow-ways and green lanes; structures relating to the turnpike period of transport history including toll-houses, milestones, bridges, coachhouses, stables; structures relating to tramways and railways, including cuttings and embankments, culverts, bridges, bridge abutments, tramway stables, stations and goods yards.

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