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Bro Trefaldwyn Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

Bro Trefaldwyn

Agricultural Landscapes

Although no evidence is currently available, judging from the earlier prehistoric sites and finds that are known from the area it is likely that a number of areas within Bro Trefaldwyn had been cleared for agriculture during the Neolithic and Bronze Ages. There are a significant number of Iron Age hillforts and smaller enclosures of Iron Age and Roman date throughout the historic landscape and although few sites have been excavated their distribution suggests that during the course of the second half of the first millennium BC and the first half of the first millennium AD extensive areas of both the lowland and upland areas were cleared of woodland for the creation of both pasture and arable, supporting a mixed farming economy, possibly already restricting areas of native woodland to the steeper and less accessible hillslopes and valleys.

The Mercian settlements scattered throughout the area, that had emerged in the period between the 7th and 10th centuries, may in many instances have been the direct descendants of these Iron Age and Roman farms and communities, and set up in an already relatively mature agricultural landscape. The straight alignment taken by Offa's Dyke across the vale in the late 8th century suggests that it was erected across pre-existing fields and meadows, cleared of trees. Evidence from Hen Domen near Montgomery suggests that the Norman motte and bailey castle overlay part of an earlier ridge and furrow field system, representing arable cultivation probably belonging to an earlier Mercian settlement, which had been abandoned prior to the Norman conquest.

Fishing and hunting for food as well as sport were important in the area from early times. The Domesday Book records the existence of three fisheries associated with Hem, presumably sited along the Camlad, which may have included fish traps. Domesday Book also records the existence of hedged enclosures at Hem and Ackley, probably of a type used for capturing deer. At the time of the Norman Conquest in 1066 many of the settlements in the central part of the vale had been abandoned, probably due to Welsh border raids, the area having become the hunting ground of three Mercian noblemen named Siward, Oslac and Azor.

During the course of the middle ages it seems probable that each of the existing townships or centres of population developed their own pattern of land-use involving open arable fields, areas of meadow and rough grazing, and woodland. Remnants of medieval open-field arable still fortunately survive as ridge and furrow at a number of places throughout the historic landscape area, including those just to the north of Churchstoke, south and east of Hyssington castle, east of Cabbulch farm and north of Upper Snead, near Sidnal, Winsbury and West Dudston, south of Perthybu and Mount Nebo, and near Red Hopton and Hagley. In the Welsh townships some of these and other probable areas of medieval arable open-field have field-names including the element maes, which is sometimes rendered in the English-speaking areas by a field-name such as 'Town Field'.

More extensive areas of ridge and furrow are still to be seen in many of the fields surrounding Chirbury, representing the extensive ploughlands belonging to the former manor and priory. Other areas of medieval open-field are represented by the pattern of strip fields to the south of Simon's Castle and by the extensive pattern of strip fields to the north and east of Montgomery, some of which still contain ridge and furrow, which represent the open arable fields belonging to the medieval borough. Extensive areas of ridge and furrow also survive in Lymore Park, to the east of the town, representing enclosure of former open-fields for the creation of a private hunting park by the late 16th or early 17th century. Similar extensive areas of medieval ridge and furrow have been preserved within the parkland at Gunley, probably created by the emparkment of former open-field arable cultivation in the 17th or 18th century.

Woodland is recorded in Domesday Book at Edderton, Hem, Churchstoke, Rhiston and Marrington. A number of references were made in the 12th and 13th centuries to the assarting or woodland clearance and the felling of timber in the woods and forests of Snead, which appear to have lain on the higher ground between Hyssington and Bagbury. Considerable quantities of oak were required for building and fuel throughout the medieval and early post-medieval periods, and many oaks are said to have been removed from the parish of Churchstoke as late as the First World War. Saw pits were once a common sight throughout the area, judging by field-names recorded on the 19th-century tithe apportionment, as at Bagbury, Brompton, Forden, Pentrenant, Tan House to the south-west of Mellington, south-west of Bacheldre, south of Spy Wood, and north of Aston Hall.

Much of the landscape within Bro Trefaldwyn had already been enclosed and resembled its present form by the 17th and 18th centuries, as more marginal land probably continued to be cleared and improved and areas of former open arable and meadow were enclosed by private treaty, and encroachments were made on areas of rough grazing. The enclosure of former open arable and common meadows in the lower-lying areas, as in the case of the arable land between Montgomery and Chirbury and the meadow land along the upper Camlad, often gave rise to larger and more regular fields, with hedges which often include a limited number of shrub species. The gradual process of assarting, clearance and piecemeal enclosure of the more hilly areas, as in the sloping land to the north of the Kerry Ridgeway, the hills to the west of Montgomery and to the north and west of Hyssington, gave rise to a characteristic pattern of generally smaller and more irregular fields. These are often associated with ancient hedges, sometimes set on lynchets or clearance banks, including a wide range of species.

The 18th and 19th centuries saw the introduction of many improvements to enhance agricultural production, a number of which remain visible in the landscape today. Marl pits were dug to improve the fertility and texture of the soil, as on Hem Moor, in the area between Chirbury and Walcot, and to the south of Lymore. Attempts were made to improve drainage on the wetter low-lying lands by the digging of drainage dykes and ditches in the upper Camlad valley and by the construction of banks to prevent flooding along the lower Camlad. In the later 19th centuries brick kilns near Churchstoke and Snead were producing drainage pipes to improve the quality of the land. Considerable rationalisation of holdings took place, involving the exchange of scattered parcels of land and the enclosure of surviving areas of both upland and lowland common. Notable areas of late enclosure within Bro Trefaldwyn lay around Forden and along the Kerry Ridgeway, where distinctive landscapes of rectangular fields with straight boundaries were established, with either post and wire fences or single-species hedges, generally of hawthorn.

Distinctive features of the 20th century agricultural landscape include the small area of county council smallholdings in an area around Great Weston Farm, to the south of Montgomery and the tall grain silos between Montgomery and Chirbury. The 20th century also saw the widespread loss of former field boundaries, intermittent lines of trees and shrubs representing former field boundaries, and the abandonment or conversion of a number of the more marginal farms.

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