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Bro Trefaldwyn Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

Bro Trefaldwyn

Defended landscapes

The historic landscape area contains an important range of defensive and military sites of the later prehistoric, Roman, early medieval and medieval periods, together with the site of a Civil War battlefield.

The earliest defensive structures are the later prehistoric hillforts at Ffridd Faldwyn, on the hill above Montgomery, and Roundton, north of Churchstoke. Excavations at Ffridd Faldwyn in the 1930s indicated some activity in the earlier prehistoric period, but the multivallate enclosure, with complex defences of several different periods, is the product of the period between the later Bronze Age and the Iron Age - the camp having most probably been abandoned at or before the Roman conquest. The defences of the hillfort at Roundton likewise enclose the crown of the hill, but also make use of the formidable outcrops around part of the defensive circuit. The site is unexcavated, but is again likely to be of later Bronze Age or Iron Age date. The hillfort on the Kerry Ridgeway at Caer Din may be of Iron Age date, although it has been suggested from the form of the defences that it might be of early medieval date and intended to guard an opening through Offa's Dyke, which lies about 1.5km to the west. Other smaller defended enclosures of probable Iron Age date are to be found on the lower hills or defensive positions around the vale, including those at Caerbre and Calcot on opposite banks of Marrington Dingle, Castle Ring to the north-east of Churchstoke, and Pentre Wood south of Pentre and Butcher's Wood south of Montgomery. Other small enclosures of Iron Age or Roman date have been considered above, in the section on settlement landscapes.

Ffridd Faldwyn forms the first in a remarkable sequence of defensive structures in the Montgomery area which it has been suggested were designed to control access to the historically important ford across the Severn at Rhydwhiman, just to the north-west of Montgomery. The existence of a ford at this point was certainly a major factor in the siting of the Roman fort known as The Gaer, founded in the later 1st century, between the legionary fort at Wroxeter and the similarly sized fort further west at Caersws and controlling the lowland route along the Camlad and Rea valleys between mid Wales and the Midlands. A similar route to the south, along the valley en route to the fort at Glanmiheli, just to the east of Kerry, and again probably leading towards Caersws. The Gaer and the fort at Pentrehyling both appear to be associated with earlier, temporary marching camps, belonging to the conquest period, which were abandoned once the more permanent forts had been constructed. Small civilian settlements grew up on the roads outside each of the forts. Unlike many of the Roman forts to the east, occupation of The Gaer appears to have continued perhaps intermittently until at least the second half of the 4th century and probably became known by the name Lavobrinta.

The Roman fort had probably ceased to have any military significance by the late 4th or early 5th century, and is ignored by Offa's Dyke, probably built before the death of king Offa in 796. This major earthwork, described as 'the greatest public work of the whole Anglo-Saxon period', demarcated the western limit of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia, splitting the Vale of Montgomery into two, and still in places, many centuries later, defining the national boundary between Wales and England. There is still much uncertainty about the purpose of the dyke and its relationship with contemporary valley-bottom and hilltop routes between Wales and England, though it is assumed to have exercised some control over communications between the two countries. The course taken by the dyke across the vale left the ford at Rhydwhiman and some of the better agricultural land in Welsh hands, suggesting either that Welsh resistance was strong in this area or that a degree of consensus was involved in defining the precise line of the boundary. During the 9th or 10th centuries a series of Mercian settlements had emerged to the west of the dyke, including Tornebury, meaning 'thorn camp', named after the former Roman fort at The Gaer.

A Mercian royal burh or fortress was erected at built by Aethelflaeda at Chirbury in 915, about 3km to the east of Offa's Dyke. Instead of defending against Welsh attack the fortress, probably built of earth and timber, was designed to strengthen the western frontier of Mercia against the possibility of Viking attack. The fortress had been thought to be represented by the earthwork enclosure on the western side of the village, but more recent observations have suggested that it may have been much larger, and enclosing much of the core of the present village. Other Mercian defensive works have been suggested nearer the dyke at Nantcribba and Caer Din, as noted above, but are lacking positive evidence.

Friction continued between Mercia and the emerging Welsh kingdoms of Powys and Gwynedd, however, many of the Mercian settlements across the vale having probably been laid waste before the Norman Conquest in 1066. This seems likely to have happened during the time of Gruffudd ap Llywelyn, king of Gwynedd and Powys in the early 1040s following the collapse of alliances between Gwynedd and Mercia. Early in the 1070s, shortly after the fall of Mercia, a new earth and timber castle was built by the Norman earl, Roger of Montgomery, guarding the important river crossing at Rhydwhiman. Roger, who was also to hold the Welsh territories of Ceri, Cydewain, and Arwystli, had been granted the county of Shropshire by King William, one of three earldoms created along the Welsh border,

Now known by the name of Hen Domen, 'old castle', but then called Muntgumeri after Roger's home in Normandy, it formed the capital of a castellaria, one of several castleries along the Welsh border mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. A castlery was a compact area of holdings under the jurisdiction of a castle and in this instance encompassed much of the vale of Montgomery. If not initially, then in the course of time individual landowners undertook guard duties in return for the protection and support provided by the castlery. The area gradually came under Norman control, despite a number of set backs such as the attack on Montgomery castle by a Welsh force under Cadwgan ap Bleddyn, prince of Powys in 1095, when the castle was attacked and its garrison killed.

One of the most distinctive historical features of the vale are the relatively small and close-set medieval earthwork mottes erected inside and beyond the castlery in the period of continued hostilities between the late 11th and early 13th centuries, at Hockleton, Winsbury, Dudston, Gwarthlow, Brompton, Nantcribba, Lower Munlyn, Hyssington Bishop's Moat, Hagley and Simon's Castle, forming 'perhaps the most remarkable concentration of mediaeval defences on the whole of the Welsh March'. These small earthwork castles, sometimes associated with stone structures, were mostly built by prominent local landowners for their own protection and as a contribution to the general security of the surrounding area. Moated sites were built at Great Moat Farm and Upper Aldress in perhaps the 13th and 14th centuries.

In the face of a period of renewed hostilities in 1223, between Llywelyn ap Iorwerth of Gwynedd and neighbouring English lords, work began on the construction of a new royal stone castle on the hillside to the south-east of Hen Domen, to which the name of Montgomery was transferred. The new medieval town set up on the sloping ground below the castle was protected with defensive banks and ditches, stone defences being added to at least some of the defensive circuit during the course of the 13th and 14th centuries, with stone gatehouses at each of the four principal roads leading out of the town.

The strategic importance of Montgomery and the other castles in the area declined following the Edwardian conquest of Wales in the later 13th century, though Montgomery Castle played a role in controlling the lordship during the course of the Glyn Dwr rebellion in the early years of the 15th century, when its garrison was increased substantially. The castle again played a role in the Civil War battle of Montgomery in 1644, the largest engagement of the war in Wales. The Herbert family had held the castle for many years, having built a brick mansion in the inner ward in the 1620s. They had remained neutral in the Civil War until this time but surrendered it to the Parliamentary army early in September 1644. Following a siege by Royalist forces, a set piece battle took place on the fields below the town in which the Parliamentarians were victorious. About 500 were killed during the course of the battle out of the combined forces of up to about 8,000 men.

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