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Tanat Valley Historic Landscape

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Tanat Valley


Prehistoric to Roman settlement
The earliest evidence of human activity in the region rests on a chance find of a Late Upper Palaeolithic barbed point from Porthywaen, at the eastern end of the Tanat Valley, dated to about 12,000 BC. The find came from a lowland mire near the mouth of the Tanat Valley and probably indicates the existence of temporary hunting settlements in the valley during the Late Glacial period. Temporary seasonal settlement by nomadic hunter-gatherer groups is likely to have taken place in the Tanat Valley during the subsequent Mesolithic and earlier Neolithic periods.

Increasing human activity in the Tanat Valley is represented by funerary and ritual monuments probably representing permanent settlement between the later Neolithic and middle Bronze Age periods, between about 3,000-1,200 BC. The distribution of sites on the valley floor and in the uplands suggests that a wide range of topographic areas were exploited for hunting, animal grazing and arable agriculture, and it is probable that seasonal patterns of land-use and settlement developed during this period. No settlements of these periods are known within the area but evidence from elsewhere in the region suggests that the principal building type at this time were wooden roundhouses of a type which has left little visible evidence, probably grouped in undefended settlements.

Defended settlements of the later Bronze Age and Iron Ages are known, belonging to the period between about 1000 BC - AD 100, including both hillforts and lowland enclosures. It is uncertain whether the hilforts were permanently occupied and also what proportion of the population they may have housed, but the lowland enclosures were probably farmsteads occupied by extended family groups throughout the year. The hillforts had most probably ceased to be occupied by the beginning of the Roman period but some of the enclosure sites may have continued in occupation during the subsequent Roman and early Medieval periods, between about AD 100-1000.

It is uncertain whether a significant proportion of the population may have occupied enclosed settlements by the end of the Roman period, or whether most people lived in unenclosed settlements of a kind which have yet to be identified. It seems probable, however, that by the early Medieval period a pattern of settlement had emerged which was characterised by clusters of permanently occupied farmsteads belonging to extended family groups on the better, lower lying ground, together with seasonally occupied dwellings in the uplands. Large nucleated settlements were probably unknown at this time, though it is possible that smaller nucleations, possibly of no more than a handful of houses, had begun to develop around a number of the early religious sites, such as in the vicinity of the possibly 9th-century clas church at Llanrhaeadr-ym-mochnant.

Medieval and later settlement evidence
The model for medieval rural settlement and administration in Wales is set out in the Welsh laws. In the early medieval period each of the commotes of Mochnant Is Rhaeadr and Mochnant Uwch Rhaeadr would have been divided into a number of townships, one of which would have been the commotal capital and held the llys (court), the lord's demesne or personal estate within the commote, and the maerdref (the bailiff's township or village) inhabited by bondsmen who undertook work on the lord's demesne under the supervision of the maer. Lands in other townships within the commote were held by freemen.

Applying this model to the Tanat Valley is far from straightforward, however. It is tempting to equate the capital of each commote with the lowland motte known within each commote, especially since the lowland motte in Mochant Is Rhaeadr is named Tomen y Maerdy, suggesting a direct association with the maer. However, all of the mottes appear to be sited for defensive purposes in places convenient for either a nucleated bond settlement or as the centre of the lord's demesne, and there appears to be little other direct evidence of where llysoedd or maerdrefi in either commote may have been sited. The distribution of medieval parish churches in the Tanat Valley might at first sight appear to offer some help in defining medieval settlement patterns in the area, but the evidence they provide is again ambiguous, since with the exception of Llanrhaeadr-ym-mochnant it seems possible that each church served dispersed rural communites rather than forming the focus of a nucleated settlement. In the absence of other evidence it is necessary to work back from the earliest mapped evidence of settlement within the Tanat Valley, most notably the tithe maps of the 1830s and 1840s, in order to gain further insight into the evolution of settlement patterns in the early post-medieval, late medieval and even medieval periods.

The settlement types represented on the tithe fall into four basic categories - scattered farmsteads occupying the better farmland, smallholdings around the margins of the enclosed land, smaller crofts and squatters' cottages on some of the poorer higher ground recently enclosed from the upland waste, and finally a number of the present-day nucleated settlements, notably Llangynog, Llanrhaeadr-ym-mochnant, Penybontfawr, and Penygarnedd. Each of these settlement types have their own history, and between them they represent various stages in the evolution and decay of the medieval, late medieval, post-medieval and modern settlement landscapes. One element that is almost wholly missing from the settlement pattern evident from the tithe, however, is the hafod (summer house), representing the practice of transhumance from the lowland farmstead or hendref which had all but died out by the later 18th century. This question is further considered in the following section on agricultural landscapes.

Dispersed settlement
As noted above, dispersed settlement in the Tanat Valley is represented by scattered larger farmsteads, smallholdings, and cottages. The 19th-century farmsteads shown on the tithe are typically spaced less than 500 metres apart though in places two, three or four are set quite close to each other. At that date the farms were generally about 50 acres with a farmhouse and other buildings generally set within their own fields, below the less fertile hospitable higher ground and above the damper lower-lying ground or land liable to flood. The farmhouses often still survive, only a proportion are still working farms today whilst others are now used simply as farm-buildings or have disappeared altogether.

The farmsteads are generally fairly evenly distributed across the better land, although the concentration is noticeably less dense to just to the east and south-east of Llanrhaeadr-ym-mochnant, suggesting that some of the land here may at one time have been worked from farms based in the town. Many of the farmsteads are also paired by names with suffixes meaning upper or lower (uchaf/isaf), larger or smaller (fawr/fach or fechan), middle (ganol) (eg Cefn-uchaf/isaf; Cefnhirfach/fawr; Cileos/-isaf; Garthgelynen-fawr/fechan; Glanhafon-fawr/ucha/uchaf; Glantanat-isaf/uchaf; Lloran-isaf/ganol/uchaf; Maesmochnant-isaf/uchaf; Peniarth-isaf/uchaf; Trewern/-isaf). Some of the farmsteads linked in this way have given their name to the township in which they fall, and there is also a tendency for these farmsteads to occupy the better, lower-lying ground. Both of these factors suggest that some of these farms have developed directly from an early medieval and medieval pattern of rural settlement originally based on the shared occupation of well-defined areas of better-grade land by 'tribal' or extended family groupings. This process was probably already breaking down by the amalgamation and consolidation of holdings during the later medieval period, considered further in the section on agricultural landscapes below.

A different pattern is also represented on the tithe by many of the smaller farms which tend to be sited on the slightly more marginal land, on the fringes of the upland area and valley sides. Many of these incorporate tyddyn ('smallholding') as a the place-name element, often abbreviated to ty'n. The siting of many of these smallholdings strongly suggests that they represent an expansion away from the earlier 'tribal' lands onto more marginal land by independent farmers intent on exploiting lowland, mountain edge and mountain top. As a further expression of their independence these farms have normally not adopted the suffixes such as uchaf and isaf and often have their own distinct name. A significant proportion of both these more peripheral farmsteads and the larger lowland farms had cruck-built buildings (see below), indicating that significant elements of the settlement pattern evident from the tithe in the mid 19th century was already in existence by the 15th and 16th centuries.

The scatter of independent farmsteads in the countryside is thus a combination of different processes - remnants of the early medieval and medieval free trefi associated relatively small areas of open-field arable followed by an expansion of independent consolidated farms onto the slightly less favourable land around the margins of the medieval farmed land during the late medieval and early post-medieval periods, followed by the abandonment of many of the more marginal farms and amalgamation of smaller holdings during the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.

A systematic survey of historic farm plans and buildings in the entire area of the Tanat Valley has yet to be undertaken and consequently relatively few are well dated. 18th-century Montgomeryshire estate surveys show that at that time the range of farm buildings in the west was often limited to a small barn and cowhouse, but that the lowland farms included a wider range of buildings including cart or 'wain' houses, stables, pigsties and dairies. Two basic farmstead layout types are represented in Alwyn Rees's classic study of Llanfihangel yng Ngwynfa, just to the south, which in general terms also seems to hold true for the Tanat Valley. An earlier arrangement is characterised by a linear arrangement of farmhouse and outbuildings of longhouse type which faces onto the farmyard. In a later or in some instances more developed type the farmhouse, generally of a post-medieval rectangular style, stands apart from the farmyard and faces away from it. In the Tanat Valley, as in Llanfihangel yng Ngwynfa, there is a preference for sheltered, sunny southward-facing slopes, giving rise in the post-medieval period with names such as Bronheulog and Lletty Heulen.

This general pattern is also borne out by a further study which has shown that farm plans with a single line of buildings or with two lines either parallel to each other or set in an L-shape are amongst the most frequent forms in the Berwyn foothills generally. These kinds of plans are most likely to arise in the case of farms with very few buildings and consequently farmsteads of this type would be likely to develop into more elaborate forms as additional buildings were added in the wake of the agricultural reforms which took place during the 18th century. Little study has been carried out on the ways in which farmsteads have developed, but there are some instances in which there is clear evidence of the more elaborate types having developed from a single original multi-functional longhouse. Building recording and excavation have shown that the farmstead at Tyddyn-llwydion, just to the west of Llanrhaeadr-ym-mochnant, began life in the 16th century as a cruck-built longhouse with farmyard to one side. In the early 17th century a new timber-framed farmhouse with a western stone gable was built at one end, forming an L-shaped plan, with an additional range of brick and stone buildings erected parallel to the longhouse in the early 19th century.

As noted below, by at least the early post-medieval period common grazing rights were already being determined by the number of livestock which could be kept on the hendref or home farm during the winter months. It is within this context that the longhouse with human accommodation at one end and animal accommodation assumes an even greater significance. As late as the 18th century is it likely that only oxen and suckler cows - the vital stock for traction and breeding - were in-housed and fed regularly during the winter. The important elements in the equation were the quantity of hay that could be gathered and the amount of sheltered accommodation for stock that the longhouse provided.

The 18th- and 19th-century smallholdings, crofts and squatter's cottages represent a further distinct element of the rural landscape, their distribution on the margins of the moorland and having the effect of linking the areas taken by the independent late medieval and early post-medieval farmsteads which as we have seen were established during the course of the 15th to 17th centuries. Two characteristic examples of this kind of cottage landscape fall within the Tanat Valley - Cefn-cch on the hill just to the west of Llanrhaeadr-ym-mochnant, and Mynydd-y-briw north of Llangedwyn, with closely-spaced cottages and smaller fields scattered along the road. In both these cases the piecemeal encroachment of the common probably began during the 18th century and was still actively taking place during the earlier 19th century, as evident on the tithe apportionment. In both cases the development is on the fringes of the upland area and significantly close to the parish boundaries of Llanrhaeadr-ym-mochnant and Pennant Melangell respectively. The size of the holdings at about the middle of the 19th century ranged from smallholdings with about 15 acres of land to cottages with a garden and possibly no more than about 3 acres.

As elsewhere in Wales, the growth of Nonconformity during the later 18th and 19th centuries, the proliferation of chapels, the growth of schools, and road improvements were all important in helping to sustain the pattern of dispersed rural settlement.

Nucleated settlement
Medieval churches were built in the Tanat Valley at Llanrhaeadr-ym-mochnant, Llangynog, Pennant Melangell, Llanarmon-mynydd-mawr and Llangedwyn, but it is only at Llanrhaedr-ym-mochnant that there is any clear evidence for nucleated settlement during the medieval period.

The early history of the settlement which grew up around the clas church at Llanrhaeadr is poorly documented, though it seems likely to have become a centre of administration for the cantref of Mochnant and the commote of Mochnant Is Rhaeadr at a fairly early date, the church having been established by at least the 9th century and patronised by royalty. The earliest substantial history of the settlement follows hard on the heels of the Edwardian conquest and the granting of Mochnant Is Rhaeadr to Roger Mortimer as part of the lordship of Chirkland. The right to hold a market and fairs was granted in 1284, the main purposes of which were to foster trade and raise revenue. From this developed the tiny market focused on the open triangle near the church which attracted merchants from Oswestry and Shrewsbury dealing in specialised goods as well as peasant farmers from Mochnant acting as both buyer and seller. The remoteness of the area within the lordship meant that various administrative functions also needed to be carried out here, but the success of the market was ultimately to be determined by its limited hinterland, and from the later 14th century the market tolls frequently yielded nothing. By the mid 19th century a relatively small and compact settlement had developed particularly on the northern or Denbighshire side of Afon Rhaeadr, by which time corn mills, several inns, shops, chapels, and a market hall had been erected.

The remaining nucleated settlements in the Tanat Valley are largely of late 18th-century and 19th-century creations. Llangynog is one of the outstanding examples of where extractive industries have radically altered the pattern of rural settlement - its rows of terraced houses, its chapels and the New Inn of 1751 owing their existence not to the existence of a medieval church but rather to the mining and quarrying interests which dominated its existence from the mid 18th century and to the presence of the turnpike road built across the hills to Bala later in the century. The terraced houses, school and bridge at Penybontfawr are all 19th-century in date, the settlement here owing its existence almost exclusively to the presence turnpikes, lying at the crossroads of routes to Oswestry, west Wales, Shrewsbury and Bala. The church and vicarage are again close in date were built anew in the mid ninteenth century to serve an expanding roadside community far removed from but soon to eclipse its parish church at Pennant Melangell five miles to the west. Indeed, Penybontfawr is unique within the county in being a relatively recent roadside hamlet that was subsequently elevated to the status of an independent civil community. The clusters of houses at Pencraig along the turnpike to the north of Llangynog also owes its existence to the mines. The cluster of houses at Commins is a further example of the kind of changes to the rural landscape which came in the wake of the turnpikes and the consequent shift in settlement foci. Other smaller settlements such as Efail-rhyd again sprang up along the turnpikes from the later 18th century next to the corn mill and smithy. The Tanat Valley Light Railway, constructed between 1899-1904 and finally ceasing in 1964, largely served existing settlements and had little direct impact upon the settlement pattern.

Population densities are difficult to assess with accuracy before later 17th century, when figures from the St Asaph Notitiae and the Hearth Tax returns indicate densities of between about 9-38 people per square mile, figures for Pennant Melangell and Llangynog being the lowest recorded in the county of Montgomeryshire. The Census of 1801 indicates that densities continued to be relatively low, with densities of between about 25-50 per square mile. The agricultural community gradually increased but there were various local fluctuations to the mining community during the 18th century and 19th centuries due to the unpredictable fortunes of mining industry: the rural dean's report for 1710 mentions in the case of Llangynog that 'a new colony of miners settled in . . . their numbers increase daily', whereas only thirty years later the mines were described as 'like a dying man'. There was an overall decline in population during the later 19th century with the migration of industrial areas outside the Tanat Valley, but the abandonment of dwellings was less marked than in some other parts of Wales.

Building styles
The earliest surviving medieval architecture in the Tanat Valley is represented by parts of the 12th-century church at Pennant Melangell, a relatively plain Romanesque structure with an eastern apse, undivided chancel and nave and a simple round-headed doors and windows, which would originally have been thatched. Most of the early fabric is of rounded boulders from the local stream bonded with clay, indicating that both stone quarrying and lime-producing industries had yet to be established in the region, although sandstone dressings for window and door openings as well as for the Romanesque shrine were imported from a specialist workshop some distance away, somewhere in the borderland to the east

The oldest domestic building style in the Tanat Valley are the cruck-framed half-timbered houses which show a marked concentration in this part of the Welsh borderland and which are such a distinctive feature of the local vernacular building tradition. About 20 cruck-framed buildings of this type are known within the Tanat Valley, the majority of which probably date to the later 15th and earlier 16th centuries and were built as farmhouses. A number of buildings have sadly been lost during the course of the 20th century, including both Tyddyn-llwydion and Cileos-isaf and no doubt many others were lost in previous centuries. Some of the buildings have only been identified during the 1980s and 1990s and there is a high probability that other examples remain to be discovered. Many of the buildings clearly had a central hall of one or two bays, open to the roof, with a central open fireplace. Most of these cruck-framed hall houses were probably occupied by yeoman farmers of reasonable means, working their own estates, and at least two of the buildings - Tyddyn-llwydion and Cileos-isaf - were built as longhouses, their lower bays having been used as animal byres.

All the cruck-framed buildings have been modified or adapted in one way or another. Some are still inhabited, though a number of buildings which probably started life as houses had been converted into barns, as at Glanhafon-fawr and Henblas. In some cases the outer walls were replaced in stone as the original panels failed, as in the case of Tan-y-graig. At Tyddyn-llwydion a new timber-framed house with a stone gable was built as a cross-wing at one end, with the hall house being converted to agricultural use and its wall eventually converted to stone. Buildings like Tyddyn-llwydion and Cileos-isaf were probably typical of later medieval and early post-medieval farmsteads in the Tanat Valley, and were almost certainly once much more common in the region. Cruck-framed longhouses of this type with its linear arrangement of living accommodation, hall and cattle byre was a single multifunctional building, parts of which probably also used for threshing and other tasks at different seasons, which by the 17th and 18th centuries typically evolved into or were being replaced by a group of separate buildings, each with more specialised functions. As late as the 18th century is it likely that only horses, oxen and suckler cows were in-housed and fed regularly during the winter months, the number of animals that individual farms could over-winter governing an owners rights to common land and hence the wealth and status of the establishment.

Nothing is yet known of the form of the early medieval and medieval buildings which preceded these late medieval and early post-medieval cruck-framed hall houses in the Tanat Valley, since none have survived or are known from archaeological excavations. Excavations at a number of local urban sites, including the medieval borough of Montgomery suggest that in about the 14th century there was locally a change in construction techniques from post-built buildings to ones which like the cruck-framed halls were of sill-beam construction set on stone sills. It seems likely that traces of earlier houses of this type are to be found beneath or alongside the late medieval farmhouses described above, which in some cases still remain in use today. Interestingly, the only excavated cruck-framed hall house in the Tanat Valley has been shown to be superimposed upon an earlier ploughed field, perhaps suggesting an expansion away from earlier settlement areas.

From the later 16th century onwards the vernacular building traditions within the Tanat Valley appear to have become more diverse, with no evident emergence of distinctive or dominant local styles. A number of half-timber farmhouses of box-frame construction were built in the later 16th and earlier 17th centuries, some like Tyddyn-llwydion with stone gables. The evidence from Pennant Melangell church shows that the local stone quarrying industry had become well established at some time during the late 16th to early 17th century at the very latest and no doubt lime was by now commonly available for mortar. From the mid 17th century a variety of new two-storey farmhouses were commonly being rebuilt or built anew in stone, as in the case of Glantanat-uchaf with a date-stone of 1646 and Ty-ucha with a date-stone of 1665, together a number lesser one and two storey cottages. Few grand Tudor or Renaissance buildings were to be built in the Tanat Valley, with the possible exception of Llangedwyn Hall, a late 17th- or early 18th-century remodelling of late 16th- or early 17th-century building inherited by the Williams-Wynns in 1718. More modest houses were nonetheless inhabited by families of some distinction or pretension - Glanhafon-fawr belonging to the Lloyd family, or Lloran-uchaf of the Maurice family who would trace their ancestry back to the Roman period. The owners of a small handful of farms would be sufficiently confident to add Plas as a prefix to the name 'although some of them seem ridiculously, as in the case of Plas-criafol which lies towards the head of Cwm Maengwynedd. Cadwaladr Roberts (died 1708/9), poet and farmer, would live at Ty-ucha, tucked away at the farthest recesses of Cwm Llech. The owners of Tyddyn-llwydion would have a Latin epigram painted on the walls of their modest 17th-century parlour.

Many of the buildings from the later 16th century onwards were probably roofed in slate. The early history of local slate production is poorly documented, although there are suggestions that the quarries at Llangynog may have been in production by the 1530s. Local quarries were producing stone flags for flooring by at least the early 18th century, replacing earlier earthen floors. The use of brick is unrecorded in the Tanat Valley before the second or third decade of the 18th century, as in the stylish houses at Ty-nant and Henblas, Llangedwyn and also in industrial structures at Llangynog lead mine, where its use is recorded in the 1730s. A number of field-names such as 'Brick Field' and 'Kiln Bricks' in the Llanrhaeadr-ym-mochnant area are probably evidence of small-scale local production of bricks in the late 18th or early 19th century. Later 18th- and 19th-century building styles are predominantly a feature of the nucleated settlements.

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