Lost farmsteads: update

My old student Dave Standing (tweets as @AncientTorfaen ) suggested that the mortar in the farmhouse walls might give an idea of dating. We had an energetic discussion of this on Twitter and I’m not sure how well it works – but in general it’s suggested that the paler the mortar, the earlier the building, and when you get to the C19 it’s the dreaded black mortar.

Of course, all this is dependent on being able to see the mortar in the first place. Here are the walls of the unidentified farmhouse in Coed Wenallt: you’d have to take these apart to get mortar samples.

This was the only wall I could get to at Cwmnofydd:

rendered and heavily patched with cement, but is this a bit of creamy-beige mortar under the render?

 

And the farm at the top of the Heol Hir: quite a lot of coarse pale greyish-brown (while balancing precariously on a pile of logs, with the dog on the lead because there were sheep about …)

Looking again at the map, I realised I’d misidentified that farm. It’s not Bwlchygelli but Bwlchylechfaen. Bwlchygelli is back a bit along the path AND I HAVEN’T SPOTTED IT – time for another trip. The moral of this is that you need both field work and desk-top survey.

We went up the ridge towards Rudry Common then down the lane towards the Wern-Ddu clay pits. When we were nearly back down at the Heol Hir we spotted this at about ST 17270 85337 –

spoil from the old quarry, or is it suspiciously rectangular?

(You can just see Nell on top of the ‘wall’ here.)

There is a farm marked in the area, Ty-Draw, marked as a ruin on the 1840 tithe plan, but from the map it looks to be below the track, and down quite a steep slope.

Then there’s Ty’n-y-Parc, the other side of the railway tunnel and in the woods towards the Rudry road at ST 17827 85906. Not sure if that one is still there – there’s something on the modern map but it could be a ruin.

Watch this space …

Lost farms, lost settlements

To distract us during the lockdown, while we can’t do much in the way of fieldwork, we’ve been having a discussion on Twitter on the mapping and listing of deserted settlements. @DrFrancisYoung asked if anyone had ever done an atlas of all England’s deserted villages – so I said ‘and the Welsh ones’. It was suggested that Wales needed a separate volume – fair enough, there are differences, different settlement patterns, much more dispersed settlement, hamlets rather than villages. Also the perennial problems of funding and getting it noticed. Then @A_N_Coward rather proved my point by pointing out that our online resource Coflein ‘has site types for ‘deserted settlement’ and ‘deserted rural settlement’ with about 400 sites between them (although there’s probably some overlap) and a nice distribution across Wales. Many have pics (mostly aerial photos): https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/search/result?PCLASSSUB=97280&SEARCH_MODE=COMPLEX_SEARCH&view=map https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/search/result?PCLASSSUB=500312&SEARCH_MODE=COMPLEX_SEARCH&view=map

so actually we seem to have done it. Mind you, there’s some debate about what constitutes a settlement – how many cottages?

Meanwhile, my walks with my neighbour’s dog had taken me over towards the Wenallt, just north of Cardiff, and the little valley of the Nant Cwmnofydd: and at about grid ref ST 14702 83939 what should I find but what looked like the ruins of a row of cottages.

And in the Wenallt woods themselves, at about ST 14959 83860, another farm or group of cottages.

 

I wondered on Twitter how old they were, what the people who lived in them did for a living, and when the Record Office would be open again.

@DrIestynJones  pointed me in the direction of http://geoarch.co.uk/reports/1999-06%20Wenallt520slags.pdf which is a report on some early ironworking slag and other remains further down the Cwmnofydd. I don’t think the cottages were that old – but where there was medieval ironworking there may have been post-medieval working as well.

 

Several people pointed me to online maps, including @MusicNLW  who led me to the National Library of Wales’s amazing Places of Wales site https://places.library.wales/ . You need a place name to get in but once you are there you can scroll around, look at the 1840 (ish) tithe plans, an old OS map (2nd edition, I think, early C20) and the modern map (Google not OS, alas, so not brilliant for anything off road). Then you can pull up data from the tithe surveys – field names, crops, tenants and owners. It can be tricky tying up early C20 trackways with modern rights of way but it’s doable.

A bit of work on that suggested that my first batch of photos was not a row of cottages but a whole little farm, Cwmnofydd (about grid ref ST 14702 83939). It was there on the early C20 map and presumably occupied – one wonders when it was deserted and how it became so completely derelict. There are other lost farms in the area – Cefncarnau Fawr, up on the ridge to the north, around ST 15053 84409, was a big farm complex with a massive barn and other outbuildings

but that too is completely lost.

I still can’t identify the site on the other side of the stream at around ST 14959 83860. It doesn’t seem to be marked on the 1840 map so it may have been deserted and in ruins by then.

Walking a bit further with Nell the spaniel got me to the other side of the main road over Caerphilly Mountain and along the lane to the Heol Hir. Here the trees were cleared a couple of years ago and you could see the foundations of another little farm at ST 16943 84871 (easier to see just after the trees were cleared)

– here it is now

I found this one on the 1840 plan – I thought in the original posting that it was Bwlch-y-Gelli but it’s actually Bwlch-y-Llechfaen so I’ve corrected it (a bit difficult to identify as we were on the edge of 2 plans and they didn’t quite match up). That too was still there in the early C20 but it’s now just a little bit of tumbled stone under the brambles.

It’s often surprising how quickly a building can degenerate into a ruin. This is Penybryn Cottage, on the road between the Black Cock and Rhiwbina Hill at about ST 14293 84426.

.

My father-in-law remembered it in the 1930s or 1940s with a huge family living in it. Once the roof goes, the whole building goes.

Penybryn Cottage is on the map but I couldn’t find this one,

across the road and a bit further uphill. Quite a substantial building, with its own bread oven.

There are others that aren’t on the map. A traditional platform house near the top of Castell Coch woods, round about ST 14009 83746:

and some ‘structures’ around the iron-mining pits, a little further into the woods, round ST 13876 83545 (these grid references are a bit vague).

These might just be spoil heaps from the iron mines but this one looks rather rectangular. (It was actually easier to see before the trees were felled.) Probably not a house either, though – somethig to do with the iron mining? The whole area is pockmarked with diggings for haematite iron ore,

some of it probably 16th and 17th century.

When Natural Resources Wales were preparing to fell the conifers on this side of the forest because of the dreaded phytophthora ramorum, they said they had a detailed survey of things like the iron pits and possible charcoal burning platforms, something like a Lidar survey. I wonder if it’s ever going to be publicly available?

 

And I must remember that @AncientTorfaen  wanted to know what colour the mortars in the old houses were.

Early Medieval Inscribed Stones

posted in: Archaeology | 0

I have the final volume of Nancy Edwards’ Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones to review.

Image

Of course, it’s brilliant, the illustrations are magnificent – what can I say? I have to think of something a little bit critical (not too critical, though, because Nancy chairs the Advisory Panel on Medieval Welsh Stone Sculpture, on which I am a newbie).

I guess one of the key questions has to be why a book at all. In the age of the internet, is printing a very expensive limited run of something like this really the best way to disseminate information? The book is far too big to carry in a backpack, though it would do well in the boot of a car. The quality of the illustrations is stunning, and until recently I would have said that for reference they are far better in printed format. Looking at Google’s Cultural Institute Art Project reproductions, though (at http://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/about/ – I’ve used the amazing reproductions of Holbein’s Ambassadors with classes, but they are all good), the magnification you can now get with an online image is even better than high-quality printed photographs.

So – why the book? This series is a different matter from a research monograph, which will be chewed over and rapidly superseded. The point about the Corpus is that it is meant to last. Not that it will be the last word on any subject – this volume contains amendments to the earlier ones, and stones are still turning up. But any web site would have to be future-proofed – and as any web site  designer will tell you, the only way to future-proof a site effectively is to print it out on good-quality acid-free paper and lodge it in a library of record.  You might just as well publish it while you are at it.

Even the technology we use to access web-based materials gets rapidly outdated. I spent most of last summer (between showers) working on digital film clips to link to QR codes to explain the heritage of Monmouth and Torfaen. At our big digital heritage conference in the autumn, we were told that QR codes were old technology. I never did find out what is replacing them, but it probably won’t last much longer than they did.

So – back to the book. Volume 3 will be particularly useful for me, as it’s an area where there’s a lot of overlap between early medieval and medieval, which is where I come in. I’m working on a database of medieval tomb carvings in Wales. This is designed to take up where Nancy Edwards and the Celtic Inscribed Stones Project database leave off, and to run until 1540, by which time the changes of the Reformation were affecting tomb design and other aspects of commemoration. And yes, it’s going to be an online resource, and no, I don’t know how I’m going to future-proof it. Yet.

Nancy’s dating of some of the stones is reassuringly in line with mine (I’d hate to have to ague with her). There are stones with what look at first like flowers but are actually expanded-arm crosses. Here’s one at Llanfaglan near Caernarfon

Image

Of course, it’s brilliant, the illustrations are magnificent – what can I say? I have to think of something a little bit critical (not too critical, though, because Nancy chairs the Advisory Panel on Medieval Welsh Stone Sculpture, on which I am a newbie).

I guess one of the key questions has to be why a book at all. In the age of the internet, is printing a very expensive limited run of something like this really the best way to disseminate information? The book is far too big to carry in a backpack, though it would do well in the boot of a car. The quality of the illustrations is stunning, and until recently I would have said that for reference they are far better in printed format. Looking at Google’s Cultural Institute Art Project reproductions, though  – I’ve used the amazing reproductions of Holbein’s Ambassadors with classes, but they are all good), the magnification you can now get with an online image is even better than high-quality printed photographs.

So – why the book? This series is a different matter from a research monograph, which will be chewed over and rapidly superseded. The point about the Corpus is that it is meant to last. Not that it will be the last word on any subject – this volume contains amendments to the earlier ones, and stones are still turning up. But any web site would have to be future-proofed – and as any web site  designer will tell you, the only way to future-proof a site effectively is to print it out on good-quality acid-free paper and lodge it in a library of record.  You might just as well publish it while you are at it.

Even the technology we use to access web-based materials gets rapidly outdated. I spent most of last summer (between showers) working on digital film clips to link to QR codes to explain the heritage of Monmouth and Torfaen. At our big digital heritage conference in the autumn, we were told that QR codes were old technology. I never did find out what is replacing them, but it probably won’t last much longer than they did.

So – back to the book. Volume 3 will be particularly useful for me, as it’s an area where there’s a lot of overlap between early medieval and medieval, which is where I come in. I’m working on a database of medieval tomb carvings in Wales. This is designed to take up where Nancy Edwards and the Celtic Inscribed Stones Project database leave off, and to run until 1540, by which time the changes of the Reformation were affecting tomb design and other aspects of commemoration. And yes, it’s going to be an online resource, and no, I don’t know how I’m going to future-proof it. Yet.

Nancy’s dating of some of the stones is reassuringly in line with mine (I’d hate to have to ague with her). There are stones with what look at first like flowers but are actually expanded-arm crosses. Here’s one at Llanfaglan near Caernarfon

Image

Some of these have been dated in England to the tenth and eleventh centuries but the Welsh examples really do seem to be later. One of the things is that the crosses seem to have been drawn with a compass rather than freehand.

If you look carefully you can see the Llanfaglan cross has a boat carved on it

Image

the church is in the fields overlooking the Menai Straits, so this old sailor’s tombstone has now been placed so that he can look out to sea (the photos are by Ifor Williams).

Llanfaglan is a lovely old church and well worth a visit. It’s looked after by the Friends of Friendless Churches (bit of a misnomer as the church isn’t short of friends, but maintaining it was beyond the resources of the parish). You have to contact them for details of how to get a key. The church also has two of the early stones that are in Nancy’s book, some sturdy eighteenth-century woodwork, and a very strange seven-sided font. It could have been designed to be painted with the seven sacraments of the medieval church. (More on this in the Welsh Stone Forum newsletter – go to http://www.museumwales.ac.uk/en/welshstoneforum/newsletter/  and click on newsletters 9 and 13).

The Heritage Tortoise is now off to ‘run’ in the Cwmbran Women’s Race for Life. Now, what was that thing about the tortoise and the hare ….