Reeves and dunghills

This is real hardcore lost farmsteads – this

is all that is left of a farm called Maerdy. It appears on the tithe plan as Mardy Du, and in 1840 it was being farmed along with a larger farm, Gwern y Domen. It belonged to the Plymouth estate and the tenant was an Edmund Morgan (I think he has cropped up elsewhere – was he sub-letting?). It’s on the 1900 OS map as Maerdy cottages, so it seems to have gone down in the world, and it’s possible that the outbuilding marked on the tithe plan has become a cottage. There is still something marked on the 1:25.000 OS map at ST 17007 87450 but it’s hard to locate on the ground. The track down from Gwern-y-domen Farm to the railway line doesn’t follow the line of the right of way, the woods have expanded since the aerial photo was taken … but this is my best guess.



We tried to find the well, which is a little further up the slope. The stream clearly flows from it


but the brambles defeated even Nell.


This is all a pity, as Maerdy would have been one of the most important farms in the area in the middle ages. Under Welsh law, the maer was the royal official in each commote, responsible for cultivating the king’s land and supervising the serfs (somewhat like a reeve in England). He also presided over the local court. As the Norman marcher lords took over from local Welsh rulers, they took over the organizational structure of the commotes, so the office of maer continued into the later medieval period.

But there was another maer in each commote, the maer y biswail (literally the dung-reeve) who was responsible for the lord’s cattle and could have day-to-day responsibility for farming as well. In The Welsh King and his Court, Glanville Jones pointed out that most places called maerdy were actually the homes of dung-reeves. So our farm may have been the home of a practical farm supervisor rather than a court official.

In a comment on my blog post on Parc y Fan at, John Owen suggested that the name might indicate the home farm for the centre of a multiple estate, possibly based on a building near the site of the Van Mansion. The various surveys of the De Clare estates mention Rudry, Hendrenny and Castell Coch as separate units, possibly manors? This he thinks may be the frozen remains of a multiple estate. Multiple estates were large land holdings organized so that they included all the necessary resources – good arable land, meadow, pasture, woodland, marsh land, rough mountain etc.

Or is there some connection with Gwern y Domen? The actual tomen is a castle mound a little to the north-east of Maerdy, with its bailey cut across by the disused railway line. Could this have been the local stronghold with Maerdy as the administrative headquarters? The problem is that we have little or no documentation and the archaeology has been messed up by industrial development and later housing.

But we do still have records of farms like Maerdy, Parc y Fan, Treboeth and the Warren to enable us to start reconstructing the old farming landscape.

Parc y Fan

Well, this is another that I must have walked past several times without realising what it was. These foundations under the brambles and bracken

must be all that’s left of Parc y Fan (OK, Park y Van in Wenglish), a substantial farm part of the Plymouth estate. The ruins are at ST 17282 86667, just to the east of the Van house and near the bottom of the footpath down from the Gwernydomen lane to the Nant Gwaunybara.

John Owen remembers ‘substantial remains’ here (see his comments under Treboeth on this blog) but there is little left now.

It was a sizeable farm – 83½ acres according to the tithe apportionment, between the Van and the Nant Gwaunybara. The same tenant also held the area to the east called Van Park, 115 acres of pasture and woodland. By the time of the first edition 6” OS map (surveyed 1875), all the land on the east side of the brook was wooded but this still left a substantial farm of over 80 acres. The buildings are still marked on the modern 1:25,000 map but there is really very little on the ground.


Then there’s this,

a little to the east and just above the Nant Gwaunybara – but this is clearly a field wall,

above the steep bank of the stream, and this

is probably the field angle marked on the early OS. The layout of the buildings at Parc y Fan changes from map to map, and it isn’t clear which was the farmhouse and which the outbuildings. Also there’s a well somewhere above the farmhouse. We need another look when the vegetation has died down.

The name of the farm  might lead us to speculate that this was where the park keeper for the Van park lived. The Lewis family emparked a huge area east of the house, probably in the sixteenth century (Rice Merrick described a park there in 1578).  The present house of the Van was built in the 1580s. The family then moved to St Fagans and leased the Van to tenants. The park went out of use, and by the time of the tithe plan it was mostly farm land, part of the Van, Gwern y Domen, Maerdy (Mardy Du on the tithe plan) and Park y Van. The park straddled the parish boundary. West of the Nant Gwernydomen was in the Van hamlet of Bedwas (a Monmouthshire parish but with hamlets in Glamorgan – the parish boundaries in this area a very idiosyncratic). East of the stream was in the parish of Rudry. (You get some idea of the problems of surveying these farms by the fact that the road from Caerphilly to Rudry, which is the southern boundary of the farm, doesn’t line up between the two maps.) John Owen has looked at the C18 estate maps in the Plymouth collection in the Glamorgan Archives. They show the park extending south of the present Caerphilly-Rudry road, including the Warren and Ty’n-y-parc (see and So did the road run through the park – or does the road post-date the park? We need to get back to the estate surveys when the record office is open.

Maerdy might be the next one to explore – it was being farmed with Gwernydomen on the tithe apportionment. It’s  marked as Maerdy Cottages on the old OS maps but there doesn’t seem to be a house there now. Alas, Caerphilly is currently in lockdown because the number of Covid-19 cases there is on the increase, so Nell and I will have to take to walking somewhere else. Time for a look at the Llandaff-Penrhys pilgrimage route, maybe?

Tre-boeth – the ‘warm town’?

This is another little farmstead that I must have walked past at least a dozen times without realising it was there. It’s at the north-east side of the Wern-ddu Claypits, just above the site of the old brickworks, at about ST 16684 85984.

To be fair to myself, what you can see from the lane

isn’t the farm house but a little outbuilding – henhouse? pigsty?

(nice bit of creamy mortar)

Once you know it’s there, you can just make out the farmhouse from the lane


and this fenced-off bit

must be the well

(still marked on the modern OS map).

On the old OS maps it’s Tre-boeth, the warm township, but on the tithe plan it’s Treboth. The name might suggest early industrial activity. There’s plenty of evidence for early coal mining, and before that there would have been charcoal burning for the early iron industry. The farmhouse looks small, and there is only the one outbuilding, but on the tithe apportionment it’s a substantial farm of 133 acres, part of the Clive estate and tenanted by a Thomas Evans. Most of the land is to the north and west: to the south was wooded in 1841. By the first 6”OS map (1875) the whole of the former farm was wooded. Plantation for pit props? The farm is still marked but must by that date have been a smallholding for a worker in the clay pits or the brickworks, or possibly in the woods. It’s still there on the 1915 revision but by the 1938-47 revision it has disappeared.

Part of the size of the farm on the tithe apportionment seems to be that it has swallowed up another farm. On the tithe apportionment it’s described as ‘Treboth and Warren’. ‘Warren’ is actually another farmstead to the west, in what is now the depths of Wern-ddu woods, marked on the tithe plan but not on any of the OS maps. There may be nothing now on the ground but I feel I should have a look.

Watch this space. (It may just be a space.)

Not the Head of the Pass

The woods between Rudry and Parc Cefn-onn are about the limit for my weekly long walk – about 12-13 miles with quite a bit of Up! But there is still plenty to have a look at.

This little ruined farmstead at ST 19223 85750

took a surprising amount of finding. Part of the problem was the name. On the old OS maps it’s Pen-y-bwlch, Head of the Pass – but it’s actually well down in the valley. The current OS marks a track to it – a double-pecked-line track, looking on the map like a forest road, with a bridleway along it and crossing the footpath and the little stream to head over the fields to Ty’n-y-graig.

But there is no road through the woods. Just the footpath south from Coedcae Garw along the edge of Coed Coesau-whips. The old maps put it east of the footpath but the path now goes between the house (to the west)

and what remains of the outbuildings.

(Someone has made a firepit with a lot of the outbuilding stone.)

Once we found it, though, after a couple of false starts, it was worth the effort.

(here’s Nell on the house wall.)

On the tithe plan it’s a farm of just over 20 acres, with a couple of fields along the lane to the north and the rest to the south and east. Coed Coesau-whips on the tithe plan is smaller but still shown as mainly conifers – but John Owen’s idea that the name suggests charcoal production for the iron industry would mean an earlier wood of something like beech and oak. I do wonder whether these little farms like Coedcae Garw, Cwm and Pen-y-bwlch were carved out of the original wood. Then when timber became a valuable commercial commodity for pit props and the plantation was extended, the farms were reabsorbed.

There would also have been access problems. On the tithe plan the access is down the lane past Coedcae Garw,

across the ford

and up a narrow hollow way –

this must have been possible only for a single horse, no room for even a small wheeled vehicle. By 1900 there was a track through the woods, but by that date most of the farmland had been lost to forest. The house is still marked by name but can only have been a cottage for something like a forest worker.

Access may have been what put an end to a lot of these little farms – once farming moved from using horses to mechanical vehicles, anywhere far off the road would have great difficulty in keeping going.

Coedcae Garw

I’m still finding ruined farmsteads north of Cardiff. The number surprises me. We’re used to finding little lost farms in the upland forests – they were no longer viable in the changing economy of the later 20th century and many were swallowed up by the Forestry Commission in the great drive to plant conifers after World War 2. On the fringes of Cardiff, though, you would have thought they could have kept going with market gardening, chickens and dairying – but it was a hard life, and jobs in light industry must have been attractive.

This one

was first spotted by @mikekohnstamm. It’s on the slopes above Lisvane but in the parish of Rudry, where Coed Cefn-onn meets Coed Coesau-whips. On the Tithe Map it’s Coedcae Garw, a smallholding of 11 acres, part of the Tredegar estate and occupied in 1840 by Edward Rowlands. Most of its land is to the south-west, and Edward Rowlands was also farming land down the lane part of the Clive estate. It’s still marked on the 1953 6” map but it may have been deserted by then.

Part of the farm house seems to have been rebuilt in brick, probably in the late 19th or early 20th centuries,

but the old pigsties are still stone.

My grandparents kept pigs on their farm at Cefn Llwyd, a couple of miles to the east. They always took the sows to the boar at the Maen-llwyd, and there was one sow who could find her own way there when she felt like it. I wonder whether the sows at Coedcae Garw went to the same boar.

The name Coed Coesau-whips is interesting. John Owen of Caerphilly suggests it could indicate that the older woods were coppiced to provide charcoal for the iron industry. There was a lead shaft just above Coedcae Garw (still visible on the Rhymney Valley Ridgeway) and the Rudry iron mine is a little further down the Nant y Cwm.

There are also a couple more farms that don’t seem to be on the modern map – Cwm and Ty’rywen. Next week, perhaps.

Even more deserted farmsteads …

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We had quite an energetic Twitter conversation about those deserted farms north of Cardiff.

@mikekohnstamm  drew my attention to Deri-Duon, which is amazingly in the middle of Lisvane, in the fields between Lisvane church and the reservoir.

It’s marked as a ‘cottage and garden’ on the tithe plan, part of the Morgan estate and occupied by a David Thomas. You can just about see the garden boundary under the bushes.

The Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments in Wales did an amazingly detailed survey of farmhouses and cottages in Glamorgan, published back in 1988. That describes Deri-duon as a ‘direct entry, end-chimney’ house: in other words, the main door was in the long side wall and went straight into the main room. The chimney was at one end of the house and the stairs to the upper floor was to the side of the fireplace. It was at one time thatched.

The house is still there on the early OS (must try to check the date on that) but now just the chimney end of the house remains standing plus walls under the ivy and brambles.

But how long will it be there? Apparently the whole area has been approved for building. This seems a serious mistake. Open spaces like the fields between Lisvane and the reservoirs are a vital resource – if there’s anything we’ve learned during the current epidemic, it’s the importance of open space for physical and mental well-being.

The Royal Commission inventory also includes two of the three Cefn-Carnau farms. Cefncarnau-fawr, the one now a complete ruin on the lane from Bwlch-y-cwm to the golf course, is described as a ‘hearth-passage house’, with the original entry into a lobby formed by one side of the great fireplace and the staircase in the angle at the other side of the fireplace. Cefncarnau-fawr started out in the late 17th century with a main downstairs room and a second unheated room to the west. Later on, a kitchen and cowhouse were added to the east, and later again an extension to the north, towards the lane. Cefncarnau-uchaf must have been completely rebuilt, but it was originally like Deri-duon, with the main door in the long side wall and the staircase in the angle of the fireplace. Oddly enough, the inventory doesn’t mention Cefncarnau-Fach, nor any of the other deserted farmsteads I’ve been looking at. (I did check the grid reference for Cefncarnau-uchaf in the RCAHMW inventory and it’s the one at the top of Cefncarnau Lane, the one marked as Cefncarnau-uchaf on the OS map.)

But looking at the tithe plan for Deri-duon, I spotted a couple more, probably just cottages, on the lanes north of Cefn-Onn country park. Time for another look … and what are these, on the lane down from the ridge past Transh yr Hebog towards Lisvane: a building

and an adit?

And is this another lime kiln, a bit further along the lane from Bwlch-y-gelli to Blaen-nofydd?

and back at Deri-duon, some nice creamy-white mortar for @AncientTorfaen!

Deserted farmsteads (again)

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So is that farm just off the Heol Hir Ty Drav (as on the tithe map) or Ty Draw (which seems more likely)? And is it actually below the track leading to Wern Ddu woods?

The lower track doesn’t seem to be on the tithe plan but it’s difficult to be sure because we are on the edge of 3 parishes (Ty Draw is in the Van hamlet of Bedwas, but immediately to the south is Llanishen, and to the west is Eglwysilan) and the plans don’t exactly line up. Copyright restrictions mean I’m reluctant to post a screenshot of the tithe map, but here’s a sketch plan based on it.

Field boundaries in green, buildings in brown. The red line marks the southern extent of the farm and looks suspiciously like the rather odd little angle of a field boundary just south of the lower track on the early OS map (it’s still just visible on the modern 1:25,000). Also, intriguingly, that  zigzag line is marked as the parish boundary on the early OS map.

So is the farm below this lane, leading down from the gate?

All that can be seen now is some tumbled stone under the brambles at about grid ref ST 17221 85357.

But the real give-away may be this

a patch of currant and raspberry bushes still holding their own against the undergrowth.

The lines of the fields from the tithe plan are also just about discernible under the trees along the lane.

Ty-Draw is marked as a ruin on the c 1840 tithe plan. The fields around it belong to the Clive estate and are occupied by a Thomas Roberts. But where did he live if the farmhouse was a ruin? He doesn’t appear anywhere else on the apportionments for Bedwas, Llanishen or Eglwysilan. Possibly he was sub-letting the fields around Ty-Draw to another of the local farmers: that might not have shown up on the tithe record.

Also, if the southern boundary of the farm is the parish boundary, what might that suggest about the age of the farm? The area to the north of the fields is marked on the tithe plan as a plantation – had the farm been nibbled away by the planting of trees for pit props, and was that why the farmhouse  had fallen into ruin?

It’s hard to see what some farms and cottages have survived and others have been lost. On the ridge above Tongwynlais, both Blaengwynlais and Bwlch-y-cwm are still there, Bwlch-y-cwm with enough garden to look like a smallholding. If Cwm-nofydd is anything like the Difrinn Anovid of that early C11 charter in the Book of Llan Daf, it lasted for the best part of a millennium but is now an overgrown ruin.  John Owen has identified Cefn Carnau in a survey of the de Clare estate in 1295.  Cefn-carnau Fawr, the biggest of the farms, is a ruin. though there are new stable buildings along the lane and the owner is working on some of the Cefn-carnau outbuildings. The farm called Cefn-carnau Ucha on the tithe plan but Cefn-carnau Fach on the OS, is a solid little farmhouse with another dwelling in the converted outbuildings.

And the Cefn Carnau of the tithe plan (Cefn Carnau Uchaf on the OS) is now a private rehabilitation hospital.

At the end of the lane from Cefn-carnau Fach, Pant-y-gollen is not on the tithe plan and is an un-named cottage on the early OS but is now a substantial house. The farmer at Cefn-carnau Fach told me Pant-y-gollen was once a shop.

Blaen-nofydd is also a substantial farm with converted outbuildings,

while the farms along the lane are long gone.

That’s about as far as I can get without delving into the census returns. In the comments on an earlier post, John Owen said he hadn’t found Bwlch-y-Gelli on the 1851 or later censuses but tht Bwlch-y-Llechfaen was on the 1861 and 1871 ones. But they are both on the OS map – I need a date for that before I start drawing any more conclusions.

I’ve updated my earlier posts with grid references, inserted a photo pf the limekiln near Bwlchygelli, and corrected my earlier reference to Bwlchyllechfaen as Bwlchygelli.

More deserted farmsteads …

Well, this is Bwlchygelli, at ST 16711 84736

just where John Owen said it would be, in the dip between Blaen-nofydd and the Heol Hir.

Can’t think why I hadn’t spotted it before. Perfectly obvious that heap of stones was once a building.

‘ Brains first, and then Hard Work’ said Eeyore.

John Owen suggests Bwlchygelli and Bwlchylechfaen  could originally have been squatter settlement on the older estates of Cefncarnau and Cefneinion. There was lead working in the area, and there are the remains of quarries and limekilns on the lane from Blaen-nofydd – this is the limekiln at ST 16595 84695.

Both farms were small, not much more than smallholdings: possibly early industry provided some casual work for wages, with the farm worked mainly by the women of the family for sustenance. That was quite a common pattern in early industrial areas.

I’m still not sure about Ty-Draw, though. There’s no evidence of a structure down the hill.

There are some possible features just below the track,

but the house marked on the tithe plan is further down. Part of the problem is that we are on the edge of 3 parishes so the lines on the plan don’t totally match up, but I’m wondering if it could be further down the slope again, below the track that goes towards Cefn Carnau Lane.

(Also it’s Ty Drav on the map but I’m sure it should be Ty Draw.)

Nell will be pleased to have another look.

All that’s left of Ty’n-y-parc now seems to be this ruined cowshed at ST 17830 85903,

though there are some tumbled stones under the trees.

John Owen remembered a forester living there in the late 1950s but the forest has now completely taken it over.

Another puzzle. The farm marked as Cefn-carnau-fach on the early and current OS maps is the one which is called Cefn-carnau-uchaf on the tithe plan. The farm called Cefn-carnau-uchaf on the OS is just Cefn Carnau on the tithe plan. Who is right – or did the names change?

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 …