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The Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust News - old stories

Continuing exploration of the Llanelwedd landscape, 2009

Llanelwedd farmhouse; photo 2960-0028 © CPAT View of part of the the Pen-y-graig longhouse from the west in November 2009. At the far end of the house can be seen one of the two fireplaces and to the right the remains of the stone stairs leading to an upper floor. In the foreground is the circular stone bread oven inserted into a second fireplace. The walls in the foreground belong to a cowhouse at the lower end of the building. The large boulder on the hillside to the left is a glacial erratic.

Following on the excavation of two Bronze Age burial cairns at Llanelwedd in 2007 and 2008, the focus of work in 2009, funded by Cadw, was the remains of an abandoned farmstead within the quarrying concession, associated with the corn-drying kiln excavated in 2008.

The upland farm, probably founded in about the later seventeenth century, had evidently been abandoned by the later eighteenth or early nineteenth century. It had clearly been deserted by the time the Llanelwedd tithe map of 1845 was drawn up, and no record of the name of the farm or its occupants have yet been traced. The farm lay at one corner of a large field called 'Pen-y-graig' enclosing part of rocky summit of the Carneddau hills, the name which has been adopted for the abandoned farm.

The main building is a longhouse, perhaps the first of its kind to be excavated in Radnorshire, can be closely paralleled at a number of surviving houses in the county, described in Richard Suggett's authoritative Houses & History in the March of Wales. Radnorshire 1400-1800 published by the Royal Commission. Part of the importance of the Pen-y-graig farm complex is that it has offered the opportunity of examining a relatively short-lived farm complex, undisturbed by building work in the later nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The farmhouse, which lay on the uphill side of the longhouse, had been partly terraced into the slope of the hill. The upper gable wall was of locally-quarried stone bonded with clay. It included the remains of a fireplace and chimney backing onto the slope of the hill. Spiral stairs to one side of the fire gave access to an upper floor and probably confined to the roof space. The absence of roof tiles or slates on the site suggests that the roof was thatched.

Pen-y-graig interim plan and slipware sherds © CPAT

A second, slightly larger stone fireplace and chimney was found at the lower end of the farmhouse, to one side of which was a doorway leading into a cowhouse below. A circular bread oven had been added to this second fireplace, perhaps replacing the external oven forming part of the Llanelwedd corn-drying kiln . Unlike the end walls, the side walls of the farmhouse and the cowhouse below it were evidently of timber-framed construction set on low stone sill walls.

It proved impossible to complete the excavation of the interior of the farmhouse due to the unprecedented wet weather in November 2009, but a return is now planned for the spring of 2010. There are already indications that the farmhouse was divided into a number of different rooms, possibly with a parlour with a slightly higher earth floor at the upper end and a kitchen, partly paved with stone, at the lower end.

Pen-y-graig can now be seen to have included a longhouse, a possible cartshed to the west (probably also of timber-framed construction), the corn-drying kiln to the south, and possibly other structures. The farm was probably associated with the embanked enclosure, shown on the tithe map, that had been carved out of the upland common on the southern end of Carneddau in about the later seventeeth century. Its economy probably depended upon cattle and sheep farming as well as cereal cultivation. The growing of perhaps barley and rye on small flatter areas of cultivatable land scattered amongst the rocky outcrops on the hill is clearly denoted by the corn-drying kiln as well as by a scattering of clearance cairns, including those which overlay the two excavated Bronze Age burial cairns. The farm was no doubt deliberately sited next to a natural pond, representing one of the few sources of water on the summit of Carneddau. Parts of the pond may well have been artificially deepened as a source of clay for building work.

Relatively few stratified finds have so far been recovered but, interestingly, appear to include a preponderance of fine wares, including early tea wares and the slipware sherds shown here.

Bill Britnell, November 2009

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