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The Middle Wye Historic Landscape
Character area map

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Middle Wye: Llynfi
Bronllys, Felinfach, Llangorse, Talgarth, Powys
(HLCA 1091)

CPAT PHOTO 00c0183

Nucleated settlements and large dispersed farms deriving from medieval English-held manors associated with extensive medieval open fields along the fertile Llynfi valley corridor.

Historic background

Early settlement is poorly represented in the area, but is indicated by flintwork scatters of Neolithic to early Bronze Age from the sloping ground to the south-west of Talgarth and the valley-bottom near Pontithel, by a Neolithic macehead from the bed of the Llynfi near Bronllys, and by the former Neolithic chambered tomb at Croes-llechau, to the south-west of Pontithel. Little further is known of the history of the area until the 7th and 8th centuries, when it formed part of the early Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog, ruled by the house of Brychan. Brychan's court is traditionally thought to have been at Talgarth, the church at Talgarth being the reputed burial place of his daughter, St Gwendoline (Gwenfrewi). Talgarth may have formed the focus of a pre-conquest bonded settlement on the eastern side of the Llynfi associated with the royal residence. Place-name evidence suggests that Bronllys may have formed a separate pre-conquest bonded settlement on the opposite side of the river, though the church at Bronllys dedicated to St Mary may only date from the post-conquest period.

Following the Norman conquest led by Bernard de Neufmarché in the 1080s the area fell at the junction of the three sub-lordships of Cantref Selyf, Talgarth and Glasbury. Bronllys came to form the administrative capital of Cantref Selyf and Talgarth the administrative capital of Talgarth, the marcher lords possibly to some extent adopting and building upon the pre-existing administrative and economic structure of the conquered Welsh kingdom. English-held manors were created within the lordships over the course of time, some of which were held in return for military duties. Major manors were created at the two possible pre-conquest centres at Bronllys and Talgarth, with lesser manors at Pipton, Aberllynfi, Great Porthamel and Lower Porthamel (Porthamel-isaf) and Pont-y-wal, together with English-held subtenancies at Tredustan and Coldbrook. Earth and timber castles were built at a number of these holdings, as at Aberllynfi, Pipton, Bronllys, Tredustan and Trefecca in the late 11th and 12th centuries, probably as part of an official policy for controlling the newly conquered territory, all five mottes, no more than 4km apart, controlling fording points across the Llynfi. A stone keep was subsequently built at Bronllys in about the mid 13th century, and a square tower was built at Talgarth in about the 14th century, the moated site at Bronllys also probably being associated with its manorial status or its status as the administrative centre of the cantref. Extensive open fields were created around both Talgarth and Bronllys, with probably smaller areas of open field at the lesser manors. The church settlements at Talgarth and Bronllys probably both became the focus of nucleated settlements from an early date. Talgarth grew into a small town with 73 burgages in 1309, receiving a borough charter in the early 14th century. Following the gradual disintegration of the feudal system during the course of the later 14th and 15th centuries and the subsequent amalgamation and consolidation of scattered holdings many of the lesser manors and subtenancies had emerged as individual farms held by local gentry families by the later medieval period. At the Act of Union in 1536 the area fell within the hundred of Talgarth, in the county of Brecknock. By the middle of the 19th century the character area formed part of the Tithe parishes of Aberllynfi, Bronllys, Glasbury, Llangorse and Talgarth.

Key historic landscape characteristics

The character area comprises a low-lying area of land bordering the Llynfi, between a height of about 90-180m above Ordnance Datum. The gently undulating landscape is broken by several steep-sided rejuvenated valleys such as the Coldbrook, the Dulas, the Ennig, and the Nant yr Eiddil, bordered by alder, willow and hazel, with areas of flatter land liable to flooding along the Llynfi. The soils include deep stoneless permeable silty to reddish fine silty soils overlying river alluvium (Teme and Lugwardine Series) on the lower ground to the north of Talgarth, with well-drained fine loamy reddish soils over rock elsewhere (Milford Series). Present-day land-use includes pasture and some arable for fodder crops, root crops and cereals.

Both Talgarth and Bronllys underwent rapid expansion in the 19th and 20th centuries and outwardly show little of the early medieval and medieval origins apart from the medieval fabric of the churches and fortified sites. Among the important surviving buildings of medieval origin at Talgarth are the church dedicated to St Gwendoline and the fortified Tower House, the latter being one of the few such buildings surviving in Wales. An early horizon of late medieval timber domestic buildings is represented at the Old Radnor Arms, in origin a timber hall house of perhaps the late 15th century, refaced in stone in the early 19th century. Most of the buildings in the town belong to its emergence as a market town and communications centre during the 19th century due to its position at the hub of the local turnpike road network and its subsequent position on the line of the Hay-Brecon Tramroad and then the Hereford, Hay and Brecon Railway. Buildings of this period include later 18th to early 19th-century terraced workers' cottages, detached 19th-century houses, and a interesting range of 19th-century non-domestic buildings including a mill, nonconformist chapels, former school, town hall, several inns such as the Bridge End Inn and former stables and malting house at the Old Radnor Arms, shops, hotel, and railway station. Later medieval and post-medieval buildings are invariably of sandstone rubble, sometimes rendered, together with a number of 18th and 19th-century buildings of brick with sandstone dressings, or of stone with yellow or red brick dressings. The survival of stone tile roofs at Talgarth Mill and the Old Radnor Arms stables suggest that this was the most common roofing material in the town before the late 18th or early 19th century, being superseded by slate late in the 19th century, together with crested ceramic ridge tiles in some cases.

Much of the togography and street plan of the medieval town still survives though many of the medieval open fields belonging to the settlement have been lost to the 20th-century housing and light industrial developments on the northern side of the town. Talgarth's agricultural origins are emphasised by the survival within the town of the Great House Farm, its stone farmhouse (largely 19th-century stone but with 17th-century origins) being one of the major houses within the town, the farm probably resulting from the amalgamation and consolidation of smaller holdings in the later medieval and early post-medieval period. The farm has a large and imposing later 18th-century brick barn with pigeon holes for nest boxes, being a good though relatively unusual example in the region of a brick-built post-improvement farm building, now converted to alternative use. The medieval church tower and medieval stone castle at Bronllys are architecturally important, but like Talgarth most of the earliest buildings are late 18th to early 19th-century workers' cottages and houses, the growth of the settlement at that time resulting from improvements to the road network. Communications and the availability of tracts of suitable building land led to the development of two large-scale hospital complexes in the earlier 20th century just outside Talgarth and Bronllys, giving rise to the temporary rejuvenation of both settlements. Talgarth Hospital was built on part the Chancefield Estate just to the south-east of the town in the early years of the 20th century as a lunatic asylum, together with a detached chapel, workers' houses and cottages and other ancillary works. Bronllys Hospital, together with a recreation hall and chapel, was built as a tuberculosis sanatorium during the 1920s in the former parkland of Pont-y-wal Mansion to the north-west of Bronllys.

Rural settlement outside the nucleated settlements of Talgarth and Bronllys is characterised by a series of relatively gentry farmhouses and gentry houses which, as noted above, have their origin in the series of medieval manors established within the fertile lands of the Llynfi valley. The farms are fairly widely spaced, often being up to about 800-1000m apart, and in avoiding the extensive open fields which once surrounded both Bronllys and Talgarth lie a little way outside those centres. The earliest buildings belonging to this horizon are two Elizabethan sandstone houses, Great Porthamel and Trefecca-isaf, both of which are noteworthy buildings. Great Porthamel, described as 'one of the more remarkable medieval houses of Wales', is in origin a later 16th-century hall, built by Roger Vaughan, the first High Sheriff of Brecknockshire following the Act of Union, and formerly set within a walled precinct. The precinct was entered by the surviving two-storey stone gatehouse, a feature of a number of other high-status 16th-century borderland houses. Trefecca-isaf (later Trefecca College Farm) is in origin a 16th-century gabled farmhouse, with blocked Tudor doorway dated 1576, thought to have been the home of Walter Prosser, High Sheriff of Brecknockshire in 1592. The house was extended in the later 18th century by Lady Huntingdon, a friend Howel Harris, as an academy for Methodist preachers, with distinctive Gothic stucco front elevation. The other houses and farmhouses in the area were mostly built or rebuilt in the 17th and 18th centuries. Belonging to this period are the gentry houses built in sandstone rubble at Trefecca Fawr, Tredustan Court, Tredustan Hall and Marish, with stone roof tiles surviving at Tredustan Court, and in some cases associated with contemporary stone barns and cowhouses. Lesser houses of the 17th century include the stone house and former roadside inn at Spread Eagle, built on a platform site. Also belonging to the 18th century is Trefecca College (Coleg Trefeca) built as a self-sufficient religious community by the charismatic Methodist leader Howel Harris in the 1750s in 'Strawberry Hill Gothic' style. The building continued as a local centre of industrial and agricultural innovation until the early years of the 19th century, becoming a Calvinistic Methodist Theological College between 1842-1906, and with student lodgings added in 1867. Later houses on earlier sites include Pipton, a large early 19th-century stone farmhouse associated with stone barns and stone farmworkers' houses with brick dressings, and the 19th-century Pont-y-wal Mansion country house.

A number of the houses were associated with parks and gardens, of which some traces survive. An early 17th-century map by Saxton suggests that Great Porthamel once lay within a deer park stretching down to the banks of the Llynfi. The modern gardens at Trefecca Fawr include a number of elements suggesting that the house was associated with formal gardens and fishponds in the late medieval period. Pont-y-wal Mansion is set within a 19th-century landscape park which subsequently formed the grounds of Bronllys Hospital, but which was probably contemporary with the former 18th-century house at Pont-y-wal, or its predecessor. Extensive and widespread orchards are indicated on maps of the area in the mid 19th century around Bronllys and Talgarth and farms and houses in the surrounding countryside, including Pipton, Lower Porthamel, Tredustan Court, and Trefecca, for example, of which some relict areas survive, and which in some instances may have their origin in the later medieval period. Former hop growing is suggested by the place-name Upper Hop Yard near Lower Porthamel, given in the mid 19th-century Tithe Apportionment.

A variety of different field patterns are evident within the character area. Traces of former medieval open fields are represented by strip fields or by ridge and furrow, often running up and down the contour in the case of sloping land. Bronllys remained an open field parish until the middle of the 19th century, the layout of fields on the Tithe map of 1839 suggesting a three-field system like Llyswen, with Minfield to the north of the village, Coldbrook Field to the north-east, and with one or more open arable fields to the west and south-west indicated by field-names such as Maes Waldish, Maes dan Derwad, and Maes y bach. Talgarth likewise had a three-field system, with Red Field to the north-east, Briar Field to the south-west and Lowest Common Field between the town and the Llynfi, much of which appears to have been enclosed during perhaps the 18th century. Many areas of the former open fields have been lost to housing and other developments, though areas of strip fields or ridge and furrow still survive to the north of Talgarth, to the north of Bronllys, to the north-east of Bronllys at Penmaes and to the east of Marish, and to the north-east of Trevithel. Many of the post-enclosure strip field boundaries have multi-species hedges including blackthorn, ash, hazel and hawthorn, some well-maintained and others degraded, with scattered mature oaks. Medium-sized rectangular fields on the lower-lying ground along the Llynfi appear to represent late enclosure of meadow land, with some areas of water meadow formerly subdivided by broad open drains.

The Llynfi valley has probably formed an important route linking the Usk and Wye valleys from prehistoric and Roman times up until the present day, and consequently the area contains a variety of structures illustrating the transport history in the region. Major changes were made to the local communications network with the improvements to the turnpike roads in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and though the former toll cottages no longer survive at Dewsbury Gate (on the Bronllys-Glasbury road), Trefecca Gate (on the Talgarth-Brecon road), and Grigos Gate (on the Talgarth-Glasbury road), a series of milestones still remain, near Marish, Trefecca, Talgarth, and Porthamel. Few early road bridges survive, many of the early bridges and those of the belonging to the turnpike period having been replaced by during the 20th century, including Coldbrook Bridge north-east of Bronllys, Pont Nichol south-west of Talgarth, Glandwr Bridge, Bronllys Castle Bridge, the bridge across Llynfi at Pipton. Bridges crossing the Llynfi at Pontithel and Pipton are both first mentioned in the late 17th century, and may have been of wood. An early road bridge possibly of medieval origin survives across the Ennig survives at Talgarth and a small ?18th-century single stone-arch bridge across the Ennig survives on the minor road to the south of Talgarth. A fine 19th-century three-arched bridge in rock-faced stonework at Pontithel has been widened rather than replaced.

Parts of the horse-drawn tramway between Hay and Brecon built in 1816 are still visible in the area. Much of the former course of the tramway was superseded by the Hay, Hereford and Brecon Railway in 1862, which remained in operation until the 1960s. Landscape features surviving from the railway within the character area include bridge abutments, embankments, the dilapidated remains of the station at Glandwr, and the former railway station at Talgarth.

Former processing industries within the area are represented by watermills on the river Ennig at Talgarth (of which the mill building and a number of millstones survive in the garden of a house on the south side of the town) and at Chancefield, and by former mills at Pont Nichol on the Llynfi north of Trefecca, and on the Nant yr Eiddil stream in Felin Cwm to the south of Trefecca. Extractive industries are represented by a number of small scattered quarries for building stone and possibly limestone, and several small gravel pits, near Tregunter, Aberllynfi and Bronllys.


Baughan 1980;
Briggs 1991a;
Cadw 1995a;
Cadw 1995b;
Cadw 1998a;
Cadw 1999;
Clinker 1960;
Davies 1987;
Haslam 1979;
Grove 1962;
Jervoise 1976;
Jones & Smith 1964;
Holden 2000;
King 1983;
Martin & Walters 1993;
Powys Sites and Monuments Record;
RCAHMW 1997;
Rees 1932;
Silvester 1999a;
Soulsby 1983;
Spurgeon 1981;
Sylvester 1969;
Soil Survey 1983

For further information please contact the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust at this address, or link to the Countryside Council for Wales' web site at

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