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The Middle Wye Historic Landscape
Character area map

Historic Landscape Characterisation

The Middle Wye: Maestorglwydd
Gwernyfed, Llanigon and Talgarth, Powys
(HLCA 1092)

CPAT PHOTO 1040-24

Foothills below the northern escarpment of the Black Mountains, deeply incised by stream valleys with clustered farmhouses, some of late medieval longhouse origin, in landscape of small irregularly-shaped fields and small hilltop commons.

Historic background

Early activity in the historic landscape area is indicated by scattered flintwork and the Neolithic chambered long cairn on the lower hillslopes at Penyrwrlodd. The church dedicated to St Eigon at Llanigon is assumed to represent a pre-conquest nucleated settlement, the extensive pre-conquest ecclesiastical parish belonging to the church having being reduced in size when the new parish of Hay was created following the Norman conquest. The area subsequently formed part of the welshries of the lordships of Hay, Talgarth and Glasbury. By the first half of the 14th century a distinctive settlement pattern had emerged within the area, characterized by a fringe of feudal manors and subtenancies along the lower edge of the area, at Felindre, Tregoyd and Llanthomas, with clusters of native settlements and farmsteads extending into the hills and valleys above, as at Maes-y-garn and possibly Llwynbarried, Cwmcadarn, ?Pant-y-fithel, Maestorglwydd, ?Lower Island, Wenallt and elsewhere. From an early date the manors were held in return for military service whilst the Welsh settlements were often held by virtue of a tribute of cows known as Calan Mai, rendered at the beginning of May in alternate years. Many of the tenants of the Welsh settlements in the 1340s held only small areas of arable, the 9 tenants at Maestorglwydd, for example, jointly holding about 37 acres in addition to common grazing land. Other farms such as Llangwathan and Cilonw had emerged by the first half of the 16th century, suggesting gradual expansion and land clearance during the later medieval period. By the middle of the 19th century the area fell within the Tithe parishes of Llanelieu, Glasbury, Llanigon and Hay.

Key historic landscape characteristics

The area occupies the steeply-sloping lower slopes of the Black Mountains, on the southern side of the Wye valley, broken by the steep-sided valleys of Felindre Brook, Nant Ysgallen, Digedi Brook, Cilonw Brook and Dulas Brook. The general height range lies between 150-420m above Ordnance Datum and the land predominant faces the north-west. The soils are mostly well-drained fine reddish loams overlying sandstone (Milford Series). Tufa deposits are recorded on Hen Allt Common, which were formerly quarried for decorative building material as well as possibly for lime burning. Ancient semi-natural broad-leaved woodland with hazel, ash and oak, survives on steeper slopes and steep-sided streams in Blaenycwm Wood, Wenallt-uchaf, and along the Cilonw and Dulas Brooks. There are also a number of areas of ancient replanted woodland, as at Allt Wood (Tregoyd), Allt Wood (near Wenallt), Rook Wood and Tylau Wood, as well as some conifer plantations and a number of newly-planted areas of broad-leaved woodland as at Tack Wood. Present-day land-use is otherwise predominantly pasture with some arable for fodder crops.

Modern settlement is characterized by small to medium-sized farms in the narrow upland stream valleys and on the more level ground at towards the bottom of the hill land. The farms are generally closely spaced, often being within about 500-600m of each other, individual farms often forming close-set complexes with farmhouse, barn and cowshed. The farms in the higher valleys frequently have shared names, such as Cadarn and Upper Cadarn, Blaenau-isaf and uchaf, Lower, Middle and Upper Maestorglwydd, Blaendigedi-fach, uchaf and fawr, Wenallt-isaf and uchaf, and often appear in clusters, suggesting an origin in medieval Welsh tenurial systems. The only nucleated settlement in the area is the medieval church settlement at Llanigon. This has an older core which includes the church, churchyard, and a group of 18th to 19th-century stone cottages and houses, and a more recent focus with village core, school, community hall, and housing estate which has grown up on the Talgarth to Hay road.

An early architectural horizon in the character area is represented by a number of 16th to 17th-century buildings which originated as cruck-built or timber-framed farmhouses, some of longhouse type, a form of building well-suited to the mixed farming economy of the area, as at Wenallt-uchaf, Wenallt-isaf, and Llwynmaddy. Llangwathan originated as a cruck-built hall-house, and the upland house at Maes-coch as a single-bay hall. In most cases the original timber outer walls were later replaced in stone, Ty-mawr, Llanigon, being one of the few buildings to retain exposed timber-framing. An early cruck-framed barn with sandstone rubble walls also survives at Middle Maestorglwydd. Many of the early farmhouses probably had detached kitchens, like the rare early to mid 17th-century example surviving at Cilonw.

Later farmhouses were invariably in stone, as in the case of the 17th-century wing of the hall at Penyrwrlodd, one of the finer buildings of this period in the area, built by William Watkins, and officer in the Parliamentary Army during the Civil War, with fine new front added in early 18th-century. 18th-century to 19th-century houses include the farmhouse, outbuildings and cottage at Cwm-dau-nant, New Forest Farm, Blaenau-isaf farmhouse and Cilonw, often with the stone farmhouse and outbuildings set around a farmyard.

Due to farm amalgamations some of the more marginal farms were either abandoned during the 19th and 20th centuries, as in the case of Pen-y-commin, or have been converted to other uses, as in the case of Maes-y-lade which is now an outdoor pursuits centre. Numerous houses and barns of former small farms and tenements on more marginal land now lie in ruins or are represented by no more than heaps of stones or by abandoned building platforms.

The distinctive farming landscape within the character area has a complex history. Medieval and early post-medieval enclosure is represented by a pattern of small irregular fields in the sheltered valleys and on the gentler slopes, with multi-species hedges including hawthorn, hazel and ash, with some former and some present-day hedge-laying. The fields are sometimes associated with shallow lynchets indicating more widespread cultivation in the past. Some of these field systems have their origin in native Welsh holdings recorded in the 14th century, and in some cases probably began as small arable sharelands. In some instances isolated islands of enclosed land were created, as in the case of Lower Island on Waun Croes Hywel, which appears equate to the Welsh settlement referred to as Trefynes in the 14th century.

The gradual process of clearance and enclosure in the medieval and later medieval periods led to the isolation of a number of small lower commons on the intervening hillslopes and hill-tops, below the unenclosed escarpment of the Black Mountains as in the case of Common Bychan, Hay Forest (The Allt), Tregoyd Common, Hen Allt Common, and Hay Common. A number of these commons appear to have subsequently been enclosed during the course of agricultural improvements in perhaps the later 18th century, represented by a number of larger rectilinear enclosures, some of which appear to have been later afforested. Some of these later enclosures on higher ground have single-species hawthorn hedges or drystone walls, and are associated with small clearance cairns, as for example near Wenallt, with low banks and drystone or orthostatic revetted banks defining the edge of the unenclosed common.

A number of the lower-lying farms such as Penywrlodd, Llangwathan, New Forest, Llwynbarried, and Dan-y-common were associated with small orchards in the 19th century, of which some remnants survive.

The area is crossed by numerous winding lanes and green lanes. Many of these form hollow-ways, some of which are up to 6m deep and are clearly of considerable antiquity. Some of the lanes appear to have their origin in ancient routeways between the lower-lying farms and the upland summer pastures. The remains of the medieval stone cross known as the Scottish Pedlar, south of Hay, appears to lie on the medieval track between Hay and Llanthony via the Gospel Pass. Many of the lanes crossed streams by means of fords until the later 19th-century, some of which have now been bridged over.

Former processing industries carried out within the historic landscape area were mostly based on water power and included Penlan Mill on the Digedi Brook south of Llanigon and Old Mill and associated mill leat on the Cilonw Brook, south-east of Llanigon. Paper mills were in operation for a period of time at Llangwathan on a tributary of the Dulas Brook, in a building now converted to a dwelling, and the former Cusop Dingle Mill on the Dulas Brook, north of Llangwathan. Extractive industries included small-scale quarries for sandstone rubble building stone and for the limestone which occurs in narrow banks within the sandstone of the Black Mountains. Limekilns are shown on Ordnance Survey maps published in the later 19th century at New Forest Plantation, to the south-east of New Forest Farm, near Llwynbarried, to the east of Tregoyd Common at Cefn and near Blaenycwm Wood, and at Blaenau-uchaf at the head of the Felindre Brook, some of which as still visible in the field. Other former kilns are indicated by field-names such as 'Kiln Piece Field' to the west of Llangwathan and 'Limekiln Field' near Dan-y-common, given in the mid 19th-century Tithe Apportionment.

The area includes a number of significant religious monuments and landscapes including the medieval church set within an extensive churchyard in the village at Llanigon. A subsidiary chapel is recorded at Cilonw in 1733 but its site is unlocated. Nonconformist places of worship in the area include Pen-yr-heol Chapel, dramatically sited on the edge of the unenclosed moorland, just below the Black Mountains.


Bevan & Sothern 1991;
Cadw 1994b;
Cadw 1995a;
Cadw 1995c;
Jones & Smith 1964;
Lewes 1995-96;
Morgan 1995-96;
Powys Sites and Monuments Record;
RCAHMW 1997;
Soil Survey 1983;
Young 1776

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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