Saturday 24 November 2012

A triptych of ruins, carved into the landscape

The Castle: medieval Redcastle?

"Red Castle, in Welsh Castell-coch, was a small manor at the lower end of the Hattrel Hill above Tre-wyn. I have failed to find any court rolls or details of this manor. A cottage on the mountain above Tre-wyn is called The Castle." (Bradney, A History of Monmouthshire, 1907).

Knocking around tumbledown ruins on steep and exposed hillsides in all weathers may not be everyone's idea of a good time but it works for me.

"Splendid this rampart is, though fate destroyed it
...tumbled are the towers,
Ruined the roofs, and broken the barred gate,
Frost in the plaster, all the ceilings gape,
Torn and collapsed and eaten by age..."
The Ruin (Anonymous)

In researching the landscape around Llanthony Priory over recent years I have been particularly drawn to three ruined upland farmsteads and enclosures that may, or may not, have had a common relationship with the Priory during its 400 year period of activity up to Dissolution in 1538:
  • The Castle (SO317236) - potentially the foci of the Priory's manor of Redcastle;
  • The Old Abbey (SO268337) - a distinctive system of fields near the head of the neighbouring Olchon valley;
  • The Castle (SO247327) - a postulated contemporaneous holding up valley from the Priory. 

The hypothesis that I am exploring is whether the sites were all granges, forming a key element of the agricultural infrastructure of the Priory. Granges were newly established outlying farming complexes set up by monastic houses outside of the traditional manorial system to exploit waste and other lands newly brought into economic use and worked by conversi (lay brothers). They tended to have a lasting impact on the landscape because they were “…often higher and more remote than ordinary settlements of the same period and so maintained a frontier of relatively intensive land use” (Simmons, 2001).

The Priory managed approximately 20,000 acres of land locally in the Monmouthshire/Herefordshire borderlands, including large tracts of upland moorland 'waste', known as the Honddu Slade estate. The primary documentary sources for the estates of Llanthony do not specifically identify any granges here, although they are in evidence in the Priory’s extensive Irish estates. The study of monastic granges tends to focus on the Cistercians who developed the model, which was then taken up by other orders although rarely recorded for Augustinian houses such as Llanthony. Where granges have been associated with Augustinian monasteries they have tended to be relatively close to the house, reflecting the order’s limited use of lay brethren and the need for the canons to run the farm themselves.

My aim has been to explore the physical landscape evidence, so far through some preliminary fieldwork; compare the 'patterns of the past' found here with known grange sites connected to other monastic houses, and, if my hunches seem to have any credence, revisit the documentary records.

Thursday 8 November 2012

Avebury Stone Circle: 'an uncanny landscape'

I'm currently enjoying the BFI box set of BBC Ghost Stories for Christmas. Mostly adaptations of classic M.R. James stories, they provide perfect fireside viewing on a winter's night. However, the 1977 offering, Stigma, has a different tone to most of the other instalments in the series.The booklet that accompanies the box set includes an essay by Helen Wheatley that places Stigma in a contemporary 'British folk horror' oeuvre:"As the British film historian Peter Hutchings has noted in his analysis of uncanny landscapes in British film and television, there was a cycle of television dramas around the 1970's, including The Owl Service (Granada, 1969), The Stone Tapes (BBC2, 1972), Children of the Stones (HTV, 1977) and Quatermass (Thames, 1979), which featured megaliths at their centre and which 'represent ancient landscapes where humans are compelled the repeat actions from a distant history, either real or mythological, in a manner that effaces not just human agency but also modernity itself as a social force'." The setting for both Stigma and Children of the Stones is Avebury Stone Circle in Wiltshire and the surrounding landscape, liberally peppered with Neolithic monuments including the enigmatic Silbury Hill and West Kennet Long Barrow. An 'uncanny landscape' is an apt description for this area and its easy to see why it was chosen as the location for these tales of the supernatural. So, if you haven't seen these programmes, fascinating snapshots of a particular landscape, time and genre, take a look at the YouTube video and still below.Stigma:

The Children of the Stones:


Select bibliography

Barron, R.S., 1976 The Geology of Wiltshire: a field guide, St Albans: Moonraker Press

Bord, Janet and Colin, 1974 Mysterious Britain, St Albans: Paladin

Cope, Julian, 1998 The Modern Antiquarian London: Thorsons

Cunliffe, Barry, 1993 A Regional History of England: Wessex to A.D. 1000 London: Longman

Darvill, Timothy, Stamper, Paul and Timby, Jane, 2002 England: An archaeological guide Oxford: Oxford University Press

Fowler, Peter and Blackwell, Ian, 2000 An English Countryside Explored: the land of Lettice Sweetapple Stroud: Tempus 

Hippisley Cox, R, 1973 The Green Roads of England London: Garnstone Press

Hutchings, Peter, 2004 'Uncanny Landscapes in British Film and Television' in Visual Culture in Britain, 5:2, Winter 2004, pp27-40

Rainbird, Paul (Ed.), 2008 Monuments in the Landscape Stroud: Tempus

Wheatley, Helen, 2012 'Stigma' in Ghost Stories: Classic adaptations from the BBC, BFI box set booklet