Thursday 17 November 2016

Tintern Abbey: A ghost of the shape it once had

'A ghost of the shape it once had', a misquote from Ronald Johnson's long-form poem, The Book of the Green Man; reflections on travels around Britain in 1962, passing by Tintern on the way: ‘We have forgotten, now, the original inspiration of Tintern Abbey.’

‘We began today
to trace the course
of the Wye

into “Wild
Wales,” Chepstow to Plynimmon’ 

‘… up Wyndcliffe, wooded with huge oaks’

‘Then descended

fields bounded with hedge,

each bud & thorn
pendant with

to Tintern –

not one tufted column, no wall
a mass of moving foliage. Only – the Window.

Its seven delicate shafts
the frame for a more ephemeral world
than glass:

the passing clouds,
the passing, voluminous, green clouds –

in hilly

Then, leaving the river, over the hill, to St. Briavels.’

The Book of the Green Man available from Uniform Books.

Wednesday 9 November 2016

In search of monastic granges

The sandstone of Tintern's abbey church: 'purple through mauve and buff to grey’ under a glowering November sky. 

Over the last couple of days I have been out and about in the exceptional Autumnal light, ranging across the Anglo-Welsh borderland of Monmouthshire, the lower Wye Valley and the Forest of Dean. A coming together place: Arthur Machen's 'wonderful and enchanting country' converging with 'the very rim of England, the wooded border country along the valley of the Wye' hailed in Roger Deakin's Wildwood.

Tintern Abbey, the second of my PhD case studies, managed a dozen or so monastic granges in the area, its agricultural hinterland. A grange (from the Latin granum meaning 'grain') was a medieval farm or small estate directly run by a Cistercian abbey with a workforce of lay brothers, or conversi. Such enterprises were the model farms of the age, drivers of innovation in sheep farming, arable production, long-distance trade. With the success of the grange system the 'white monks' of Cistercian houses were inexorably moving away from their high-minded and austere religious beginnings 'far from the concourse of men'.  

Trellech Grange in its rolling landscape setting above the Wye Valley.

Many of Tintern's farms are still imprinted on the landscape, 600 years later: Ashwell Grange, Harthill Grange, Lower Grange, New Grange, Rogerstone Grange, Upper Grange, and Woolaston Grange; some as small hamlets, others individual farms - their lands now shrunken but still echoing monastic estate activity. Here a blend of old and new: the earthworks, ruins and reconstructed buildings of chapels, mills and barns; ancient tracks, paths and boundary banks; coppiced woodlands, quarries and early iron workings; alongside farm equipment and concrete cattle sheds, Farrow and Ball renovations and bungalows, and the trappings of the modern horse and pony economy. 

The object now is to get to know the lay of the land of these granges, to determine which to subject to a more fine-grained analysis of their landscape history over the next few months.  

Looking down on Upper Grange (formerly Tintern's grange of Merthyrgeryn) from its higher fields, the pastoral scene in the foreground framed by a horizon incorporating Magor motorway service station, wind-turbines and the chimneys of Magor brewery.

The rich soils along the River Usk exploited by Pethlenny grange (now Estavarney farm).

The 'monks house' in Brockweir, part of Tintern's grange in the Gloucestershire hamlet across the River Wye from the abbey.

Penterry church, standing within the lands of the grange of Secular Firmary; its name an echo of an infirmary run by the abbey for the local population.

Cobbled track leading from the Wye ferry slipway opposite the abbey to its Gloucestershire granges.

Tintern Abbey enfolded by the wooded slopes of the Wye Valley. 

Tuesday 4 October 2016

Tales of cartographic landscapes

Having spent most of the last month in my study/ spare room garret, I am now emerging for fresh air having completed the drafts of two PhD chapters on the subject of my first case study landscape: the Black Mountains manors of Llanthony Priory, collectively given the archaic medieval name of Hothneyslade or Hondyslade (and multiple variations - probably originating from a corrupted combination of ‘Honddu’ or its pronunciation-based derivative ‘Hotheny’, the name of the river in the Vale of Ewyas, and either lled [Welsh for ‘wide’] or slade [Old English for ‘wide marsh’], perhaps incorporating ‘Ewyas’ or ‘Ewias’, the historic Welsh name of the district).

One output of this work is a series of Geographical Information System (GIS) drawn maps providing a snapshot of the landscape of the area at different points in time. The map above shows the general topographical context of the study area. Below can be seen land-use and landscape maps for c.1300 and c.1700 (speculative, based on variable documentary information, field observation, historical mapping and so on) and the mid-nineteenth century (in greater, individual field, detail, as transposed from contemporary tithe maps).

Without the context of an accompanying textual narrative, maps are arguably just pretty diagrams, but what a picture they provide (and I'm not ready to inflict 25,000 words on the wider world yet). A few themes can be sketched out here though. Although perceived as a wild upland area of the Black Mountains, this was not terrain dominated by dense impenetrable forest in the medieval period, it was long settled and managed; however, outside of relatively small clusters of closes around the farmsteads of the easily won and most fertile ground, this was an open rather than enclosed landscape: great flood meadowlands on the valley floor, common wood pastures with grassy glades and stands of trees climbing the hillsides to the open common summer grazing of the high ridges. 

It was the late fifteenth century through to the seventeenth century that saw the landscape transformed; plotted and pieced through what Christopher Taylor dubbed the ‘large-scale but silent enclosure by agreement’ of piecemeal consolidation, enlargement and expansion of farmsteads. A proto-capitalist agrarian culture inexorably sidelining the old ways of transhumance and finely-grained communal rights and responsibilities. And the agents of this change? Not a powerful lordship but an emboldened and emerging class of cash-rich yeoman tenant farmers, cladding their smoke-filled hall-houses and cruck-framed longhouses in white-washed stone and tile, reflecting their new-found wealth, stability and status (of course, this wouldn't last and their favourable copyhold tenure and peppercorn rents would eventually be better 'managed'; aspirational well-to-do families ossifying into the insular hill farming poor within a few generations). By the nineteenth century further inroads had been made into the common waste as a land-hungry population set up smallholdings above the mountain wall, though this country did not succumb to the regimentation of parliamentary enclosure: the valleys were already fully enclosed, whilst the moorland commons remained (and remain) open. Throughout all these periods, what is now largely a monochrome green fieldscape included a more diverse palette of reds and browns, signifying the mud and toil of arable cultivation in a more mixed farming economy. The clay-brown fields of the nineteenth century maps in particular highlight this forgotten feature of our hill country. 

Anyway enough words, have a look at the maps. 

Maps all drawn in ArcGIS (a new - to me - GIS package that I'm finding refreshingly intuative to use) using Ordnance Survey 1:10560 County Series 1st edition, Monmouthshire, 1887 and 1:25,000 Scale Colour Raster, 2016 base maps; Digimap under licence,

Thursday 23 June 2016

Llanthony Priory - landscape perception survey

As part of my PhD research I am carrying out a survey into present day perceptions of the impact of Llanthony Priory on the surrounding historic landscape of the Vale of Ewyas/ Llanthony Valley in the Black Mountains. 

If you know the area and would be willing to partipate in the survey then you can complete it on line below.

Create your own user feedback survey

Further information on my PhD research can be found here.

Saturday 21 May 2016

Field research

One of the attractions of researching landscape history is the opportunity to combine a range of sources of evidence: direct investigation in the field, archival documents, maps, aerial photography and satellite imagery, and the testimony of people both in the past and the present through their remembered experiences, art, stories and perceptions. When studying a largely agricultural landscape a rich coming together of all of these elements can be found in the seemingly prosaic study of the names given to individual fields and enclosures by those who have worked the land. 

This is of particular current interest to me as I am working through the tithe maps for one of my PhD case study areas, the cluster of medieval manors on the edge of the Black Mountains over which Llanthony Priory had lordship from the early twelfth century until its dissolution in the mid-sixteenth century. The production of tithe maps for most parishes and townships across England and Wales was a result of the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836 which sought to rationale the archaic system by which communities had to provide their local church with a tenth, a tithe, of their agricultural produce and related resources through the replacement of this ancient practise with its roots in the Anglo-Saxon period with a cash payment. In order to implement this change the Herculean task of establishing who owned and farmed what land had to be carried out so that the new payments in cash could be calculated, and thus an accurately surveyed map and accompanying apportionment schedule recording land-use, who owned what and who occupied which farmsteads down to every last field, acre, perch and rood was produced for each parish over the following twenty years or so. These magical remnants of typically Victorian thoroughness and efficiency provide a latter day 'Domesday Book' snapshot of the agricultural landscape in the mid nineteenth century. A rich historical record that acts as an invaluable bridge between what we know about the 'in living memory' changes in the landscape over the last hundred years or so and the more dimly lit centuries that preceded the upheavals of the later nineteenth century.

Section of the tithe map for the parish of Upper Cwmyoy (showing Llanthony Priory), produced in 1852 (courtesy of
As they proceeded around each parish the tithe commissioners undertaking this exercise not only allocated a number to each field they mapped but also enquired of and recorded any names by which they were locally known, in order to reduce any ambiguity or confusion when the maps and schedules were examined by the farmers and land-owners of the parish. To the twenty-first century observer it is these field names that particularly help to bring the landscape of the time alive; though with some caveats: firstly not all fields had a name recorded (either because there was no such name, it may have been forgotten by or not be known to the current occupier or perhaps simply not followed up as the deadline for completing the survey loomed); and so, for some parishes, this data-set can be frustratingly incomplete. A more mundane characteristic of many field names is that they are often, well, rather mundane; for the very good reason that farmers did not allocate names to fields for the benefit of excitable landscape researchers and local historians, they did so to aid everyday working, communication and planning. Hence the proliferation of 'Big meadow', 'Field above the barn', 'Four acre field', 'Little croft' and many other similarly descriptive but rather uninspiring monikers. However, amongst this functionality can be found hidden gems that enrich our understanding of land management, landscape change, the vernacular lexicon of place words and terms and sometimes provide clues to the lost history of a particular patch of land.

Section of the tithe apportionment for the parish of Upper Cwmyoy (courtesy of
In my own research area there are many fields with a number but no name and no shortage of 'Upper meadow's, 'Lower orchard's, 'Big wood pasture's and the like. However, I have also found many leads to help provide a clearer picture of how the landscape has developed, with the added twist/ frustration that, hard on the border between England and Wales, some names are 'standard' English, some use Herefordshire dialect words, some are 'Gwentian' Welsh (a largely lost variation of Welsh from the south-east border area of the country), some a hybrid whilst others have morphed into strange corruptions of their original meaning, often through mishearing or incorrect transcribing on the part of those recording the information struggling to understand the mumbled or heavily accented oral testimony of the local farm workers.

'The Mote' field, Trefeddw farm.
This exercise has enabled my inner landscape detective to follow multiple pathways. The strange sounding name 'Poorcas' (or variations of) proliferates, mostly attached to large enclosures on the higher valley sides, and led to much initial head-scratching. A possible derivation is from the Welsh words por meaning pasture and cae for field: a finely-grained venacular descriptor for this topographically specific enclosure type. Other names are helping in the task of tracing the landscape of earlier times. For instance, within a field called 'The Mote' (pictured above) lies what remains of a motte and bailey fortification rising out of the fertile red earth, a remnant of the westward advance of Anglo-Norman control in this borderland region during the eleventh century which may be the foci of the medieval manor of Redcastle, now lost as a place name in local memory. A mile or so up the Vale of Ewyas lies the hamlet of Cwmyoy and within the cool stone of its quiet church can be found an impressively intact medieval cross with a carving of Christ still standing out in clear relief (pictured above). Local lore has it that this artifact was dug up from a nearby field over a hundred years ago. A few minutes walk from the church lies 'Cross field' (pictured below), under the turf of which the cross was perhaps hurriedly buried before the iconoclasts of the Reformation could bring their hammers to it; the likely original location further uphill at the cross roads of 'Groes Llwyd' (holy cross).    

'Cross field' occupying the rising ground below the hillside with the church of Cwmyoy behind the trees to the left.
On a more utilitarian note, a number of mills are recorded for Llanthony Priory's medieval manors in the area. The built remains of a number of later mills may occupy the location of an earlier manifestation, however the tithe maps provide further possible sites at 'Cae hen felin' (old mill field), 'Cae pandy' (fulling mill field) and 'Old mill meadow' that, when visited, provide field evidence of probable use as a mill; activity in the landscape long forgotten by the time the first edition Ordnance Survey map for the area, which makes no reference to any of these sites, was produced. Field names can also be used to help to piece together the routes along which people and livestock moved through the landscape before the modern metalled road network developed. Names such as 'Cae Rewen' (from rhiw meaning steep road), 'Field above the road', and 'Whiels' (from heol meaning road) hint at the previous importance of now backwater field paths and tracks. One such holloway track, now disused, leads up to the common grazing land of the higher slopes of Hatterall Hill from a large field called 'Bugley meadow' (pictured below), a pleasant but incongruous sounding name until it is realised that this is probably a corruption of the old Welsh word for shepherd, bugail. This meadow, which visitors to Llanthony's ruins drive right past and also holds the annual Llanthony and District Show, contains an earthwork platform that may have been the site of the Priory's sheepcote for holding its flocks when they were brought down from their upland summer grazing. As for 'Caden will', 'Pic', 'Ropine' and 'Sole figin', their meaning remains mysterious; conversations with local farmers may illuminate some, but others are no doubt lost to history. 

'Bugley meadow', Court Farm, Llanthony
A listing of some of the more interesting or distinctive field name elements in the Llanthony area can be found in the table at the end of this piece (with some meanings still to be uncovered: if anyone can shed any light on these then please let me know).

Original tithe maps and apportionments are generally held at county and national archives and many are now digitised, with all for Wales available on the Archives Wales website.  

A particularly useful resource in the study of field names generally is provided by, the now out of print, English Field Names: A Dictionary by John Field (who else!). The book not only collects the many regional words for different types of enclosure but also demonstrates the more esoteric and playful side of naming different plots of agricultural land: 'Babylon' - remote land beyond the river; 'Chemistry' - land on which artificial fertilisers were used; 'Cocked hat' - land shaped like a tricorne hat; 'Lazy lands' - a derogatory term for unproductive land; 'Thousand Acre' - ironic term for small field; 'Unthank Bottom' - land occupied by squatters; and hundreds more such inventive names conjured by our clever but largely illiterate forebears, who knew the land around them literally by name. 

Field name element
Bank/ banky/ banc Slope English/ Welsh
Berrion/ errion/ errewan Possibly from y berllan = orchard Welsh
Beach Beach trees English
Beak Land reclaimed for ploughing English
Brake Waste covered in brushwood English
Brink Possibly from bryn = hill Welsh
Bagley/ bugley From Bugail = shepherd Welsh
Bushy Land covered in bushes English
Caden will ? ?
Cae Field Welsh
Caer Wall (or cae'r = field of the) Welsh
Canol/ cenol Middle Welsh
Carn Crooked or stony hillock Welsh
Cellan Possibly from celyn = holly Welsh
Chwarel  Quarry Welsh
Coed Wood Welsh
Common Common land English
Cover Overgrown field for game English
Croft/ crofty Small enclosure near house English
Crooked Crooked English
Cross Cross English
Crow Crow English
Cwm Valley Welsh
Cwrgy  Cwr = edge or cwar = quarry Welsh
Darren Rocky cliff Welsh
David Possibly from dafad = sheep Welsh?
Delyn From telyn = harp Welsh
Dingle Deep wooded hollow English
Dol/ dole/ dolu/ dolau Meadow Welsh
Draining Well drained English
Duelt  Possibly from ddu = black, dark + allt = woody cliff Welsh
Errion/ errewen/ errule/ erewin Possibly from y rhiw = steep path, hillside or slope Welsh
Farthing Fourth part English
Fawr/ vawr Great Welsh
ffynon/ ffenno Spring or well Welsh
Fine Possibly from ffynon = spring or well Welsh?
Fierben? ? ?
Flat Flat English
Garrivel  Possibly from chwarel = quarry Welsh
Garw/ Gwrw Rough Welsh
Glas Notably green or marshy Welsh
Glwydd  Bank or ditch Welsh
Gorgy ? ?
Grazing Grazing English
Green Notably green or marshy English
Grone Possibly from gronyn = grain Welsh
Gros Possibly from groes = cross Welsh
Gruffdupin ? ?
Gunters Local personal name Welsh
Gwillen/ guillen Possibly from Gwillim personal name Welsh
Gwyn White Welsh
Holly/ Holleys Holly tree English
Horse Land on which horses are kept English
Horsley Possibly land on which horses are kept English?
Isha/ Isser Lower Welsh
Kiln Lime kiln English
Leak ? English
Lluaddu Possibly from lludw = ash Welsh
Llwyd Brown or grey Welsh
Loney Possibly from llwyn = grove Welsh?
Loom ? ?
Maes Meadow, field or ploughed land Welsh
Markel Possibly from mark = boundary ?
Mawr Big, great or large Welsh
Mellin From melin = mill Welsh
Nant Stream Welsh
Narrow Narrow strip of land English
New ground  Land newly cultivated or enclosed English
Newydd  New Welsh
Oak Oak tree English
Old wood Previously wooded land English
Orchard Orchard English
Orles Land on which alders grow Welsh
Ox Oxen English
Pandy Fulling mill Welsh
Park Parkland English
Pasture Pasture English
Patch Small piece of land English
Peck ? ?
Pen End or top (W), or small enclosure (Eng) ?
Penhead end or top head Hybrid
Perkins ? ?
Perrott/ Perrow Local personal name Welsh
Perthy Hedge or bush Welsh
Pic ? ?
Piece Piece of land English
Pikey Pointed piece of land English
Pin Fir or pine, or pin, or pen Welsh
Pistil/ pisty/ pestae From pistyll = spout or cataract Welsh
Pleck/ plock Small piece of land English
Plot Small piece of ground or allotment English
Pool/ poole Pool or pond English
Poorcas/ porkin/ pulcas/ puscas/ porking/ poorcat Possibly from Por = pasture or grass + cae = field, or poor field? Most tend to be large enclosures of pasture on higher slope Welsh
Porth Gate Welsh
Put ? ?
Pwillen Possibly from pwll = pit, pool or pond Welsh
Queer Unusual? English
Restree Possibly from rhes = line or row Welsh
Rick/ rickhole/ ricket Hay rick English
Rider Possibly from rhyd = ford Welsh
Rocks hill Rocky land English
Ropin/ ropine ? ?
Rotten Poor quality English
Salpot Possibly from sallow = willow + pot = deep hole, land covered in holes English
Serth Steep Welsh
Sheckwell ? English
Sheep walk Upland sheep pasture English
Shop Shed English
Skybor/ scybor From ysgabor = barn Welsh
Slang Narrow strip of land English
Slip/ slipper Small strip of land English
Slottick Possibly from silotog = productive, abounding in seedlings ?
Sole figin ? ?
Soundr ? ?
Square Square English
Tilley Possibly from tillage = land enclosed for arable use; Or corruption of name of nearby farmstead of Tylau ?
Tir/ tyr Land Welsh
Troustree ? + possibly tri = three ?
Tump/ tumpy Hillock English
Ty House Welsh
Tyle Slope, hill Welsh
Tyning Land enclosed with a fence English
Ucha/ ushaf Upper Welsh
War Possibly from gwar = above Welsh
Warheal Possibly from gwar = above + heol = road Welsh
Warren Rabbit warren English
Well Land by or with a well or spring English
Wern Alder trees or watery Welsh
Whiels Possibly from heol = road Welsh?
Whirrell  From chwarel = quarry Welsh
Weir Land by a weir English
Will Possibly from heol = road Welsh?
Worlod/ wolod/ walod/ gwrlod Meadow Welsh
Yew Tree Yew tree English
Ynis/ ynys Water meadow, rising ground or island Welsh