EVENTS AND PROCESSES THAT HAVE HELPED SHAPE THE HISTORIC LANDSCAPE OF UPLAND CEREDIGION
Below are described several of the themes which have been identified in the course of this study as having shaped, influenced or otherwise moulded parts of the historic landscape of upland Ceredigion. The subject list is not exhaustive, but major themes are described.
Bronze Age ritual, funerary and settlement
The Roman impact on the county was primarily military, and included the creation of a north-south aligned route corridor from the gold mines at Dolaucothi, via the fort of Llanio on the Teifi, to Trawscoed and thence north to a crossing of the Dyfi south of Pennal. The study area was thus by-passed. Whilst civilian settlements grew up outside the gates of forts (i.e the vicus at Trawscoed,) and the demands of the military garrisons for supplies and tribute may have quickened economic exchange, they did not survive the withdrawal of garrisons in the third century. Impact on Iron Age patterns of life was therefore minimal, but a viable north-south route corridor was created which survived into the post-Roman period, as the traditional name of Sarn Helen attests (albeit generally to the west of the study area). This picture could change if more evidence is forthcoming for the Roman exploitation of Ceredigion lead mines - the lead in two objects from excavations of the Roman fort at Trawscoed appears to have been of mid Wales origin (samples subjected to gamma-ray spectrometry). For a full discussion of the Iron Age and Romano British periods in Ceredigion see Davies (1994) and Davies and Hogg (1994).
Early Medieval AD 400 - 1100
In terms of the historic landscape characterisation of this area of inland
and upland Ceredigion, three major themes need to be appreciated in order
to have an in-depth understanding of how the present landscape evolved
during this period. These are:
An important component and influence on the medieval landscape of this study area is the Cistercian monastery of Strata Florida, founded as a daughter house of Whitland in 1164, but generously endowed and supported by Lord Rhys, prince of Deheubarth. It is likely that the large territorial endowments made by Lord Rhys to the Abbey, that combine both upland and lowland, were existing pre-Norman estates and land units.
Finally, in terms of territories and boundaries, and peoples’ perceptions of where they belonged, it is worth quoting Professor Ieuan Gwynedd Jones (1998, 480) in his study of the patterns of nonconformist belief in 18th and 19th century Ceredigion, its conservative nature and his discussion of the strengths of Calvinistic Methodism in the inland, upland areas:
There existed therefore, deep-set feelings of belonging to ecclesiastical and civil structures which were of great antiquity, that the world people inhabited was the world that their ancestors had known, and one that was not likely to change
Medieval political - conquest, co-existence and change
It is not proposed to enlarge on this discussion of earlier territorial divisions here, as their impact on the historic landscape is not currently known apart from one possible exception. This exception comprises the large tracts of land granted to Strata Florida Abbey by Rhys ap Gruffudd. The details of this grant, which was to form the foundation for the abbey’s granges, has not been researched, but its boundaries must have borne some relation to pre-existing territorial divisions. Arrangement and organisation of the granges by the abbey, and in the post-Medieval period by estates, has affected the historic landscape in a manner that is still detectable, as can been seen in the descriptions of the historic landscape character areas.
By the end of the 13th century these old territorial divisions had broken down, and Ceredigion was organised on county lines - the foreruner of the modern county. This transition is described by Jones Pierce (1959). It is, however, unclear how the former territorial divisions were translated into the forerunners of the administrative units that now exist, if indeed they were.
Population 1750 - 2000
Medieval and modern settlement
Although there has been a tendency to discuss deserted rural settlements in a Medieval context, most deserted settlements in the Ceredigion landscape are demonstrably post-Medieval in date (i.e. 16th century or later). Some specific sites are identifiable in early documentary sources, which enable us to confirm that they were occupied in the 16th or 17th century. Many more sites appear on estate maps, tithe maps or Ordnance Survey maps from the mid 18th century onwards. Through these sources, we can chart their latter stages of occupation and, sometimes, their period of abandonment - we know little of their origins.
Deserted settlement sites survive in the landscape mostly as much ruined and eroded dry-stone or earthwork structures. They are characteristically rectilinear in shape, many being single compartment structures, but often they are sub-divided into two or three compartments and may have any number or form of extensions added to the original structure. It is usual for the dwelling to be associated with ancillary buildings and garden enclosures or field systems of varying size and complexity. Some deserted settlements now consist of empty building platforms cut into the hill-slope, probably the foundations for timber structures.
A common type of deserted settlement of the Ceredigion uplands are the lluestau, once occupied by shepherds who stayed on the commons throughout the year with their flocks. The lluestau are mostly situated on level, natural terraces, close to the streams of the sheltered valleys that run off the mountains. A typical lluest consists of the dry-stone or earthwork wall-bases of the dwelling, to which is appended a small enclosure, defined by an earthwork bank and often showing signs of cultivation. This small-scale cultivation made the lluestau into oases of green in the otherwise drab upland landscape. Ancillary structures can often be found around the dwelling, probably representing animal or fowl pens, or storage structures.
Farmsteads are in many respects comparable with the lluestau in terms of physical remains, but on a larger scale with their field systems making a more substantial impact on the landscape. Like the lluestau, upland farmsteads can often be found in remote and isolated locations, with enclosed pasture and arable lands being carved out of the extensive mountain wastes. Claerddu Farm, north of Llynnoedd Teifi is an example of such a holding. With a true upland farmstead, the amount of enclosed land might appear relatively small, but the true extent of the farm would be measured in its sheep-walk, which would often be between 500 and 1,000 acres of unenclosed moorland on which the farm enjoyed sole grazing rights. Although originally unenclosed, the 19th and 20th centuries have seen these extensive grazing areas defined and sub-divided by wire fences.
It is evident that many of the platform sites of the district are located on higher, often more exposed, ground. A group of three such platforms on the southern slopes of Disgwylfa Fach to the west of Nant-y-moch reservoir, are found on an exposed south-western facing slope. The significance of this observation is unclear, but it is possible that there are both chronological and functional differences between the settlements of the sheltered valleys and the platforms found on the higher ground. It is tempting to think of the platforms as representing the sites of medieval hafotai or dairying-stations, only occupied during the summer months and therefore not so dependent on shelter from the prevailing winds.
Notes on the place-names Hafod, Lluest and
Magwr, Magwrn (plural Magwyr) is a frequently encountered place-name in documentary and cartographic sources and a term very much alive in the Ceredigion dialect. Its root is the verb magu (to raise, nurture), probably indicative of efforts to improve and nurture a piece of land, but the modern meaning of the word in an upland context applies to ruinous stone buildings or walls, usually an abandoned dwelling. The occurrence of the element magwyr in upland place-names is a fairly reliable indicator of human activity and settlement.
The role of Post-Medieval estates
in shaping the landscape
In conjunction with the opportunities afforded for the large-scale acquisition of land by the Dissolution of the monasteries, the acceptance of the concept of privately held land from the late Medieval period profoundly affected tenurial systems, with concomitant knock-on effects on economic structures and farming practice. It is now impossible to judge what elements of entrepreneurial flair, business and political acumen or sheer good fortune allowed just a few of the many small estates which were carved out of the Medieval tenurial systems to expand and develop into successful units. Once they had achieved a certain size, estates were able to expand by purchase of other holdings, exchanges of land, and, most commonly, judicious marriage. Thus it was that in the study area by the 19th century almost all land lay within the estates of Crosswood, Nanteos, Gogerddan and Hafod. The families of these estates dominated political, cultural and, most importantly for this study, economic life. For a good description of the methods by which the gentry accumulated land see Moore-Colyer (1998, 54-56). Metal mining, with its obvious effect on the historic landscape (see below), was controlled by the estates. The pace and extent of enclosure was often also governed by estates (below). Apart from the vast visionary schemes of Thomas Johnes at Hafod - the creation of a picturesque landscape, upland afforestation, and the creation of new farms - other estate influences on the historic landscape were slight. Agricultural improvement was slow, and no examples of large-scale estate housing are known.
With agricultural depression, and the cessation of metal mining, the 20th century has witnessed the collapse of the estate system. The core areas of Crosswood, Gogerddan and Hafod are all now part of government agricultural or forestry institutions.
Encroachment and enclosure
This drive to enclose wastes common and moor should be set against the general economic and agricultural background of the late 18th century and early 19th century. During the Napoleonic Wars Parliament recognised the need for food security. Moore-Coyler (1998, 20) states that public concern became so great that the conquest of waste became almost synonymous with the conquest of France. Coupled with this desire for increased food production was a steady rise in population in most parishes in Ceredigion throughout the 19th century. These two factors were instrumental in encouraging the enclosure of land, and resulted in the creation of a vastly different landscape at the end of the 19th century from that that had existed at the beginning.
Below are listed some of these processes and actions that influenced the pattern and pace of enclosure in upland Ceredigion.
A second upland area that seems to have been earmarked for Parliamentary Enclosure was Mynydd Ffair Rhos. A map was surveyed in 1815 (NLW Crosswood 347) in preparation for the Act or Award, but nothing further appears to have been carried out. As with the Llanfihangel-y-Creuddyn Award, areas of illegal encroachment were noted; these were concentrated around the village of Ffair Rhos. Although not enclosed by Act of Parliament, lower-lying portions of this area as depicted on tithe maps of the 1840s and later Ordnance Survey maps, show that they were formed into large fields in the 19th century by the tenants and landowners of adjoining farms - higher ground to the east was not, and has not been, enclosed.
Enclosure by estates
This large scale appropriation and enclosure of Crown lands is evidenced right across the study area and is elegantly attested by the clear differences between unenclosed land shown on late 18th century estate maps, and unenclosed land depicted on tithe maps of 1840. Clearly areas most susceptible to enclosure were those on the fringes of moor and waste.
It was unusual for new farms to be carved out of the waste as part of this process of enclosure, but not unknown. For instance in the early 19th century, Thomas Johnes of Hafod, a notorious and rapacious appropriator of Crown land, established an experimental farm known as New Farm, now Gelmast, on Crown land north of the Ystwyth. The farm is now surrounded by forestry. The farm was intended to exploit the vast sheep-walks surrounding it, but it was also designed for dairying, and land was drained and enclosed with this latter aim in mind. Woodland was also planted. After Johnes’ death the Crown surveyor estimated the encroachments and plantations amounted to 467 acres (Suggett 1998-99). A second example is Daren, within the Gogerddan estate. A 1788 estate map (NLW R.M. 108) is annotated by a later hand showing a formerly unenclosed ridge divided into fields with two new farms founded. Lewis (1955, 66-67) describes the landscape development of Daren from 1788 to 1943.
Enclosure by individual farmers
Owing to the availability of estate maps it is often possible to identify where small-scale improvements and enclosure have taken place within the bounds of farms. This was a common practice in the late 18th and 19th century and there were few farms that bordered, or were close to, unenclosed land where it did not occur. Most farms that bordered unenclosed common or moor had sheep-walks attached to them. The bounds of these sheep-walks were usually shown on estate maps with a high degree of accuracy, though they rarely seem to have had a formal built boundary such as a hedge, bank or fence. Farmers would chase away neighbouring sheep that strayed onto their sheep-walks. From this it is clearly only one step away from ring-fencing the sheep-walks to separate them from neighbouring properties and common. A 1764/65 estate map of Bwlchcrwys Farm (NLW Nanteos 312) shows a property at this stage of the enclosure process. A house is shown, the boundary of the farm seems to be delineated by a bank, hedge or other physical boundary, but farmland is marked ‘Clear Open Ground’ and ‘Turbary’. By the tithe survey the ‘Clear Open Ground’ has been subdivided into fields. It would be tedious to list more examples, but this pattern, usually not as dramatic as the case above, can be paralleled on many other farms for which estate maps exist, and reflects the methods by which farmers gradually improved their properties.
Tai-unos - squatter settlements
Against a rising population and an inflexible estate system which was unwilling or unable to create new farms - the new farms created by the Hafod estate and the Gogerddan estate cited above are matched by farms abandoned in the same period - it is hardly surprising that the disenfranchised poor sought to settle on marginal land, either as a temporary measure until a larger farm became available, or on a permanent basis practising a subsistence agriculture supplemented by farm labour and craft employment (Knowles 1998, 81).
Squatting has been described by several writers (Lewis 1955, 65; Knowles
1995, 79-82; Moore-Coyler 1995, 21-23), but it is a description of the
1790s by a London lawyer quoted by Morgan (1997, 210) that best summarises
A squatter settlement at Cnwch Coch aroused the indignation of the Vaughans of Trawscoed; one of the complaints was ‘being miserable looking Huts, to be seen from the Windows in front of the house’. Morgan (1997, 209-213) describes the unsuccessful attempts to evict these squatters. Cnwch Coch consisted of a small nucleation of cottages and houses located in a landscape of enclosed pasture fields and scattered woods on the side of a moderately low hill was in many ways an atypical squatter settlement. The typical squatter settlement comprised cottages and houses dispersed at irregular intervals of 50m to 200m across poor quality, often rush-covered or peaty ground of high altitude at or beyond the margins of cultivation. Rhos y Gell, Brynafan, part of Ystbyty Ystwyth, Ffair Rhos, parts of Ystumtuen and Tai Unnos) are all examples of such settlements. Houses in all except the last example are all still occupied. In the late 20th century these areas have become desirable places to live either as permanent residences or as second homes, offering a degree of remoteness in, to modern sensibilities, attractive settings, without the burden of being attached to large tracts of farmland. Many of these former squatter dwellings have been recently modernised or rebuilt or are currently undergoing such treatment, a trend reflected in the recent population increase seen within parishes of upland Ceredigion.
While these loosely dispersed squatter settlements are readily identifiable in the field and from maps, the recognition of single or one-or-two tai unos is more difficult, if not impossible without considerable cartographic and documentary research, which is beyond the scope of the present study. On occasions it has been possible to tentatively identify a single squatters cottage from maps, but it is likely that many, if not all, of this type of settlement were established and abandoned before they could be surveyed and mapped. In these instances the archaeological record is the only evidence.
Enclosure of sub-divided fields
An estate map of 1781 (NLW Crosswood Deeds 5, Ser IV, Vol 1) titled ‘Map of Sputty Intermixed Lands’ shows a small sub-divided field. This field which lies immediately to the south of the village of Ysbyty Ystwyth at the relatively high altitude of 220-250m must surely have been an element of a once much larger system, a system that had by the late 18th century been consolidated into one or more holdings and enclosed. The landscape area to the east was probably once part of this sub-divided system, as was that to the west of the village of Ysbyty Ystwyth. By the tithe survey of 1848 all traces of the sub-divided system had been removed. The modern landscape is one of small fields of rough grazing, small forestry plantations and improved pasture; and morphology provides no clue as to whether the modern field patterning has evolved from a sub-divided field system or not.
A sub-divided field is recorded on manuscript maps of 1791 and 1819 (NLW Vol 45, 70; Vol 36, 151) on gentle northwest and southwest facing slopes between 200m and 320m to the east of Tregaron. As with the system at Ysbyty Ystwyth, this sub-divided field was once probably part of a much more extensive area of intermixed strips that was, by the advent of large-scale estate mapping, consolidated and enclosed. It may be possible to at least partially reconstruct the extent of this former sub-divided system by careful analysis of estate maps and the tithe map, but this is beyond the remit of the current study. The estate maps of 1791 and 1819, and the tithe map of 1845 record the system in decline. By 1845 only a few strips remained. The present-day landscape of regular fields provides no indication of the former strips.
In addition to the unequivocal map evidence described above, there are certain morphological features of the built landscape which imply the former presence of sub-divided field systems, but which cannot be substantiated without documentary research. Surrounding the village of Llanfihangel-y-Creuddyn is a landscape comprising enclosed pasture, a landscape that has changed little since it was first mapped on a large scale during the tithe survey of 1847. Enclosed long narrow fields may indicate that they evolved from a strip or sub-divided field system. Similar evolved landscapes can be postulated for Capel Bangor and the landscape to the west of Tregaron.
In common with other parts of west Wales very few buildings were erected during the 20th century prior to the 1960s/1970s. There are exceptions such as the small housing estate at Ponterwyd, and small groups of social housing in other communities. Since the 1970s new housing has been constructed at an ever-increasing rate, and now in what were essentially 19th century villages, such as Llanafan, houses built in the last 10-15 years now dominate.
The settlement pattern of the area is overwhelming one of dispersed farms and cottages interspersed with 19th century industrial settlements such as Pontrhydfendigiad, Ponterwyd and Goginan. Tregaron is the only example of an earlier nucleation, but it is not a large settlement and the buildings are mostly 19th century. Of particular note are the settlements of squatters – tai unnos (one-night houses) in Welsh. The clustering of this type of house into communities of closely positioned houses on marginal land is a distinctive component of the upland Ceredigion landscape. Some of these communities are deserted, as at Gwar Castell, partially abandoned as at Rhos-y-Gell, and still functioning as at Cnwch Coch.
Masonry is left bare, whitewashed (more recently painted) or cement rendered (stucco). Whitewash/paint over masonry on houses although relatively common in upland Wales is not usual in west Wales, where bare stone or stucco are the preferred finishes. Stone-built agricultural buildings are invariably left bare, but a careful examination reveals that most of these were once whitewashed. Very few remain in this condition. Use of stucco as opposed to bare stone is not related to the age or status of houses. Thus stucco and bare stone early examples of late 19th century ‘Georgian style’ houses can be found as well as smaller houses. However, cottages, in particular single-storey examples, are invariably cement rendered, probably owing to the poor quality of their masonry.
Examples of the late 19th and early 20th century tradition of building in corrugated iron (tin) has all but disappeared, apart from the railway station at Devil’s Bridge, a few houses and cottages, and some now very decayed industrial buildings.
Commercially quarried north Wales slate is the universal roofing material. Little evidence of other types of roof is present. However, old photographs show that thatch was once common, at least on cottages and smaller houses.
Houses of all types – farmhouses, cottages and industrial buildings – have traits of both the polite Georgian style and the vernacular tradition. Pure Georgian style buildings with a regular floor plan, symmetrical elevations, high rooms, large high windows, and architectural details such overhanging eaves, high chimneys and door cases are rare, but can be found, such as a farmhouse at Cwmsymlog dated 1852. Running parallel to the Georgian style, but with an earlier ancestry, are buildings in the vernacular tradition. Examples of these, that are not influenced by the Georgian style, are rare and typically have an irregular floor plan (reflecting the different status between the hall and the parlour during earlier periods), with a long, low front façade, asymmetrically arranged small windows and one chimney noticeably larger than the other. In both traditions rural houses are typically quite small, two-storey, with a central front door, and one window above the door and two windows either side. Most houses borrow from the Georgian style and vernacular tradition, with mixed traits producing a subtle grading of house types termed Georgian vernacular. Thus it is common to see long low houses with one large and one small chimney (vernacular traits), but symmetrically positioned large windows (Georgian style). By the end of the 19th century traces of the vernacular have all but disappeared apart from in the most basic of homemade cottages. By this date even industrial housing, often the last type of building to shed vernacular traits, has rooms with high-ceilings and symmetrical facades of high windows. Towards the end of the 19th century the influence of the late Victorian gothic style can be detected in houses close to Aberystwyth. There are several large detached ‘villas’ here, which probably were associated with the mining industry. The distinctive tall, narrow style of gothic buildings, with high windows and chimneys also subtly influenced some late 19th century farmhouses in the region, but these are rare.
The buildings of upland Ceredigion reflect the wide social-economic society of the 19th century from the aristocracy and wealthy landowners such as Thomas Johnes’s late 18th early 19th century neo-gothic house at Hafod (now demolished), down to small single-storey home-made squatter cottages. Between these two extremes lie the vast majority of dwellings – gentry farms, estate farms, smallholder- and industrial- worker houses.
In common with dwellings, farm buildings date to the 19th century, with most originating from the later part of the century rather than the earlier. Estate farms and the farms of the gentry have large ranges of stone-built out-buildings, including barns, cow houses, stables and cart sheds arranged semi formally around a yard and sometimes set a little distance from the house. This type of arrangement is typically found in the lower-lying areas of richer farmland such as Abbey Farm at Strata Florida. However, it is noticeable that some of the larger farms on the very fringes of the high uplands have similar arrangements of outbuildings, albeit on a smaller scale. More typically of upland Ceredigion are farms with two or three modest ranges of outbuildings set informally with the house. Smallholdings are also common. These usually have just one range of out-building, typically just a small cow-house and store, often attached and in-line with the house. Most farmland historic landscape areas contain examples of all scales of farm outbuildings. With the amalgamation of farms into larger units and changing farming methods many (perhaps as many as 30%) outbuildings are no longer used. Unlike other areas of west Wales there has been little attempt to find alternative uses for these buildings, such as conversion to accommodation.
Industrial housing is found right across upland Ceredigion, usually in small communities such as Goginan and Pontrhydfendigaid. A short single build terrace is the norm, but semi detached, detached and terraces of different styles can be found. Some are in the vernacular tradition, but most have strong Georgian-style traits. Most of these worker houses are two-storey, but terraces of single storey cottages are present with particularly good examples at Capel Bangor.
Few industrial buildings, particularly from the lead mining industry, survive apart from as ruins. Even so, these ruins can be significant landscape features, such as the stone buildings at Frongoch and Cwmystwyth. An exception is a group of buildings at Pont-rhyd-y-groes, including a mine office and a school of mining, and the buildings of the mining museum at Llywernog.
Some modern agricultural buildings are very large. These, however, tend to be located on farms that have acquired extra land and are not the norm. Generally working farms will have one-or-two medium sized modern agricultural buildings. Many farms are no longer working and therefore do not have modern buildings.
Agricultural change and development
Stapledon’s plan was to transform unproductive upland into high quality pasture. With this in view he obtained a gift of £3000 a year from Sir Julian Cahn. In 1933, the Welsh Plant Breeding Station took over 2200 acres of waste on the Hafod estate near Devil’s Bridge and a further 2700 acres of higher sheep-walk, and set about transforming it. The results were spectacular - a five-fold increase in edible dry matter. The continuing transformation of upland moor and wastes into productive grassland is a direct result of Stapledon’s work. Apart from forestry, there is no one single process that has done more to alter the historic upland landscape than improvements based on Stapledon’s research. The results can be seen right across the uplands.
The antiquity of the mountainous west - east routes is also not in doubt as most follow natural route corridors; first running in deep, steep-sided valleys before climbing the mountain ridge which lies to the east. By the Medieval Period several of these route-ways would have been employed by Strata Florida Abbey for access to the abbey’s vast upland estates, but their most celebrated use was by drovers for moving cattle and other livestock from collecting centres such as at Tregaron and Ffair Rhos to markets in England. Close proximity to a mountain road was an essential element in the settlement and exploitation of unenclosed upland for all periods. A decline in the importance of these roads in the 20th century has accompanied a recession in settlement of the high uplands - there are only a handful of high mountain farms now occupied.
Railways and tramways
Archaeological investigations at Copa Hill, Cwmystwyth have demonstrated the Bronze Age origin of this mine (Timberlake 1995). Roman workings have also been postulated at Cwmystwyth and the mine was worked in Medieval Period. It was not until 1690 when the Mines Royal Society monopoly on mining argentiferous ore was broken that private investment flooded into the industry, creating new opportunities, new mines and new jobs (Lewis 1998, 160). Booms in the industry were just as common as slumps, mining conditions were arduous and transport always a problem in such a remote area, but despite these difficulties mines continued to operate until the 1930s.
Apart from some sites in the extreme north of the county, all north Ceredigion metal mines lie within the study area. The impact of these mines on the historic landscape is considerable: there are very few historic landscape areas that do not contain some physical evidence of mining, and many possess considerable remains. Spoil heaps are the most common, and in many instances the most obvious and dramatic, remains associated with lead mines, but other structures are also often present: engine houses, processing plants, crusher houses, wheel pits, dressing floors, shafts and levels, and inclines and tramways. Because of the industry’s extraordinary reliance on waterpower, leats, dams and reservoirs are ever-present in Ceredigion’s upland landscape. An account of mining remains is provided in each of the relevant historic landscape area descriptions.
The success or not of the metal mining industry had a direct affect upon population levels and a concomitant effect on the settlement pattern, transport infrastructure and limits of cultivation and enclosure in this upland area of Ceredigion. Aitchison and Carter (1998, 8) have noted that in three parishes in north Ceredigion, a rapid rise in population in the second half of the 19th century, followed by an equally rapid fall, can be directly attributed to an increased production of lead ore and subsequent exhaustion of veins and mine closure. A graph of 19th century lead ore production from Ceredigion mirrors that of population. Abandoned cottages, houses and a retreat of cultivation from marginal areas are some of the effects of the changing fortunes of the lead mining industry that have embedded themselves in the historic landscape.
Owing to high levels of toxicity many spoil heaps and associated remains have been, and will be, subjected to environmental improvement works. Substantial engineering can be involved in decontamination, detoxification and reclamation programmes; usually resulting in the removal or landscaping of spoil heaps. The effect is to render mining remains less visible in the landscape, though care is taken to ensure that important archaeological remains are not damaged. Goginan, Cwmsymlog, Cwmerfyn and Cwmbrwyno are mines that have experienced environmental improvement in recent years.
The peats of the Ceredigion uplands have been accumulating since the end of the last glaciation. Analysis of these peat deposits can tell us a great deal about the environmental history of the region over the past 12,000 years. They are immensely important to the archaeologist as they preserve organic matter such as pollen, plant remains and wood, as well as animal and even human remains (a human body was discovered buried in peat, approximately 2 feet below the surface, in Gwnnws in 1811 and buried at Ystrad Meurig parish church).
The rise of peat as a domestic fuel may be closely linked with the decline of the availability of wood during medieval times. By the 17th century, peat was certainly the main fuel source in many upland districts, and 18th century estate maps show that ‘turbaries’ (areas where peat was cut for fuel) were common in Ceredigion. Indeed, the right of turbary was considered as important to the common people as the right of pasture on the extensive common lands of the Cambrian Mountains (Owen 1990).
Turbaries were not enclosed parcels of land, but rather areas of mountainous ground (usually on common land) where either by tradition or by permission of the manorial lord it was allowed to cut peat for fuel. Turbaries are readily identifiable in the upland landscape even today. The most telling sign that peat has been cut is usually a crescentic scar across the landscape, as much as 40-50m across, creating a step approximately 1m high across that portion of ground. Many cuts and depressions can be seen in the area of a turbary, often extending over a large area. The trackways along which the heavy loads of peat were dragged on sleds across the commons and down to the farms and villages were often well built and can still be followed in many upland areas. An obvious upland turbary that is shown on mid 18th century Nanteos estate maps is that of Y Dderw, near Ponterwyd. Several trackways can be followed from farms along the Rheidol Valley up onto the turbary, which apparently served the inhabitants of the valley between Ponterwyd and Devil's Bridge.
Not all turbaries were on the upland commons. Areas of peat on lower ground were also cut for fuel. Cors Caron, which fills a substantial portion of the Teifi valley bottom, is the most impressive example of this. However, most lowland bogs were relatively small and improvements in land management meant that they were increasingly drained and turned into more valuable farmland during the late 18th and 19th centuries.
Many hills therabout (Strata Florida) hath bene well woddid, as evidently by old rotes apperith, but now in them is almost no woode. The causses be these; first the wood cut doun was never copisid, and this hath beene a great cause of destruction of wood thorough Wales. Secondly, after cutting doun of woodys the gottys hath so bytten the young spring that it never grew but lyke shrubbes. Thirddely men for the nonys destroied the great woddis that thei shuld not harborow theves ... a hille side Clothmoyne, wher hath bene great digging for leade, the melting whereof hath destroid the woddes that sumtime grew plentifulli therabout
So wrote John Leland in his celebrated itinerary of the 1530s (Toulmin-Smith 1964, III, 118).
Woodland that is shown on late 18th century estate maps on the steep valley sides of the Rheidol, and on the lower slopes of the Teifi valley close to Strata Florida Abbey can be attributed to estate management. Parts of the Rheidol valley lay within the Crosswood estate, documents for which record woodland management from the early 18th century (Edlin 1959, 19), while land at Strata Florida came into the hands of the Stedmans, and later became part of the Nanteos estate. Much of this woodland is still in existence today. Thomas Johnes of Hafod was the great pioneer of upland afforestation. Linnard (1970) has described the planting techniques, fencing and species of the hundreds of thousands of trees that Johnes planted in the final decades of the 18th century and the first years of the 19th century. Remnants of his planting are still evident at Hafod, but his great areas of upland afforestation have not survived. Much was neglected by later owners of the estate, though a large portion survived on high land to the north of Gelmast farm into the 20th century, but was cut down during World War One and has now been replanted by the Forestry Commission (Edlin 1959, 12).
20th century afforestation
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