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Machynys House 2016 Summary

Machynys House lies on what is locally called ‘Machynys Mound'; an area of raised ground that historically once formed an island of higher ground surrounded by coastal wetlands on the northern edge of the Loughor Estuary. The house (Photo 1) is believed to date from the late 16th or early 17th century, but it may also have much earlier medieval origins. By the 19th century it was operating as a farmhouse with associated outbuildings, farm buildings and gardens. The buildings were demolished in the early 1970s.


Photo 1: The west face of Machynys House showing the west garden gateway c.1970, just before the building was demolished ( CRO ref: DX/35/2).

 

The site itself is now located on the south side of the B4304 Coastal Link Road, adjacent to the roundabout serving the Delta Lakes and Pentre Nicklaus Village (Figure 1). The B4304 bounds the northern edge of the site and Pentre Nicklaus Village is located to the south. Pentre Nicklaus is a relatively new development, as is the Machynys golf course that now occupies much of the former reclaimed marshland to the southeast.


Figure 1: Location map (site of Machynys House shown as red dot) based on the Ordnance Survey.

The marshland that surrounded Machynys Island was reclaimed by the construction in the 19th century of embankments built around the peninsula to protect it from flooding by the sea. With the explosion in industrial production in Llanelli during the 19th century, Machynys House became surrounded by houses, factories, brickworks, and chemical plants built on the re-claimed land (Figure 2). Nothing now survives of these buildings, as they were all demolished in the 1960s and 70s.


Figure 2: An extract of the Ordnance Survey 2nd edition 25” map published in 1907. Machynys House lies within the red box.

 

The area today is a brown field site with areas of dense scrub and grassland. The only surviving remains are the west and south boundary walls of Machynys House (Photos 2 and 3).


Photo 2: Looking east at the remains of the western garden wall and gateway of Machynys House.


Photo 3: Looking southeast across the site of Machynys House showing in the houses of Pentre Nicklaus Village in the background.

The land is owned by Carmarthenshire County Council who has long term plans to regenerate the area. To investigate the possible early origins of the house Cadw funded Dyfed Archaeological Trust to undertake an archaeological evaluation in the footprint of the building with the help of members of the local community. It was intended that this work would enhance the understanding of the history of Machynys and in the process provide opportunities for the local community to become engaged in their heritage.

Clearing the site

At the beginning of September clearance of the dense brambles that covered the site was undertaken with help from Carmarthenshire County Council and volunteers from Mencap (Photos 4 and 5).


Photo 4: Clearing the brambles in front of the west garden wall with the houses of Pentre Nicklaus Village in the background.


Photo 5: Clearing the brambles in front of the west garden wall with help from the Mencap team.

Following the vegetation clearance a mechanical excavator removed a shallow layer of soil and demolition. Beneath this rubble the footprint of the west end of the house could be clearly seen (Photo 6), as well as the outline of cellar areas. However, during the machining it became clear that widespread across the site of the demolished building were many pieces of asbestos.


Photo 6: The front west wall of Machynys House made visible during machining.

This material was inspected by a licensed laboratory and found to be Amosite Asbestos that is regarded as an environmentally hazardous substance. Unfortunately as the asbestos was spread across the whole site it was decided that no further work could be carried out in the area of the demolished house.

This unforeseen change in circumstances necessitated a new plan and after discussion with Cadw it was decided to undertake investigative work in the undeveloped area to the west of the house; looking for evidence of earlier, perhaps prehistoric, settlement at Machynys. Prior to the large scale reclamation of coastal marsh in the 19th and 20th centuries the raised area of Machynys would have formed an island surrounded by wetlands, an island highly likely to have been utilised during prehistoric times as a place of settlement.

 

Archaeological fieldwork – October 2016

Trenches 1-4 and Test Pits 1-10

A number of trenches (Figure 3) were excavated by mechanical excavator.


Figure 3: Plan of the trenches and test pits excavated in 2016 overlying an extract of the 1st edition Ordnance Survey 25” map published in 1880.

 


Photo 7: Looking east at Trench 1 and 2.


Photo 8: Looking north along Trench 3.

Few archaeological features could be identified within the trenches apart from a number of cultivation marks and a former trackway running diagonally across Trench 4 (Photo 9).


Photo 9: Evidence of a former trackway running across Trench 4. 1m scale

 

Ten 1m square test pits were excavated by hand. All the soil was sieved to try and retrieve small artefacts (Photos 10-12).


Photo 10: Ruth and Rob sieving the soil from Test Pit 1.


Photo 11: Menna, Amanda and Sue sieving the soil from Test Pit 4.


Photo 12: Sieving the soil from Test Pits 5, 6 and 7.

Evidence from the test pits to the west of Trench 4 revealed that the western end of the area had been heavily disturbed in the recent past. It appeared that this area had been subject to infilling with industrial waste (slag, stone and brick) probably from one of the many nearby ironworks filling a depression in the ground or perhaps even a former quarry?

The thin, shallow linear cultivation marks visible in Test Pits 2 and 3 were orientated N-S and each contained a sherd of abraded green glazed pottery.

A disappointedly small number of flint flakes were retrieved from the test pits. All the gathered evidence pointed to just how deeply the soils had been cultivated and tilled in the past. The soil contained a large amount of ash and lime dug into it and contained quantities of coal, slag, glass (bottle and window), lime plaster, ceramic building material, animal bone, 19th and 20th century pottery and cockle and mussel shells. None of these artefacts were found in great quantities but were found as small, abraded fragments throughout the soils.

An extensive spread of tumbled rounded stone was revealed in the southern half of Trench 1 that may have been the result of levelling the ground surface in this area.


Photo 13: Hubert and Dave setting up the total station theodolite.


Photo 14: Jenny and Laurie at the start of excavations in Trench A.

 

Trenches A, B and C - the west face of the garden wall

Three small trenches (A, B and C) were excavated against the west face of the garden wall (Figure 3).


Figure 3: Plan of the trenches and test pits excavated in 2016 overlying an extract of the 1st edition Ordnance Survey 25” map published in 1880.

Trench A was excavated in front of the gateway and revealed that the gateway had been altered many times (Figure 4, Photos 15 and 16).


Figure 4: Elevation drawing of the west gateway to Machynys House.


Photo 15: Trench A – showing the pillars of the west gateway. 1m scale

In the past the west gateway had been much wider at just over 2.0m wide. Standing either side of this gateway had been pillars constructed from handmade bricks, still visible today (Photo 15). There were indications these pillars may have been a later addition to the stone wall. Probably in the late 19th/early 20 th century two new pillars of machine manufactured bricks were constructed, reducing the size of the entranceway to 1.12m. A brick edged pathway led to the front door of the house. No similar defined path west of the gateway was revealed in Trench A but it was evident that the ground in this area had been eroded indicating its use as an access way.


Photo 16: Caralinda excavating the lower levels of Trench A.

Trenches A, B and C revealed the substantial depth of the foundations for the garden wall; in Trench B they extended c. 0.60m below the current ground surface (Photo 19) and in Trench C c. 0.85m below (Photo 22). There was some evidence for a narrow construction cut running parallel with the wall that was difficult to see in plan but visible in section. No datable artefacts were recovered from the cut to help date when the wall was constructed.


Photo 17: The layers of ash, clinker and chalk built up against the west wall in the gateway area. 0.5m scale


Photo 18: Lynn excavating Trench B.


Photo 19: Looking northeast at Trench B showing the substantial foundations of the garden wall. 1m scale.

From these three trenches it can be summarised that the construction cut for the wall had been excavated through a loose mid brown sandy silt. Overlying the backfilled construction cut were a number of deposits butting up against the wall indicative of a sequence of different dumps of discarded material and rubbish deposited over some period of time. The deposits included much ash and clinker, smashed window glass and gravel; containing, in contrast to the test pits, quantities of 18th, 19th and 20th century pottery, window and bottle glass, slate, iron objects including quantity of nails, animal bone, many showing butchery marks, clay pipe fragments and mussel and cockle shells. Within Trench A and B these deposits overlay an obvious deposit of chalk and flint nodules (Photo 17). Within Trench C they overlay a thick layer of rounded stones within a silt matrix, similar to that recorded in the southern half of Trench 1.


Photo 20: Rob drawing the sections within Trench B.


Photo 21: Laurie and Jenny excavating the lower levels of Trench C.


Photo 22: Looking east at the foundations of the garden wall. 1m scale

Conclusions

Unfortunately the area west of the house had been far more disturbed in the past than we had hoped. Test pits 5-7, 9 and 10 revealed that the western end of this area had probably been used as a dump for industrial waste in the recent past. The remaining test pits and Trenches 1-4 provided evidence that the ground in front of the west wall of Machynys House had been well tilled over the years. There was little evidence for any earlier prehistoric activity. The excavation did recover evidence of the efforts made in constructing the substantial boundary wall and the phases of gateway construction probably undertaken in the 19th and early 20th century and from the material thrown away we had an insight into the lives of the people who lived here.

Whether Machynys House had origins in the medieval period remains a mystery but evidence may still lie in the ground and, asbestos aside, perhaps one day it will be possible to investigate the area again.

Many thanks to all our volunteers for their commitment and hard work, Menna, Hubert and I had a great time working with you all. Thanks also go to Cadw for funding the project and to Llanelli Waterside Joint Venture for their support. This Joint Venture (JV) is a flagship partnership between the Welsh Government and Carmarthenshire County Council originally formed back in the 1990's by Llanelli Borough Council and the Welsh Development Agency.


Photo 23:
Laurie surveying on the last day, with Trostre in the background.


Photo 24: Our picnic site by the side of the road.

 

 

 

 

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