Understanding environmental impact is crucial to sustainability and community quality of life.

South Sebastopol Archaeology and Historic Landscape Re-evaluation

5. The older past

5.1 Once the identifiably later elements are removed, an older past is revealed. The skeleton framework of that is provided by surviving hedgerows, tracks and paths, as well as earthwork banks and natural features, especially the deep gullies. This has been mapped with all the clearly later features removed (Figure 3). This map also shows the areas of deep ploughing where the earlier landscape has been damaged (red) and areas destroyed by the post-war residential and industrial expansion (in red with a red stripe).

‘ … an older past is revealed … by surviving hedgerows, tracks and paths, as well as earthwork banks and natural features … ’

5.2 Nearly all of the hedgerows and banks recorded are ‘lynchets’, that is banks which separate higher land on one side from lower land on the other. Many of these are contour lynchets which lie along the slope of the ground, but others run up and down the slope. These lynchets seem to be a clear indicator of antiquity, since they represent both deliberate construction in a style not commonly used in farming practices from the eighteenth century onwards and gradual accumulation, over time, of soil creeping down the slope (colluviation). The antiquity seems also to be underlined by the very complex ecological content of the existing hedgerows and by their often ‘Wiggly’ morphology, both of which phenomena are so unlike the uniformly specied, arrow-straight and unlyncheted hedgerows of the more recent past.

5.3 This skeletal form is ‘fleshed out’ by clear signs of early land use and habitation within them and these enable a framework of interpretation which leads us towards a landscape we can associate with a traditional medieval and early modern society as described earlier.

5.4 Broadly speaking, there seems to be extensive ridge and furrow landscapes (dark green) on the eastern edge of the development area in the Tir Brychiad sector. Although damaged by later activity, the remains are sharp and clear and belong to an ‘open field’ kind of arrangement, originally laid out in furlongs and with few dividing hedges between them. These seem to belong to a more manorialised and perhaps ‘village’ type of landscape connected to more English or Anglo-Norman types of social and economic organisation. This may be represented by the historic community and settlement of Pontrhydyrun, although, with so little surviving, this can only be a matter of speculation.

5.5 Also with traces of ridge and furrow are early enclosed fields (light green), smaller than the modern forms and surrounded almost exclusively by lynchets. These are clear and can be reconstructed confidently and almost completely to the west of the Tir Brychiad farm complex. There is also a surviving area to the east and south of the Wren's Nest farm. These seem to be fully articulated with the ‘open field’ forms to the east and appear to be broadly contemporary. These would seem to be a type of historic landscape little known and understood in this region: that is, the landscape of medieval (and maybe even earlier) enclosure and dispersed farmstead which probably survived into the early centuries of the modern era. This reflects more the landholding of the Welshry, although we must be cautious in what is a newly recognised type of landscape.

5.6 Between these two types of arable area (in green on Figure 3), lie enclosed wetland areas of rough grass, sedges, springs and scrub (in yellow). These appear never to have been cultivated or properly drained, but were managed also within old lyncheted and hedged enclosures. Near Tir Brychiad it was possible to identify at least one pond within this type of land-use. The management must have been for rough grazing and coarse meadowland.

‘These western enclosures were also almost certainly arable grounds and in the Maes Gwyn area ridge and furrow also still survives.’

5.7 Two long lengths of boundary, marked in purple on Figure 3, seem to represent two ancient boundaries or perhaps one continuous boundary between enclosed fields which lay to both east and west. In the Tir Brychiad sector it is just possible, despite extensive heavy ploughing to suggest the pattern of these enclosures in the western part, but elsewhere it is difficult to identify except on the land south of Maes Gwyn, which lies just outside the immediate development area. These western enclosures were also almost certainly arable grounds and in the Maes Gwyn area ridge and furrow also still survives.

5.8 Further west up the slope only the Tir Brychiad sector provides useful evidence. Here the situation is surprisingly complex. Again there is an area of enclosed wetland, rough pasture (yellow) with some clear signs of drainage for water coming from a variety of springs and streams. These issued from the base of the steep, mountain slope to the west. To the north of this area the land was improved for arable (green), while to the south there was an area of ancient managed woodland (brown) with two artificial stream courses running through it. However, complexity is added by the existence of long linear and often very high contour lynchets (blue) which thread their way along the steep slope at dilferent levels. There are four of these closely spaced on the lower parts of this steep slope and then one much higher up and closer to the top of the mynydd. These seem to be the remains of successive boundaries (called ‘head dykes’ in some parts of Britain) defining the enclosed lands to the east and the open pastures to the west. The four lower ones incorporate small irregular enclosures (not shown on the map), while the higher one delineates an area of larger and more regular enclosures. The distinction between them seems to stem from a difference in date and context. The lower ones are probably medieval ‘intakes’ of the mountain, while the higher one seems to belong to a later, modern colonisation and enclosure of the common pastures.

5.9 One other archaeological observation is important here. There are a number of still surviving earthwork platforms as well as building complexes which appear on the nineteenth-century maps, but which are now gone and which cluster around the area of the lower head dyke. There are at least seven of these, shown in pink on the map. The appearance of the earthworks suggests that they are the remains of medieval cottages and farms which perhaps formed the homesteads of the early intakes. This is a phenomenon known in other parts of Wales (e. g. Newport, Pembs). This interpretation may also be supported by the Welsh names for the ones shown on the early maps: Ysgubor Goed (the Barn in the Wood) and Tŷ'n yr Allt (‘House on the Wooded Slope’). Both of these hint that the enclosures of this slope area may initially have been carved out of woodland, existing between the arable enclosures and the open mountain pastures.

‘The appearance of the earthworks suggests that they are the remains of medieval cottages and farms which perhaps formed the homesteads of the early intakes.’

5.10 Other building locations of this medieval phase lower down the slope, amongst the arable fields, are harder to identify. However, the surviving farm complexes at Tir Brychiad (‘Speckled Land’) and Maes Gwyn (‘White Field’) have, at their hearts, long-houses of sub-medieval and early modern types, which, it is worth noting here, have recently been listed (Grade II). Although it was impossible to enter either of them in this brief study, the RCAHMW reports suggest they are approximately sixteenth century in date, and are almost certainly on medieval locations. This interpretation is supported by their Welsh names. Just outside the development area similar farms could be found at William Ambrose (the House of William Ambrose) and Kemeys Fawr (‘Great House of the Kemeys family’). It is suspected that Bryn (‘Hill’) Farm, Tŷ Newydd (the New House) and the predecessor of Cwmbrân House also once belonged in the same category, although clearly now swept away. All of these represent the locations of the farmsteads of the people who ploughed, sowed and reaped the early enclosed fields. However, currently we have only their plans as shown on the nineteenth-century surveys (Figure 4).