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A Real Sense of Power…

The process of writing this PhD has brought with it a feeling of wonder. How, as I’ve rediscovered lost sites and changed people’s perception of previously identified ones, that they were all already there in the landscape that we all use for our own lives, and that we can pass by them every day without giving them a second thought.

A couple of weeks ago there was a post on a group on Facebook highlighting an excellent resource of the National Library of Scotland. http://maps.nls.uk/os/ has a series of searchable Ordnance Survey maps which date – depending on where you live – from 1842 to 1961. Now, in case you haven’t realised by now, I love maps and mapping, and dove straight in to wallow in all this digitised loveliness.

The first place I looked at was, as I am sure many of you also do when you pick up a map, was my home town. In case you are new to the blog, I’m from Wrexham in North East Wales (Latitude 53.045083; Longitude -2.9931521). I selected the earliest map available http://maps.nls.uk/view/102341204 and opened it up.

A few months ago I gave a lecture at the University of Worcester to the archaeology undergraduates, and one of the questions I was asked was ‘How do you know you can see a park in the landscape if it’s not marked as one?’ It’s a difficult question to answer because, as with everyone who has had training in a specialism, sometimes you just ‘know’. However, this piece of map work might explain the methodology a little more clearly.

This is the image that appeared when I opened the map:

Denbighshire Sheet XXVIII Surveyed: 1872 Published: 1879
Denbighshire Sheet XXVIII
Surveyed: 1872
Published: 1879

Parkland – or rather – private parkland around high status houses is shaded in a mid-grey colour, and the town of Wrexham can be seen on the right hand side of the map.

Detail of Denbighshire Sheet XXVIII Surveyed: 1872 Published: 1879
Detail of Denbighshire Sheet XXVIII
Surveyed: 1872
Published: 1879

This parkland is an estate known as Plas Power (‘Plas’ is the Welsh word for Palace or high status house). Although it isn’t very far from where I was brought up, I have to confess I didn’t know very much about it. The parkland is surrounded by high walls and it is still a private estate. The church is accessible, situated outside the parkland, but inside those walls is one of those locations which has been perpetually off limits. I was aware that Plas Power, the house itself, had been demolished in after World War II and there were photographs of the building which has been taken prior to this.

Plas Power Hall prior to demolition
Plas Power Hall prior to demolition

When I’d opened the map originally I’d spotted a darker colour oval shape within the Plas Power parkland (if you want to go back to the original map at this point you might be able to see this) and to me, that oval seemed to be very similar in size and shape to the deer park enclosure at Eyton which has a long and well attested history and which I’ve previously blogged about here: https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/making-the-familiar-unfamiliar/

Detail of Denbighshire Sheet XXVIII Surveyed: 1872 Published: 1879
Detail of Denbighshire Sheet XXVIII
Surveyed: 1872
Published: 1879
Detail of Denbighshire Sheet XXXV Surveyed: 1872 to 1873 Published: 1879
Detail of Denbighshire Sheet XXXV
Surveyed: 1872 to 1873
Published: 1879

A full site visit will have to wait for the owners permission, but I was able to use the ‘Clywedog Trail’ http://www.wrexham.gov.uk/english/leisure_tourism/clywedog_trail.htm to access a viewpoint to the south of the site which allowed me the opportunity to take a picture of the southern boundary of the site.

Southern Edge of the Plas Power Enclosure
Southern Edge of the Plas Power Enclosure

What is immediately visible from the photograph is that the western boundary has a very steep edge. This would fit with keeping deer within an enclosure of this type, and in addition the LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) data http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/professional/research/landscapes-and-areas/aerial-survey/archaeology/lidar/ appears to back up my hypothesis. This identification of this enclosure is excellent news, because it means there is another early enclosure which I can compare directly others previously recognised.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone for their support. The message I sent via Twitter two weeks ago is still being re-tweeted and has raised another £25 towards my course fees. If you think you can help, please visit http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks

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