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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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My Story: Why I’m blogging about my Research

For those of you new to the blog I thought I’d recap the who / what / where / when / why and how I write something every Sunday and post it on the Internet, with links through to some of my previous posts and other related pages.

My name is Spencer Gavin Smith, and I’m from the town of Wrexham in North East Wales (Latitude 53.045083; Longitude -2.9931521) and I’m writing my PhD on the topic of ‘Parks, Gardens and Designed Landscapes of Medieval North Wales and North West Shropshire’ part-time at Manchester Metropolitan University.

This is me.
This is me.

I began this research back as an undergraduate in 1997: https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/to-begin-at-the-beginning-or-has-anyone-seen-that-confounded-bridge/ and was fortunate to receive the support of Dr. Enid Roberts – one of the specialists in the field, at a lecture I gave in 2003 https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/standing-on-the-toes-of-giants/ – and had a Rock and Roll legend in the audience to boot!

My research covers the disciplines of archaeology, history, literature and the visual arts. I’m trying to identify through these sources of evidence, the creation and use of medieval parks, gardens and designed landscapes of Medieval North Wales and North West Shropshire. This topic has not been covered in any great detail previously, with https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/si-longtemps-et-merci-pour-le-poisson/ and https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/an-attempt-to-buck-the-trend/ giving you some idea of the cutting edge research I’m undertaking.

Even though this research is cutting edge https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/please-fund-my-cutting-edge-phd-research/ I’ve had problems convincing charities and other organisations to fund it because it is multidisciplinary. I wrote to 123 charities, and not one them felt able to fund me – some didn’t even bother to reply to me.

I consequently set up a Crowd Funding page at: http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks and thanks to the kindness of strangers and one or two friends they provided enough funding in the space of a month to cover my first terms fees https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/taking-stock/

I’m now enrolled at University https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/enroled-thank-you-so-much-lets-keep-the-adventure-going/ under the academic care of a supervisor I have a great deal of personal and professional respect for and the writing is going really well https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/patterns-in-the-palimpsest/ and https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/shropshire-and-everything-after/ give you some idea of this.

I’m still looking for funding – and here is what’s in it for you.

· I’ll include your name in my PhD acknowledgements.
· Answer any questions you have about what I’m writing about.
· Give you a real or virtual tour of any of the sites I’m writing about.
· I’ll give a real or virtual talk about my research to a group of people you think would be interested.
· If I get a book deal when I’ve finished the PhD, I’ll put your name in the acknowledgements.
· If I get a book deal when I’ve finished the PhD, the person who provides the greatest amount of funding will receive a free signed copy of the finished book.

Thank you and I hope you enjoy the blog.

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Patterns in the Palimpsest

Many of my friends and colleagues have found themselves confronted with tweets, facebook messages or e-mails which usually consist of: “I’VE FOUND ANOTHER PARK!”

Whilst the response from my fellow academics is usually “Excellent!”, those not so familiar with this kind of landscape research tend to ask “How?”. So, in this blog post I thought I’d explain some of the methods used to find and identify a park as medieval and then attempt to place it in its context.

Cambridge University Library has one of five known sets of proof maps prepared for John Speed’s ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’, which was published in 1611/12, and they are available to view online at: http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/deptserv/maps/speed.html

Below is an extract taken from the map of Denbighshire showing the area around Wrexham, North East Wales (Latitude 53.045083; Longitude -2.9931521).

Abenbury

As you can see, there are two parks marked on the map, one of them ‘Holt Park’, but the second has no information provided for its location other than it is to the east of Wrexham. At this time the castle at Holt and its attendant town were the most important focal point for the administration of the area, whist Wrexham was a town in all but name (Wrexham was awarded its borough charter in 1857, whilst the borough of Holt was dissolved in 1886). My blog post on the excavations at Holt Castle can be found here: https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/the-boss-with-apologies-to-bruce-springsteen/

Whilst the medieval landscape of Holt has seen some academic research, the history of the park to the east of Wrexham is a little more enigmatic. The map shows that it has a very straight western boundary, and this equates to the very straight edge of the park known today as Cefn Park.

Cefn Park Map

Map of Cefn Park

Cefn Park AP

Aerial Photograph of Cefn Park

The Park is now divided into two separate estates, known as Cefn Park and Llwyn Onn. The majority of the papers relating to the estates were either lost in a fire in the house of Cefn Park, and those that do survive only extend back to the Eighteenth Century. All three depictions of Cefn Park show it as an being roughly oval in shape. This is usually an indicator that a park was laid out in the medieval period, but is it possible to be more precise with a date?

At the Marford bailiwick court held on 5 October 1333 the jurors referred back to the time when Roger de Kettley, chief forester, ‘took all the wood of Glyn, which was previously common, into a fenced enclosure for the lord’. The ‘wood of Glyn’ is now the part of the park around the National Trust property of Erddig Hall http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/erddig/

This suggests then that a new park was required by the English Lord of Bromfield and Yale at Glyn, which is close to the former motte and bailey castle of ‘Wristleham’ (Wrexham), recorded as being in existence in 1161. This, along with a new park laid out at Holt (and recorded on the John Speed map) indicates a considerable reorganisation of the landscape.

The question therefore, is where is Cefn Park in the records of the period? The Extant of Bromfield and Yale, taken in 1315 for the new English Lord describing who owed what service to the him after he had replaced the Welsh Prince following the Edwardian Conquest of 1282-1283, appears to contain the answer.

Cefn Park is in Abenbury, and the ‘Extent’ records that it is held by Griffi ap Ior, Griff ap Hwfa, Ienna ap Hwfa and Griff ap Ior Fychan (‘ap’ is son of, Fychan is ‘little’ or ‘junior’), except one-fifth which is held from the Queen (the wife of Edward II).

These men, and their ancestors, appear to have held the land in return for carrying out services including supplying grain, gathering nuts and making and repairing some of the buildings required by the lordship administrators. All of these services needed land, and it appear then that Cefn Park was no longer a hunting park of the Princes of Powys, but had been ‘disparked’ and put to use supplying these resources.

It kept its western boundary as this was the division between it and the pasture owned by the Abbey at Valle Crucis, which they had been gifted in 1202 and the charter for which still survives.

How much older than 1202 then is Cefn Park? At the moment I’ve exhausted the sources available to me, so I suspect that archaeological excavation of the park, either its boundaries or any identifiable internal features may provide the answer.

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Making the Familiar, Unfamiliar

Academic disciplines move at different speeds. So a piece of information that may be common knowledge to one group may be completely unknown to another. In this case, ignorance really isn’t bliss.

To illustrate my point, here’s one a thousand years (or so) in the making.

Eyton (Latitude 52.991226; Longitude -2.968168) is an area to the south of Wrexham. The name, which means “Island Settlement”, is applied to a village, and also to several buildings including ‘Eaton Hall’ and ‘Eaton Grange’, as well as to landscape features including ‘Eyton Bank’ and ‘Park Eyton’. You will have noticed that in the case of ‘Park Eyton’, the words are reversed. This is because it should be ‘Parc Eyton’, and therefore, is in the Welsh, not the English language.

Why? Well, let’s start with a date nearly everybody knows. 1066. William the Conqueror arrives from France and before you know it is King of England (this blog isn’t about the minutiae of that topic – you can read those elsewhere). The Welsh, well, to be honest, they didn’t really notice. Their Chroniclers are still dealing with the fallout from the death of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn “King of the Britons” who had been assassinated three years previously.

During Christmas 1085, William commissioned a survey of the land he held and of the people living on it. Originally it was known as the Winchester Roll / the King’s Roll or the Book of the Treasury, but by 1180 it was known as the Domesday Book.

The western edge of William’s land holdings was, to be honest, a little blurry. Wales, certainly in the North, had not been ‘conquered’. A little singed and plundered, yes. But not conquered. At the time the Surveyor’s for the roll / book passed through, some places were under new control, and Eyton provides an excellent example. The entry covers Trevalyn, Eyton and Sutton Green. This is an area approximately 14km (8 miles) long and 5km (3 miles) wide. Importantly for my research the Surveyor’s list 2 ‘enclosures’ or ‘hays’. The full entry can be found here http://www.domesdaymap.co.uk/place/SJ4148/sutton/ and explains what it all means at the same time.

The Surveyor’s role was to record items of value, so an enclosure for the capture and control of deer (which is what a ‘hay’ is) would have been recorded. Just because of where it is in Wales doesn’t necessarily mean the invading Normans or the previous neighbours next door, the Anglo – Saxons, built it.

So. The medieval historians are aware of a deer enclosure in Eyton. Are any other academic disciplines like to have encountered it? Well, yes. The academics studying medieval Welsh poetry were aware of two poems by different authors mentioning ‘Eytun’ http://www.dafyddapgwilym.net – Poem 154 is by the very famous and very, very funny Dafydd ap Gwilym and is one of the examples.

Documents survived from 1269 and 1270 discussing who the park belonged to and how it should be divided up on the death of its owner. Parish historians had identified that Parc Eyton was a distinct landholding during their research into the Tithe Maps (a map of a parish or township, prepared following the Tithe Commutation Act 1836. This act allowed tithes to be paid in cash rather than goods. The map and its accompanying schedule gave the names of all owners and occupiers of land in the parish) produced in the early 19th century.

First archaeological record of Parc Eyton? 2004. http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/308744/details/PARK+EYTON%2C+PARK%2C+RUABON/

First Map of Parc Eyton which shows the original boundaries and suggests how large the landholding eventually became? Last Week. I made it.

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