Thursday, 23 May 2019

Lower Cosmeston Farm Development

The authors of Hidden Glamorgan, while not in the habit of using this blog site to air political opinions, in this instance feel compelled to do so as we are appalled to hear about the recent proposed threat of development to Lower Cosmeston Farm and feel the need to address the many points of concern that we have regarding its archaeological, historical and natural environment. As preservationists and historians with a background in archaeology, both of whom have attended excavations at nearby Cosmeston medieval village, we find these proposals to be clumsy, short sighted and wholly inappropriate. The sheer amount of destruction to this greenfield site, which consists of both arable and pastoral landscapes-also home to a massive amount of biodiversity as well as the historic environment, can in this instance never be offset by the gains that building new houses can bring. It quite simply is not a worthwhile trade.

(The landscape directly adjacent to Lower Cosmeston Farm)

It is not just the countryside surrounding Lower Cosmeston Farm however which is under threat-that would be bad enough, but the ancient farm buildings which comprise Lower Cosmeston Farm themselves are under direct threat as the whole complex has been earmarked by the autocratic decision making of the WAG for destruction-most likely to provide space to access the site when development begins in order to minimize disruption to the local community.

The buildings of Lower Cosmeston Farm are a part of the post-medieval evolution of the medieval village of Cosmeston and have long been overlooked in favour of the reconstructed village located opposite-most likely because unlike the Village of Cosmeston, Lower Cosmeston Farm is not a tourist attraction and is located on private grounds within the confines of a working farm-hence, most people are wholly unaware of its significance or even its existence. Whereas however the buildings within Cosmeston are all reconstructions which are built on top of their original foundations-the buildings at Lower Cosmeston Farm are the real thing and are just as important both historically and archaeologically as the reconstructed remains within Cosmeston medieval village as they embody its transition from a shrunken village decimated by the disasters of the fourteenth century, to its post-medieval revival as a small but prosperous hamlet-the habitation of which has remains to this day.

(The seventeenth century farmhouse)

The post-medieval farmhouse at Lower Cosmeston Farm is a seventeenth century building which was mentioned in the Glamorgan Hearth Tax of 1670, although much altered and currently in use as a stable, it is structurally intact and retains a great deal of architectural features such as its stone spiral staircase, fireplaces with lintels, bread ovens and wooden corbels.

(Fireplace with lintel)

This house is one of the oldest surviving buildings within the Penarth area and has been recognized by the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments Wales as a rare surviving example of a single-unit, end-entry hearth passage house which was deemed important enough to be listed within an inventory of ancient monuments complied by the RCAHMW and published in 1988 within the book ‘Glamorgan Farmhouses and Cottages’. RCAHMW criteria also states that any building older than C 1700 is automatically eligible for consideration regarding scheduling. In short, there is recognition that this building has an intrinsic value which cannot be replaced. Two of the outbuildings are of eighteenth-century date and survive in excellent condition. The basic layout of Lower Cosmeston Farm was noted on the Bute estate map of 1824 and has for the most part remained unchanged since.

(Lower Cosmeston Farm as appears on the Bute estate map dating to 1824 where it is marked as 'little Cosmeston')

There is a lot more to heritage than just the celebrated castles and monastic ruins of Wales. Much of our heritage consists of seemingly prosaic vernacular architecture, and while many of these remains cannot boast the architectural finesse and grandeur of the great castles and abbeys of South Wales, they are no less interesting or important as they still have the capacity to tell a narrative of the social, political and economic evolution of this small corner of South Wales representing an often forgotten part of the demographic which was not composed of the rich and powerful, but those who comprised the backbone of the rural community in a time before mass industrialization and exodus to the cities.

Lower Cosmeston Farm is as important to our understanding and appreciation of the origins of our local community as the medieval village of Cosmeston-would the WAG propose to demolish Cosmeston medieval village to be replaced with a housing development? I doubt it as there would be uproar-although we wouldn’t at all be surprised if they did judging by the way that they are ruthlessly pursuing their dogmatic vision of the LDP. Lower Cosmeston Farm must be afforded the same level of protection and respect as the medieval village of Cosmeston, and indeed any other scheduled archaeological site or historical monument located within a historic environment such as the remains nearby Cogan medieval village.

(Would it be acceptable to propose the destruction of Cosmeston medieval village?)

In addition to the architecture, within the fields directly surrounding Lower Cosmeston Farm is a fossilized medieval landscape which is replete with archaeology, and if ever excavated is worthy of detailed and systematic study the likes of which a watching brief cannot fully provide-it certainly does not deserve to be destroyed for something as incongruous, banal and short-sighted as a housing development. This landscape helps to characterize the environment surrounding Cosmeston medieval village and Lower Cosmeston Farm, and is also located directly adjacent to a Site of Special Scientific Interest supporting a wide range of biodiversity such as bats, toads, fireflies (or Glow-worms), and many other animal, insect and plant species including the protected plant species Broad leaved Spurge, representing a fragile and finite ecosystem-something which within this modern climate of mass housing development is becoming scarcer and scarcer within the locality by the year. Lower Cosmeston Farm, which utilizes the surrounding fields, is also a thriving livery stable business and community which provides a valuable resource for recreation being in use all year round-a business which has taken many years of hard work and effort to build into the success that it is today.

(A biodiversified and historically rich landscape which has a value far greater than use for development ) 

The pros of development in this instance quite simply do not outweigh the cons. The local community stands to lose far more than it will ever gain by the loss of this lush natural landscape-biodiversity and eco-system, historical and archaeological heritage, a thriving local business with its community as well as experiencing a huge increase in pollution which will result from the inevitable augmentation in traffic-those who commute to Cardiff daily can expect those miserable traffic queues we all know and hate to be greatly exacerbated should this development come to fruition.

There has to be more to progress than just building houses-heritage and the natural environment also deserve status and recognition within the epithet of ‘progress’, rather than simply just being a euphemism for destruction which it frequently is. The time has come in the twenty - first century where we need a more creative and pragmatic approach to house building rather than continuing to endorse the same dismissive and outdated ‘development over all else’ ethos that we’ve seen time and time again. We need a more sustainable vision for the future which will enhance and protect the natural and historic environment not destroy it. Houses can be built at plenty of other locations-this unique community and landscape has taken centuries to evolve and if destroyed cannot be replaced. Once it is gone it is gone forever. The site of Lower Cosmeston farm is fully deserving of statutory protection as a conservation area-we are therefore consulting with CADW to seek scheduling to prevent this historical/archaeological site and its environs from the narrow and ultimately destructive vision of the LDP which the WAG endorses.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

The Lost Mansions of Glamorgan Part I

One does not have to look too far to see that the landscape of the Vale of Glamorgan contains a vast array of historical buildings, ranging from the romantic shell-like ruins of once strong castles, rambling and gabled mansions built by the Glamorgan gentry in the years after Wales began to recover from the black death, through to the humble farmhouses and cottages belonging to the yeoman farmers and cotters of Glamorgan who worked the length and breadth of this ancient land-the Vale of Glamorgan can match any county throughout Britain in both the range and diversity of its architectural heritage.

Most of these fascinating remnants of a bygone age have thankfully been granted legal protection via the Ancient Monuments Act to prevent unsympathetic modifications by uncaring owners who might seek to neglect, significantly alter or destroy their fabric. There was a time not too long ago when many of the vernacular historical buildings in south Wales were simply not valued or afforded any sort of legal protection. Some were seen as too expensive to maintain or to be of profit and were thus torn down such as Grey Friars house in Cardiff, some succumbed to fire such as Margam House, and others such as Ruppera castle were left to crumble.

                                              (Ruppera castle)

The recognition of the greater good that can come from the preservation of our historic buildings because of their architectural value, scarcity, contribution to the character of their environs, tangible reflection of the political and social development of this small corner of Wales and as a connection with an ancient and archaic way of life much of which has become engrained within the folk memory, legend and romance of old Glamorgan, has enabled more people to appreciate and cherish these buildings for the wonders that they are.

The threat of fire it seems is something which will always be an omnipresent danger to our architectural heritage, both Margam castle and the Blue Anchor Inn have been damaged by fire within our modern age, but the recent demolition of the architecturally impressive Highlands mansion located on the outskirts of Penarth is something that could potentially have been avoided if the right people had valued it and is a pertinent example of why the Ancient Monuments Act needs revising to encompass tomorrows architectural treasures from disappearing under that great misnomer and euphemism ‘progress’, to be saved to both enrich the character of their environs, and to serve as a tangible remainder of our past for future generations to appreciate and enjoy, and so that in the future there will be far less lost mansions within Glamorgan.

                  (The recently demolished Highlands mansion, Penarth)

There are many fine buildings throughout the Vale of Glamorgan that have sadly vanished-this article presents a few of the more well-known and important mansions and houses that have disappeared.

Dunraven castle

Southerndown is renowned locally for its ruggedly beautiful windswept coastline, scenic countryside and rusticated ambience making it a popular place all year around with ramblers, dog-walkers and with photographers as a click-and-go photo location.

This scenic backdrop was once the setting for an impressively commodious mansion which sat in a commanding position on top of the steep hill opposite the road leading down to Dunraven Bay-the erstwhile Dunraven castle. This mansion however was not the first building to have occupied this site the habitation of which dates back to the Iron Age. There was once a medieval castle here which was owned by a family called Butler whom were tenants of the lord of Ogmore.  Dunraven castle is reputed to have been destroyed or at least badly damaged by Owen Glyndwr-we know from historical records that Ogmore was badly attacked during the Glyndwr rebellion so there is probably an element of truth in this assertion.

                                       (Dunraven castle and bay)

The Butlers' owned Dunraven until sometime during the early to mid-sixteenth century when they were succeeded by a family called Vaughn who were most likely responsible for the construction of the Tudor period house recorded by John Leland in his Itineraries which he simply referred to as a ‘manor place’ owned by one “Richard Vehan” who had recently acquired it from marriage to the “laste Boteler”. Glamorgan antiquarian Rhys Merrick also makes reference to Dunraven castle in the late sixteenth century in his list of ‘castles bordering on the sea coast’. The house and manor was sold in 1642 to Sir Humphrey Wyndham, whose descendants officially altered the family name to Wyndham Quinn 1815, after the marriage of Caroline Wyndham to Mr Wyndham-Quin in 1810.

According to the Glamorgan hearth-tax assessment the Tudor period Dunraven house contained 11 hearths under ownership of Humphrey Wyndham Esq during the 1670’s. A print dating to 1775 shows Dunraven house sporting a series of red-brick chimneys with Tudor period mullions and window moulds. These are common architectural features that are found in many Tudor period gentry houses, but interestingly the print also shows to its left two Gothic archways which were a common architectural feature throughout the medieval period-could Dunraven house have incorporated elements of the medieval castle that once occupied the site?

                              (The Tudor period Dunraven castle)

A gentlemanly visitor, one J. T Barber who visited Dunraven castle in the late eighteenth century was clearly unimpressed by what he saw describing it as “a mis-shapen dismal building, only to be admired for its situation upon a lofty sea-promontory”. Perhaps the Wyndhams' agreed with Mr Barber’s cynical appraisal of their home as substantial alterations were made in 1803.

      (Another view of the old Dunraven house, complete with gate and wall)

The Rev J Evans who visited Dunraven castle in the midst of the remodelling was more positive in his judgement than Mr Barber stating that “Many parts of the house bear the marks of great antiquity. The entrance was formerly by a bold gothic arch, with a defaced coat of arms, probably of the founder. This has been taken down and other alterations have been made”, further adding “The present proprietor (T. Wyndham, Esq), with a spirt that dignifies the possession of wealth, has procured a plan for restoring it to more than its original grandeur”. Further alterations were made in 1858 and 1887 resulting in a sprawling castellated Gothic structure that seems typical of many fashionable nineteenth century mansions. Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary was impressed, calling the new building “an elegant and spacious structure”. Charles Frederick Cliffe writing in 1848 records that Dunraven "is a house in the bad taste of the last century" but also that the Wyndham-Quins' were happy to allow members of the public onto their estate stating that ‘strangers are permitted to enter the walks that have been tastefully made around the partly-wooded headland’.

                           (Rear view of the rebuilt Dunraven castle)

During the early twentieth century the Wyndham-Quins' decided to permanently vacate Dunraven castle leaving a skeleton staff to care and maintain the building. Owing to its rambling size Dunraven castle was as used as a convalescent hospital during World War one and World War Two. Later it was used as a hostel /guest house but was seemingly living on borrowed time and by 1962 was ultimately deemed to have outlived its useful existence; it contents and fittings were auctioned off and in 1963 Dunraven castle was demolished. All that is left to remind us that a once imposing mansion once stood at the summit of the steep hill on Dunraven Bay are its foundations which are easily traceable, its walled gardens, which includes an ‘ice tower’ folly shaped like a medieval tower, and a nineteenth century castellated entrance lodge located some distance away, which if one looks carefully incorporates the weather beaten window mullions from the old demolished Tudor mansion.

                                  (Aerial view of Dunraven castle)

There is a legend surrounding Dunraven castle, that of the ‘Wreckers of Dunraven Bay’. This legend is mentioned by almost every nineteenth century visitor to Dunraven, including J.T Barber and the Rev. J Evans, but the detailed narrative published in Charles Frederick Cliffe's 1848 book 'The Book of South Wales', seems to be the most well-known version of the story. This story concerns a former lord of Dunraven, the seemingly impoverished Walter Vaughn. The records show that there was indeed a Walter Vaughn (1505-1584) who lived at Dunraven castle during the latter part of the sixteenth century-Walter was the son of Richard Vaughn, the first Vaughn to occupy Dunraven castle.

Walter, finding himself impoverished and in desperate need of ready cash, had formed an association with local pirates, one of whom in almost pantomime fashion had an iron-hook in place in leu of a hand-the aptly named ‘Mat of the Iron Hand’, to help him restore the wealth of his estate by indulging in the practice of ‘wrecking’, whereby lanterns were deliberately lit to attempt to lure ships off-course and to their doom on the jagged shoreline of Southerndown. Walter’s prerogative as lord of Dunraven meant that he could legally lay claim to the salvage-provided of course that none of the ship’s crew survived.

(A Painting by George Morland depicting wreckers plying their trade dated 1790-99)

The story goes that one night Walter and his villainous associates managed to lure a ship to its destruction. Walter was feeling pretty pleased with himself for a profitable night’s work but his elation did not last long, as Walter’s associate Mat had seemingly murdered one of the ships surviving passengers who to Walter’s horror turned out to be none other than his sole surviving son and heir, who for some reason or other was aboard the floundered vessel. To make matters worse, Mat had gone so far as to chop-off one of the unfortunate young man’s hands in order to appropriate his gold ring.  This story-like all legends and folklore of Britain, likely contains an element of truth. Piracy and smuggling was rife along the coastline of Britain, in particular during the eighteenth century, and the story’s protagonist certainly would not have been the only lord or gentleman to have indulged in such unscrupulous acts, for example Nicholas Herbert of Cogan Pill was in 1577 fined the sum of £200 for colluding with pirates.

              (Interior of Dunraven castle-the haunt of the Blue Lady)

There is also a ghost story associated with Dunraven castle, the apparition of which has been named ‘the Blue lady of Dunraven’. Many of Dunraven castle’s staff and patients staying when it was a hospital have claimed to have both seen and felt this ghost on a regular basis. The former earl of Dunraven at the time apparently had an interest in the subject and sought to collect as many first-hand accounts of encounters with this wraith as possible which he then had published. It is unclear whether or not this apparition continues to haunt the spot of the old house or was swept away with the bricks and mortar when Dunraven house was demolished. 

Cottrell Park

Cottrell Park, located just outside St Nicholas, is probably more well known as a golf club rather than for its namesake, Cottrell house, which once stood within the vast confines of an estate which now comprises the present golf course and which could boast a distinguished list of former occupants the likes of which other gentry families of Glamorgan would be hard pressed to match.

The name of Cottrell derives from the name of one Roger Cottrell who appeared on the Despenser survey of 1320 as holding three ploughlands and which comprised a third of the medieval fee of St Nicholas. There was once a stone castle or manor house here but by the sixteenth century it was described by the estates owner Rice Meyrick (d-1586-) as “decayed to its foundations”. Rice, who was amongst other things was an antiquarian and author of one of the earliest books on Glamorgan history ‘Glamorganshire Antiques’ 1578 was most likely responsible for the construction of the long since vanished Tudor period mansion on the Cottrell estate which was acquired by his father in 1546.

We know very little about the appearance of this house. Leland neglects to record Cottrell in his Itineraries but we do know from the Hearth Tax Assessment of 1670 that Cottrell house contained 10 hearths under the ownership of Thomas Button Esq. Rice Meyrick had three sons, one of whom is recorded in 1610 as being High Sherriff of Glamorgan. It was during this period that Cottrell house, much like Penmark castle, was a place where numerous Welsh poets would congregate to sing the praises of their occupants. Poet Lewys Dwnn in 1601 referred to Rice’s three sons, William, John and Morgan as “tri angel y Cotrel cu” (The three angels of dear Cottrell). Morgan Meyrick was succeeded by his son, called Rice, whom was the last Meyrick to occupy Cottrell Park.

                                           (Sketch of Cottrell house)

The Cottrell estate came to the Button family by the marriage of Rice Meyrick’s daughter, Barbara Meyrick, to famed explorer Sir Thomas Button (d-1634), who made one of the first attempts to discover the North-West Passage, of Dyffran (Worlton) house. It was Sir Thomas’s son Myles Button however who would be the first Button to inherit the Cottrell estate.

                                              (Sir Thomas Button)

Miles Button declared himself for the king during the English Civil War and was captured by Parliamentarians at the nearby battle of St Fagans which would have been visible-and audible, from the Cottrell estate. Miles’s house at Cottrell is referenced in a letter written in 1648 which states “both armies faced each other within a mile, the Welsh near Cottrell, Miles Button’s house”.

The Cottrell estate passed to the Gwinnet family by inheritance upon the death of Barbara Button in 1755 when she bequeathed Cottrell to her niece Emilia Button (1708-1785) who subsequently altered her name to Emilia Button Gwinnet upon her marriage to the Rev Samuel Gwinnet Jr (1732-1792). Upon his wife’s death in 1785 the Rev Samuel Gwinnet Jr became the sole inheritor of Cottrell Park. The Rev Samuel Gwinnet Jr and Emilia Button Gwinnet produced no offspring, and when the Rev Samuel finally died in 1792, it lead to a dispute over inheritance which is alleged to have inspired a ghost story.

The Rev Samuel Gwinnet’s sister, Emilia Gwinnet (1741-1807), sister of Button Gwinnet (1735-1777) one the signatories of the American Declaration of Independence, had resided at Cottrell house for a time since she had moved there under the auspices of Barbara and who inherited Penllyn castle in 1786, was in dispute with Samuel’s brother and sister over the inheritance of Cottrell Park, and alleged that a clause in Barbara’s will stipulated that in lieu of her brother and his wife producing an heir, she was to be the sole beneficiary of the Cottrell estate. In order to achieve this Emilia allegedly burnt Samuel’s will along with the Cottrell estate record and chronicle books in a bid to keep her supposed inheritance-which she did. Emilia’s ghost was said to have remained trapped in limbo at Cottrell house over this act.

Emilia however did not manage her estate well as the executor of her will, Thomas, earl of Clarendon stated both Emilia’s debts and those of her predecessors were still outstanding upon her death in 1807. Upon the earl’s death in 1824 Cottrell passed to Admiral Sir Charles Tyler, who was a good friend of Admiral Nelson and whom commanded a ship of the line at Trafalgar. Sir Charles died in 1835 leaving Cottrell to his son, Sir George Tyler (1792-1862), who also became an Admiral and whom enjoyed a distinguished career. Sir George died at Dunraven castle.

                                      (Admiral Sir Charles Tyler)                           

Very few of the eighteenth/nineteenth century writers and antiquarians who travelled through Glamorgan mention Cottrell house in detail-or at all. Edward Donovan passed through St Nicholas on his tour of South Wales in 1804 but did not see fit to mention Cottrell Park despite mentioning other buildings of note he encountered during his travels, although he did write a lengthy account of his shoddy treatment at the hands of an innkeeper in St Nicholas, and an account of his visit to the Cottrell Park Standing Stone with which he was quite underwhelmed, describing it as being “very rude and being nothing more than an irregular flattish slab”. Samuel Lewis mentions Cottrell in 1848 but gives us no clue as to its form simply stating that “it is pleasantly situated and from the rear of the house commands a fine view of the picturesque vale of Ely”. The only picture available of Cottrell Park show it as an Italianate classically inspired looking building the architecture of which looks typical of the eighteenth century but was constructed in 1882 in the classical revival style, which apparently incorporated substantial elements of the Tudor period house, including a blocked window which was most likely reflective of the window tax excise of the early eighteenth century.

                         (St Nicholas during the early twentieth century)

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Cottrell park was occupied by various local gentry families including the Mackintosh family, the last of whom died in 1941.  Cottrell Park was purchased in 1942 by William Powel and Sons and utilized during World War Two by Glamorgan County Council and also for short time after. Cottrell house was recorded in 1964 as “being in a bad state of repair” as evidently its owners did not value it and showed zero interest in maintaining this important building. Cottrell house was demolished in 1972 and its grounds subsequently turned into a golf course-a sad end to such a venerable and important building.

It is interesting to note that an acquaintance who was a keen antiquarian had the curiosity to inspect the recently demolished Cottrell house and serendipitously found a small gilded bronze bust of Queen Elizabeth I within the rubble-perhaps an ornament which had been concealed or lost within the fabric of the old house.

The Lost Mansions of Glamorgan part II

Wenvoe Castle

Despite its appellation of ‘castle’ Wenvoe castle was in actuality a large mansion built by the Thomas family sometime during the early seventeenth century-certainly the mansion was complete before the man credited with its construction, Edmund Thomas’s death in 1638, and was located on the outskirts of Wenvoe village near the site of the clubhouse belonging to Wenvoe golf club.

                                        (Wenvoe castle front lawn)

Despite the mansion architecturally not qualifying as a castle, Leland records during his tour of Wales in 1536-1539 that the remains of a medieval castle once stood within in the near vicinity stating that ‘the buildinges of Wenuo castelle stonding on a litle hille is downe saving saving one toure and broken waules’. There are other, later sixteenth century references to an apparent castle at Wenvoe which infer that the ruins of the medieval castle were perhaps still extant at this time or that there was an earlier house within the vicinity with the appellation of ‘castle’-or perhaps both.

Owing to the fact that no visual records survive of the seventeenth century Wenvoe castle we know little of what it looked like. An estate map dating to 1762 however shows us the layout of the seventeenth century house depicting it as a substantially long and rambling structure. We also know from the Glamorgan hearth tax records of 1670 that Wenvoe castle contained 24 hearths, or fireplaces. Not many other houses within Glamorgan could boast this number of hearths, for comparison the now ruinous Llantrithyd Place contained 20 hearths, St Fagans castle 13 hearths, and Llansannor Court 11 hearths.

One James Grimston writing in 1769, has left us with a rather unflattering description of the seventeenth century structure stating that “Wenvoe, is not at all worth seeing”, although James clearly felt differently about the gardens stating, “the grounds about it being laid out in the modern taste are rather pleasing”. These grounds, which were laid out by Sir Edmund Thomas (1712-67), are in part cited as the cause of the Thomas family’s financial difficulties, with James stating that they “show the genius of the father of the present possessor, who, fired with the zeal of electioneering and improving his place, spent here more than the income from his estate would allow; the ill consequences of which the son now experiences in such a manner that he is obliged to pay the debt’s of his father and part with his inheritance”. This must have been a bitter pill for Edmund’s son, also called Edmund Thomas, to swallow, but pay off his father’s debts he did in 1774 when Wenvoe castle and its estate was sold to wealthy Yorkshire coal-magnate Peter Birt for £41,000.

The unprepossessing seventeenth century Wenvoe castle was clearly not to Mr Birt’s liking and he had it demolished in 1776-7 replacing it with a new mansion based upon designs drawn up by celebrated architect Robert Adams-his only project in Wales. This new mansion was architecturally unusual for its time in that it deviated from the neo-classical style that was seemingly ubiquitous throughout Britain and for whom Adam’s was renowned for working with, and was built in ‘Georgian Gothic’, complete with half-fronted octagonal towers and castellations-a precursor to the Gothic revival style of the Victorian period.  

                          (A charming effort of bad taste and burgesity) 

The design of the new house provoked mixed feelings from Birt’s peers. The Hon John Byng writing in regards to Birt’s efforts 1787 stated that (Wenvoe castle) “exhibits a charming effort of bad taste and burgeosity”. Another contemporary, Benjamin Heath Malkin wrote “It is a very large, handsome and commodious house” but finding the Gothic design too Avant-guard stated, “But I do not, on the whole, accede to the good taste of building modern castles in a county abounding with such magnificent specimens of that architecture”. William Turner on his tour of south Wales in 1798 however felt that Wenvoe castle was worth taking time to sketch, and it was described by Samuel Lewis in 1833 as being a “stately mansion-with the grounds laid out in much taste”.

It has been speculated that horticulturalist Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown might have been responsible for the landscaped garden at Wenvoe but there is no firm evidence for this claim, although it is possible that Mr capability Brown did visit Wenvoe castle as his partner on the Bute project he was engaged with at Cardiff castle in 1778, Henry Holland, was commissioned to design Wenvoe castle’s stable block and courtyard.

                            (The surviving pavilion and former gardens)

In 1807 the Jenner family inherited the Wenvoe estate and occupied it into the early twentieth century until a fire unfortunately destroyed the majority of Wenvoe castle in 1910. The east pavilion of Wenvoe castle however has survived, which is now in use as a club-house, as well as the mansion’s stables. Although much of the landscaped garden was altered during the construction of the golf course, it still retains is basic form laid out in the eighteenth century, as well a number of interesting features located within nearby Bear Woods including a serpentine stream and grotto.

The Ham

For over four centuries Ham house stood alone within a secluded spot on the outskirts of Llantwit Major and was the comfortable and spacious home of the Nicoll family who owned the house from its construction during the early sixteenth century right up until the early twentieth century. We know plenty about the history of the Nicholl family; for example, many of its members were involved in such upper middle-class professions as law, the clergy and medicine as well as having a wide family network and properties spanning across south Wales, but we know little of what the original Ham house looked like. We do know however that by the time of the Glamorgan hearth tax in 1670, one IIItyd Nicholll was taxed for the use of 4 hearths. IIItyd Nicholl also charitably left a sum of forty shillings to the poor of Llanwit to be distributed upon his death, and various subsequent members of the Nicholl family also left sums of money to the poor of the parish.

                                        (Ham house C 1850)

Ham house is depicted on a map of Llantwit Major drawn by Iolo Morganwg in the late eighteenth century but is unlikely to be an accurate depiction of the exact shape and form of Ham house owing to the generic and crude way in which all of the buildings have been drawn, but it is shown as being by far the largest building in the area signifying its importance. The only image of the original Ham house comes from the mid nineteenth century which depicts the house as positioned on a short elevation with the main entrance comprised of a steep flight of steps set between two sets of gate piers both topped with ball finals; the front piers support an elaborately wrought iron gate-a fitting entrance for a house belonging to a gentry family. The house is shown with two gables and sporting a series of eighteenth century sash-windows suggesting that the original house had been modified somewhat since it was built to keep up with the architectural style of the eighteenth century.

                                        (The rebuilt Ham mansion)

The original Ham house was demolished in 1859-63 and re-built on a larger scale in Gothic style designed by architect Sir Digby Wyatt. A cottage called Ham Lodge was also built at the same time which probably served as a house for one of the Nicholl family’s many employees.

                        (View of the Ham showing the surviving pool)

In 1921 the Nicholl family after approximately four hundred years of occupation sold their Ham mansion to one Lewis Turnbull-a devout Catholic who held regular masses at the Ham and who was the first person to hold open masses within Llantwit Major since the reformation of the sixteenth century. Ham house was badly damaged by fire in 1947 and demolished shortly after. The site of the house now comprises a caravan park with the only remnant of the Nicholl family residence left being the lodge and a small piece of its ornate Italianate garden complete with pond, or as it has recently discovered to be have been, a ‘wallowing pool’. Many of the Nicholl family are buried with the churchyard of St IIIyd’s church where some of their memorials can still be seen.

Dimlands house

Ham house is not the only mansion in the vicinity of Llantwit Major to have disappeared within recent memory. Dimlands house, a handsome looking gentry mansion built in mock Tudor style-perhaps to reflect the mass of Tudor architecture to be found within Llantwit Major, once stood proudly off Dimlands road within its own private grounds.

                           (Dimlands house around 1850)

Dimlands house was built by the Rev Robert Nicholl Carne who was born at nearby Ham house in 1763. Robert was the sixth son of Whitlock Nicholl (1720-1788) and upon Whitlock’s death he bequeathed his son Robert 99 acres of land on which he built Dimlands house during the late eighteenth century. Dimlands house was both comfortable and spacious containing two sitting rooms and an impressive Tudor-style staircase-a fitting residence for a gentleman.

The Rev Carne was a keen antiquarian who wrote an early account of the history of Llantwit Major and whom was in regular contact with fellow antiquarian Iolo Morganwg. The Rev Carne was also in possession of a small hoard of Roman silver coins which were accidently discovered by farm labourers in nearby Eglyws-Brewis in 1798. Rev Robert died at Dimlands house in 1849 and bequeathed Dimlands house to his son John Whitlock Nicholl Carne, who was born at Dimlands house, and whom at the time lived in nearby Tresilian house.  John undertook a number of modifications to Dimlands during the early 1850’s such as adding a porch, library, the addition of Minton tiles and the construction of a castellated lodge, which survives.

                                         (Dimlands house)

Upon the death of John Dimlands house was subsequently leased to a number of local worthies, including Sir Mathew Digby Watt in 1875, the architect who designed the newly re-built Ham house, and Tudor Crawshay, a member of the Crawshay Ironmaster family from Merthyr who played an integral part of the industrial revolution in south Wales, and his wife from 1900 to 1921. Dimlands house was destroyed by fire in 1948. The grounds now contain serval modern houses as well as the surviving lodge and a part of the coach house as well as various other features.

Friday, 12 October 2018

Great Frampton House

Located within the picturesque countryside just north of Llantwit Major and accessible only by a narrow single track lane which often floods during the winter months are the moulding ruins of Great Frampton farm house. Despite being a ruin Great Frampton house, which is situated within its own private grounds, is a Grade II listed building which is defined as being of 'special architectural or historical interest'. There is a veritable air of yesteryear at Great Frampton as a place which the modern world has yet to penetrate; crumbling pedestals, rusting gates, overgrown vegetation and an aura of neglect and decay greet the visitor upon arrival lending to Great Frampton a sombre atmosphere which has attracted a great deal of interest from photographers and curious parties who are drawn by the intrigue and romance that historical ruins often exude.

(Great Frampton as seen from its garden)

Great Frampton’s late eighteenth century façade, which consists of five bays elevated at three storeys, was constructed with many of the hallmarks of a fashionable and elegant Georgian country house which included a Roman inspired pediment gracing its front door, quintessential rows of neat sash windows and orbed finals at each end of its parapet. Concealed beneath the eighteenth century façade however is a building of much greater antiquity.

The original Great Frampton house was a Tudor period farmhouse which was built around the year 1600, substantial elements of which such as a sixteenth century stone stair turret located at the east side of the property and various internal features such as two characteristically Tudor chamfered doorways with arched heads, and several stone window molds, can still be discerned amongst the eighteenth century re-modelling. Behind Great Frampton house is a rear annex which was built during the early seventeenth century and most likely acted as a kitchen and service wing. This building did not benefit from the eighteenth century re-modelling although it was substantially altered and modernised during the twentieth century.

(View of the eighteenth century facade-the orbed finals which were still in situ not long ago, are now to be found on the ground as a result of vandalism)

Great Frampton house was for centuries a comfortable home to various local gentry families who were prominent local landowners within the Llantwit Major area such as the Jones family who are recorded as occupying Great Frampton throughout much the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A detailed inventory of Great Frampton is recorded in the year 1636 upon the death of Mary Jones. One Morgan Jones is recorded in the Hearth Tax assessment of 1670 as residing as Great Frampton which was noted to have contained seven hearths thus making Jones eligible to pay a levy of 2 shillings per hearth.

Upon the death of Stephen Jones in 1725 he left his wife, called Mary Jones, his 'Frampton Estate'. Stephen's daughter, also called Mary Jones, received one hundred pounds and a bed. Stephen's servant Jane Rees was bequeathed the sum of ten shillings, although oddly Stephen leaves his son Morgan Jones a paltry two shillings and six pence; one can only assume that Stephen's son was a minor at the time. An Inventory of Stephen's varied live stock was also drawn up as well as a basic inventory of his household goods which included 'four feather beds', valued at five pounds,  indicating that Frampton house before it was remodeled in the late eighteenth century contained four bedrooms. There were also various pewter items valued at two pounds and ten shillings, and a plough valued at one pound. The total value of Stephen's worldly goods came to the sum of £62. 10.s, which seems very modest for a gentleman farmer, even the sums of money he left to his family seem small.

Famed astronomer Nathaniel Piggot (1725-1804) during the latter part of the 1770’s resided at Great Frampton and constructed an observatory within its grounds where he made several notable astronomical observations which were published by the Royal Society. A family called Wilkin, who it seems were related to the Jones family and whose family members throughout the eighteenth century occupied nearby Little Frampton, a small single story farmhouse dating to the early seventeenth century, acquired Great Frampton during the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century; it was they who were most likely responsible for the rebuilding of the facade. The Wilkin family leased much of the land to tenant farmers. During the twentieth century Great Frampton was known for its herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle; this herd frequently won many prestigious accolades and prizes from various cattle and farming shows across Britain.

(Great Frampton during the 1960's)

Great Frampton house was put on the market during the early 1990’s but was sadly gutted by a fire in 1994 with the roof, internal floors and all internal architectural features including its fine late-eighteenth century centre staircase complete with turned balustrades and a Chinese Chippendale inspired attic balustrade, destroyed by the blaze. The sixteenth century stone step turret along with the seventeenth century rear wing however were spared the flames, although the rear annex lies in a state of dereliction and has sadly been the subject of vandalism.  Great Frampton house was essentially left as a shell and remains in a precarious state-so much so that the internal walls are being retained in situ by a series of scaffolding to prevent total collapse. The building was put onto the Vale of Glamorgan Council's 2013 'Buildings at Risk Register and Strategy' report and seemed destined to eventually succumb to the elements and vandalism.

                             (Interior view of the vandalized rear annex) 

In 2017 however Great Frampton house would begin a new lease of life. Husband and wife entrepreneurs Rhodri and Gaynor Davis of Llantwit Major have begun to undertake an ambitious renovation scheme which will transform the crumbling ruins of Great Frampton house and its associated farm out-buildings into habitable dwellings. Restoration plans for Great Frampton's charred and gutted interior will attempt to incorporate traditional styling whilst also assimilating modern elements in an interesting amalgamation of styles in order to get the best of both worlds and to make Great Frampton house a comfortable residence fit for the twenty first century. The renovations of the outbuildings is  already well underway and work on Great Frampton house is due to begin early next year with the whole project expected to be finished by 2020. 

Friday, 24 August 2018

Cadoxton Court and Dovecote

Have you ever wondered what the unusual shaped building perched on the edge of the steep and rugged incline on Gladstone Road is? You probably have, and you are not the only person who has been intrigued by this odd-looking construction. This curious building is called a dovecote or columbarium and dates to the thirteenth century making it one of the very few medieval buildings from the Barry area to survive into the twenty first century intact. This ancient and archaic structure is located within the private grounds of Cadoxton Court and was built simply in order to provide birds with a comfortable place to nest, which in turn provided its owner with a convenient and fresh supply of eggs and meat-a convenience which only the well-off could afford. The dovecote is supported by four slender buttresses and is entered by a small single entrance way which is surmounted by a Gothic arch. Within there are hundreds of small niches for birds to nest in making the task of gathering eggs and bird meat an easy one.

               (Mid twentieth century view of Cadoxton Court dovecote)

The dovecote at Cadoxton is the sole surviving remnant a medieval manorial complex which once occupied the site of the present Cadoxton Court and was for centuries home to the lords of Cadoxton. This manorial complex has all but vanished with only the dovecote left to remind us that it once existed at all. The landscape around Cadoxton Court would have looked vastly different during the medieval period; in fact, the landscape was almost entirely rural until fairly recently. The land around Cadoxton Court was drastically altered during the late nineteenth century when quarrying activities were responsible for the appearance of the steep precipice adjacent to the dovecote. Soon after when the docks were opened a multitude of Victorian terraced houses were built obliterating much the green landscape around Cadoxton. The small parcels of land which were left were gradually enveloped by piecemeal constructions during the twentieth century with the march of progress leaving the medieval dovecote at Cadoxton Court in unfamiliar environs surrounded by a modern fast-changing world. 

Cadoxton, or East Barry as it was initially known, was founded sometime during the early-mid twelfth century by a family named Mitdehorguil as a sub-enfeoffed manor or fief (fee) to the lordship of Dinas Powys. The only surviving remnant from this period is a Norman font which is to be found within the nearby church of St Cadoc. Cadoxton manor was held at one knight’s fee meaning that the lord of Cadoxton was obliged to provide his overlord, the lord of Glamorgan, with a number of feudal duties in exchange for his tenure, which in times of peace included attending the comitatus (county court) at Cardiff castle, and guard duties, once again usually at Cardiff castle, although later on in the medieval period this practice was substituted for an annual cash payment of 6 shillings per fee called ward silver. In times of war however the lord of Cadoxton was obliged to don his hauberk, coif and helm and fight his lord’s, or his king’s, battles which could have lead him anywhere in Wales, England, Scotland, Ireland or France.

(Late nineteenth/early twentieth century view of Cadoxton as a rural village with the church of St Cadoc in the foreground)

The manor of Cadoxton was a valuable land holding initially consisting of 2000 acres and was intended to provide its knightly incumbent with everything that he would need in order to fulfil his feudal duties. The lord of Cadoxton extracted everything that he required from his fief keeping the best tracts of land for his own demesne, the woods and animals which dwelt within exclusively for himself and claiming innumerable rights over the common serfs (peasants) who inhabited Cadoxton village and whom were taxed and generally exploited by their lord in order for him to grow rich off their labour and to lead a lordly existence.

The lord of Cadoxton would have lived a comfortable life within his manor complex which by the late thirteenth century would probably have consisted of a handsome stone-built residence with various outbuildings including the thirteenth century dovecote. 

The Mitdehorguil's were not in possession of the fee of Cadoxton for long as by the late twelfth century their male line became extinct. The daughter of the last mitdehorguil lord, one Milisant Mitdehorguil, married her overlord Adam de Sumeri, Lord of Dinas Powys, who then took over the tenue of the manor of Cadoxton. By the late fourteenth century, a family called Andrew had acquired the manor of Cadoxton who were to retain possession of it for centuries to come.

  (The remains of Dinas Powys castle, the seat of the Lord of Cadoxton's immediate overlord)

It is likely that Cadoxton Court was either subject to major alterations or was totally rebuilt during the Andrew’s tenure as the various building fragments which have been recovered over the years seemingly point towards a fifteenth to sixteenth century date for the former Cadoxton Court manor house. These architectural dressed stone fragments include parts of mullioned windows and door jambs, some of which have been incorporated into several of the outbuildings within Cadoxton Court. The late medieval manor house was a fairly substantial structure containing at least four hearths making it a suitable residence for a member of the minor gentry.  

Cadoxton Court is mentioned in numerous documents from this period such as the Beauchamp survey of 1429, a deed dating to 1545 curiously makes reference to a ‘little tower’ and ‘a mill’ which were located the west side of ‘Courte Hille’. Between the years 1628 and 1631 Nicholas Andrew of Cadoxton Court sold a total of 700 acres of land to William Herbert of Cogan Pill and Edmund Thomas of Wenvoe Castle; an indication perhaps of financial difficulties. The Andrew’s were still in the possession of Cadoxton Court by the Hearth Tax Assessment of 1670 being held by one William Andrew but it seems that by this time terminal decline had set in which was to culminate with the abandonment of Cadoxton Court during the eighteenth century.

The sustained occupation of Cadoxton Court over the centuries is perhaps the reason why the dovecote has remained unmolested, unlike the example at nearby Cosmeston which has been robbed of its stone, as its usefulness gave it protection from being dismantled. The same cannot unfortunately be said of the manor house as by the year 1811 Cadoxton Court was described as ‘the remains of a fine old castle’ further described in the year 1866 as the ‘extensive ruins of a castled mansion’.

                                        (The dovecote at Cosmeston)

The present medieval looking building which comprises Cadoxton Court House was built in 1873 by the Rev John Hughes alongside the ruins of the original manor complex as during the Victorian era a romance of the medieval period and its architecture was fashionable amongst the middle and upper classes with no doubt the still extant ruins of Cadoxton Court and its dovecote helping to provide genuine medieval antecedents and an air of authenticity to the Rev John’s newly built quasi-medieval Gothic style mansion. These ruins, parts of which were fairly substantial, were still in existence until the late nineteenth century when they were sadly demolished to make way for a formal garden. Recent archaeological excavations undertaken by archaeologist Gareth Tyley at Cadoxton Court however have revealed the foundations of several buildings ranging in date from the thirteenth through to the seventeenth century, including a fifteenth century kitchen with finds including pottery, a whetstone and two iron knifes.

            (Cadoxton Court and dovecote during the mid twentieth century)

The wanton and unsentimental destruction of medieval ruins in the pursuit of quite often rather contradictorily, a romanticized facsimile, or just as frequently-a better view of the surrounding landscape, was sadly quite common amongst members of the upper and middle classes in the preceding centuries. Cardiff castle for example saw large sections of the outer baily of its Norman derived keep, cross wall,  medieval shire house and knights hall all demolished during the late eighteenth century on the advice of the much-vaunted Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, so that the fourth Earl of Bute might have a better view of his garden, a price he felt was clearly worth paying, and a large section of the medieval circuit wall at Ewenny Priory suffered much the same fate during the early nineteenth century.

A persistent local rumour regarding Cadoxton Court is that a hidden tunnel exists between the former manor house and Sully Island which is said to have been dug during the eighteenth century by smugglers. This of course would have been a virtually impossible, not to mention a pointless endeavour. Smuggling was rife on the coastline of South Wales during the eighteenth century, and many of the exploits of the smugglers persisted as local legends long after smuggling had ceased during the early nineteenth century. Perhaps the ruins of the medieval and post medieval buildings provided a convenient location for smugglers to temporarily store their contraband and this association has been embellished and incorporated into local folklore over the years to include a smugglers tunnel.

An alternative explanation put forth by Gareth Tyley suggests that the tunnel myth could have been derived from the fact that during 1882 a fight of stone steps was accidently discovered at Cadoxton Court which lead deep below ground level. These steps, which most likely lead down to cellar, were not explored-perhaps because access was restricted due to the cellar being filled with earth and building debris, but also because the owners, quite sensibly, most likely considered it to be unsafe to enter. The steps were filled in shortly after they were discovered and are presumably still within the vicinity of the house.

        (View of Cadoxton Court dovecote from Gladstone Road)

The dovecote at Cadoxton Court is a grade one listed monument and is sadly not open to the public, however if one wishes to see another example of a medieval dovecote in all its complete glory up close, a near identical structure exists at Llantwit Major, and in stark contrast the Cadoxton Court dovecote, its environs are by and large still rural thus its place within the landscape is as familiar in the twenty first century as it would have been during the medieval period.