Thursday, 11 April 2013

Cosmeston's Lost House

Located within the confines of Cosmeston Country Park lies the reconstructed medieval village of Cosmeston. The reconstructed medieval buildings at Cosmeston have been built upon their original foundations using experimental archaeological reconstructive techniques and are as aesthetically faithful as possible to the mid Fourteenth Century period, and although conjectural beyond their stone walls, Cosmeston medieval village is as an authentic recreation as it gets to a medieval village, or at least a part of one.  Because of this reconstruction Cosmeston medieval village is perhaps the most well known and celebrated medieval village in Wales. 

(The reconstructed medieval village at Cosmeston)

Cosmeston derives its name from the Norman de Costentin family who founded the village sometime during the early Twelfth Century as a fief or manor; their presence it seems had been firmly established by 1165.  In common with many medieval villages throughout Glamorgan, Cosmeston appears to have reached it's zenith during the late Thirteenth to early Fourteenth Centuries.  The combined effects of colder climate, bad harvests, famine and the Black Death during the middle of the Fourteenth Century hit Cosmeston hard; these events and the effects of the rebellion of Owen Glyndwr (1400-1415) decimated medieval Cosmeston. 

 (One of the houses at Cosmeston in the process of being reconstructed)

It took a long time for Cosmeston to recover from the calamities of the preceding centuries, but archaeology has thrown up a great deal of evidence such as pottery, clay pipes and coins which shows us that during the post medieval period Cosmeston had not only recovered from the disasters of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries but was seemingly a thriving community again.  

Despite the many post medieval finds recovered from Cosmeston evidence for actual buildings is lacking as archaeological evidence for post-medieval dwellings and structures is limited to a large cobbled farm-yard hinting at a thriving community located somewhere within the vicinity.  This is not surprising as most medieval settlements shifted over time with Cosmeston by the post medieval period shrinking into a small hamlet containing a number of dispersed and scattered farmsteads located around the hinterland of the former village.  The rediscovery of an overlooked and neglected piece of Cosmeston's history however has helped us to shed light on an otherwise enigmatic part of Cosmeston's post medieval past. 

Near to the reconstructed Medieval village is Lower Cosmeston Farm, which for all intent and purpose appears to be little more than a generic 19th Century farm complex which are ubiquitous throughout Glamorgan; beneath the Victorian facade of Lower Cosmeston Farm however there is concealed within the later fabric the remains of an earlier building; a substantial two storied Post Medieval house dating to the 17th Century.  Although sadly mutilated Lower Cosmeston farm house constitutes Cosmeston's oldest surviving house and is an important and interesting survival. 

(The facade of the Post Medieval farmhouse has seen many alterations over the years, notably the Victorian brickwork and modern breezeblock inserted in the corner to prevent the building's collapse)

During our time excavating Cosmeston when undergraduates there were found significant quantities of post-medieval material within the demolition layers of virtually every trench, including the Manor House trench.  Finds included both local and imported pottery dating from the 17th-18th Centuries, buttons, coins, one in particular being a worn coin of Elizabeth I, indicating that any surviving medieval buildings at Cosmeston were robbed of their stone during the Post Medieval period.  It is highly likely that stone from the medieval houses was used to construct the farmhouse at Lower Cosmeston Farm; obsolete buildings and structures, such as the many mansions and castles found in the Vale of Glamorgan, were seen as a cheap and convenient source of dressed stone and were often robbed during antiquity.  

The post medieval hamlet of Cosmeston was noted on several 17th C maps, including a map produced by Cartographer John Speed in 1627 and is marked as Costan; it is possible that this particular building was in existence at this time.  It was not until the late 18th and early 19th Centuries however that a detailed map of the Cosmeston area was produced, which clearly show the house and associated buildings pretty much as they are today.

Hearth Tax records dating to 1670 tell us that there were a number of dwellings within the Lavernock parish of which Cosmeston was a part, most of which have now since vanished, but one of which contained three hearths and was tenanted by a man names Joseph Robins. This particular building does indeed seem to contain at least three hearths, or fireplaces, and is almost certainly the same dwelling referenced in the 1670 Hearth Tax Assessment.  

Records tell us that a family with the surname of Hawker resided at Lower Cosmeston farm throughout the 19th Century, and probably throughout the 18th Century also.  One of the earliest names to appear on the census records is that of one John Hawker who died in 1828 aged 72.  It is likely that John was born at Lower Cosmeston farm in around the year 1756.

(One of the larger fireplaces with wooden corbel above;  the spiral staircase is just out of view to the left)

During the post medieval period most families lead a very sedimentary life; in fact, most people rarely left the confines of their immediate locality and lived, loved and died within the boundaries of their parish, so it would it is very likely that generations of the same family were born and died within the confines of this building; this is something we intend to research more thoroughly when time permits.  Please note that this building is on private land on a working farm and is not accessible to the general public. 

1 comment:

  1. I live at Cosmeston Cottage (not the one in the article) but closeby and have researched the Cosmeston area and have maps etc

    Currently renovating the County Treasure and have discovered a bricked up inglenook fireplace and a spiral staircase.