Monday, 22 December 2014

Hollow Way and the Medieval Mill at Porthkerry

A medieval village was not simply confined to the immediate area surrounding the castle or manor, but extended in earnest to the hinterland around and beyond. Its features were not only domestic buildings but also consisted of communal buildings. Between the fields and woods, winding their way through the landscape and linking the various settlements together would have been a network of tracks and lanes - one of these ancient lanes survives on the outskirts of Porthkerry Park in Cliff wood - the lane is sunken with steep side embankments, worn down through centuries of use. The lane terminates onto the low - land beneath into Porthkerry Park. This track leads almost directly to what was the location of the manorial corn mill for the village of Barry.

                        (Hollow Way ascending up towards Westward Rise)

(The termination of the medieval sunken lane into Porthkerry. The metalling of the track surface is clearly visible in the section of the river bank)

Interestingly the original western parish boundary is the inconspicuous deep ditch which runs parallel to the modern golf course. This was perhaps mute witness to the ancient British custom of ‘beating the bounds’ whereby the inhabitants of a given village would walk the boundaries of the parish and literally beat it with tree boughs in order to be aware of its extent. Given that there were no maps and that most people did not venture much beyond their own parish this was an important custom, one which is lost to us today. Glamorgan was, as Rice Merrick noted in the sixteenth century ‘champion land’ and would have mostly consisted of open fields as opposed to the enclosed and hedged fields we see today, thus this archaic ceremony had a practical function. This annual ceremony possessed religious and superstitious undertones as ‘beating the bounds’ was also intended to dive away evil spirits which our forefathers earnestly believed in, but also served to bless the land for the forthcoming harvest.

(This ditch is the original medieval parish boundary between Porthkerry and Barry)

Porthkerry mill was excavated in the late 1970's by the now defunct Barry and Vale Archaeological Group and the Dinas Powys Local History Society. They uncovered the remains of a two roomed building of dry stone construction; the building was L shaped in plan and it measured 10 metres by 6 metres so was modest in size. The inner room contained the internal components of the mill, its moving parts and machinery. This mill was water powered much like the Victorian example in Mill Wood and thus had a pit which once contained the mill wheel: nearby there is a pond which once fed the mill.

(These dressed dry stone slabs of linestone are the sole representation of the remains of the medieval mill of the parish of Barry

It was ascertained during excavations that the mill's structure was unbonded limestone with the exception of the wall adjoining the mill wheel which was reinforced with mortar to withstand the additional stress created by the flow of water. The mill was dated with the aid of the ubiquitous shards of medieval pottery, mostly dating from the late thirteenth to the early fourteenth centuries. Given the absence of later dating material this would seem to loosely confirm that the mill was redundant before the end of the fourteenth century. The evidence from this mill tallies with the evidence produced from Barry village, Cosmeston medieval village as well as Uchelolau. Additional evidence suggesting the mill probably went out of use during the medieval period is also historically derived as the mill is not depicted on the Evans Mouse Barry Estate map of 1622 or any other post-medieval documentation - there was also no post-medieval archaeological evidence produced during the excavations.

                (The remains of the mill's leat close to the beach at Porthkerry)

The village inhabitants were obliged by manorial law to use this facility, usually for a portion of their grain – the manorial courts had the power to fine the village inhabitants for non-conformity to manorial regulations, although there is evidence to suggest that many village inhabitants had their own quern stones and surreptitiously ground their own corn.  We have no records of any of the incumbent medieval millers in this parish, but if they are anything like Chaucer’s drunken miller Robin in the Canterbury Tales, then millers could not have had a good reputation during the medieval period. 

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