THE WALTON BASIN

also called THE RADNOR VALLEY




Evening sun on the Walton Basin (southern part) with Old Radnor in the centre

Where is it?

The Radnor Valley, or Walton Basin, is in the east of what used to be Radnorshire, now a district of the county of Powys in mid Wales, about 5 miles south west of Presteigne, and about the same distance from Kington in western Herefordshire and lies mainly 600 to 800 feet above sea level. The largest village is New Radnor, and other settlements in the valley include Llanfihangel-nant-Melan, Walton, Old Radnor, Evenjobb and Kinnerton as well as a number of smaller hamlets. Defining specific boundaries is difficult, but it is roughly bounded on the east by the pre-Cambrian igneous mass of Stanner Rocks (which form the introduction to Wales as one comes from England on the A44) and Herrock and Burfa Hills, to the north by the ridge containing Beggar's Bush, to the west by the Radnor Forest and to the south by the Smatcher and Gore Hill. To the many tourists bound for the Elan Valley and the west coast of Wales, the fields seem just another extension of the agricultural area of west Herefordshire, and they pass through without stopping.

What is its origin?

Stanner Rocks (pictured left) in the east are the oldest rocks in Wales, together with the adjacent Hanter Hill and Worsell Wood, having originated some 702 million years ago as volcanic activity in the early days of the world, but the bulk of the basin was laid down under the sea when this part of Europe lay near the South Pole. It consists of mud and silt deposited in fairly quiet water over many millenia about 440 to 420 million years ago, and is known as the Ludlow Shales. It is a soft grey - brown material which has never been metemorphosed and is thus not slate, as much of North Wales. Used for building locally, it is too soft and most of the older houses show marked signs of weathering.

Europe is on a tectonic plate called Gondwanaland which gradually, over several hundred million years, drifted northward until it reached its present position. During that time there was much disturbance of the sea bed , which first lifted out of the sea and was then contorted by various cataclysmic earth movements but the Walton Basin and indeed the greater part of the Ludlow Shales were too far from the edge of the tectonic plate to have been over-ridden by the adjacent one which would have compressed the shale into slate. Gradually it settled and became the area we are now examining; it formed a basin roughly centred on the village of Walton (hence the name geologists and archaeologists give it - the Walton Basin). For a very long series of geological epochs, the Ludlow shales matured and the next activity was much more recent - the advent of the ice caps in the various ice ages. It covered all of Wales but about 12,000 years ago it melted.

The basin was already there and provided an excellent receptacle for the floodwaters which came from the melting ice which after gouging deep valleys in the side of what is now Bache Hill, created a lake. Once filled, the basin overflowed into the now Hindwell Brook valley between Herrock and Burfa Hills, the lake bursting its bank to the east, leaving a fertile layer of mud and silt which has proved an excellent basis for agriculture even though 600 to 800 feet above sea level. And at last there was the Radnor Valley which we know today.The evidence of the hanging valleys where the icemelt ran off is clear on the photo below.



looking toward the Whimble and Bache Hill from Beggars Bush.

The countryside and its villages

The Walton basin is an agricultural area devoted in the main to sheep and some cattle, although there are some large sheds for rearing chickens just south of Evenjobb. Because of this, hedges predominate as boundaries in order to retain the stock, and these often contain larger trees, in paticular oak.. A few fields are used for crops, particularly in the northwest of the valley, where swedes are grown as food for the sheep in late winter and some small crops of potatoes and grain, but for the most part the fields are of grass. The hills around the basin are partly wooded but mainly bare of anything but grass, and where woods do exist they tend to be in plantations.

The valley is drained by the Hindwell Brook and its several tributaries. In the middle of the eastern section is a large stretch of water called Hindwell Pool, fed permanently by springs and which provides the origin for Hindwell Brook, but there is another stream, Summergil Brook which leads into the Hindwell, and originates in the hills of the Radnor Forest, from which it comes via a 75 foot high waterfall called "Water-break-its-neck", illustrated on the right. According to local tradition, a cave here was one of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd's hideouts during the final struggle for Welsh independence. The cave was also home to a hermit in the 18th century, and his graffiti can still be seen on the cave's walls. In the nineteenth century the ravine was landscaped and became a popular local tourist attraction. . Although water flows over the falls all year, Summergil is often dry in the summer months, but deceptively so, for if you were to dig in its bed you would soon come to flowing water in the loose gravel. The falls drop into a short but steep sided gorge, accessible to the public but which is well wooded. Near to the falls the spray generates one of the few pockets of temperate rain forest in the UK, with many mosses and lichens growing in the pure air.

Other significant streams include the Cockley Brook, arising from several springs in the Evenjobb area and joining Hindwell Brook at Ditchyield after passing through Burfa Bog, a nature reserve of the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust and open to the public. Here, in season may be found orchids as well as other typical wetland flowers and a huge badgers' sett as well as an otter holt.

Running from north to south at the eastern side of the valley is Offa's Dyke, of which more may be found under the history section.To the north, the dyke crosses the high ground, at Granner Wood, but descends to Barland and Burfa where it is particularly prominent, especially to those walking the dyke. Naturally occuring oaks cluster around the dyke at Barland and are worth a visit. At Burfa is a farmhouse, now a private residential house, built in stages from the 13th century onwards, and close by at Barland was reputedly a hunting lodge used by King Charles I.Throughout the valley there are numerous mottes and baileys, a legacy of the border raids from both England and Wales; the border lands were always subject to marauding bands. There is more about this too in the history section.

OLD RADNOR is a small village at the top of a hill which posesses one hostelry, the Harp Inn, (left) [a pub and 15th century longhouse which offers accommodation and spectacular views across the basin and has a website here] and an ancient church, but no post office or shop. Together with the small village of Walton, the population is 248. St Stephen's church at Old Radnor is one of the finest medieval churches in Wales, with considerable architectural interest, a significant range of internal fittings, and strong evidence of a former curvilinear churchyard. The tower is 15th century with limited restoration work; the north aisle and north chapel are 15th century (or even early 16th) but east wall was rebuilt in Victorian times, and the same is true of the chancel. The south aisle also 15th century, but there is a 14th century window at the west end. The porch is largely original. Thus the whole structure is probably 15th century, making the building the oldest surviving church in the Walton Basin. It has been suggested that at least part of the church was rebuilt in the 12th century, but all that remains of this church is a scalloped capital set in the chancel arch behind the organ. The organ itself is something else - the oldest organ case in Britain!

The church was originally dedicated to St Ystyffan prior to the Norman invasion, and it holds the oldest (8th century) font in Britain; thought to have been a collegiate church it is now just a simple parish church with a roof which needs replacing. It stands 840 feet above sea level high on the western side of Gore Hill, currently being quarried on the eastern side by Tarmac, and Ystyffan himself belongs to the late 6th century when he was a member of the royal family which ruled Powys c600-850. The font is, like the organ case, the oldest in Britain, being dated to the eighth century. To the east of the church lie the reputed remains of Old Radnor Castle (right) in the form of a ditch, presumably the moat. Until the advent of the Victorian church at Evancoyd, the parish of Old Radnor covered all of the eastern end of the Basin: Kinnerton church was a chapel attached to Old Radnor. It remains in the Church of England, rather than the Church in Wales.

To the East of Old Radnor lies Hanter Hill and its associated Worzell Wood - a smaller hill covered largely by beech trees and carpeted with bluebells in season. A footpath leads to it across a small bridge over the Gilwern Brook, (which drains into the River Arrow), and which allows public access.

On the other side of the A44, to the north is Stanner Rock - a nature reserve which provides a habitat for the Radnor Lily - the only place it grows in the world. It is pictured on the left. It is difficult to find and has of course to be at the right season, and many who venture on their own to make the discovery are disappointed. The hill also provides a habitat for the red wood ant (right) - the only remaining one in mid-Wales - which is becoming extremely rare other than in southern England, where it is still common. There are conducted tours provided from time to time by a local expert. The face of Stanner adjacent to the A44 is near to vertical, but the approach from the north is more gentle, and there are pathways which allow access.

The south side of the Walton basin has an indistinct boundary, but includes the hamlets of Yardro and Harpton, and at the western end terminates in the Smatcher, although the valley vetween the Smatcher and the Fron is included in the Basin and contains Llanfihangel-nant-Melan. Yardro has a tiny chapel for the Calvinistic Methodists, which is still in use: services are held every two weeks when possible.

NEW RADNOR is a village with a population of 287 situated at the entrance to Radnor Valley from the west, through Llanfihangel-nant-Melan. We live on the extreme eastern edge of the settlement. The Welsh name of Maesfed is said to mean "absorbant meadow", but there is a contrary opinion that the original appellation was Maes Hyvaidd, and that the district was so called from having belonged to Hyvaidd, son of Caradoc Vraichvras, at one time prince of the country.The high hills of Fron, Smatcher and the Whimble funnel the prevailing winds from the southwest and make the village a windy place. The most prominent feature is the castle mound, but there is also a tall monument to Lord Cornwallis, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer in Victorian times. It greets visitors as they turn off the A44 and is often mistaken for a war memorial.

The village has a church, a chapel, a primary school, (see their website here), a shop, post office and a pub, which provides accommodation and food, a picture framing business, a house maintenance firm,a school of motoring, a caravan site, a woodcrafter, a gardening service and a community hall. Bed and breakfast and self catering accommodation is available as well as Bed and Breakfast . About a mile toward Kinnerton there is a farm which specialises in making and selling cider, and Haines Mill, half a mile west makes and sells woodcarving - mainly house name plaques.

The Dingle Brook flows from Mutton Dingle down the valley to join Summergil, and is open beside Water Street: access to houses is achieved by a series of small bridges. The 1904 map on the right shows the layout of the village, planned and established as a grid in medieaval times with traces of the walls still to be seen. The Radnor Valley football club is a thriving local team.

St Mary's church at New Radnor lies on the hill overlooking the town. It is difficult to determine the number of churches that have been built on the spot, but the present one dates to the middle of the 19thC. The only medieval features are two worn effigies recovered from the churchyard, and fragments of the medieval screen incorporated into the communion rails. It is thought that the church was probably founded in the 12thC or 13thC as an element of the new town. The Taxatio of 1291 records 'Ecclia de Radenore Nova' as having a value of 10. A new church is thought to have been erected at the expense of William and Flory Bachefeld in the 14th century. Howse claimed a 14th/15thC church which had a tower with a broach spire and a south aisle and arcade. Speed's map of the early 17thC shows a west tower, probably with a corner turret, a large nave with a south porch and a smaller chancel, but its accuracy remains to be assessed. The picture is complicated by Leland's statement (in the second quarter of the 16thC) that the old church was still standing as a chapel to the castle. Jonathan Williams writing in 1818 describes the church as consisting of " a nave and aisle on the south side, separated from the nave by five octagonal pillars supporting six pointed arches, and a chancel. The partition that divides the nave and chancel is a low timber frame under a pointed arch. On the south side of the nave are three windows, containing each three lights, divided by stone mullions under trefoil arches. A similar window is on the north side, the arch of which consists of three quatrefoil lights. The chancel contains three windows of ordinary construction. It also has a tower flanked by low buttresses, and at present covered with a tiled roof, but was originally higher, and as appears by Speed's sketch of it taken in the year 1610, embattled. The tower contains four larger bells, and one smaller, with a clock. Its south side has three ranges of lights. The lavacrum is on the south side of the lateral aisles, which on the east appears to have formerly contained a small chapel, entered by two doors..... The porch is of timber, but the entrance into the church is under a pointed arch of stone; and opposite to the entrance door is a large hewn stone font." Some details of the screen were sketched by John Parker prior to the demolition of the old church.

This church was replaced by the existing structure of 1843-5, planned by Adams and erected by Thomas Dashwood. It is "Gothic in name only - just buttresses and lancets on a Late Georgian plan" (Haslam). The south transept may have been added a little later at the expense of the Lewis family of Downton House.

New Radnor used to be a shire town for a short while in the 1500s, and had its own court - principally because the castle gatehouse provided the only jail in Radnorshire. The old town hall is still in the village today, although New Radnor's borough status was lost in 1833, its having been overtaken in size and prosperity by Presteigne. Even in 1636 when Charles I imposed Ship Money, New Radnor had to pay 6 whilst Presteigne was charged 28.. It used to have its own market, which included livestock and was held once a week, but this is no longer the case. Hiring fairs were also held here regularly. There used also to be a railway terminal (pictured right in 1906) about half a mile south of the village centre, but this, which provided a through train to and from London, was axed in the Beeching cuts and is now providing a caravan site. The line had been intended to run through to Aberystwyth, but the promoters ran out of money. There is a bus service about every two hours to Kington and Hereford, and to Llandrindrod Wells in the opposite direction.

LLANFIHANGEL-NANT-MELAN (population 79) is the extreme western end of the Basin. Little more than a hamlet it is a sheep farming area and has two pubs, both providing accomodation and good food. The Fforest Inn lies at the western end of the valley immediately opposite a motte and bailey (Tomen) illustrated below. The Red Lion Inn lies at the centre of the village, close by the little church which was completely rebuilt in 1846. Both provide accommodation and have a good reputation for food. The church does not appear in the 13th century Taxatios, but in the Valor Ecclesiasticus of 1535, "Llanmyhangell Llan Melan" is recorded at the unexceptional value of 4 13s 4d.

It is not so much the small church, completely rebuilt during Victorian times, which is of great interest, but the churchyard on which the church was built. Its circular shape defines it as a religous site probably dating back to the pre-Roman era: it is surrounded by very ancient yew trees. However, in 1231 the Bishop of St David's confirmed a gift tfrom William de Braose (a remote ancestor of mine!) of the church of Llanfihangel Nant Melan to the knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem. Built of local soft shale stone it did not survive, but the Victorian rebuild includes the original Norman arch at the entrance.

There is neither school, post office or shop in the village, although there is an ex-garage (no petrol there now!) which sometimes sells a few second hand vehicles. Buses are as for New Radnor.



The Tomen opposite the Fforest Hotel at the turning to Builth Wells

KINNERTON with a population of 97 is a small village centred around a pond and agriculturally based. It includes the hamlet of Badland, where cider is made.It has a church which was rebuilt in Victorian times and a small village hall, but no shops or post office. It is principally famed for providing the steep hillside for motorcycle and mountain bike racing and for the Whimble Nurserywhich provides a small garden centre - (see the website here) . There is a thriving Womens' Institute in this village. The church is, like Old Radnor, an Anglican church, since in 1922 the inhabitants opted to stay with England at the time of disestablishment and the beginning of the Church in Wales. As with all but one of the churches in the Valley, it was rebuilt in the 19th century. There is a large pond and a village hall. The brook which drains the village passes to Holbach Mill, no longer a mill today, but which lies about halfway between Kinnerton and Evenjobb.

EVENJOBB - (see a page about Evenjobb here and have a look at some photos here) The village is shown left looking over the north end of the Walton Basin. We lived in this village for about ten years after we retired, in the oldest house, built in 1610, when according to John Speed's map of that year, the village was called Augop. It has a post office, Victorian church, a village hall, two furniture making businesses and a battery chicken unit but is mainly a farming community, having expanded considerably in recent years, The population was 157 at the last census, but is probably now nearer 200. Evenjobb means "Evan's wood or copse" and the parish known as Evancoyd means the same thing in Welsh. But in their enthusiasm for "welshifying" names, the County Council gave it the name "Einsiob" without consultation or apparent reason.

A popular event held two or three times a year is trotting races, and photographs of the event may be seen here, but there is no organised sporting activity, and no pub, the nearest being two miles away in Walton. The primary school is in New Radnor and the secondary in Presteigne.

The major estate from the 1500's onward was Newcastle Court, toward Beggars Bush, a large house, reputedly haunted, which owned and farmed much of the area. But it was not wealthy. King Charles the first came through the village with 3000 soldiers and billeted himself at Bush Farm, on the northern border of the parish. Here all that could be offered was a pullet and cheese and an uncomfortable bed - he moaned that the place should, because of its clear poverty, be called Beggars' Bush and it has been ever since. The house is still there.

In the nineteenth century the Evancoyd estate was established and by the 1870's owned most of the village, from Barland in the east, Beggars Bush in the north, almost to Kinnerton in the west and to the land adjoining Hindwell Farm. The Mynors family who owned the estate built their house (Evancoyd Court) the school (now closed), the vicarage (now a private house) and the church of St Peter's Evancoyd which took from Old Radnor, Presteigne and Kinnerton to form a completely new parish. As with most estates, it has been sold off to various people - although there remains a core estate now owned by the Lewis family through which local farmers rent their land and houses.

Although it is possible to go to the county town, Llandrindod Wells [known locally as Llandod] by bus you'd have to stay overnight to catch the return bus, but there is also one bus a day which goes to and from Hereford There is a recently refurbished village hall, donated by the local "squire", Major Lewis, some years ago in which there are various activities, such as Country and Western evenings, occasional fund raising events, like Bingo and sales of goods: otherwise it is used as a meeting place for local organisations (Mothers' Union and WI) and for educational purposes.

WALTON lies on the A44 and provides the name for the Basin. It has a pub (the "Crown") which does provide accommodation and food but apart from a caravan site the only occupations are in agriculture. Its population is included in that for Old Radnor. There is some ribbon development toward Offa's Dyke, and toward WOMASTON, a hamlet which contains a school for children with behaviour disorders, and a motte with a moat, shown right. This site is set in low-lying land near to Hindwell Brook and it seems likely that it used wet defences, for a 10ft wide moat surrounds the mound which appears to have had a shell keep on it. [A shell keep is a wall surrounding the mound. It is thought that these tended to be built where there were fears about the stability of the mound to support a keep tower.] There is another 3-4ft high rampart to the N and traces of a bailey to the SW of the motte. It is also known that Edward the Confessor (1042-66) had a hunting lodge at Womaston.It was part of the Radnor Lordship and would have been controlled by the Braose family during the 12th century.

There is a post office on Tuesdays in the village hall at Walton, but no shop. The village hall is used for many village activities. Bus services are the same as New Radnor


PREHISTORY

The earliest indication of man in the Walton Basin is a paleolithic flint shouldered point found in New Radnor and dated to the late glacial interstadial - 13000 to 11,800 BP. (BP means Before Present, and refers to 1950. It is used mainly for radiocarbon dating) Did the owner drop it in the lake? or as he or she was going about daily business? Flint is not to be found locally and its existence here suggests either nomads or trade, the former more likely.

Archaeological finds include wide scatters of mesolithic flint implements at Rough Close, between Kinnerton, New Radnor and Evenjobb. These are dated to the late paleolithic period - about 8000 years ago, and many show neolithic affinities suggesting a later rather than earlier date for some of them. No mesolithic monuments or dwellings have been found, however, and it seems likely that these flints represent temporary settlements, although plough damage may have eradicated evidence to the contrary.

It is in the neolithic period and later that the evidence for settlement is so strong, discovered first by crop markings spotted from aeroplanes flying over. The rest of this section is therefore divided into the appropriate periods.

Neolithic

This was the view which sparked the first major excavations in the Walton Basin and revealed an extraordinary find. But it was not the only one: other crop marks were discovered and the finds they enabled are described below. The photograph shows the western end of an enclosure near to Hindwell Farm. On excavation it was found to consist of post holes which had been occupied by regularly spaced oak posts about 700 cm (about 28 inches) to 1 metre in diameter spaced on average 800 cm from edge to edge, each post hole being about 2 metres deep. The enclosure was of about 34 hectares (84 acres) with a circumference of over 2 km (1.24 miles), and is the largest in Britain and second largest enclosure of the period in Europe. Radiocarbon dating suggests a time of 4000BP (2050BC), roughly contemporary with Stonehenge, and is confirmed by similar results from each posthole. Each post would have weighed about four and a half tonnes involving the felling of 6300 tonnes of oak - there would it is calculated have been 1410 posts - and required not only the manpower to fell and dress the timber but also arrangements for its transport and erection. The enclosure's purpose is unclear, but it is likely that the posts which were so close together were linked by a fence which would make the area suitable for keeping animals - but in enormous bulk. Was it defensive, to keep things out or was it to keep things in?

This, however was not the only neolithic construction in the Radnor Valley.There were two cursus, one near to the village of Walton and the other near the Four Stones . These were parallel ditches for which again the purpose is unclear. There seems to be a strong leaning toward a ritual purpose, but without direct evidence they might as easily be herding restraints...who knows?

Nearly 500 metres long and over 50 metres wide, the Four Stones Cursus has yet to be excavated, but some work has been done on the Walton one, where the ditches were found to have been about 3 metres wide at the gravel surface of the day and about 1 metre deep. It comprised two parallel ditches sixty metres apart and 680 metres in length, but the lack of dateable finds was disappointing. There were a few flints which were thought to be of third or second millenium date but they were found high in the ditch deposit, indicating that the cursus may be much older.

By far the most important find archaeologically was the neolithic settlements at Upper Ninepence. Evidence of settlement in two phases just before 3000 BC was apparent, with both Peterborough ware and Fengate ware occuring in at least nine small pits which also revealed some environmental data. Some of the potsherds still had traces of meat which was traceable to ruminants: the inference being that sheep, goats or cattle were being eaten, suggesting that they were kept as stock. The floral evidence is clear: emmer and bread wheat were being grown in grassland and hazel scrub - blackthorn and hawthorn were also present indicating the possibility of hedging, although this is simple conjecture. It presents a picture of a landscape not dissimilar to today. Interestingly, an analysis of the flint fragments in the pottery shows that they came from at least 50 km away, suggesting trade.

The second phase of settlement evidenced by greater pit activity and post holes indicating two structures: this phase was contemporaneous with the huge Hindwell enclosure, close to Upper Ninepence which is on a low adjacent hill and from which the enclosure must have been clearly visible, although the environment seems to have been more wooded than before, with oak predominating.. Analysis of the grooved pottery shards show that pig and cattle were being eaten in some quantity, suggesting farming moving toward modern practice, or possibly ritual feast celebrations in connection with the enclosure..

The uppermost layer of finds at Upper Ninepence were of a barrow of late neolithic or early bronze age date. Evidence included a cinerary urn, and the barrow seems to have been a turf mound, now virtually ploughed out. A greenstone axe found at Evenjobb by the late George Lomas, pictured on the left, has the Lake District as its origin, indicating a probable trading system between the two areas

In 2006 it was reported that a "new" 6000 year old causewayed enclosure had been identified near to Walton from cropmarks. This is a characteristic oval bivallate causewayed enclosure on a rounded hill, shown on right Excavations in 2008 revealed the inner ditch which measured around 2.5m wide and up to 1.7m deep, while the outer was around 2.8m wide and 1.5m deep. Both ditches had evidence for later, shallow recuts, and Early Neolithic pottery was recovered from the upper fills.The analysis of soil samples from a number of key contexts has provided a series of radiocarbon dates. Charcoal from the base of the inner ditch produced a date of 3658-3384 cal. BC, while the later recut of the ditch gave a date of 3625-3360 cal. BC. Unfortunately, there was no dateable material from the lower fills of the outer ditch, although charcoal from a later feature cut into the top of the ditch have been dated at 3621-3342 cal. BC. Taken as a group this suggests a fairly intensive period of activity between around 3650 and 3350 BC, during which time both ditches were excavated, infilled and, in the case of the inner ditch, recut. This confirms the Neolithic origins of the site, although evidence from a small pit in the interior indicates a possible period of reuse during the Iron Age. The fill contained a number of weed seeds and poorly preserved cereal grains, as well as hazel charcoal which produced a date of 750-390 cal. BC.

Early Bronze Age



The Four stones circle

There is a stone circle as well as six standing stones in the basin. The circle is called "Four Stones" for obvious reasons, and lies just to the west of the Hindwell enclosure. There is a local legend that each night the stones go to Hindwell Pool for a drink, returning before dawn, but eyewitness verification appears to depend on people returning home from the local pub at Walton! The circle may or may not have existed at the same time as the enclosure. The standing stones appear to be in linear settings which may define routes across the basin; one of these routes starting at the end of the Llanfihangel valley entrance, now called "School Lane" in New Radnor passes directly by the Four Stones and interestingly continues along the north side of the enclosure, diverting somewhat to do so, arguing that its establishment was contemporaneous with the enclosure or preceeded it and became therefore diverted. It continues across the valley to the base of Burfa Bank, where it follows the Hindwell Brook toward Presteigne. It is still a public footpath where it is not a metalled road, and can be walked almost its entire length of about 4 miles. The second line of standing stones seems to go from Downton, a mile or so east of New Radnor and crosses the valley to the same destination as the other one.



Barrow at Harpton

The predominant feature of the valley however is the high incidence of Bronze Age barrows (19 identified) and ring ditches (12 identified), which may be barrows. Most of those on the floor of the Walton Basin are crop marks identified by aerial survey and are largely ploughed out and have not been excavated. Some flints have been found in association with most of them, but the well preserved barrows are at Harpton and on the unploughed hills, Bache, Whimble and Whinyard. Here they are easily seen by visitors, although it is a stiff climb to get there. They vary in diameter from 10m, the smallest on Bache Hill, to 22 metres on the Whimble.

Iron Age


Burfa hillfort from the air

There are at least nine and possibly 12 rectangular enclosures thought to be of Iron Age date (800 BC to 43 AD), all identified from aerial survey and some confirmed by ceramic evidence. In addition there are two hill forts: Castlering in the north and Burfa in the east. In the case of Castlering, 136 metres by 106 metres it is a roughly oval constrauction which may be seen via a trackway from the gated road from Beggars Bush to Presteigne.There is some archaeological argument as to whether the site may be post - Roman, but this is not the case with Burfa which was an encampment enclosing about 20 acres and which was occupied for some considerable time. Not only iron age pottery has been recovered but Roman as well. The whole is protected by a deep ditch and bank, and can be accessed from the Offa's Dyke path through woodland.

Roman Period

The Radnor Valley lay at the edge of the area settled by the Romans and shows no sign of permanent dwellings, farms or villas, but there are the remains of an auxiliary fort covering a flat area of about 5 acres (2 hectares) just to the east of Hindwell Farm. This was first built in the campaigns of Publius Ostorius Scapula in AD 27 - 52 and restored or rebuilt in Quintus Veranius' campaign of AD 57/8. Evidence of a bath house and various pieces of pottery and glass as well as coins have come to light over the years, and during the construction of a new silo at the farm, the opportunity was made to excavate a section of the ditches of the two camps, one being superimposed on the other. The defensive ditches were substantial, the earlier one having a five metre (16' 0") deep V shaped section typical of military forts of the time. This was later filled in with turf from the ramparts and a new ditch, 2.35 metres (7'6") deep and 6.5 metres (21'2") across with a near vertical outer face was built. No formal excavation of the fort has been undertaken and its secrets remain to be discovered.

But in addition to the Hindwell fort, there were no less that three "marching camps" to the south of Hindwell at Walton village, but these are only known fron crop marks identified from the air. These are identified by their OS reference as follows:
SO252598 - This camp at Walton lies across what is now the A44 and comprises about 6 acres (2.4 hectares) The gates are roughly central in each side of the camp, but it is interesting to note that it appears to be aligned with the next described camp, only 20 metres away
SO254599 - Again split by the A44, this was the largest of the three camps and had four distinct gateways leading to the seven and three quarter acre (3.13 hectares) site. It has been estimated that 20,000 troops could have been accommodated in this camp.
SO255600 - This camp lies to the north west of Walton, but only the northern edge is identified for certain; the camp occupied about five and a half acres (2.1 hectares) but is not orientated with the other two camps.
No formal excavation of these camps has been undertaken, and no evidence of occupation after the first century has been discovered in any part of the valley.

HISTORY

There are many mottes and baileys all over the Walton Basin, silent tribute to the constant forays by both the Welsh and the Engish, who liked to go off with the cattle of the people they were raiding, but these gradually fell into misuse when Offa built his Dyke - still there in the east of the basin and pictured left

Offa was King of Mercia from 757 to 796 AD. His kingdom covered the area between the Trent/Mersey rivers in the North to the Thames Valley in the South, and from the Welsh border in the West to the Fens in the East. At the height of his power, however, he also controlled Kent, East Anglia and Lindsay (Lincoln), and had alliances with Northumbria and Wessex, sealed by the marriage of two of his daughters to their Kings, Aethelred and Beorhtic respectively. He was, therefore, effectively an early King of England. He influenced the setting up of a third Archbishopric in England at the Cathedral at Lichfield and near his principal residence at Tamworth. This, however, was abolished shortly after his death.

Offa was also influential in international affairs, having diplomatic and trading links with Charlemagne the poweful continental king based in Francia, together with contact with the Papacy. He established the use of the penny as the standard monetary unit in England, with the same silver content as coins in circulation in Francia, thereby assisting both national and international trading.

Offa's Dyke is a linear earthwork which roughly follows the Welsh/English boundary. It consists of a ditch and rampart constructed with the ditch on the Welsh-facing side, and appears to have been carefully aligned to present an open view into Wales from along its length. As originally constructed, it must have been about 27 metres wide and 8 metres from the ditch bottom to the bank top.

The origins of the Dyke are shrouded in mystery so that many of its aspects are speculated upon rather than being fully understood. Asser, the biographer of King Alfred, gave the first known reference to it when he wrote, about 100 years later "that a certain vigorous king called Offa......had a great dyke built between Wales and Mercia from sea to sea."

The Dyke appears to have been constructed in response to events in the border region involving the Princes of Powys, but whether it was intended as an agreed boundary, as a defensive structure with long lost additional fortifications, or for some other use, is not known. It is thought to have been started in about 785 AD and to have taken several years to build. The 9th Century history of the region suggests that the earthwork had only a short period of importance and was then abandoned.

Much of the Dyke is still traceable along the 80 miles from the Wye valley to Wrexham. In places it still retains most of its original impressive dimensions while in other parts it has disappeared due to 1200 years of farming activity and its presence can only be detected by archaelogical work. Two stretches of earthwork at each end of this length are not now considered to be the work of Offa's time, but the King filling much of the central section gave Asser the licence to describe the Dyke as going from sea to sea.

A footpath following the approximate route of the dyke from Chepstow to Prestatyn is used regularly by enthusiastic walkers - it is visible in the photograph. The history of the Radnor Valley is sparsely recorded and in the early days seems to have been one of continual cross border incursions. Amost all is related to New Radnor and its castle which was repeatedly in trouble, being destroyed and then rebuilt, although a little is known of Barland in the east of the basin, close to Offa's Dyke.

Barland is recorded in the Doomsday Book of 1086 as Bernaldeston and was held by a knight called Thorkell under the overlordship of Hugh L'asne (Hugh the Ass) who held the Lordship of Radnor as well as other territory including Norton and Knighton. When Hugh died heirless sometime shortly after 1100 his lands were taken by King Henry I. They were soon sold or given on and in the case of the Radnor Lordship the recipient was Philip Braose who held lands around Builth Wells and had presumably supported Henry in the conflict associated with the king's accession in 1100.

It was granted to the Peytevin family by Philips son William II sometime after 1165. The Braose family held onto Radnor for over 100 years, apart from 1110-12 when they were dispossessed after trouble with King Henry. Three generations of them controlled the area until 1207 when Philip's great grandson, William III had an argument with King John that turned into full-scale hostilities resulting in his lands and castles being seized by the Crown. The new tenant at Barland in 1211-12 was one Simon Cook. Eventually Barland came back to the Peytevins who are recorded as holding it in 1304. The castle itself could have been built any time from the 1080's well into the next century. The site is not a good military position, and it may well have been more of an elaborate hunting lodge than a castle, although the rubble of a stone tower and traces of stone curtain walls might suggest a more substantial building. All that can be seen is shown on the right

So to New Radnor. Records for the pre-Norman times are scanty and perhaps start with the "History of Wales" by Caradoc of Llancarven, who says: "Hywel Dda, who by an undisputed right had for several years held dominion over South Wales and the district called Powys, was, on the death of Idwal Voel, Prince of North Wales, in 939, by common consent elected to the sovereignty of the whole of Wales. By this election, the claims of an elder branch of the family of Hywel Dda were for a time set aside.

Hywel ruled the country peacefully and prosperously for the space of nine years; but at his death, in 948, Ievav and Iago, the sons of Idwal, successfully asserted their claim to the dominion of North Wales, which was resigned to them without dispute. At the same time, the principality of South Wales and the district of Powys were divided among the sons of Hywel Dda, who were clearly entitled to inherit them. This right, however, was denied by the sons of Idwal; and, for nearly fifty years, Wales was made the scene of bloodshed by the conflicts that took place between various disputants.

In the course of these struggles, Meredydd (ab Owain), grandson of Hywel, and Prince of North Wales, succeeded for a time in forcibly usurping the sovereignty both of South Wales and Powys, dispossessing of his territories his nephew Edwin (ap Eineon ap Owain), great-grandson of Hywel, who in his difficulties obtained the assistance of an English force. With the aid thus received, Edwin drove back Meredydd into his district of North Wales; but the latter recruited his forces with such rapidity that in the following year, 991, he invaded the possessions of Edwin, spoiled the district of Glamorgan, and destroyed the town of New Radnor."

So New Radnor was already a town in 991 and may well have had a castle on the mound to the north of the village (see right). The Domesday book survey which extended into the Welsh Marches, described "Raddrenove" as having seven hides, thirty carrucaria of land and fifteen hides of waste land held by Richard Osbern: Quenerton, later Kinnerton, had one hide, also held by the same man. Old Radnor at the time was held by Radulp de Mortimer, the owner of Wigmore Castle, built by William Osbern, Lord of Hereford, father of Richard. This noble earl ended his days in prison, in the year 1071, and appears to have been one of the ancient possessors of the land who sank beneath the power of the Norman conquerors.

From the position of the fortress at the western entrance of the valley, and from the still apparent fact that all its outworks were on the west, it is evident that it was erected for the purpose of defending Mercia from the inroads of the Welsh; and Old Radnor had, no doubt, been abandoned because its situation on the eastern side of the valley rendered it unfit for that purpose.

The historical relationship between the castle of New Radnor, the moated site south of Old Radnor Church, and Castle Nimble in the valley north of Old Radnor at Knapp Farm is uncertain, [this latter castle being a doubtful motte which is more likely to be a burial tumulus] but it is likely that all the early references to Radnor mean New Radnor and that Philip de Braose had a castle (almost certainly made of wood) on this fine defensive site by c.1095.

Certainly the castle, if it had been laid waste in 991 had been rebuilt, although it may have survived the sacking of New Radnor, forThe "History of Ludlow" suggests that the castle was already in use prior to the Norman invasion of 1066.

Radnor Castle, which occupied a large mound rising on the northern side of the then town, must have been a place of considerable strength: on three sides the descent from the castle walls is precipitous, while on the fourth it was defended by a succession of deep intrenchments. The town walls were protected by four strong gates, whose position can still be traced; and a plan of the town has been preserved on the map of Radnorshire in Speed's Geography, published in 1610, showing the principal lines of street with perfect accuracy, and, with little variation, as they now exist - see the 1904 map above.

In 1188 The Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury came to New Radnor and made it his base for recruiting the Welsh to go on crusades - he was accompanied by Giraldus Cambriensis, a canon of St Davids Cathedral and great medieval historian, from whom much of this early history is directly or indirectly derived. Giraldus was there as an interpreter and was part Norman and part Welsh, being related to the Prince Rhys. Waiting for the party at New Radnor was Prince Rhys himself, and soon as the parties had assembled Giraldus threw himself to the ground and begged the Archbishop to be allowed to be the first Welshman to volunteer for the Crusade. He received the Cross - a woven cloth cross to be attached to the arm of his clothes and was indeed the first Welsh volunteer.

In 1194, Sir Roger Mortimer being an acqisitive knight, appropriated the area, although it was under the rule of Rhys ap Grufydd, a prince of south Wales, and two years late Prince Rhys raised and led an a army which laid successful seige to Clun Castle, some distance north of the area, then coming south and capturing New Radnor Castle. Sir Roger seems to have been upset by this and came to New Radnor with a large army - much larger than Prince Rhys' who decided to meet the army on the flatter lands of the valley. The English were defeated some mile and a half east of New Radnor and the many dead buried in two mounds still visible near Knapp Farm, on the south of the east of the A44. There is also a large mound, adjacent to Knapp farm thought to be the remnant of Castle Nimble and was one of the many mottes around the Radnor Valley which were subservient to Radnor Castle. You can see the Knapp Farm mounds here

In 1216 King John of England was at war with the French. His chroniclers said that New Radnor was one of the most important castles in Wales and he demanded help from Reginald de Braose, the then owner of New Radnor, who supported Llewelyn Fawr (the Great), having married his daughter Gwladys a Ddu. He refused the king who exacted a penalty by successfully attacking the castle. However, after the signing of the Magna Carta and the ascendancy to the throne of Henry III, Reginald changed sides and Gwladys married a Mortimer after his death, and was thus an ancestor of King Edward IV and Richard III . Llewellyn was less than pleased, destroyed the Castle and executed the father of his daughter in law, Isabella de Braose (who had married Llewellyn's son Dafydd) who had apparently been making advances to Llewellyn' wife, Joan! For 15 years after this there was relative peace in the Radnor Valley during which time the castle was rebuilt, until 1231 when Prince Llewellyn , who was fighting Herbert de Burgh, the new owner of the area, attacked the castle and "put the garrison to the sword". Two years later the castle was rebuilt by Richard, Earl of Cornwall: it lasted 30 years, when it was besieged and destroyed, this time by a Prince of North Wales, Llewellyn ap Grufydd .

Roger Mortimer obtained a murage grant for walling in the town in 1257 and further grants were made in 1280, 1283, and 1290. From the SW corner of the castle bailey a rampart still survives almost to the Summergil Brook, which probably fed a partially wet moat, and then onto the site of the South Gate. South of the site of the West Gate shale walling is visible in the bank. Less survives of the eastern section of the defenses, where there was a third gate, and the NE section, with a fourth gate near the Dingle Brook. The defenses were probably never restored after the destruction wrought in 1403 from which the town never recovered.

Yet again it was rebuilt only to be destroyed together with the town by Owain Glendwr in 1401. History has it that the garrison of 60 men were all beheaded - a story which archaeology later proved correct when the skeletons of the headless bodies were discovered along with the missing heads a short way off. The town was rebuilt, although the castle was not, and designed on a grid basis, which may have been the case before the visit of Owain Glendwr. John Speed's map of 1610 is shown on the left in which the Dingle brook is seen clearly running down Water Street as it does today, albeit at the side of the road these days.And on the right is New Radnor today from the castle mound

In the reign of Henry VIII the governing of Wales changed, and with it came a lasting peace, largely engineered by Roland Lee, Bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, the man who decreed that the names of Welsh people could no longer contain the word "ap" - meaning "child of". Of greater importance for this paper he considered in 1535 the future of New Radnor Castle which had not been properly repaired after Owain Glendwr's depredations. He said in a letter to Thomas Cromwell: "Radnor Castle is not to be repaired, but only a prison house amended, which must needs be done, for there have been lost by evil keeping no less than eight theives, and they have no place to keep them: all may not be brought to Ludlow"

In 1540 or 1545 Leland visited the area and described it: "New Radnor town is metely well walled and in the wall appeareth the ruins of four gates. There is an old church standing now as a chapel by the castle: not very far thence is the new church built by William Bachefield and Flory, his wife. There goeth by the town, as I remember, a brook called Somergill. The building of the town is in some part meatly good, in most part but rude, many houses being thatched; the castle is in ruin, but a part of the gate has lately been amended. The town was defaced in Henry IV's day by Owen Glendower. The voice is there that after he had won the castle, he took three score men that had the garde of the castle and caused them to be beheaded on the brink of the castle yard, and that since a certain blood-wort groweth where the blood was shed" There seems to be no sign of the bloodwort today!

Thoughout this time and for a long time to come the Welsh cattle farmers had been driving their black cattle to England where there was a ready market. The cattle were brought from all over Wales and put together in very large herds of about 400 animals; most drovers walked but some went on ponies. They used corgi dogs for keeping the cattle together, and it is known that some 13000 cattle a year passed through Herefordshire. One of the known Drover's inns was the Fforest Inn at Llanfihangel nant Melan, still providing excellent meals and accommodation today, where two drovers' roads met, and New Radnor itself would have provided rest and refreshment for many drovers in the inns shown in the photographs (now private homes). For the trip from Tregaron across the rugged but beautiful Abergwesyn pass and through the Radnor Valley to Warwickshire took 15 days on average.

The charter of incorporation granted New Radnor by Queen Elizabeth I referred to it as a borough which had previously existed under charters from various Lords of the Marches covering not only the whole of the Walton Basin but also parts of Cascob to the north and Llandegley to the west - a district almost 30 miles in circumference! A new Charter granted in 1738 confirmed and extended the arrangements for local government: the officials of the borough were to be as follows:
25 capital burgesses, elected from those resident in the borough
A bailiff and two aldermen, elected from the twenty five burgesses for two years, elected each year.
A Recorder who with the six bailiffs and aldermen were all magistrates who presided at both quarterly and petty sessions with respect to all crimes not punishable by death
A Town Clerk, a coroner, two chamberlains and two serjeants at mace, empowered to levy and collect rates which would pay for the Town Hall, the prison, the borough bridges and all other "lawful corporate expenses"

A court was to be held weekly for the recovery of debt and the determination of pleas not more than 40s.
The court for the election of a knight of the Shire was to be held as required
The borough was to return one member of Parliament, elected by the officers

In 1535 New Radnor was made the county town of Radnorshire, the reason being that the courts and assizes were held there as the result of having a prison, but by 1543 the Assizes had moved to Prestiegne and New Radnor lost its short lived glory as county town. (It is now part of Powys, with the county town at Llandrindod Wells.)

The Earls of Pembroke were nominal constables of Radnor Castle in James I's reign, and Lord Powis in 1631. The castle was able to briefly accommodate Prince Charles in 1642 but soon afterwards was captured and dismantled by Parliamentary forces. Small cannon balls used in the siege were discovered in the 1780's and one larger ball was embedded in a wall. In 1815 Thomas Rees recorded the castle as being nearly square with massive square towers at the north, west, and NW corners, with two smaller round towers towards the town but it is likely that he was describing what appears on Speed's map of 1610 rather than observed remains. Pointed arches and foundations were revealed by digging in 1773, 1818, and 1864, the well being discovered on the latter occasion. There were still standing walls in 1840. Only earthworks now survive. The oval inner ward 58m long by 35m wide overlooks a steep drop to the High Street on the south and to the Dingle Brook on the east. To the north and west it is separated from a large but weakly defended bailey 150m long by 60m wide by a formidable system of two wide and deep dry ditches.

After his defeat at the Battle of Naseby in June 1645, King Charles I took refuge in Monmouthshire, but eventually, after changing his base several times decided to go north and led an army of 3000 men through the Radnor Valley on the way to Chester. He is reputed to have had a hunting Lodge at Barland, but I have found no evidence that this is correct, although the forest of Radnor was a once a royal chase,and it is known that he spent much of his time as a youth in the area of Barland, to the east of Evenjobb. He passed through the Basin on what is now the B4357, and his army was no doubt a magnificent sight, but at night he had reached Bush Farm at Beggars Bush. Here he decided to stay in the farm. According to Sir Henry Slingsby, who accompanied him, the king lay in a "poor low chamber and my Lord Lindsey and others by the kitchen fire, on hay. No better were we accommodated for victuals" which makes me remember this passage:- "When the King was at his supper, eating a pullet and a piece of cheese, the room without was full, but the mens' stomachs were empty for want of meat. The good wife, troubled with continual calling on her for victuals, and having, it seems but one cheese, comes into the room where the king was and very soberly asks if the King had done with the cheese, for that the gentlemen without desired it" It was after leaving this poverty stricken farm that the King remarked that the place should be called Beggars Bush rather than just Bush, and so it has remained ever since.

The manors of Newcastle in the north of the Valley and Harpton in the south were in addition to the manor of Radnor Foreign, where the lords of the manor were the burgesses of New Radnor; the fee-farm rents (which exceeded 40 a year) were regularly collected but in granting the manor, a fee-farm rent of 37..8s..1 1/2 d was reserved by the Crown. Because this absorbed almost all the income of the borough, payments fell into arrears, and about 1812 the Duke of Leeds' (to whom the rent should have been paid) claims on the property of the borough were bought for 1000 by Sir Frankland Lewis, who became entitled to receive such income as accrued from the tolls of the October Fair and from about 65 acres of land. The large amount of arrears were never paid!

The 1832 Reform Act of Parliament abolished New Radnor as a parliamentary constituency, and the district became an agricultural area until the present day. There was a railway built to connect New Radnor with Leominster and thus the main London line. Before the Beeching cuts in 1963 it was possible to travel direct from London to New Radnor (and vice versa) - as long as you got on the right carriage! But as with so many branch lines, all has now gone and the station yard at New Radnor is now a caravan site for holidaymakers.

After joining the Common Market, Wales benefitted from European money, as it was seen as a deprived area, and major reconstruction of the main road (A44) through the valley took place, with road widening and straightening as well as a bypass being built for New Radnor.

The villages are all threatened with housing development, greatly resented by the local people because the new housing does not provide for rented property nor for affordable houses. Evenjobb, which used ten years ago to have only 26 houses, has had 17 new "executive" houses, two agricultural ones, and several barn conversions with more applications in the pipeline. No additional infrastructure is allowed for and the Post Office has been lost. The old restrictions ondevelopment, preventing building outside development areas agreed after local consultation seems to be ignored by the County Council, directed as they now are by central government. (What price democracy?) And local people have nowhere they can buy or rent - now in 2012 selling a house has become very difficult



New Radnor from the Smatcher - our home has a red spot over it.






Richard Green 2012