Penybont and District Local History Group Notes 5th October 2015 Main Topic – Archaeology of Rhos Swydd/Penybont Common – Derek Turner

Mary opened the meeting to yet another full house and told us a story about Dai Davies and the Bank Manager, Mr Thomas, who incidentally lived in Haulfryn, the house where Mary and Richard live today.
Dai Davies was working in the AutoPalace in Llandrindod when he had a phone call from Mr Thomas to say that he needed to see him straight away as he had a problem. In the days when Bank Managers were Bank Managers he dutifully turned up at the Bank in Penybont and was very surprised to find a tractor pulled in tight across the doorway of the Bank. When he managed to squeeze in he found Mr Thomas with two very disgruntled looking gentlemen farmers. The tractor had been purchased from Dai by the 2 farmers but when they got it home they found it did not perform as expected. They phoned the Bank and asked for the cheque, they had written to purchase the tractor, to be stopped. The Bank failed to stop the cheque and the transaction went through. The two farmers were not too pleased and wanted their money back – “You can have it!” they told Mr Thomas . A somewhat delicate moment which was resolved by Mr Thomas having to, in effect, purchase the tractor from Dai and handing the cash back to the two farmers. Mr Thomas, in the time old way of Bankers, did not lose out as he sold the tractor on making a small profit for himself in the process!
Geraint welcomed everyone and introduced new members to the group:
Dr Geoff Barlow retired Medical Offer of Health for the County and former next door neighbour of Maesyfed.
Jenny Jones; David and Muriel Parker; Ralph and Lorraine Slaney (Ralph is a retired Head teacher); Maria Wicks, a seamstress from Russia. Geraint also welcomed Liz who had come to barrack Derek!
Main Topic: The Archaeology of Rhos Swydd/Penybont Common
Speaker: Derek Turner
1. Introduction:
Having walked my dog over the Common for many years it has been fascinating to learn about its history over the centuries. In this talk I am not going to say much about its more recent history or the time when it was occupied by the troops, perhaps for another time or in discussion later.
There were so many features to look at and I have narrowed it down to just six: Geology; Commons; Roads; Settlements; Agriculture; Rabbit Warrens. I will attempt to give some general information in each case and then say what I think I know about Penybont Common or, to give it it’s proper name, Rhos Swydd Common.
I have really struggled with the word Swydd but having consulted various oracles I think I can now say, even if I struggle to say it correctly, that Rhos Swydd is an upland moor where people worked, it gave occupation or jobs. Coed Swydd is a woodland where people worked, and Dolswydd is a water meadow where people work. The Welsh for Yorkshire is Swydd Efrog. There is within this the suggestion that Swydd in older Welsh was a ‘district’ and that it could be the basis of the term ‘Shire’.
An interesting discussion followed on how the word ‘swydd’ which for our Welsh Speakers, and in the dictionary, means an ‘office’ or ‘small administrative district’, and how this might be an illustration of how the Welsh language evolves over time in use and in different places. An office or small administrative district being places where people worked, and the ‘Shire’ being an area of administration.
I will start with some photographs of the Common.
• The ‘ring’ of trees is a particular feature that will be well known.
On Christmas Day in 2010 we went for a walk across the Common in the sun and snow and we took some photos from various angles. At one point our daughter, Ellen, who has travelled extensively around the world, looked up and said you; “This is probably the most beautiful scenery I have seen anywhere!” Pictures followed of:
• Ring of trees in the snow
• Looking towards Dolau
• Looking towards CefnLlys
• Looking towards Llandegley Rocks
• Ant Hills in the snow

Around 1830, John Clare, the Poet, penned:
“Ye commons left free in the rude winds of nature
Ye brown heath beclothed in furze as ye be
My wild eye in rapture adorns every feature
Ye are dear as this heart in my bosom to me”
2. General Characteristics

a. Geology
Rhos Swydd Common covers 2.84 square kilometres
It is underlain by Silurian (used by Dr WHO) mudstones, siltstones and sandstones of Wenlock Series, over 420 million years old. The bedrock is rarely exposed, although several small quarries have been worked on the common in the past.
The Silurian Period follows the Ordovician Period, at 443.8 ± 1.5 million years ago (Llandegley Rocks were created by a combination of volcanic eruptions and movements in the Teutonic plates in the Ordovician Period)
Interestingly the people of this area prior to Romans were known as Ordovices with the Silures living in south east Wales. Ordovices were almost wiped out by Roman invaders. Their lands were littered with hill forts that were also strongly defended.
“Now leading the Ordovices and Silures tribes, who inhabited a large area of current day Monmouthshire; Caractacus conducted a successful guerrilla war against the Romans. He was finally defeated at the Battle of Caer Caradoc on the Welsh border in AD 50. Caractacus was eventually captured and taken to Rome where he so impressed Claudius that he was pardoned by the Emperor.”
b. Topography
Penybont Common is an area undulating upland landscape, characterised by gentle slopes and rounded hills, divided by a number of minor streams which form part of the tributary network of the River Ithon, which flows to the west of the common. The common rises to 300m at its eastern edge, but descends westwards and southwards to about 230 metres. The study area is crossed by the A44 and the A488 roads.
c. Vegetation
The study area is characterised by rough pasture, with a mixture of moorland grasses intermingled with reasonably good grazing land. Gorse has spread across much of the area in recent decades and now obscures significant areas of the landscape, particularly through the central portion of the study area, either side of the A488. A combination of cold winters and burning has reduced some of the gorse in recent years.
3. Geology
Joseph Botting, our local esteemed Geologist, has very kindly helped me with trying to understand the Geology following a question from Geraint “Is the Common an example of a ‘moraine’ landscape.
“Once upon a time, in the middle part of the Silurian Period (around 420 million years ago), there was a southern ocean called Iapetus. On the northern (equatorial) side was North America (with Scotland and Northern Ireland stuck to it), and on the southern side was a little continent called Avalonia. This consisted of Wales, England, Eire, and bits of France, Belgium and Newfoundland. The Iapetus Ocean was slowly closing as it was subducted under Avalonia, and the crust of Wales was being stretched in the process. The whole area sagged, forming the Welsh Basin: a small sea surrounded by islands and volcanoes, and in the middle (around Aberystwyth) probably well over a kilometre deep.
On Penybont Common the rocks are siltstones and mudstones (no slate!) deposited in quite shallow water – perhaps only a couple of hundred metres or so, as we’re quite close to coastline. These layers were mostly deposited by storms sweeping sediment down from the shallower water, and burying things along with it. For most of the time, it seems that there was little oxygen in the bottom water, since we don’t see much in the way of shells or burrows; not much was living there. Instead, we find graptolites (floating colonies of our distant relatives, the hemichordates) and the conical shells of nautiloids (early ancestors of ammonites and squid that swam well above the sea floor).
This carried on for a good long time, although by the end of the Silurian, some ten million years later, the subduction zone ran out of ocean. The result was the sort of collision that has pushed up (and is still pushing up) the Himalaya today. Since then, that vast Caledonian mountain range, running through Scandinavia, the Highlands, Ireland and eastern North America, has been slowly eroding away…
Over hundreds of millions of years, continents shifted and shuffled, and oceans appeared and vanished. Eventually the Atlantic opened, and long after that, in the last few moments, the Ice arrived. The Ice Age (which we’re still in) and its glaciations (which we’re not) scoured and shaped the remaining stumps of hills that we still have, and left behind piles of rubble in the form of till. In some places the till stacked up into moraines, but I don’t know of any on Penybont Common (although, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t!). These glacial deposits are just the subsoil: that layer of clay with boulders and pebbles in it.
The siltstones and mudstones themselves? That, as you now know, is a totally different story…!”
So Geraint the simple answer is “No!” or it “could it be”? I was quite comfortable with ‘no’ until after I looked at the picture of a County Down Drumlin (a moraine) and then walked to the site of the ancient settlement on the Common. From a distance the hill, which is on the right hand side of the Common heading towards Knighton, looked awfully like a drumlin to me!? There are in fact a series of 3 hills that might just have been formed by a retreating glacier in a previous ice age? Speculations are usually proved wrong but it is fun to give some substance to the possibility that Joseph has left us with.
4. Commons
Prior to the 12th century the uplands were managed primarily as ‘forests’ or ‘hunting grounds’.
By the 13th century there had evolved a mixed use of the land with livestock being introduced. As communities developed landlords were looking to get a financial return from their land. Tenant farmers were allowed to enclose areas of land and other land was managed in common.
By the 16th century communities enjoyed rights of pasture and the 16th and 17th centuries was a the hey day of local communal control of common land.
Manor courts in the 16th and 17th centuries had the twin aims to uphold the lord’s privileges and to maintain “good neighbourhood”. New byelaws were introduced including orders that could impose financial penalties.
On the common pastures two principals were used to control livestock numbers: one was the rule of levancy and couchancy, related to stock that he could keep at the homestead in the winter.
The alternative means of controlling livestock numbers was by “stint” that related to the number of units a common could maintain.
The courts in practice had a tendency to fall back on ancient custom and the need to maintain ‘good neighbourliness’.
In the 18th century, with general agricultural improvements there was a shift towards improvement of the land to obtain better returns. Thousands of hectares of the uplands were enclosed by Act of Parliament during the 19th century before the balance shifted back towards a mixed economy involving Commoner’s rights and a general right of access.
• The Inclosure Act 1845 (8 & 9 Vict. c.118)
• The Inclosure Act 1846 (9 & 10 Vict. c.70)
• The Inclosure Act 1847 (10 & 11 Vict. c.111)
• The Inclosure Act 1848 (11 & 12 Vict. c.99)
• The Inclosure Act 1849 (12 & 13 Vict. c.83)
• The Inclosure Commissioners Act 1851 (14 & 15 Vict. c.53)
• The Inclosure Act 1852 (15 & 16 Vict. c.79)
• The Inclosure Act 1854 (17 & 18 Vict. c. 97)
• The Inclosure Act 1857 (20 & 21 Vict. c.31)
• The Inclosure Act 1859 (22 & 23 Vict. c.43)
• The Inclosure, etc. Expenses Act 1868 (31 & 32 Vict. c.89)
And then:
• The Commons Act 1876 (39 & 40 Vict. c.56)
• The Commons (Expenses) Act 1878 (41 & 42 Vict. c.56)
• The Commons Act 1879 (42 & 43 Vict. c.37)
Christopher P. Rogers in his book “Contested Common Land” tells us from the Manor Court Records of the 1830’s that the “the manors of Radnorshire were said to contain ‘numerous Encroachments un the Waste – some made by Owners or Occupiers of adjoining Property or farms, but most of them by poor labouring People, many of whom erected and occupied cottages.’” He states that many of these cottages were remote ‘one night cottages’ and often associated with pillow mounds. This may account for cottages such as Sunnybank, Rhos Swydd Cottage and Shady Grove all built around the edge of the Rhos Swydd Common and now gone, albeit Sunnybank is still standing in a very poor state of dereliction.
By the 1860s the dominant ethos concerning the value of common land had moved from improvement to amenity and recreation. The Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society was founded in 1865. This would eventually lead to the forming of the National Trust.
In our area of interest there are in fact 8 commons: 8. Rhos Swydd; 9. Coed Swydd; 10.Cwm Brith Bank & Bwlch Fedwen; 11. Mynyddrheol; 12. Bwlch Llyn; 13. Llandegley Rocks; 14. The Bank; 15. Llandegley Rhos.
In 1965 the Government passed the Commons Registration Act 1965 to bring some clarity to the rights of ‘commoners’ and ‘landowners’. In the debate in Parliament a Welsh MP, Leo Abse, supported the Bill:
“Again, we welcome the Bill because we realise that it could be a precursor to legislation which could help in some measure to meet the problem of the depopulation of Mid-Wales. In counties such as Radnorshire there are large areas of common land which undoubtedly could be used for reafforestation, and the fact that they are not being so used is due to the vague character of the existing position. We have here a Bill which will clearly help in giving definition in order that it will become possible to use, ultimately, far more fruitfully some of the land which at present is being so fecklessly disregarded and which could he used for more effective purposes.“
In England and Wales, with few exceptions all common land and common rights had to be registered in accordance with the Commons Registration Act, 1965. At the end of the registration period, only that land which was registered can be deemed to be common land, and similarly only those rights which were registered can be exercised. These documents, held by local authorities, are conclusive.
In Wales commons cover 173,366 ha, a little over 8% of the total land area.
The three authority areas of Powys alone comprise 74,653ha, nearly 40% of all the common land in Wales. Brecknock alone has nearly 47,000ha, over 25% of Welsh common land.
Locally this did initially raise some issues for the Rhos Swydd and Coed Swydd Commoners Association, as people rushed to ‘register’ their ‘right’ way beyond those who had traditionally grazed the Common. In fact a new Association Group usurped the standing one and a hearing had to be held by the Commons Commissioner in 1976 to resolve the dispute. As with much legislation there are unintended consequences and in the interests of ‘good neighbourliness the Common is now ‘unmanaged’ formally and the Commoners work together “informally”. Geraint felt that this only served to show that local arrangements in the interests of ‘good neighbourliness’ were often much better than centrally controlled legislation that attempts to impose ‘uniformity’ across the whole country.
The question that remains unanswered, is whether the Common came down to the river? The field between the cottages and the bridge does give us a clue, Mary showed me a book about the Church community of Llanbadarn Fawr in which Percy Severn is recorded as saying that the Village Green was ‘usurped’ to make way for a tennis court, Violet Edwards is recorded in Geraint’s book, ‘Penybont’, as saying that the land had been used as a recreation area and also by cottagers to keep pigs and hens. There is the suggestion in this that it might have been a remnant of the Common. The name of this property where we are sitting is Maesyfed, the field where the animals drank is also a bit of a clue? The comments of Percy Severn are interesting in that as the ‘landowner’ he has by this stage completely lost control to the ‘commoners’ and the ‘community’ over the use of the land. Maureen was able to point out that the landowner retains the rights over the minerals under the surface of the land, whereas the commoners and community have the right over the pasture. The current owners of Rhos Swydd Common are descendants of Lord Ormathwaite.
5. Archaeological Sites on the Common
In researching the specific facts about the Common I have drawn extensively from: Uplands Initiative – Radnorshire Small Commons Archaeological Survey Part One general Information about the commons and Part Two has specific information about each common These two documents were commissioned from Trysor by Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales 2012.
Rhos Swydd Common – Sites by Period
• Paleolithic (pre c. 8800 BC)
Mesolithic (c. 8800 – 4900 BC)
Neolithic (c. 4900 – 2000 BC)
Bronze Age (c. 2000 – 800 BC) …….. 2
Iron Age (c. 800 – 1 BC)
Roman (c. AD 1 – 400) ………….. 2
Early medieval period (c. AD 400 – 800)
Medieval period (800 – c. 1500) ………… 18
Post-medieval period (c. 1500 – c. 1800) .. … 17
Industrial/Modern ……………………………………… 4
• Total sites …………………………………………… 43
Sites by Type
• Roads ……………………………….. 4
• Settlements ……………………… 1
• Platforms …………………………. 8
• Cultivation ………………………… 5
• Husbandry ………………………… 2 + 1 Pillow Mound
• Forestry …………………………….. 3
• Earthworks ……………………….. 6
• Quarrying ………………………….. 6
• Funereal ……………………………. 1
• Milestones …………………………. 2
• Well, Enclosure, Mound, Gravel Pit, Shed
To find the ordinance survey references for all of the sites visit Part Two, Page 34, as above. The Pillow Mound, which is not referred to in the Trysor Report is reference below from a CPAT Report.

6. Roads
The Penybont Roman Road (NPRN 86841) is a Scheduled Ancient Monument (SAM RD258) and has been described in the NMR as having a prominent camber and flanking ditches. It has been proposed as the road which linked the Roman fort at Castell Collen with Mortimer’s Cross, Herefordshire. There have been uncertainties about the presence of a Roman road beneath Rhos Swydd Common undtil a more recent bulletin has provided some certaint. There is also a post-medieval road is shown on early 19th century Ordnance Survey maps. This road (NPRN 512220) was in use as the main route across Rhos Swydd until a turnpike road was built just to the south and it was still in use as a trackway until the late 19th century. The road showed up well on Google Maps when this was displayed on the screen.
A short section of similar ditched roadway (NPRN 310212) runs parallel to the “Roman Road” for some 600 metres, along its southern side. The date of this road is unknown.
Castell Collen is a Roman auxiliary fort occupied (though not continuously) from the 70s AD until the early fourth century in a tactically strong position overlooking the River Ithon. It is a rectangular, round-angled enclosure, originally about 182m north-west to south-east by 114m, later reduced to about 128m by 114m, defined by stone riveted and ditched banks. Trenches from extensive excavations in 1911 and 1913 are prominent on the site today and clearly visible when viewed from the air. Further excavations, focussed on the defences and an extra-mural bathhouse, were undertaken by L. Alcock between 1954 and 1957. Surface indications of further extramural structures are said to remain within a wooded area immediately south-east of the fort.
Geraint was able to tell us that the site of the fort could be found just off the road from Llandrindod to Llanyre.
Ordovices covered much of the mountains and valleys of what is today mid-Wales. They were the northern neighbours of the Silures and the Southern neighbours of the Degeangli. These peoples lived in small farms, often defended against attack. After the emperor Claudius invaded southern England in AD 43, one of the main leaders of the Britons, called Caratacus escaped to the Ordovices and the Silures. They were stirred into rebellion by Caratacus and for a long time successfully resisted the Romans.The Roman general Agricola only finally defeated the Ordovices in 77-8. The tribe was incorporated into Britannia and became a civitas (an administrative district).
The Turnpike Road over the Common was moved to its current position because the section adjacent to the Roman Road was very boggy. The Rebecca Riots did not seem to affect this road but not so far away the road from Rhayader to Penybont was attacked. While Sarah Rees and her daughter lay in bed they were told:
“Lie still in bed; we do not wish to injure you or the house, but we have come to hew down this old gate.”
7. Settlements
In the Trysor document they list a ‘medieval settlement’ on the Common with several platforms. I have tramped around one of the hills just south of the footpath towards the Pales and have been unable to find anything that looked like a ‘platform’.
One of the members said that this hill has always been known as Caertwch possibly meaning something like ‘a settlement where people felt safe’.
We screened Google maps to have a look and miraculously, with the increase in size on the screen, the area of the settlement on the Common suddenly became quite clear. It is located on the southern side of the hill but much lower down than I had been looking.
• Several people in the group were immediately keen to do a field trip as soon as the vegetation dies down. We need to follow this up.
From a picture of a ‘platform’ on the Common it was just possible to see the way that platforms were cut into the hill with the earth pulled back to level up the surface on which the building would have been constructed. It is not always possible to say that these were all houses. Some may have been but others would have been store sheds or to house animals.
Examples of such complexes have been well documented across Radnorshire and were encountered at several locations. Sites of this type are well-known across Radnorshire and are well-described by R.J. Silvester of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust (Silvester, 2006), who suggests that they are late medieval or early post-medieval in date and relate to a colonisation of the most accessible uplands. It appears that discrete areas of ridge and furrow cultivation are usually also associated with these sites.
Upland settlements are often thought of as belonging to the “hafod” tradition, that it to say they are the result of medieval or early post-medieval transhumance and therefore only occupied during the summer grazing season when animals grazed the hill pastures. In landscapes where later enclosure, ploughing and settlement have encroached onto the historic mountain wastes and commons, it may become difficult to clearly identify early settlement evidence but in a later period changed their function and became permanent holdings, with efforts made to improve and cultivate the surrounding land.,+2006%29&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&gws_rd=cr&ei=4nv9VdbdJoGtU9mGoIAM
There is another platform on the other side of the common, near the abandoned sites of Sunnybank and Rhos Swydd Cottage and adjacent to a very large area of ridge and furrow, as mentioned below.
8. Cultivation
There is considerable evidence of areas that were cultivated on the Common. The Common has a particularly fine example of the Strip Field system which is an unusual adaption of the Open Field System of cultivation.
Open fields consist usually of narrow strips of arable separated, at best, by grass balks. Occasionally divisions between the strips were marked by mere stones, or perhaps markers of less durable material. Groups of strips running in the same direction were termed furlongs, groups of furlongs as fields. Farmers would originally have had their strips scattered widely throughout the open fields, and this fragmentation of a holding could continue through to the modern era. The significance of the open and common fields in the lowlands was that they could be communally gazed after the harvest, with stock able to roam freely across the grassy balks between the selions (or individual strips). Only as a landholder amalgamated adjacent strips with his original holding was he was able to create a block of land suitable for enclosure. Enclosure was certainly taking place in the later Middle Ages, but the chronology of enclosure varied from parish to parish and it was still taking place into the nineteenth century,
The characteristics of those strip fields that were formed from the open fields, as explained above, are their long and relatively narrow shape, the aratral or reverse-S curve at their terminals, and the staggered, right-angle or dog’s-leg turns in their appearance, to which might be added their grouped appearance. It is the terminal curve which is usually the most convincing indicator. Upland strips are relatively rare. The clearest example is on Penybont Common (Rads) where several platforms representing a single farmstead lies just below a set of strip fields, the strips divided by slightly raised grassy banks and exhibiting cultivation ridges. There is no likelihood of an open field here.
Ridge and Furrow is also featured with in the Common
In the core area, cultivation ridges represent strips known as lands, which were parcelled together into furlongs, which in turn were grouped into fields. These fields, open in the sense that they were not delineated by hedges or other continuous bounds, numbered two or three to a community, and defined the rotation which allowed some ground to remain fallow each year. Each set of lands and ridges would terminate in headlands where the plough was turned. The furrows between the ridges provided a drainage function, and demarcated one land from another.
There is another reference to several ridge and furrow systems within the Common:
A broad strip of discontiguous areas of ridge and furrow cultivation runs southwest to northeast across the northern side of Rhos Swydd common. The strip is about 1 kilometre long and up to 400 metres wide. Towards the southwestern end of this area is a strip field system defined by quillet boundary banks rather than cultivation ridges. J.J. Hall, Trysor, 23 June 2011.
As well as the arable cultivation on the land there is evidence of sheep folds and animal husbandry showing that the Common was extensively ‘farmed’ in the medieval period. Maureen and Gwyneth were able to tell us that the use of land over time on many Commons often related to climate change in the past. Sometimes the climate encouraged arable activity at other times this was not profitable.
There were three early small plantations on the Common. One is now usually referred to as ‘the circle of trees’ and the other two are down near Dolswydd. Quarrying activity also went on demonstrating further the extent to which the commons, often described as ‘waste’ land were integral to the economy and social dynamic of the area.
9. Rabbit Warrens
Rabbits had difficulty initially adapting to the British weather and they were easy prey when they were first introduced by the Romans from Spain. The Pillow Mounds were developed as a way of managing the rabbits and protecting them from predators. In the 12th century rabbits were a delicacy for the aristocracy. Their use gradually moved down the social scale and became widespread and universal as a source of protein. It should be noted, however, that as late as 1721, it was being written that “Rabbits are very profitable Creatures for their great increase, and their being kept on dry barren sand or gravel that will maintain nothing else; which the dryer ‘tis the better for them” (Sheail 1978, 349). Their adaptation to the British weather took many centuries and it is only in recent years that we have begun to see them as bit of a nuisance.
There is only one Pillow Mound on the Common over near Sunnybank and Rhos Swydd. (There are 14 on Coed Swydd Common.)
It can be found at:
6689 Penybont Common pillow mound SO11656570
I have not found its position, but it is located near Sunnybank. It is described as a rectangular bank with the top sloping slightly to the south.
A rabbit warren is a defined area in which rabbits were bred and protected from predators. There has been controversy over the introduction of rabbits, Romans or Normans, but research has now shown that they were introduced from Spain by the Romans. More latterly they became associated with the ‘house in a day’ and subsistence living. The activity continued to form part of the economy in the study area up to the end of the 19th century. A warren might include: pillow mounds; Trap Mounds (circular with posts); Pit or tip trap (sunken or walled hollow)’ and Vermin traps (funnel traps).
Their name is often included in place names today and may include Welsh or English language elements, such as ‘cwningen’ or ‘coney’
Place-names such as ‘Giant’s Grave’ and ‘Soldiers Graves’, where pillow mounds have been attributed a mythical function based on their perceived appearance often originate from these medieval earthworks.
Geraint invited John A. to talk about the Second World War period.
He remembered literally thousands of troops on the Common preparing for the invasion of Normandy. Some of the ladies of the village would make sandwiches for them and he was aware that exercises were being carried out around the village with hand grenades and Bren guns. Local people were not always aware of just how much activity the troops were involved in. There were troops from USA, Canada, Britian, and other parts of the colonies. The Canadians were known as the Polar Bears. They started assembling in 1942 and about 3 days before D-Day they all disappeared over night.
Jean remembered a tank on the Common, which Ray also remembered stayed on after the troops had gone. The village garage was taken over by the troops and Jean remembered it as a tuck shop full of sweets and chocolates.
Ray, of course, lived on the Common at this time at Ludlow. He told us again of some of his time with the troops and being in and out of the mess tent. Ray was asked by Mary to tell us again of the disappearing geese which probably made a good meal for a number of the American troops. His mother was not too pleased to have lost her prize birds.
Geraint reminded members that there will be talk next time by Marion on the Archaeology of Walton Basin – 2nd November.
Jennifer told members about a Radnorshire Society talk “Quaker emigration from Radnorshire” –AT Cwmdauddwr Old School 9th October at 7.30 pm
‘Farmhouses in Radnorshire and their relationship with the landscape’ by Richard Suggett at New Radnor Community Centre Friday 23rd October at 7.00 pm

Penybont and District Local History Group Notes 7th September 2015 Main Topic – Life of the Domestic Servants Speaker: Shirley Morgan

Geraint welcomed members to the meeting. Once again there was a full house. Geraint mentioned a change to the programme as Marion is not yet in a position to do her talk on the Bennett family. Marion will now deliver a session on the Walton Basin on the 2nd November.
Geraint introduced Shirley for today’s main topic: The Life of Domestic Servants. The talk would not cover Agricultural Servants, which had initially been the intention, as this needed to be a topic on its own to do it justice.
1. History of Domestic Servants
Since the Second World War the role of the Domestic Servant has largely disappeared from our culture. The transformation in this employment practice had largely gone by the 1960’s. Along with this went the ‘doffing of the cap’ to ones ‘betters’
Shirley told us that in 1755 Dr Samuel Johnson defined the ‘domestic servant’ a:
“A person who Attends and Acts at another person’s Command”
The role of the servant began to change in the time of the Tudors. Up to this time the Household was ordered within a feudal system where the land belonged to God, and the Pope managed his domain through the King. The King had ownership over the land with him at the top of a hierarchical pyramid. This was a very ordered system with the King granting some land to nobles who pledged their allegiance and swore to fight on behalf of the King. A hierarchy of nobles made up the Kings Court. The household of the nobles was then ordered in a very similar way through the noblewomen, wives and daughters of the noblemen, who managed the household servants and the upbringing of children. Unlike the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ system that would emerge in the Victorian period the Feudal noblemen and their servants lived together. The senior members of the household would be from nobility themselves and their status within the household was high.
To get more details on roles of people in the medieval Feudal system see:
The gradual decline in the status of the servant was in part brought about with the developing custom of employing labour annually at Hiring Fairs. Under the Tudors legislation was passed which forbade the employment of retainers and requiring servants to be hired annually. For more on the Hiring Fairs at Penybont see:
The changing nature of society under the Industrial Revolution saw changes in the roles and opportunities for servants but in the Victorian era their status had dropped to one of the lowest rungs on the social ladder. Opportunities were created with the rise of a middle class that included bankers, shop-keepers, and industrialists who enhanced their own status by the number of servants they employed. By the nineteenth century any family with social pretensions had at least one servant, even if it was a ‘skivvy’ from the local workhouse earning 1 shilling a week. The 1851 census shows that those that fell into the servant keeping classes varied widely in position and income. This made the term take on a negative connotation of subservience and an inflexible class system, It could also be said however that this created an ordered society and an American visitor, Booker T. Washington, wrote:
“The home life of the English gentleman is about as perfect as it can be, Everything moved like clockwork, and I was impressed with the deference that servants showed their masters – terms that would not be tolerated in America”
The country house servants were like an invisible army that kept this great pageantry going.

The perception of Britain, even as late as 2002, of a Ugandan was held in the question: “How many children do you have, and how many servants?”
This perception may have been encouraged by people like myself who went to Africa in the 1960’s as a VSO teacher and who were paid a small wage which was disproportionally high relative to the income of the local people. We were encouraged to employ domestic help to reinvest our earnings in the local economy!
In the households of the Victorian nobility and the ‘new wealth’ the hierarchy of servants dating back to pre-Tudor times was maintained with the Butler being at the head. There was by now the complete separation between those living ‘upstairs’ and the servants living in their quarters ‘downstairs’.
In addition to the practice of the Hiring Fairs in the cities there was an increasing use of the newspapers to seek to find servants, and of course many people changed their positions as a result of ‘word of mouth’ representations. The newspapers provide an interesting insight into the requirements of middle class employers. The most frequently used word was ‘respectable’ but it was often that the household described itself as being ’respectable’. The household would be looking for a ‘steady’ young woman with 12 months good character. Frequently adverts would say ‘no Irish’, no crinoline, no fringes. The latter being associated with a ‘racy’ character! Many of the servants came from the orphanages where they might have received some training, but many would have no training for this new role. The ‘new rich’ were unused to hiring servants and there was considerable confusion over roles and expectations – enter Mrs Beeton.
2. Isabella Beeton
Isabella Beeton was born in 1836, her father died when she was just 4 years old, and she eventually became the oldest of 20 siblings after her mother married a widower with 4 children. Her husband was a Publisher and at the age of 21 years she started writing books and article, initially on cooking, and based on her understanding of managing a household. Her book, ‘Book of Household Management’ sold 2 million copies. Her output was prodigious in the 7 years before she died at 28 years following the birth of her 4th child. She was not always accurate, a recipe for Victoria Sponge omitted to include eggs, and she copied the work of other writers of the time. Such was her influence that when her husband sold the copyright of her work to another Publisher they tried to maintain the illusion that she was still alive.
For Mrs Beeton the Housekeeper was the important position within the house. She held the keys and was in charge of the ladies. The Woolf family eulogised about their housekeeper and servants in North Wales, and wrote: “No better keeper of our store.” By way of contrast H.G. Wells wrote of his own mother, who worked for a time as a Housekeeper before being sacked, “the worst housekeeper as was ever thought of’ He admitted , however, that she definitely looked the part”.
The Butler was in charge of the wine cellar, the straining and laying down of the wine. At meal times he would stand behind the Master’s chair to ensure everything went to plan.
The Footman’s role was to make himself generally useful, attend to all but be seen by none. He needed to rise early and serve all Parties. Upstairs humour should never reach his ears, he would never look at letters, as a door-keeper his duty was to establish whether the Master wanted to be ‘in’ or ‘out’, and to never interfere with cards games.
The Coach-house, with Coachman, Groom and Stable Boy, was a very important part of the Household. Every detail of horse and carriage management is described by Mrs Beeton and she even discusses the water to be given:
“The water given to a horse merits some attention; it should not be too cold; hard water is not to be recommended; stagnant or muddy water is positively injurious; river water is the best for all purposes; and anything is preferable to spring water, which should be exposed to the sun in summer for an hour or two, and stirred up before using it; a handful of oatmeal thrown into the pail will much improve its quality.”
The true value of the horse to Mrs B can be judged by: “When he has been fed, he should be thoroughly cleaned, and his body-clothes put on, and, if very much harassed with fatigue, a little good ale or wine will be well bestowed on a valuable horse, adding plenty of fresh litter under the belly.”
Grooms could be expected to wait at table but they must never wear stable clothes.
The Valet, or Attendant on the Person, has “polite manners, a modest demeanour, and shows a respectful reserve”. An ancient proverb tells us that No man is a hero to his valet”, as he performs the most delicate tasks to do with dressing, shaving in some cases, and including “every fortnight, or three weeks at the utmost, the hair should be cut, and the points of the whiskers trimmed as often as required”. She goes on: fires lighted, candles prepared, dressing-gown and slippers in their place, and aired, and everything in order that is required for his master’s comforts”.
The duties of the Lady’s Maid have similarities with the Valet but they are even more numerous and detailed. In brief she should “be a tolerably expert milliner and dressmaker, a good hairdresser, and possess some chemical knowledge of the cosmetics with which the toilet-table is supplied”. Great detail is provided by Mrs Beeton for preparing cosmetics, and even glue to repair china. The latter however could no longer be washed.
The Housemaid’s duties can best be defined within the proverb ”cleanliness is next to godliness”.
The nursery is an important part of the household and the Nursemaid’s duties are spelt out: “She washes, dresses, and feeds it; walks out with it, and regulates all its little wants; and, even at this early age, many good qualities are required to do so in a satisfactory manner. Patience and good temper are indispensable qualities; truthfulness, purity of manners, minute cleanliness, and docility and obedience, almost equally so. She ought also to be acquainted with the art of ironing and trimming little caps, and be handy with her needle”. Children are all said to have ‘bad habits’. The Nursemaid had the duty to break these habits. They also were responsible for recognising and treating childhood ailments and generally ensuring that the mother was not troubled as she would have ‘too much on her mind’.
The rising middle classes of the period aspired to have, as an indication of their new status, a Maid of All Work. This might be a role undertaken by a young girl of about 13 years. Her duties would encompass all the duties undertaken by a range of servants in the large houses. Jobs were never ending from before dawn to long after dusk. Dust was the biggest problem for the Maid of All Work as the Mistress would inevitably draw any trace of dust to the attention of the Maid. The Diaries of Hannah Cullwick give an insight into the role but her situation was unusual in that she worked for a member of the Bloomsbury set, Arthur Munby, and married him. She never acknowledged the marriage in public and continued to serve him within the home in her role as Maid of All Works. However, where Cullwick does seem to exemplify the position of most servants is in her experience of the rigid control exercised over the servant’s work, leisure time and activities. This restrictive and isolating lack of independence was often the incentive for Cullwick and other servants to give notice, with an average of two years (even in good positions).
Her diaries are now archived at Trinity College, Cambridge as important documents in research.
3. John Price
Interestingly there are some parallels with John Price at Penybont Hall in the late 18th century. John, also a bachelor, had a ‘Maid of all Works’, or at least a ‘Housekeeper’. R.C.B. Oliver’s book, The Squires of Penybont Hall suggests that John Price registered several children but no name of a mother was given. When he came to writing his will he left the bulk of his estate to his daughter Mary Anne and just £10 to Jane Price, described as his servant, but whose name does appear on the Certificate of Baptism as the mother, This was on the understanding that Jane gave up all rights to the child who at the time of John’s death, in 1798, was just 6 years old. The relationship between John Price and Jane Price is not known, there are no records of a marriage, but this story does give an indication of the complex relationships between master and servant when people of ‘low’ birth acquired wealth and status.
4. Penybont Hall
Shirley then turned to Penybont Hall to show the changing pattern of domestic servants in the latter half of the 19th century. From the 1851 census we know that the household included John Cheesmont Severn and his wife Mary Ann, as above, and their children Emily, Julie and John Percy (wrong date of birth!) They had a number of servants: including:
• Mary Price, as Cook – She came from Kinnerton
• Kathleen Fisher as Lady’s Maid – She came from London
• Katie Turnbull
• Betty Jones from Ludlow
• Thomas Williams
• William Jones
It is worth noting the distances that some people travelled to find work at this time. More servants would have lived in the village and would therefore not appear within the census record. Dr Jordan wrote of these times:
“For about a hundred years, the Severn family were faithful supporters of Llanbadarn Fawr Church, and many remember the fine old chariot which was brought out on Sundays and Holy Days. On the box in front with the Coachmann was the Footman, and in the rumble behind two of the Maidservants. There was a dignity in which the family went up to the House of the Lord and at the same time a simplicity.” Mr Joseph Davies, who died in 1893, aged 72 years, and his John, were for many years coachmen to the Severn family.
Moving to the 1881 census we find Percy now as the Master of the Hall and living with his mother and 2 sisters as above. The number of staff living in at the Hall has increased over this period and includes:
Ada Ball From Bury St. Edmunds
Anne Bullock Widow
Ann Jones From Bishop’s Castle
Sarah Jones
Mary Price
Mary Jones From Bishop’s Castle
Joseph Davis Coachman
By 1911 Major General and Mrs Whitehead were Master and Mistress at the Hall, they succeeded Emily Severn as a first cousin of half-blood of the Major General, and the number of staff had reduced significantly, and included:
• Ellen Jones as Cook
• Annie was the Housemaid and she came from Berriew
• There was also a Kitchen Maid

5. Downton Abbey
As has become well known Penybont Hall was the inspiration for Downton Abbey. Julian Fellowes’s great-grand parents, Mr and Mrs Pat Mackintosh moved from Forfar, Scotland, in 1875 to work for John Percy Severn. Pat and his wife Betsy lived at BaileyMawr Cottage with their four children. Pat worked his way up until he became Bailiff of the Severn Estate and responsible for 4000 acres. There is a photograph of Pat in a Daily Mail article: (There was a suggestion that Pat looked a lot like Neil!?)
In the 1881 census Pat and Betsy and the four children aged: 5, 3, 2 years, and 7 months are mentioned. (James, Lizzie, William and Mary) They have 2 servants: Margaret Davies and Annie Morgan. Annie was just 13 years old.
By the 1891 census one of the children, James, was no longer mentioned and strangely not in the family grave. Two children in addition are included: Emily and Catherine. The family now had the a servant and a nursemaid .
The 1901 census has Pat now at 65 years and they have a groom. Maryy, Emily and Katherine are mentioned but no Lizzie. William was not dead as he reappears on the 1911 census.
Pat has become the Land Agent for Lord Ormathwaite by the 1911 census. Pat died in this year. The family grave tells us that of the seven children that Betsy gave birth to only 2 survived her, Lizzie died at 50 years of age. In Memory of Betsy, her tombstone says:
“To live in the hearts of those who live is not to die.”
Coming back to Julian Fellowes, it was Emily who was to inspire the writer with her memories of Penybont Hall and the life and times of John Percy Severn. Emily, 18 years, moved to London where she met Jim Jones, 27 years, who was originally from Forfar in Scotland. Jim was a Copy Clerk who worked in the Civil Service and then the Post Office. Emily had 3 children and was ambitious for her family. She changed the surname to Stuart-Jones, adding the hyphen to give weight to her ambitions, with Jim becoming ‘James Stuart-Jones. James did well and eventually became Controller of the Central Telegraph Office, an important position during World War 1, for which he was awarded the CBE. The youngest of their three daughters, Olwen, was 23 years when she met and married Peregrine Fellowes who was to have a successful career in the Foreign Office, and later in Shell. She also had social aspirations and encouraged her husband to acquire the title Lord Tattershall of Lincoln. They had four children with the youngest being Julian.
6. Shirley’s Family
Both of Shirley’s Grandmothers were in service:
Emily Edith Powys, born 1901, woked in the vicarage at Llanigon from the age of 12 years as an orphan/servant
Matilda Bradley, born 1911, worked at Hopton Castle, her brother William was in service at the age of 14 years. Subsequently he died in Flanders in 1916.
Thw changing pattern of employment is seen through the children of Margaret and William Lewis who lived at Park Farm, Llanafan Fawr (where the traffic lights are on the road between Newbridge and Beulah) where they had 8 children. Shirley would say they were a family with a ‘spark’. They were quite musical and sang in the choir and learnt to play the organ. The family were not drawn towards domestic service but choose to be involved in carpentry, tailoring, and as ostlers.
Two of the girls did go to London, Sarah Jessie and Edith Maria. In 1901 Sarah Jessie was a Stillroom Maid at the Conservative Club in Belgravia. By 1911 she was married to a billiard marker in Picadilly. In 1911 Edith Maria was a tailoress and assistant in a Drapery Shop. She had a good business head and went into business in Plumstead. She was able to buy a house for her brother Thomas Sandford in 1921.
During the early part of the 20th century there was a ‘wind of change’, people were more literate and there was a greater variety of jobs available. Manpower was needed in the new industries and less manpower was needed to manage in the home. Even the cleaning materials available were more user friendly – there were soaps and polishes, a carpet could be cleaned without taking it up. The depression after the First World War further added to the decline in domestic jobs.
A more recent account is that of the early years of Mrs Jean Bennett who worked at Abbeycwmhyr Hall for the Phillips family. They strived to keep up standards. Jean, whose mother died when she was 12 days old in Lientwardine came to live with her grandparents in Abbeycwmhir. Her Grandmother was ill and an aunt, a qualified nurse, had come home to look after her mother. To make a living they ran a Post Office and Jean went to work at the Hall from the age of 14 years. She worked in the kitchen and was required to wait at table. The Phillips’ employed an elderly cook and housekeeper, Jean’s father as a gardener and various general servants who ran Home Farm. The village aimed to be self-sufficient from the farm and the Phillips’ aspired to entertain in the manor of earlier times. The Gibson Watts, Ormathwaites, and the Thomas’s from Cfendyrys would come in evening dress. At 18 years Jean was promoted to Cook. As cook she would prepare the meal, change to wait at table, and then serve drinks in the Drawing Room afterwards. The washing-up then awaited Jean. During the day she would also be expected to clean bedrooms and bathrooms as well as serve afternoon tea – silver service with a methylated spirit burner. As a Maid of all Work she was paid just £1 per week. The Lady of the House was not used to having servants and was unrealistic in her expectations. She claimed her mother could make a meal out of nothing and had expectations that Jean could do just that.
Jean also helped to look after her grandmother. After she died Jean got a ‘proper job’ working for the Electricity Board in Llandrindod and finally got appropriate remuneration.
There were some benefits to a feudal, hierarchical system where everyone knew their place. People had employment and security. Against that people were held back they did not achieve their potential, as a Jeeves found out, it could be very frustrating for some of the stupidity in the aristocratic class.
Marion expressed her thanks to Shirley for being able to spell out how hard some people, like Mrs Bennett, had to work.
John Abberley’s mother worked in service until she was married for the Fo6theringill family in Eastbourne, They built Wembley Stadium in 1923.
Geraint thanked Shirley for her excellent talk.
The next session will be on 5th October when Derek will talk on the Archaeology of Penybont Common.