The History Group met at the Thomas Shop and, after tea and coffee were served, Derek welcomed Geraint by way of a change. Geraint was not well enough to join the walk and the group wished him a speedy and complete recovery. Geraint reminded members that there would be no meeting in August and that the next session would be on the 4th September 2017 at 10.30 a.m. in the Thomas Shop. Derek will be talking about the Pales Meeting House as part of the 300 year anniversary of the founding of the Pales.
After making arrangements for the 5 mile journey along the A44 to Gwernargllwydd Farm, the group reassembled in the field that holds the ‘Eagles Mound’ / Castell Crug Eryr. It was a bright, blowy July morning as we assembled on the site of the Castle with the fantastic views down and through the Edw Valley, up over Llandegley Rocks to the Cambian Hills, and even down towards Brecon. It was a perfect morning for a walk. A few members elected not to walk and they made the journey from Crug Eryr down to Blaen Edw by car.
From the Motte we were able to see Blaen Edw and to track our journey down and back up through the piece of woodland owned by Liz and Derek. The journey would track through several History Group talks we have had on a variety of different subjects, but also take in some new findings.
- Castell Crug Eryr (The Eagles Mount)
When Marion led the talk on the Castles of the Ithon Valley, Crug Eryr, not being in the Ithon Valley, was not covered. It is however very similar in style to the ‘Welsh Castles’ as described by Marion. Most are high up on top of a hill which gave great strategic advantage, and they were easy to defend.
The origins of Castell Crug Eryr are not entirely clear. Some date it from around 1150 AD but others suggest that fortifications could have been here from a much earlier period. It clearly had some strategic significance in the latter half of the 12th century as it was visited by Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), who was accompanied by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Bishop Baldwin, when the set out on a pilgrimage to recruit for the Crusades.
“Gerald of Wales records the visit in 1188 of Archbishop Baldwin of Canterbury to what he calls ‘Cruker’ Castle, during the recruiting trip around Wales for the crusade. The party spent two nights at Crug Eryr after their visit to Radnor Castle, where they had been joined by Rhys ap Gruffudd, Prince of Deheubarth (‘The Lord Rhys’) and his son in law Einion o’r Porth Prince of Elfael, son of Einion Clud, who had married Rhys’s daughter Susanna. At twilight on Saturday 5th March Maelgwn ap Cadwallon, Prince of Maelienydd and son of Cadwallon brother of Einion Clud arrived at Crug Eryr. Gerald records that the Archbishop spoke with the Prince and he is said to have been signed by the Cross, as his cousin Einion o’r Porth and The Lord Rhys had done before him. The party then headed to Hay on Wye on Monday 7th March.” http://www.elystan.co.uk/castles
You may want to refresh your memory here with Jennifer’s talk on “Elystan Glodrydd and the Princes of Maelienydd”. Elystan’s off-spring not only held many of the Princedoms in Wales but they have also populated positions of importance across Britain.
In discussion one of our members, Gill, raised an interesting point as to whether there could be another meaning to ‘Eryr’. A close relative to this word exists in an older Welsh Language which has the meaning ‘boundary’. So another possible meaning could be a castle mount that defines a boundary. We might need to look at the boundaries within ‘Rhwng Gwy a Hafren’ ( the land between the Severn and the Wye) that divide Maelienydd and Elfael to see if there could be merit in this theory?
From the Motte two of the three roads that have characterized this area could be seen. The current A44 road could be seen twisting around numerous bends, and below it the track that was the former road. The old road came passed the farm at Gwernargllwydd and rose so steeply that the Turnpike Trust changed the route to ensure that the Post got through. The date of the change is still not know to us but Ginny had access to an 1830 map that already had the new road in place. The challenge to the Turnpike Trusts to ‘get the Royal Mail through’ can be seen featured in the talk we had on the Post Office:
Hidden in the trees, on the castle side of the old track, is a third road, the Drovers Road, as described by Colin Hughes in his talk on the Drovers in Radnorshire. This is the route from Strata Florida through Abbeycwmhyr; coming up through Crossgates, Penybont and Llandegley; up and over the Radnor Forest by ‘Water Break Its Neck; down through New Radnor and on into England.:
What a lot of history from one vantage point!
- Trackway down to and including Settlement
From the Castle there was an increasing steep and gullied road down to a quarry that appeared to have a number of badger set holes high up in its face. The 2500 acres of the farm had 5 miles of track within it, but this is an ancient track that appears to provide a link to what was our next surprise. Part of a circular settlement could clearly be seen on a flat area of ground. Ginny had found some aerial photos of this which highlighted a circular enclosure that had been cut off across its diameter at some point in history- possibly then a hedge line and then beyond this a previously ploughed area. The nature of the markings on the land would suggest that this is an older settlement than the Castle – possibly Iron Age. No Archaeological investigations have been carried out to date. An even better example of the settlement was to be found in the adjacent field, separated by a small recent woodland plantation. Here at least two houses could clearly be seen. Overall there is evidence of a significant settlement here from early times. It is worth reflecting that even in relatively modern times 25 people were employed on the farm. A nineteenth century map that Ginny had found also referred to three separate farms in this area that have completely disappeared. What looks like a ‘timeless’ landscape has seen extraordinary changes over the centuries.
The relationship between the settlement and the Castle is unclear. In the case of Cefn Llys Castle, (in Marion’s talk as above), which took over in significance from Crug Eryr in the next century, a settlement was clearly linked to the castle. Here it is less clear. In this case it would seem that the settlement may have pre-dated the castle. What the relationship was to the Castle is unknown and even whether they coincided historically remains a mystery.
- Blaen Edw Spa
We then took some of the farm tracks down to the site of the old farm house at Blaen Edw, which has now been demolished, then up past the new house, and down to the Spa hidden in a small wooded area by the main track and beside the Edw ‘stream’. The Spa is a stone relic, and while the roof and much of the walls have collapsed there is the clear outline of the Spa. Ginny explained that the sulphurous waters were mainly used for skin complaints, and so the spring emerging by the river was at one time contained within a shallow bathing pool. The only remains today are the ruins of the stone hut built to shelter the pool. This stone building probably dates to the mid C19 and was a replacement for an ancient timber and thatch shelter as described in ‘The Cambrian Balnea’, published in 1825. https://archive.org/stream/b28748694/b28748694_djvu.txt
A newspaper article, written on 30th September 1967 by Cynric Mytton Davies, in the Express and Times Gazette, was circulated. This included a picture of the Spa complete, and also a picture of the old Farm House, which it describes as “one of the loneliest houses in Radnorshire”. The content of the article is as follows:
“Blaen Edw – the Mini-Spa
Mr C.J. Prosser, Secretary of the Kilvert Society, has discovered a min-Spa!
It came about through explorations in the upper valley of the Edw, which was the country of his wife’s people. The house they wanted to discover was the one of her great-grandparents had lived, which was Blaen Edw, an extremely remote and isolated farm, which is among the headwaters of the Edw. They found it – and to their amazement discovered a miniature spa.
Blaen Edw is situated in an angle between the Penybont road and the Hundred House road, where they diverge at the Forest Inn, a piece of country that is very difficult to reach. When you come to it, it’s a tangled, almost secret terrain of low lying sodden fields and bogland, silent patches of woodland and everywhere rivers and streams.
To get to Blaen Edw you have to go first to Gwernarglwydd, the big farm at the foot of the escarpment where the bends start after you leave Llandegley.
Gwernarglwydd means The Lord’s Moor, but which the early Welsh lords gave it the name. It belongs to Mr G.S. Thompson, who lives a Towcester, and Mr Archie Lloyd farms it.
Gwernarglwydd and Blaen Edw comprise more than 2000 acres. I asked one of the men if anyone remembered Blaen Edw being occupied and farmed, and he said that someone lived there until about nine years ago. But he could not recall anyone having recourse to the sulphur spring.
Blaen Edw is a difficult house to date for it has so little in the way of architectural features for clues, but it seems to be early Georgian or perhaps even Queen Anne.
Structurally it was in good repair as were the farm buildings opposite – good solid stone barns and byres.
The big rooms have solid flagged floors, solid ceiling timbers and elaborate Victorian grates.
The stairs had once been magnificent and had a lovely arch at the turn, but they had decayed badly. All the upper rooms were decayed and the attics and staircase leading to them looked beyond rehabilitation.
The spa was a little way from the house, across a field and alongside the river.
But we found the spa easily. There was a small stone building with brick dressings, but very dilapidated. Inside the floor was a mass of rubble, and a deep trough about four feet by one and a half, was chocked with debris. But the source was still trickling, filling the whole building with a perfectly horrible smell of rotten eggs. This was indeed a Sulphur spring!
Obviously people use to come here, and we got the impression there may at one time have been a little drinking garden below a mound, in the shade of rowan and alder-buckthorn trees. But how did people get at it, and did they stay at Blaen Edw farmhouse?
Mr Prosser said that there had once been a road from Franks Bridge through Cwnaerdy, but it no longer runs through. In any case it would be about four miles long. The only approach now is through Gwernarglwydd. And it is impossible to cut a new road by any other shorter route beause you are faced with the steep escarpment along the main road. Blaen Edw is indeed virtually inaccessible by any route.
The owner, Mr Thompson, in a response to a letter asking for information, said his great-uncle, Major Samuel Nock Thompson, of Newcastle Court, bought the property from Sir Herbert Lewis, of New Radnor sometime between 1910 and 1915.
He said Sir Herbert had great confidence in Blaen Edw Spring and regularly took course of baths there. He was the last person known to use the bath, and on these courses of treatment used to stay at the farm house.
Major Thompson had the spring water analysed when he acquired Blaen Edw and the analyst’s report was very favourable. He seriously considered bottling the water and marketing it, but nothing came of the idea. But he would take the waters himself, drinking a glass from the spring whenever he past near the spa house. Occasionally he managed one of his guests to try it, but none of them ever came back for a second glass!
Another man with personal memories of Blaen Edw and Gwernarglwydd is Mr Fred Brown, licensee of the Severn Arms Hotel at Penybont, for his family lived there from 1920 till1933 and he lived there with them until he went to Brazil in 1929.
He says the spa-house was dilapidated when they went to Blaen Edw, but visitors still kept coming for the waters. They were not local people. One he remembers came from Leominster, but others came from much further afield. Many of them brought stone jars to fill with water.
One of the visitors had a skin complaint, while another suffered from rheumatism. Both believed that the sulphur waters were efficacious for curing these ills. But none of them ever used to bath. Mr Brown couldn’t date Blaen Edw farm house any more precisely than we had been able to, but he agreed that it was most probably built at the beginning of the 18th century. But he mentioned something we hadn’t found, and that was a pool that teems with wildfowl between the farm and Llandegley Rocks, hidden from sight at the farm by a ridge.
I asked him if he had ever seen a white dog which I have been told haunted Gwernarglwydd, but none of his family had ever seen or heard him. But he had found the stone circle which I had failed to locate on an earlier expedition.
Howse makes a brief reference to Blaen Edw, so does Jonathan Williams, but neither gives anything of the history of the house or spa. Apparently Llandegley Spa had a vogue in the late 18th century, and at one time almost as well known as Llandrindod – though that seems unlikely.
Mail coaches stopped at the Burton Arms and people stayed there to take the cure, so perhaps Blaen Edw flourished in the same period, But it seems strange that nothing of its history has survived.”
A question to Ginny, who had given the talk on Llandegley and Blaen Edw Wells, gave rise to a discussion about Llandegley Geological Faults.
Ginny then explained that water could travel miles and miles from distant areas, more or less latterly along volcanic plates, until they hit upon an fault and a possible way out. As we learnt in the session on the Archaeology of Penybont Common, the Ordovician Rock that forms Llandegley Rocks is a very ancient rock (450 million years old). It has fissures within it that lead to the waters being able to escape from their underground channels. It is hit and miss as to which of the mineral salts are present in the particular water that emerges at any place.
At different times, in the 18th and 19th centuries people tried to make businesses from the waters that emerged on their land. There are tails of people coming to Blaen Edw but there were few ‘home comforts’ at either Gwernarglwydd or Blaen Edw farms.
- Walk back and Drovers Road
The walk back up from Blaen Edw rose very sharply initially, but at the crest of this initial hill we had views back over Gwernarglwydd, that were glorious, with the 2500 acres spread out in front of us. We were treated to the site of 2 Welsh Cob mares, each with a foul, and very handsome they looked.
Rather than walking around the farm we branched right and then left towards the woodland under Castell Crug Eryr. The contrast between the open pasture and the dense woodland was dramatic.
The walk had taken a little longer than expected and so most of the members took the very steep track through the wood back to the A44. A few dipped under the trees to see the beautifully preserved Drovers Track.
Hope the summer goes well for everyone and that we see you all on 4th September for our next meeting – “300 years of The Pales” when I hope to have prepared something of interest.