unravelling Bryn yr Ysbyty

Like Y Glonc, Bryn yr Ysbyty provides something of a toponymic puzzle in this upland part of Montgomeryshire. However, unlike Y Glonc, at least Bryn yr Ysbyty finds an easy translation in modern Welsh. Assuming there has been no corruption to the place name it translates to the English hill of the hospital.1 So, the puzzle in this case is where is the hospital? A previous post started to explore this question but leaves much left unsaid. What would farmer Richard Jenkins and his family have known of this hill (then bare of forestry) as they passed it on their way to church or market?2

Two and a half miles south-west of Bryn yr Ysbyty is the village of Carno, famed for its battles around the end of the first millenium and as a staging point on the Roman Road from Caersws to Pennal at the head of the Dovey estuary. In the twelfth century the religious houses began to expand their power and gain land throughout England and Wales as local chieftans shared their Crusade gains with the church. And so it was that small portions of land by the river in Carno were granted to the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem and the earthwork (Caer Noddfa) in the centre of the village has been associated with them (although it seems of Roman origin).

These Knights Hospitallers had their origins in the Crusades “for the protection and entertainment of pilgrims in and to the Holy Land” as Mrs. Davies puts it.3 Back in Britain this duty was extended to the protection of travellers more generally and this point on the road was seen as a suitable one in this rough landscape. The Mother House for the land at Carno was at Halston in the Marches and at the dissoultion of the Monastries in the 1530s the land passed initially to Alan Horde.

Where once battles were fought over land by the seventeenth century the fight had moved to the legal system. From a dispute between Sir Richard Price Knt. (Carno) and Sir Roger Owen Knt. (Arwystli) around the end of the 1600s disagreement would continue for the next two hundred years over the exact line of boundaries (a scenario played out across the kingdom). Much attention is paid to the runes of the antique toponyms especially as the distribution of tithes relies heavily on the accuracy of land production. Much of the tithe would go to the church but in Carno two townships seemed to retain an echo of a previous ownership: “In the townships of Derwlwyn and Trawscoed, the great Tithes belong to the Owners and Proprietors of the land”—Davies ascribes this comment from an 1812 Terrier to the fact that these are the former lands of the Hospitallers.4

However, the Hosptallers were not the only religious order granted land around Carno—to the north side of the village the Cistercians held land and Davies outlines the extent of this land up to Talerddig (including the farm of Cefn Brith which lies only three-quarters of a mile to the north west of Carneddau).5 Here Davies also exposes some of the sentiment that went in to the bequeathal of lands to the church as she quotes from the Charter of Gwenwynwyn:

I Wennunwen the son of Owen of Keveyllawc under the influence of piety for the salvation of my soul and of my father and mother and my ancestors and siccessors have given and granted and by this my present charter have conferred […] in free and quiet and pure eleemosinage and perpetual possession freely and quietly well and peaceably without any sort of reclamation and exaction and secular custom the whole land which is called Havot Oweyn […]

After the Dissolution this land found its way to the Purcell family, and remained more or less in that line until it was sold by Sir W. Williams-Wynn Bart. in the late 1800s. This is an side but hopefully illustrates the complexity and passion involved in these minor boundaries. Outside of the great manors and their paled Parks the upland ‘wastes’ around Carneddau would have been of lesser importance. But as land ownership became more precise and enclosing of land became the vogue the details assumed greater importance. Where today we may rely on a GPS plot of a boundary line previously lines were marked across the ‘wastes’ by reference to obscure topographical features or, where required, the setting up of boundary markers.

So why the hill of the hospital up here on the edge of the ‘wastes’? Despite Davies’ observations about the land of the Cistercians incorporating Cefn Brith it does seem that (according to the 1851 and 1861 censuses) the area of land around Carneddau (and one can assume the neighbouring hill) was tied to the Trowscoed township. Davies has assigned this township to the erstwhile land of the Hospitallers. She also notes that the place name Croesdy (1.25 miles NW of Carneddau) may reference a former boundary cross for the Hospitaller’s land as possibly did the long stone of Garreg-hir.6 So, maybe this hill was the hill of the Hospitallers (as they owned it) or maybe its prominence indicated a proximity to the hospital itself in the vally nearby especially if you were travelling from Manafon in the east (and so, away from the main valley road) and in need of a safe place to stay.

1. Although known for Anglicising ‘awkward’ non-English place-names the Ordnance Survey has remained relatively consistent with the labelling of this hill since the last quarter of the nineteenth century. See: “OS Map name 028/SW,” in Map of Montgomeryshire (Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 1885-1896), accessed March 4, 2016, http://www.british-history.ac.uk/os-1-to-10560/montgomeryshire/028/sw
2. Richard Jenkins and his family occupied Carneddau at the time of the 1881 census and so the first series of the Ordnance Survey.
3. Mrs Davies, “The History of the Parish of Carno,” Collections, historical & archaeological relating to Montgomeryshire, 33 (1904): 106-7.
4. ibid, 127 and 129.
5. ibid, 134-135.
6. ibid, 137-138.

back to hospital

stonewaveA note to the reader (whether that reader is you or I): on occasions these blog posts may seem esoteric, irrelevant and disjointed when viewed in traditional frames of reference. However, be assured, each post (and even sections of posts) should be seen as half-concealed adits to underground systems from where rich veins may be mined. A curious form of mining though, where there is no robbing of the Earth’s resources, instead, if anything, there is an augmentation. The underground systems slowly, unsteadily, come to be revealed by this process. A celebration.

It was one of those late winter days which comes half way to meet you. There is a suspension in the air, neither furious storm nor blazing, clear and still. A lot of greys are present—the overnight freezing temperatures have made the muddy roadside puddles icy grey; the tarmac itself seems a more drab grey; a grey sun melts a neat hole in the grey cloud; a kite, dark grey against bright grey; the geology is grey; the sheep pens are steel grey; green-grey; grey-green; and grey-grey.

It is an illusion of course. The greys are balanced by muted greens, browns and yellows. But look here; a primrose punctuates a roadside ditch, daffodils laid-low by the temperatures sparkle in the verge and the birch tips offer a red/purple haze. But the uplands will seem to forgot this at times as the snow will blow in during a pause from walking at Carneddau.

Despite Saturday’s race my legs seem good and strong as I head out of Caersws through the lanes to the north-east of the village. The lanes narrow as I proceed, angles tipping me further up to Mynydd Llwytgoed [hill of the pale/grey wood ?] and expansive views south. And a keen south-westerly wind that is surprisingly fresh. I am soon chilled from my climbing exertions. Onwards, past Ffrwd-wen’s white stream in its concrete culvert to the edge of Bryn y Fawnog [hill of the peat bog ?]. On open upland now but the going underfoot is good and not too boggy, those reed clumps hold my weight as I climb gently upwards leaping the infant Bechan Brook.

corrugationsIt seems that at every other step I pass the pellet of an owl or bird of prey. A cocooned summation of a recent diet, bristling with bones and insect shells and bound by fur. And very grey. Suddenly grey blade tips break the skyline. Mynydd Clogau wind farm and one of its seventeen wind turbines. Infinis are keen that you appreciate their labours but here at the grey track head signs permit and forbid visitors. Access land is entwined through the 14.5MW site though so closer inspection is perfectly possible and legal—just avoid visiting during electrical storms or freezing conditions. Follow the track down from the skyline cairn. The turbines’ blades whirr, swoosh, thrum and pulse. Standing near to them you could be forgiven for invoking the new sublime. Visually they are cumbersome and thuggish (and slightly comical) but almost at home on this grey day. I’ll let you tell the curlews though. Maybe they have benefited from the modest trust fund though?

Down to Bwlch-y-gors [pass of the swamp ?] and its new sheep pens and abandoned farm building, grey green amongst winter-bare trees. Slightly out of the wind, add layers and take some lunch. Not a bad spot. From the track I follow a long-lost right of way steeply down through last year’s bracken to Lluestycerrig [temporary dwelling of the rock ?] then follow the track up to the eastern end of Esgair Cwmowen [ridge of Owen’s valley ?]. The sky has closed in a little now. A kite flies up from the grass and circles above me, slightly intimidated I move on up the ridge and it flies off south. I have walked this ridge before but had forgotten how hard going it is in places—a stumble through tussocky, boggy grass punctuated by unaided gate and fence crossings.

I am above Carneddau now but the scene is more active today. The hillside beyond the old farm is a hive of activity: reversing warnings bleat; orange safety lights flicker and the yellow dots of excavators, bulldozers and dumpers buzz up and down the hillside and along the skyline. Surely the construction of a new windfarm. I drop from the ridge and make my own line across the wet grassland—dull to the distant eye but rich with colour at close quarters. At the infant Afon Rhiw [hill river ?] I collect a bottle of water for a future lithographic project. The construction site is out of sight but the warning bleats still play contrapuntal to the crazy cacklings of the crows and/or ravens.

greycloudsCarneddau is much as I left it. I sit amongst the ruins to shelter from the wind and collect sound. I eat some more too. As I sit snow begins to fall. And fall. It is too warm (it would seem) for the snow to make any impression on the ground but the view has closed in with the blurring of billions of flakes. Getting cold I gather my belongings and head off west through the old meadow and up to the modern sheep shed at the entrance to the forest. Usually I turn south (and back to Caersws) here but today I’m out a little longer and I will take a turn round Bryn yr Ysbyty [hill of the hospital]. I must re-visit the enigma of the hospital that I started to uncover a while back. For now I question my decision to walk away from the train as the snow begins to fall again but the shelter of the forestry commission planting encourages me on.

Snatched views along firebreaks show the ongoing construction work on Mynydd Pistyll-du [hill of the black waterfall ?]. The track rounds the hill but I am keen to leave it and find the track parallel but lower down. There is a break in the sky and the weather I thought had set in for the day eases away to leave a very diluted brightness. I plunge steeply down from the track into the trees, the dead lower branches and twigs claw at my face and clothes and the brashings assault my ankles. Not the best idea but I’m not going back up and this can only last a hundred metres at most. The canopy slightly lifts and the going gets a little easier. I cross the remains of a lost footpath and am then spat out onto the track I hoped to find.

The steep forested hillside is coloured with winter larch and birch and the hushing dark of sitka spruce. Round past Cwm-yr-annel [valley of the trap ?] and then onto another lost footpath up the side of Ffridd y Plasau [hill pasture of the mansions ?]. A steep climb here and my legs are feeling the exertions of the weekend race. But this is the last serious hill, so I put my head down and plod on. I’m up onto the back of Yr Allt [quite simply the hillside] now and pick up more familiar ground at the derelict wind turbine above Blaen-y-cwm. Rounding the top of the valley I head for the back of Y Glonc and the path up onto Garreg-hir [long stone ?]. The distant views have gone now and all has taken on a coarse grain. It is time to head for Caersws. And so I rattle back down the familiar roads and paths to the most welcome fish and chips and an almost on time train. The rain sets in as I wait bluestringunder the platform shelter. The light has gone.

Subsequent investigation shows Mynydd Pistyll-du to be the site of a new wind farm courtesy of West Coast Energy. The site has been christened Tirgwynt [which we can translate as wind land…hmmm, sounds like a theme park and another blog post: “Welcome to Windland: fun for the renewable generation®”] and will be home to 12 wind turbines with a 30MW capacity.


recovered from the soil matrix

Note: Urn image from Alex Gibson, The Excavation of a Structured Cairn at Carneddau, near Carno, Powys 1989 (Welshpool: The Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, 1989), 4 and words from Alex Gibson et al, “The Excavation of Two Cairns and Associated Features at Carneddau, Carno, Powys, 1989–90,” Archaeological Journal 150, no.1 (1993): 1-45, doi: 10.1080/00665983.1993.11078053.


CarneddauCairnFindsFig. 3: Selected finds from Carneddau Cairn. Flints from cist 1, food vessel from cist 4, collared urn from pre-cairn pit and archer’s wristguard from the hearth.1

1 Alex Gibson, The Excavation of a Structured Cairn at Carneddau, near Carno, Powys 1989 (Welshpool: The Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, 1989), 4.

NOTE: The excavation report gives the location of this cairn as SN 999 992 which is approximately 700m to the south-east of the remains of Carneddau farmstead. I wonder if this grid reference is incorrect and the cairn is actually Carneddau Cairn I PRN6313 located at SN 9899 9979. The finds from this excavation are deposited with Powysland Museum and Montgomery Canal Centre, Welshpool.