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.

Assembling Here

ArchExcSitting here at my desk in the English West Midlands I contemplate a small patch of upland Montgomeryshire. This small piece of Wales that my attention dwells in is toponymically identified as ‘Y Glonc’ – assuming, that is, that the Ordnance Survey cartographers have dropped those six letters and their space in the right place on the 1:50,000 scale Landranger 136. [1]

In the act of naming arguably this patch of land has been given some physical limitations and although these limits may be uncertain we can certainly limit the area that was named such to a few dozen acres at most. [2] It is this limitlessness or limit-haziness that makes the question of place (for that is what we are dealing isn’t it?) particularly interesting and relevant to my project. Place has permeability even if viewed in this strictly physical ‘real’ sense – there is no black/white boundary line just a hazy blurring into the neighbouring toponyms of Esgair Cwmowen and Garreg-hir.

We name for power (frequently in the form of ownership) and this power (and ownership) may be just the power of recollection – ‘do you remember that lovely holiday we had in X?’, and so on. Or, the defining might be part of a legal process that certainly will have a red line drawn on a plan but of course then we argue how far above and how deep below does this ownership penetrate. Despite these variations, somehow the naming becomes a gathering and does define a place even though there are overlaps but it defines it for a particular audience. Of course, the naming might be completely wrong to local people as an outside agency comes in and utilises a micro toponym to denote a vast area or perhaps simply mis-spells the toponym.

The naming slips. The placement of place names on OS maps frequently varies between scales and editions and the words literally seem to slip across the charted landscape. This slipping increases perhaps when the language of the place name is not English and the precise definition of the toponym is lost; there is no obvious feature to append the name to and so it slides between cwm and mynydd. As with so many of these discussions the toponyms become more about the namer than the named. What did they see as prominent in the landscape to make it all a grey heap? What stake did they have to name it after themselves particularly where geological feature and human name become combined – a marriage between species, between man and land.

What I want to say is that there is so much more here at stake than an area outlined on a map or framed by a picture. Even in the physically limiting definitions of a place there is uncertainty that is brought to landscape an act of assembling that aggregates different features for different parties. No longer do we go to the fixed place to picture it. Instead a place grows durationally out of its landscape like a more-than-human, multi-stranded version of Bergson’s incomplete elastic being teased out by so many different ‘hands’. [3][4]

I will have to continue this another day as I’ve missed out a lot of what I set out to discuss


[1] For those wishing to look more closely locate grid-reference SO 000 990 on the OS Landranger 136. Ordnance Survey. Landranger Map 136 – Newtown & Llanidloes / Y Drenewydd a Llanidloes. Southampton: Ordnance Survey, 2002.

[2] On the 1:25,000 scale OS mapping ‘Y Glonc’ is also applied to the ruined(?) farm that sits on the SE side of the ridge. I have yet to establish the etymology of the name Y Glonc but the Ordnance Survey have been using it since the late-1800s and it could be that the name of the land derives from the farm or vice versa.

[3] For a full explanation of the ‘more-than-human world’ see: Abram, David. The Spell of the Sensuous. New York: Vintage Books, 1996. 13-15.

[4] Bergson, Henri. An Introduction to Metaphysics. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912. 13-15.

benchmark #1

BM_1In a comment to a recent excellent blogpost survey of a move ‘towards new landscape aesthetic‘ I suggested to the site’s author, Eddie Procter, a label of radical topography rather than deep topography for this movement. Radical topography is arrived at:

via the process of and interest in deep topography. It pulls topography out more broadly to make its relevance to all more urgent perhaps. This links through to Guattari’s The Three Ecologies. In a collection of essays on the ecology of Deleuze and Guattari (Ed. B. Herzogenrath, 2009) Hanjo Berressem’s suggests a move from Naessian deep ecology to radical ecology to explode the subject/object divide and here that could help blur the culture/nature one. It also overcomes the ‘landscape as palimpsest’ trope which you mention. I think this ‘radical’ element could also be moved on to ‘radical place’ as well to leave behind the arrogance of local authority (etc.) ‘place-making’.

This concept of radical topography combines nicely with the concept of the autopoietical landscape. Movement and flux is embraced as a counter mechanism to homogenization. This flexibility is also championed by Gregory Bateson in his Steps to an Ecology of Mind (flexibility as ‘uncommitted potentiality for change’ (505)). Could this radically flexible aspect of landscape be a challenge to the wind farmers blanding of Esgair Cwmowen as “a moderately attractive landscape with few features of note” for example?