Heritage of Wales

Episode Four

Episode Four follows survey work to uncover the rich archaeology of the Welsh uplands, examines an industrial-scale model farm built by a Victorian millionaire and uncovers decorated walls in a sixteenth-century house.

You can see the episode on the BBC website .


  • The remains of the farmstead at Penblaenmilo. (NPRN 81460 image courtesy of Trysor)
  • Filming at the pillow mounds. (Image courtesy of Trysor NPRN:81460)

Jenny Hall and Paul Sambrook search out lost sites for the Royal Commission’s Uplands Archaeology Initiative at Aberedw near Builth Wells and meet farmer Ray Powell to talk about the marks that past generations have left on the hills.

The uplands of Wales are an incredibly rich archaeological resource. The abandoned farmstead of Penblaenmilo is one of many scattered across the rural landscape. The 1841 census marked the high tide of population in many rural parishes. It recorded 345 people in Aberedw parish, almost all making their living from the land, but towns and industrial areas drew people away. By the 1880s, Penblaenmilo was one of thousands of upland farmsteads and cottages that had been abandoned. By the 1891 census the parish had only 197 people. It is still possible to make out Penblaenmilo’s fireplace and front doorway in its ruins. Nearby are other features of the working landscape, such as small enclosures from the common land, evidence of former ploughing up to an altitude of 400 metres, and a group of pillow mounds used by earlier generations to farm rabbits for meat and fur. Other farmsteads were spread across the hill and remains of a kiln for drying grain have been found at one of them. The Royal Commission’s Uplands Archaeology Initiative has recorded similar abandoned cottages and farms across the Welsh uplands, where ruins have usually been left undisturbed. On lower farmland, away from the commons, they have almost always been swept away by improvements and more intensive farming. The uplands survey is revealing a great deal of new evidence about the history of Wales.

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Leighton Park Farm

  • Leighton Park Farm from the air. Image: GTJ26388 / NPRN 80542)
  • The corn mill built on the Leighton Estate, Cil-Cewydd. (Image:DI2008_0127/NPRN 80538)
  • The Leighton poultry house. (Image:DI2008_0847/ NPRN 85876)

Royal Commission investigators Stephen Hughes and Susan Fielding are surveying the Victorian farming technologies and buildings developed by a millionaire at Leighton Park model farm near Welshpool.

The new industrial technologies of the Victorian period are not often associated with agriculture, but improvements developed in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries were brought together during the Victorian period in some attempts to industrialise farming. The Leighton Park estate was given to John Naylor by his uncle as a wedding gift. Between 1848 and 1856 he invested £200,000 developing it. The home farm was intended to impress. The nucleus was the stockyard at the top, built in 1849 and followed shortly afterwards by the other three yards. Two circular buildings for pigs and sheep had been added by 1855. By the end of the decade, the detached fodder shed had been built and a tramway installed to carry hay and straw the length of the axis formed by the barns. Other new buildings around the estate included root houses for animal feed production, a bone-grinding mill, a sawmill, an engineering works, a gasworks, a corn mill, improved accommodation for the large workforce and an architecturally impressive poultry house. Among the innovations were water turbines to provide power and a complex manure-supply system to fertilise the fields.

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  • Ciliau’s painted ‘tapestries’. (Image:DS2007_024_023/NPRN: 81106)
  • Ciliau’s painted ‘tapestries’. (Image: DS2007_024_017/ NPRN 81106)
  • The Royal Commission’s reconstruction of Ciliau as an open hall. (Image: DI2005_0051/ NPRN 81106 )

Investigator Richard Suggett examines the newly discovered paintings at Ciliau which show how a Tudor country gentleman decorated his home to impress.

Ciliau is a remarkable mid-Tudor gentry house near Erwood in Powys. Early modern period dwellings did not have much furniture in their open halls beyond a table and benches, and any decorative scheme is usually lost forever. After the Commission completed its initial survey of Ciliau as part of its major study of houses in Radnorshire , its owner discovered that the plaster over the screen at the end of the hall concealed extensive paintings. The upper part shows bold acanthus leaves and the panel below has a lamp-black ground covered by trails of leaves and exotic flowers. Interspersed among the foliage are several creatures. After cleaning it was apparent that a bird was confronting a cat, the earliest known depiction in Wales of this common household pet. Elsewhere are another bird and a collared hound. Tapestries were an aristocratic taste but few survived in the long term. It was more practical to imitate them by painting directly onto walls and partitions. Three, and perhaps all four, walls of the hall at Ciliau were covered by these painted imitations of hanging tapestries. They must date from the period before the insertion of ceiling through the open hall in the early seventeenth century. Ciliau was inherited in 1574 by John ap Robert. Five years later he sold it to Edward Daunce of Hereford, gentleman, who is likely to have redecorated in fashionable style.

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