Published in W.N.F.C - HAN newsletter no 72
Original article with added map
Water Channels, an exploration
In July 2000 members of the Archaeological Section of the Woolhope Field Club spent an afternoon exploring some of the ancient man made water channels of the parish. They were lead by member G.Charnock. A report was published in the Section newsletter
The report with an added map is attached below
Newton Water Channels
Visit of the Woolhope Club Archaeological Section.
afternoon of 2nd July 2000
It was explained that Newton and St.Margarets were two separate and distinct parishes, their linking appeared to date from the 19th Century and may have been introduced by the Post Office to distinguish this Newton from other Newton’s in the County. Newton was a Township of Clodock and until the mid 19th Century part of the Diocese of St. David’s. The name, Newton, is of Saxon origin and indicates that the settlement of the area probably precedes the coming of the Normans to Longtown and in the 11th Century. We have therefor an occupation pattern extending over 1000 years. The older name for the area is Maes-coed, Welsh for ‘clearing or field in the wood’. This name still persists in modern ordnance survey maps in the form of Lower, Middle and Upper Maes-coed. Residual commons exist at both Lower and Upper Maes-coed. That at Middle Maes-coed was finally enclosed shortly before the Tithe Map of 1844 following authorisation by an Act of Parliament of 1815.
Newton has no ancient monuments, the Chapel dates from 1833 and St.Johns Church from a few years later. The main historical and archaeological interest lies in its settlement and field patterns; illustrating a process of piecemeal enclosure, its place names; which of older fields and farms are of Welsh origin, its road and green lane patterns, its quarries of earlier stone working and a series of water channels of various ages and purposes. The day’s explorations would be mainly focused on some of these water channels. Most of our walk would be away from public footpaths on private land by permission of John Price of Newhouse farm.
At map reference 3473.3300 (POINT A ON MAP) a distinct change in the gradient of the roadway was noted. This is due to a crude slab bridge, which carries the road over a water channel (CHANNEL 1); the channel is easily seen in the adjacent fields. This channel starts some 300m away at 3450.3315 where it drew water from an unnamed brook and conducted it to the stock yard of Newhouse farm and then on to take the overspill to join another brook in a dingle at 3477.3275. Shortly before it joins the second brook there are remains of a stone diversion weir by which the water could be led into a second channel running across Great Tanhouse Meadow (tithe map field number 320). The main channel now long disused was perhaps about 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep. Its purpose would have been to bring water to the farmstead for stock, that it was laid out to give a continuos flow may indicate a secondary use for toilet flushing whilst the facility for diversion to the lower meadow was probably for irrigation.
At 3482.3310 (POINT B) the roadway crosses the unnamed brook of Sunny Bank dingle. Looking over the wire fence to the south, slight remains of another man made water channel (CHANNEL 2) are to be seen. These appear to have taken water from the dingle stream to tithe map field 317, which has the name Lloynd Meadow. From evidence of an early mortgage document this field is believed to be an original part of an early freehold farmstead. In the 16th Century such farms in the parish were typically about 40 acres in size and located on the periphery of the then extensive commons, later by progressive enclosure additions and consolidation they became 200-300 acres in size. Since this water channel was constructed the bed of the feeder stream has sunken considerably by erosion, further evidence of the age of some of these channels.
At 3504.3300 (POINT C) we left the public road to follow the Dulas Brook downstream. Dulas is Welsh for black or dark water. For a while the brook forms the parish boundary between Newton and St.Margarets, before 1548 it would have been the boundary between England and Wales. A few metres downstream from the road a series of large stones across the bed of the Brook were pointed out. These are the remains a dam which was used to raise the level of the water and divert it into another water channel (CHANNEL 3) which can be traced to 3520.3250 where it enters a field and has been ploughed out. It probably went on to Mill Wood at 3535.3180. Only the place name remains there are no signs of mill buildings. At 3505.3280 the channel is very evident and there are remains of a stone regulating sluice. The channel was about 4 feet wide and 2 feet deep before erosion and natural filling in. Near the take off point of this channel the remains (POINT D) of an old sunken roadway now disused and over grown was noted, this crosses the Dulas Brook by ford and the man made channel by a stone slab bridge before rising up through the wood towards Bacton. It is thought that this roadway predates the present one, and at that time would have been the main route from Middle Maes-coed to Hereford.
There is a very pleasant waterfall in the Dulas Brook at 3510.3260 (POINT E). Here the water cascades over a rock slab edge to fall 3-4 metres. It was interesting to note the pronounced change in the nature of the brook occasioned by this waterfall. Upstream the brook meanders back and fro across the meadows, its bed on rock, its banks shallow with little or no loose stone in its bed. Down steam from the fall the brook is contained in a deep ravine perhaps 5 or more metres deep and about the same across. Its bed is marked by a series of deep pools and is filled with rocks which are large near the waterfall and get progressively smaller as one goes downstream. The mechanism of the riverbed formation is very evident. Water over the fall, with time excavates a deep pool at its foot. The stone slab bed over which the water falls is perhaps half a metre thick and under laid with softer formations. Once the pool is formed these soft formations are eroded until the slab is undermined and sections break off. The waterfall then retreats and the process starts all over again. George said he had observed this action over many years and the waterfall was currently retreating at the rate of about 1 metre in 25 years. The distinct ravine is about 400 metres in length and probably represents 10.000 years work by the brook. The brook contains trout, ells, and crayfish. Mink have been noted and there are now less trout than in earlier decades.
We left the brook side to climb up to 3507.3226 (POINT F). This is an interesting site with fine views down the Dulas Brook valley towards Dulas and Ewyas Harold. Below us we could see Gwyrlodydd farmstead (POINT G) in a feeder valley to the main brook. This farm which is not seen from public roads has its own story. One Walter Marsh (1743-1822) enlarged it in the second half of the 18th Century. Over a period he took in several parcels of land to form a composite farm of over 160 acres. He was an important man of the area in his time and he seems to have had financial backing from a Mr Richard Hankins who it is thought was a life long friend from boyhood days. Richard Hankins, by his mother, was a grandson of the then farmer of Newhouse farm. We can imagine their boyhood adventures on the common where they would have been sent to watch over the cattle grazing there. Richard’s family were wealthy Hereford merchants and he went on to own extensive properties in the County, in Bristol, and in London. He died a wealthy man in London. Walter Marsh was one of the executors of his will, a copy of which is in the HRCO. In 1795 Walter Marsh rebuilt the Gwyrlodydd Farmhouse and some of its out buildings, some of these contain high-class vernacular stonework.
From this viewpoint three more man made water channels (CHANNELS 4,5 & 6) were noted. The take off point for all these is the Gwyrlodydd dingle brook at about 3480.3221 (POINT H). One of these flows southeast, across field 441 where it can be plainly seen as a contour mark. The other two channels were from the left side of the feeder brook and flow into field 424. Remains of stone diversion dams still exist in the bed of the brook. The Gwyrloydd channel and the lower of the channels to field 424 appear to have been for irrigation purposes, not to be confused with water-meadows, the fields being far too steep for standing water. The third channel is of more interest, much more labour was involved in its construction and its channel now forms the contour field boundary between fields 420 and 424. It terminates in a peculiar piece of ground, which the tithe map has as orchard 425 (POINT J). This is a platform site and is believed to be the site of a pre 14th Century farmstead now completely extinct. If this is so then it would have been one of the very earliest occupation sites of the Maes-coeds and would have been then located on what was then the very edge of the common with four or five enclosed fields on the warmer land facing south. The water channel would have brought water to the farmstead and it construction have been a pioneering work perhaps consolidating the title to the land. There must have been more than one family seeking good land to settle and such labour would have been respected. Evidence suggests that by about 1400 this site was deserted and the homestead re-established on adjoining land freshly enclosed from the common at 3487.3240; (POINT K) marked on the O.S. map as Upper Gwyrlodydd and now known as Oldhouse. The position of the gateway between fields 425 and 420 is further evidence of this ancient occupation site. Over the centuries gates and their posts may be changed many times but their location remains as evidence of past usage.
The party was received at Oldhouse and fortified with tea and cake. They were able to see the internal timber features of the house which experts’ date to about 1500 and which themselves reflect a rebuilding of an earlier house.
The last water channel (CHANNEL 7) to be noted in the afternoon was one which ran from 3454.3273. (POINT L), to the old farmyard at Upper Gwrylodydd. This would have brought water from a minor brook to the farmstead for stock purposes. The domestic water being from an excellent spring which still serves the house.
The afternoon finished where it started at St Johns Church. In the course of our walk we had seen seven separate water channels within the compass of a relatively small area. These had been made to serve a variety of purposes, and none of these purposes corresponds to that which people generally associate with Herefordshire and Rowland Vaughan’s water works of the Golden Valley.
NB. All the features described are on private land; Permission to view should be obtained from Mr A.J Price of Newhouse farm
Oldhouse, Newton St.Margarets. September 2000.