#LoveMaps – Bob Silvester

#LoveMaps / Collections / News and Events - Posted 26-04-2018

Dr Bob Silvester, FSA, Visiting Professor, University of Chester takes part in our #LoveMaps campaign.

A professional archaeologist for all of his working life, first in Devon and Somerset and later in Norfolk, he moved to Wales in 1989 when appointed deputy director of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust. He retired from CPAT at the beginning of 2016, and for research purposes he is now affiliated to the Department of History and Archaeology at the University of Chester. His interest in all types of historic maps, but especially estate mapping, emerged during his time in the Norfolk fenlands where maps were a vital adjunct to the fieldwork that was unravelling the development of the historic landscape. Over the last twenty-five years his interest in mapping has grown, and now with retirement, he is able to spend more time immured in local record offices and, of course, the National Library, examining maps of east Wales and the adjacent border counties in England.

Edward Matthews’ map of Llanarmon Mynydd Mawr

Thomas Slaughter and Richard Richardson will be familiar names only to those who have a deep interest in eighteenth-century mining activity in Wales. Slaughter is a fairly obscure individual, but Richardson was more obviously eminent, a goldsmith, an alderman in Chester for many years, and in 1757 the city’s mayor. As mining entrepreneurs they commissioned mapped surveys of areas likely to have unexploited mineral deposits prior to leasing the land from its owner. Edward Matthews, the first generation of a family of surveyors based in Mold in Flintshire, seems to have been their preferred choice and his name appears on a number of maps including two from the 1750s of the Chirk Castle estate holdings of Llanymynech Hill near Oswestry and the less well-known Voel Fawr as it is termed on the map shown here, the most prominent hill in the parish of Llanarmon Mynydd Mawr, historically in southern Denbighshire but now in Powys. Slaughter, Richardson and Richard Myddelton, lord of Chirk all signed the map, presumably confirming it to be an accurate representation of this upland landscape.

Edward Matthews’ map cannot by classed as an estate map in the strict sense of the term. It shows only a very small portion of the lands owned by Richard Myddelton and indeed depicts the lands of other freeholders; it is better termed a property map, and for me this is one of its strengths. Had it just been a depiction of Myddelton’s farmed estate, the unenclosed mountain land that was Voel Fawr would have received little attention because of its limited agricultural interest. Here though it is the mountain that was important for its potential mineral reserves. Matthews shows the terrain as a series of humps, in a traditional fashion that had been adopted by Saxton nearly two hundred years before. He depicts the various slate quarries that had been opened on what was almost certainly still functioning as common land in the eighteenth century, and also old mine workings, seen as groups of black dots, which would have attracted the specific attention of Slaughter and Richardson, as they do the archaeologist of today.

Yet it is not the olive green wash employed for the mountain that attracts the eye, but the bright colours – brick red, yellow, slate green etc – adopted for the different freeholders’ lands, lying mainly to the south of a lane that tracked eastwards along the contours towards the hamlet of Llanarmon Mynydd Mawr. In particular it is the surprisingly mixed pattern of land holdings with strangely shaped fields which is of interest. And in this we are moving outside the province of archaeology and into that of socio-economic history, for the pattern is best explained as a consequence of the Welsh system of partible inheritance, whereby each of the deceased’s male heirs acquired an equal portion of his land. This contrasted with the English system of primogeniture where the eldest son normally inherited the entire estate. Matthews’ map unfortunately can’t provide the information as to when the fragmentation of the holding took place, and the irregular fields that show so clearly on his map are today barely visible in the landscape, having been swept away in a rationalisation of the field layout in the later nineteenth century.

A question remains unanswered. Why did the surveyor show the land of various farmers? The answer probably lies in the fact that Richard Myddelton was the lord of the manor and claimed the mineral rights across (or more accurately below) other men’s land. There is though no archaeological evidence to suggest that Slaughter and Richardson exploited this option.

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