Dr. Shaun Evans is Director of the Institute for the Study of Welsh Estates, an all-Wales research centre based at Bangor University which explores issues relating to the history, culture and landscapes of Wales, through the prisms of estates and their cultural heritage collections. @YstadauCymru
A 17th century map of Whitlera, Carmarthenshire
I mentioned in my last blog post that commissions for estate maps in Wales only really gathered pace from the mid-18th century. Examples from the two preceding centuries are comparatively rare.
The National Library of Wales has a handful of 16th and 17th century estate maps within their collections, including Humfrey Bleaze’s map of the Powis Castle demesne, completed in 1629 and Robert Johnson’s 1587 survey of the Earl of Worcester’s manors of Crickhowell and Tretower in Breconshire.
The Robert Johnson’s survey is significant because it encapsulates the shift from textual description to cartographic depiction. Traditional estate surveys usually consisted of written descriptions, noting details such as the name, extent and composition of individual farms, tenants’ names, the annual rent and details of any customs pertaining to the land. Johnson’s survey combines this form of textual survey with a set of beautifully produced maps, creating an early example of what was essentially an ‘atlas’ of the estate. Humfrey Bleaze’s map of the Powis Castle demesne was a different type of product: a large single sheet of vellum depicting the main features of the estate landscape, with the name and extent of fields (in acres, roods and perches) etched onto the face of the document. Both of these products were specially commissioned by landowners, with a view to long-term use and display.
However, there are other types of early estate map which were altogether less conspicuous. One example from the National Library of Wales is the simple pen-and-ink map of Whitlera in the parish of Llanfynydd, Carmarthenshire, which appears to date from the mid-17th century. The map is sketched on a single sheet of paper and shows ‘the mease [i.e. house] of Whitlera’, together with an adjacent building and adjoining lands.
A number of other landscape features are depicted, including Afon Sannan and ‘the hie waye’. Some of the fields feature rows of markings which may be an attempt to show that they had been ploughed. Other areas include clumps of ‘furrs’ [furze or gorse], suggesting uncultivated wasteland. A number of trees are also depicted, ranging from what looks like a patch of small woodland, to a large tree standing alone in the middle of one of the fields and a number of smaller trees forming part of one of the hedgerow boundaries. These spikey hedgerows (perhaps resembling Hawthorn) enclose every field; and there is a clear attempt to depict a more established hedge to the east.
Some of the field-names are marked on the map, such as ‘kae dan y ty’, ‘kae trwynvain’, ‘wayn bwll’ and ‘kaer ddintir’. Most of these fields are marked as ‘whitleras lande’ – indicating their association with the house. However, the lands included on the map were not consolidated under the ownership of one individual or estate; the ‘whitleras land’ was intermixed with the land of ‘Owen ap Hennri & Mallt verch Wallter ap Thomas’, ‘Kae Koch, being the lande of Ieuan Lloyd ap Gwillym Vychan’ and bounded to the south by ‘the lands of Sir William Thomas, Knight’.
The main purpose of the map was to depict the extent and boundaries of the lands associated with Whitlera. Compared to Robert Johnson’s 1587 survey of Crickhowell and Tretower, and Humfrey Bleaze’s map of Powis Castle, there is less emphasis on display. Indeed, the map was folded up and retained as part of a collection of deeds and documents relating to Whitlera. It is these associated records which provide some indication as to why the map might have been created.
Since at least the beginning of the 16th century the ownership of Whitlera was the subject of contention and legal proceedings. In 1604 Richard ap Rutherch and others brought an action in the Court of the Council in the Marches of Wales to settle the title to the messuage and lands of Whitlera. Six years later the Court of Great Sessions was making judgement on an allegation of trespass into lands around Whitlera. By the 1620s the house of Whitlera and some of the adjoining lands were in the ownership of Thomas ap Richard ap Ruddergh and his son and heir William Thomas ap Ruddergh. In 1627 they appear to have sold the lands to Griffith Lewis, an alderman of Carmarthen, who a couple of years later sold the lands to Thomas Newsham of Abersannan. Over the next few decades the lands were mortgaged on a regular basis, until they were eventually acquired by Nicholas Williams of Rhydodyn (Edwinsford) in the 1670s.
The records relating to these transactions form part of the Edwinsford Estate Archive and they provide useful context for why the map was created. During the 16th and 17th centuries, it was not uncommon for maps to be commissioned as evidence to support legal proceedings relating to the ownership of land. It is possible that the map was produced as part of the cases heard by the Council in the Marches of Wales or at the Great Sessions. However, given the past uncertainties surrounding the ownership of the lands, it is more likely that the map was requested by either Griffith Lewis, Thomas Newsham or Nicholas Williams to append to the deeds evidencing their acquisition of the lands. In either instance, it is clear that the map cannot be fully understood without reference to the wider body of records relating to the ownership history of Whitlera. Context is key.
This post is also available in: Welsh