|The Castle: medieval Redcastle?|
"Red Castle, in Welsh Castell-coch, was a small manor at the lower end of the Hattrel Hill above Tre-wyn. I have failed to find any court rolls or details of this manor. A cottage on the mountain above Tre-wyn is called The Castle." (Bradney, A History of Monmouthshire, 1907).
Knocking around tumbledown ruins on steep and exposed hillsides in all weathers may not be everyone's idea of a good time but it works for me.
"Splendid this rampart is, though fate destroyed it
...tumbled are the towers,
Ruined the roofs, and broken the barred gate,
Frost in the plaster, all the ceilings gape,
Torn and collapsed and eaten by age..."
The Ruin (Anonymous)
In researching the landscape around Llanthony Priory over recent years I have been particularly drawn to three ruined upland farmsteads and enclosures that may, or may not, have had a common relationship with the Priory during its 400 year period of activity up to Dissolution in 1538:
- The Castle (SO317236) - potentially the foci of the Priory's manor of Redcastle;
- The Old Abbey (SO268337) - a distinctive system of fields near the head of the neighbouring Olchon valley;
- The Castle (SO247327) - a postulated contemporaneous holding up valley from the Priory.
The hypothesis that I am exploring is whether the sites were all granges, forming a key element of the agricultural infrastructure of the Priory. Granges were newly established outlying farming complexes set up by monastic houses outside of the traditional manorial system to exploit waste and other lands newly brought into economic use and worked by conversi (lay brothers). They tended to have a lasting impact on the landscape because they were “…often higher and more remote than ordinary settlements of the same period and so maintained a frontier of relatively intensive land use” (Simmons, 2001).
The Priory managed approximately 20,000 acres of land locally in the Monmouthshire/Herefordshire borderlands, including large tracts of upland moorland 'waste', known as the Honddu Slade estate. The primary documentary sources for the estates of Llanthony do not specifically identify any granges here, although they are in evidence in the Priory’s extensive Irish estates. The study of monastic granges tends to focus on the Cistercians who developed the model, which was then taken up by other orders although rarely recorded for Augustinian houses such as Llanthony. Where granges have been associated with Augustinian monasteries they have tended to be relatively close to the house, reflecting the order’s limited use of lay brethren and the need for the canons to run the farm themselves.
My aim has been to explore the physical landscape evidence, so far through some preliminary fieldwork; compare the 'patterns of the past' found here with known grange sites connected to other monastic houses, and, if my hunches seem to have any credence, revisit the documentary records.