Llandeilo Past and Present

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Dinefwr Park - Assessment of significance

Dinefwr is dramatically beautiful, historically important and environmentally significant. An extensive list of designations, statutory and otherwise, (3.20) cover many aspects but fail to capture the essence of the property. Interaction, integration and continuity have intertwined to create a stunning landscape that impresses on first encounter and improves as history, design and ecology are revealed. It has the ability to engage on various levels from the intellectual interpretation of Welsh medieval history to the comfort of a regular dog walk.

Summary Statement of Significance

The significance of Dinefwr Park cannot be assigned to one chronological phase or particular element. Roman archaeology, Welsh history, castle architecture, a designed park, geology and exceptional ecology have combined to produce a landscape of outstanding merit. Two Roman forts were discovered during surveys carried out as part of the conservation plan but the remainder are all designated of national importance.

The survival of these attributes is the result of continuity and consolidation. The Rice/Rhys family controlled and later owned the park from the 15th century until it was broken up in the 1970s. It was then acquired piecemeal by the National Trust, The Wildlife Trust South and West Wales and several private individuals. Family ownership was characterised by a conservative attitude to trees, an appreciation of the picturesque topography and pride in what they had created.

Dinefwr Castle plays a key role in the history of Wales and is perceived as an icon of nationality and pride. It is a guardianship site in the care of Cadw.

Dinefwr is one of the national assets of Wales. The National Trust holds part of the land in perpetuity for the nation. It recognises that the best way to safeguard this exceptional landscape is to work closely in partnership with other landholders, in particular the Wildlife Trust South and West Wales and Cadw.

Primary Significance

Archaeology

The phased, Roman, military landscape, discovered beneath the park during geophysical surveys undertaken in March 2003, is of national significance. The exceptional quality of the survey implies a high degree of preservation. Dinefwr has, therefore, the potential to address some of the unresolved issues arising from our lack of understanding as to the conquest of Wales and Britain as a whole. Most Roman sites have been built over or partially destroyed by agriculture so significance is enhanced by the apparent completeness of the record and ready accessibility.

Dinefwr Castle is both a listed building and a scheduled ancient monument. The medieval walls and buildings are important as a record of building techniques and as the physical reflection of one of the most important phases of Welsh history. The round keep belongs to a distinctive group of such structures that includes Drwslwyn, Bronllys, Skenfrith (also National Trust) and Tretower all of which date to the early 13th century. The ruined castle presented a romantic silhouette and became an essential element of the later designed landscape.

Ecology

Dinefwr Park is of national importance for its wood-pasture and species. Hot spots of diversity – lichens and insects – are in and on the old trees, some of which may be up to 700 years old. This ecological continuity, moulded by successive generations of the Rice family, is key to Dinefwr’s nature conservation significance. The park is now an ecological island bounded on all sides by modern agricultural or built landscapes. It functions as a refuge for communities that have disappeared from the surrounding intensively-farmed landscape and therefore has a significance that extends beyond the boundaries of the property. The oxbow lakes and adjacent wet meadows of the Tywi floodplain are the only Grade 1 ornithological habitat of their type in Wales. The Afon Tywi runs an almost natural course so oxbow lakes and their important fauna and flora will continue to develop. The dynamic nature of this system is the most valuable aspect.

History

The castle played an important role in Welsh medieval history and through a mixture of myth and actual events came to symbolise Welsh nationalism. One of the most successful and charismatic of Welsh leaders, the Lord Rhys, had his capital here during the 12th century. Legend associates the castle with earlier leaders such as Hywel Dda but as yet archaeology has failed to find any evidence to support this. Sir Rhys ap Thomas operated on a larger scale having considerable influence in the Tudor court. His family took a unique role in the century after 1430 particularly in South Wales. Dinefwr was one of many properties in his ownership.

Designed Landscape

The designed landscape dating to the late 18th century was (and still is) greatly admired inspiring artists and writers to record their impressions. One of the most ‘beautiful man-made landscapes in the British Isles’, it is essentially the creation of George Rice and his wife Cecil with additions by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Their principal success was to merge newly-established lawns and clumps with the rugged outlines of the much earlier deer park. Hall Moggridge notes that ‘Brownian and picturesque designed parkland are interwoven into a united composition, an excellent example of the genre’. Within the Deer Park mature trees provided the backdrop for more subtle planting that provided texture and depth, and accentuated outward views. The 18th century clumps, two of which can be seen for miles, are some of the best in the country. A special and unusual significance is that the park has always been admired from without.

Continuity and Survival

The 18th century landscape has survived without serious modification and can be admired by today’s visitors much as it was in the early 19th century. Not only did it withstand the economic and social pressures that destroyed many of our finest parks but early medieval trees and elements of the pre-park landscape also survive. This continuity secured conditions within which integration and interaction between the man-made and the natural could flourish. It is an outstanding example of how a landscape can evolve over time from wildwood through expression of power and agricultural landscape to work of art.

Geology

Dinefwr Park is of geological importance as the type-site for the Llandeilo series of the Ordovician. The fossil-rich rocks are of international significance.

Other Significance

Newton House and Courtyards

The significance of Newton House lies in its role as the focus of the landscape park rather than any particular architectural merit. Notwithstanding this it is of importance in a county context. Few Carmarthenshire country houses survive and even less with their surroundings and ancillary buildings intact. The interior is of greater interest than the exterior because of fine 17th century plaster ceilings and a great oak staircase. The Venetian-gothic exterior is poorly executed and has obliterated the classic simplicity of the Georgian façade. It is, however, the object of local pride. Of a different architectural style to the main house, the courtyards incorporate Tudor or possibly earlier buildings.

Home Farm

Listed for their group value these simple but elegant 18th century buildings have a regional significance. They are associated with the remodelling of the park in the 18th century when the designed landscape was created and farming activities were moved from Newton House. Modern agricultural buildings detract from the appearance of the complex.

Additional Buildings

The dovecote, ice house, dairy cottage and slaughter house represent country house technology rather than ornamental values though all have some aesthetic merit. The slaughter house is a rare or possibly unique survivor of a scarce building type but the others are found on many country estates though rarely in such good condition. Llandyfeisant Church is a medieval foundation that was renovated in the 19th century. It is significant as an eye-catcher within the designed landscape and for its possible association with the medieval landscape.

The Dynevor Collection

The collection (albeit incomplete) of Dynevor family portraits at Newton House is of significance to Wales. Many have been dispersed or divorced from their context.

Medieval Archaeology

Documentary accounts record two medieval towns within the boundaries of the park. No features conclusively demonstrated to be associated with these towns are visible on the surface.

White Park Cattle

Dinefwr is home to a herd of pedigree White Park Cattle, a Critically Endangered Rare Breed, that has been associated with the park since medieval times. It is genetically distinct from all other herds of White Park Cattle.

The Rice/Rhys/Dynevor Family

The Dynevors were a source of employment and influence at both a county and national level. They played a prominent role in politics, administration, welfare and culture. George Rice was a pioneer of the agricultural revolution. Regarded with respect and affection within the area streets; buildings, groups, associations and local government bodies were named after the family and the estate. To reciprocate the Dynevors donated a school (now closed) and gave land for a municipal park. This special relationship applies in particular to Llandeilo’s older inhabitants and will diminish in the decades ahead.

Tourism and Local Economy

The park and house attract 20,000 visitors a year and are important elements of the local tourism industry. They provide a significant number of jobs for people from the area, both paid and voluntary. The investment in the Dinefwr Project is expected to raise visitor numbers to at least 30,000 a year and to 35,000 by 2008. This will substantially increase the property’s contribution to the local economy, of importance in an area heavily dependent on agriculture and tourism.

Community

Dinefwr is a much valued asset. The beauty of the open space and the history associated with the castle play an important part in the quality of life of the inhabitants of Llandeilo, and meet the intentions of the National Trust’s founders. The park contributes to sense of place and defines identity. The role of the National Trust, the Wildlife Trust and Cadw in preserving the house and park has been welcomed locally.

Education

Dinefwr has the potential to promote greater understanding of archaeology, landscape design, natural history, environmental conservation, estate technology, and animal husbandry amongst others. All three organisations are committed to life-long learning and community involvement. Dinefwr can fulfill this aim.

Beauty

Above all Dinefwr is a place of great beauty. A succession of inspirational views promotes a sense of timelessness and continuity. The age and appearance of the truly ancient trees are remarkable, their survival astonishing. From its inception the quality of the designed landscape has been recognised. The park still continues to meet the aims of this revolutionary phase of park design and to promote the feelings and emotions aspired to during the 18th century. It is a refuge not only for exceptionally rare fauna but also for people escaping the reality that is life in the 21st century.

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