Llandeilo Past and Present

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Dinefwr Park - Summary

This conservation plan aims to inform the restoration and management of Dinefwr Park, Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire. Owned by the Rice/Rhys family from the 15 th century until broken up in the 1970s, it was sold piecemeal to the National Trust, the Wildlife Trust South and West Wales and other private individuals. Dinefwr Castle is a guardianship site, managed by Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments on behalf of the National Assembly of Wales. This plan was made possible by Heritage Lottery funding to the National Trust but encompasses the entire park and includes the views of Cadw and the Wildlife Trust.

Topographically the three principal components consist of wet meadows abutting the Afon Tywi; rocky wooded knolls interspersed with rough grassland; and smooth, flowing fields. This is the type-site for the ‘Llandeilo' geological series, fossil rich rocks Ordovicain in age. Occasional finds and a hill fort reflect prehistoric occupation. Geophysical survey revealed two, previously unknown Roman forts invisible on the surface but apparently preserved in great detail. Legend links Dinefwr with the 9 th century Welsh leader Rhodri Mawr and the 10 th century Hywel Dda but history records that in the 12 th century Dinefwr became the capital of Deheubarth under the leadership of Rhys ap Gruffydd, the Lord Rhys. His achievement in re-establishing this ancient territory in the face of Anglo-Norman might earned him a place as one of the key figures in Welsh history. Although most of the castle walls were built by his descendants it has come to symbolise Welsh nationalism and pride. Internecine fighting following the death of Lord Rhys led to control by the crown and the founding of an English colony to counter the influence of the Welsh settlement associated with the castle.

The original Newton House, described in some detail in a Tudor Act of Attainder, was replaced by the present structure in the middle of the 17 th century, when lands to the west of the house were also emparked for deer. George Rice and his wife Cecil designed and set out the landscape park in the second half of the 18 th century by removing fields and farms to the east of the house, moving farming activities to Home Farm and clumping formal avenues. By merging the rugged outlines of the deer park with the newly-established naturalistic landscape they created a seamless whole, widely praised and recorded in both word and image. Improvements undertaken at the suggestion of ‘Capability' Brown were little more than embellishments of the original design. The family maintained the park until the 1970s restricting 19 th century alterations to a Venetian-gothic façade to Newton House and the addition of a formal garden separated from the park by a ha-ha.

Continuity and consolidation have led to the survival of a remarkable community of veteran trees, some of which may be up to 700 years old. Dinefwr is an important example of the UK BAP Priority Habitat: Lowland Wood-Pasture and Parkland (one of only two sites in Carmarthenshire). Saproxylic invertebrates rely on the dead and dying timber and rare lichens are found throughout. At least six species of bat use the property. The wet meadows and oxbow lakes host a good range of aquatic invertebrates and are important for wintering wildfowl. Hedgerows support a breeding population of the tree sparrow, a UK BAP Priority Species. The park also hosts a herd of White Park Cattle, bred from the ‘Dynevor' herd, and a herd of fallow deer.

Dinefwr is of national significance for its geology, ecology, archaeology, history and designed landscape all of which are covered by statutory and non-statutory designations. Other significances include Newton House, Home Farm, estate buildings, the Dynevor Collection of paintings, medieval archaeology, the influence of the Rice/Rhys family, local economy, community and education. Above all it is a beautiful place that gives enormous pleasure to all.

The greatest threat to significance is the vulnerability of the trees. A failure to manage for long-term continuation of the woodland would jeopardise both design and ecology. Although the essential framework of the 18 th century designed landscape survives many details have been lost or obscured. Modern farming regimes, for example ploughing and inorganic fertilisers, threaten veteran trees and compromise the appearance of large areas. The ecology is fragile and susceptible to influences beyond the direct control of owners and managers. Newton House is generally in good condition. However, the fine plaster ceilings and internal joinery are fragile and susceptible to environmental and vibration damage, and lack of conservation care. Division of the house and courtyards between three different owners diminishes historic integrity. The historic buildings at Home Farm are deteriorating rapidly and badly-placed modern structures detract from the 18 th century layout. In the park, buildings and walls are in varying states of repair with the 17 th century Deer Park wall in greatest danger of loosing its historical value. Future management should acknowledge cultural significance, public expectations and community value, factors operating at differing scales but all contributing to our appreciation of the importance of the park. Recent surveys have gone someway towards addressing gaps in our understanding but many issues, such as the dynamic nature of the wet meadows, remain unresolved.

These vulnerabilities will be addressed through specialist policies and through a joint management approach at a landscape scale with other owners and ‘stewards'. Restoration of the 18 th century designed landscape will incorporate prescriptions to replant to historic designs; restore a viable age/class structure within the existing woodlands; reinstate paths and tracks and restore or consolidate important buildings. Measures to improve and enhance conservation of the ecology and habitats will be implemented to protect existing significance and counteract external factors. Newton House and Home Farm will be maintained as historic entities and repaired as necessary. Gaps in our understanding will be addressed including the significance of the buried archaeology, silt deposition processes and the ecology of the wet meadows. Improved interpretation and access is seen as key to the future enjoyment of and support for the property. Newton House will continue to serve as a focal point within the landscape but this role will be enhanced by the provision of information explaining the significance of all elements of the park and with additional visitor services. The role of Newton House and the park as a community resource will be promoted and enhanced.

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