The Gwent Local History Council was set up in 1954 to encourage public interest in local history, to bring together societies and persons interested in the study of local history, to arrange lectures and publish the results of historical research. Their twice yearly magazine "Gwent Local History" has made a valuable contribution to the store of historical knowledge. Here Caerleon Net, with the full agreement of the Gwent Local History Council, is making available many of the articles from this magazine relating to Caerleon.
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Enquiries relating copyright should be addressed to the Gwent Local History Council.
Gwent Local History No. 45, 1978
Caerleon Manor And Mills
by Eija Kennerley
Until quite recent times, the first half of last century, the Manor of Caerleon still appears in official documents and there was a lord of the Manor almost as long as that. The information concerning the Manor comes mainly from the Surveys of which there are five: the first one of 1539-40, and the other four from the 17th century. There also are details of information from the 14th and 15th century, in the Public Record Office, and other information from different centuries in the Gwent Record Office.
It is possible that Caerleon Manor was in existence at the time of the Norman Conquest. Its boundaries of the early period are nowhere indicated, but the people who lived in the area of the Manor must have known well enough where the boundaries ran. It is usual everywhere that lines and boundaries of that sort are tabu and anyone attempting to move a boundary mark is and has always been thought the worst of criminals. In folklore at least such a person usually meets a horrible end.
Caerleon Manor was not a nucleated type but scattered, as was usual in cases of farms in Wales. Its organisation and economic function, however, was more like that of the English manors. William Rees states that generally in South Wales, the Norman influence is best seen in the development of the manor, and he gives Caerleon among the fifteen examples in the lowland areas.
By the 17th century the area that Caerleon Manor covered, had grown approximately to that covered by the Caerleon Urban District, before the joining with Newport. This growth was possibly assisted by the fact that arable land was "situated at any available spot", as Rees puts it, and the scattered pieces gradually were joined together, under one lord.
Sir Joseph Bradney in the History of Monmouthshire has published the Extent of Gilbert the Red's (de Clare) estates at his death in 1295, in which Caerleon is said to have two carucates of arable land, the value of which is £4. In addition there was one acre of meadow, value per annum 12d. None of this tells us how large an area the lands covered or whereabouts they were. The words carucate and acre had vague and various meanings during the Middle Ages, differing in different places and even varying from one year to another.
According to G. H. Holmes, the lordship of Usk was "characterised by a predominance of English institutions" which included the organisation of the manors. Therefore he considers that the problems of the de Clare manors of the 13th and 14th centuries were "analogous to those of Clare Bailiwick", rather than to those of a Welsh lordship. Most of the de Clare lands were indeed in England, e.g. in Suffolk.
There were eleven manors in the lordship of Usk: Usk, Troy, Trellech, Tintern, Llangwm, Liswerry, Caerleon, New Grange, Llantrissent, Tregrug and Undy. Holmes shows how the Usk and Caerleon manors indicate similar development: from flourishing economy to the sad fall after the Glyndwr rebellion. Caerleon Manor was in the years 1325-26 predominantly livestock breeding, rents of three mills bringing £24 annually. There were 38 cows, hired out for a year for £7 2s. 8d. Only 57 acres were sown and 99½ demised at will. The value of the Manor in 1329-30 was £62 7s. 0d. and in 1338-39 it was £40 15s. l0d. About two thirds of this latter amount came from miscellaneous sources, and the rest from rents and farms.
The fourteenth century is considered by historians to be the period when the manor system in the whole country finally decayed. After the Glyndwr rebellion the profits of the mills of Caerleon were £6, a third of those nearly a hundred years before, as Holmes has shown. They rose to £8 by 1413-14. (1)
After the Middle Ages, the Manor of Caerleon was actually only an administrative entity which appeared in documents, but was a name only.
Caerleon Manor had the usual officials supervising the work and the maintenance, as well as giving their accounts to the lord's officials. From the 13th century we know the name of one reeve: Gilbert Huclet or Huclot in the year 1293-94. This was only a short time after the wars of Edward I and, although the warring did not directly affect Caerleon, it must have had some indirect consequences. In the fragment of his account, Gilbert Huclet's arrears from the previous year amounted to an enormous sum: £161 2s. 1½d. This was nothing unusual, however, as generally medieval accounts had this feature of arrears from the previous year.
The rents collected by Huclet, in this fragment, were only £1 7s. 4½d. The other amounts accounted by him appear now ridiculously small, e.g. "56s. from the mill for the farm of wheat flour", and "l0d. from the sale of pasture upon land of John Melice". (2)
The second reeve known by name is Simon Wyngham, from about 1410-11.(3) He later became known as Mayor of Caerleon - unless indeed these offices were overlapping and so similar that the confusion in the use of the title became unavoidable.
The reeve of the manor was usually chosen by the tenants and he was an unfree man, that is, a man who was tied to the land by service to the lord. He may have been chosen from among the more well-to-do customary tenants who included - in South Wales - "those non-tribesmen whose former obligations had been retained or turned to direct service on the demesne, together with English settlers, probably fighting men and their families brought in by the Conquest, or bondmen introduced from the English lands of the lord". These words of William Rees bring to mind the reeve Gilbert Huclet again. His name indicates that his ancestor could be one of those who had come into the country with the troops of the Conqueror. His Christian name was probably in fashion during the period of the de Clare family, many of whose members were called Gilbert.
Bennett in his "Life on the Manor" lists some of the reeve's duties: he had to see that farm servants rise up in good time and get to work quickly; overlook ploughing, carting, marling, seeding, threshing; supervise livestock; issue food allowances to the servants (liberatio); hale before manor court all who fail in their service; upkeep of the manor house, the farm buildings, agricultural implements; buying and selling at fairs etc., or markets on the lord's behalf.
Some historians marvel at the way these uneducated men were able to account for the finances of the manor. Of course they made mistakes but even so it is strange how they managed to read their own mysterious markings made in tallies or in doorposts of barns. They could not write, generally, therefore the task was even more complicated as they had to make use of scribes.
The reeve was the "manager" of a single manor, the bailiff being the same for a group of manors, usually. Bailiff was a free man, but also a man from outside the manor. There is disagreement among historians whether the reeve was paid or not. Betnnett says that the reeve could sometimes "graze his oxen with the lord's cattle in the demesne meadows" or "share the crops of the demesne" and have other such privileges.
William Rees came to the conclusion that the land utilization of the South Wales manors was generally more primitive than was usual in England, in the sense that arable was "situated at any available spot", and "about two thirds of the demesne was cultivated in any given year, the remainder lying fallow. In this general sense only, therefore, can the method of cultivation in South Wales be regarded as on the 'three-field' system." Surveyors measured and valued the arable according to its relative fertility, in case portions were to be let. Rentals were also assessed by this kind of survey.
In lower Gwent dairy cattle were more numerous than elsewhere in Wales. According to Holmes, the main crops in Caerleon Manor were mainly oats, for which 25 acres were cultivated in the first quarter of the 14th century. In addition, wheat, barley and peas were sown in lowland areas, although there are no details concerning Caerleon.
It appears that most of the land was enclosed very early. If one can really rely on the theory of estimating the age of the hedges by the number of (tree) species found in them, it seems that around Caerleon some enclosures existed in the 15th century at least. In the Caerleon Park area there are hedges with from seven to nine species. At a later date, 1765, the meadows and fields on the estate of Henry Morgan of the Priory were exactly the same one can see now on modern maps. (4)
It is quite impossible to state where in Caerleon the actual Manor house stood - if indeed there was one separate from the castle. William Rees thinks that in the early period "the castle stood for the manor house, the hall of the castle being the hall of the manor". In the 17th century, the castle indeed seems to have represented the manor house. In the Survey of the Countess of Pembroke's manors, 1630-37, William Thomas is said to hold by Indenture the castle, "Rent of 2s. per annum, suit of Court and Mill and heriot 5s.", all signs of duties of the manor tenant.
Professor Rees gives a good description of the possible looks of South Wales manor houses: "An extra stackyard and additional folds for oxen and even sheep, occasionally joined the 'barton'. Near at hand was the curtilage, enclosed by a ditch, hedge or palings. This served as garden or paddock and was used either for grazing or for the cultivation of the few fruit trees - apples and pears - and such vegetables as leeks, cabbage and beans. This plot might contain a separate garden with dovecotes, beehives and fishpond "
If anyone wants to have a look at such a medieval setting still available near Caerleon, there is a chance: at the northern edge of the area, at the beginning of the old Malthouse Lane stands Malt-house Farm with a paddock, complete with cows and pigs, apple trees and vegetable patch.
The Domesday Book does not mention any mills in Caerleon but, if there was a manor and ploughs for cultivation, the corn was certainly ground somehow. The means of grinding could of course have consisted of several handmills, although it does not seem likely, thinking of the waterpower there was in the area.
In 1113, the year Robert de Chandos founded Goldcliff Priory, he gave to it part of his wood of Wastadcoit which abutted on Catsash and the river Usk, as well as the tithes of his mill at Caerleon. That was only twenty-seven years after the Domesday Book. About the year 1200 Howell of Caerleon gave to Goldcliff Priory "a manse and two burgages in Caerleon, the tithes of his mills at Caerleon and Liswerry". (5)
The next information comes from the Reeve's account of the year 1293-94: "56s. from the mill for the farm of wheat flour, 20s. from the same from the new mill". (6) What the "new" mill was, is not known. It could have been an addition or another one built next to the old mill, as in later documents we find that there were two mills under one roof. Three years later, 1296, still in the time of Edward I, we learn that there certainly were two mills (7) and, according to the Extent of Gilbert the Red, "duo molendina" existed in Caerleon in 1295, the value of which was ten pounds. (8) The same wording is found in the Inquisition Post Mortem of Gilbert de Clare, the youngest, in 1314. (9)
Holmes reports that in the year 1325-26 there were three mills in Caerleon. One of these could be a fulling mill which is indeed mentioned existing in 1370, as well as in 1382. (10)
In those early centuries the mills belonged to the lord of the manor and it can safely he assumed that he received the toll and that the local inhabitants were forced to use the lord's mills. Professor Rees says that some part of the toll usually went for the maintenance of the miller and his assistants. In Caerleon the manor had grown considerably by the end of the 13th century and the mills were kept busy with corn, meal and malt. The name of Mill Street still recalls the constant traffic to and from the mills. The local inhabitants were usually bound to assist in the maintenance of the mills, in hauling the heavy millstones and other materials, and "in constructing all or certain portions of the mill and the millpond". The Caerleon mill leet, some of which is still in existence, was most probably also built by the villagers. The lord sometimes helped in providing material for repairs.
It is probable that during the Glyndwr rebellion Caerleon mills were destroyed as were most of the mills in this area and elsewhere in Wales. They were economically important and the rebels attacked them first. The dues to be paid to the lord of the manor were generally resented. There were arrangements for guarding the mills of Caerleon during the disturbances, as e.g. a document testifies: in the year 1409, after the greatest troubles, there were guards at the mills. In the same document we find that the millstones-two pairs-were made "in the stone of Trelleck". (11)
The Survey of the Lordship of Usk 1539-40 tells that in Caerleon "two mills under one roof" were destroyed "by the river Severn". The name of the river must be a mistake of the scribe, because from the context one can only conclude that the mills were indeed in Caerleon upon Usk. Under the heading, "Kayrleon Burguss" we find that the mills were "newly erected" and their rent was £12. The same Survey lets us know that the lease of the mills was in the hands of Griffin ap Roger and it included two cornmills, certain pastures and a fulling mill. (12) There is indeed a lease of the year 1519, telling the same. (13) Before Griffin, his father Roger ap John had the mills. Judging from this it seems possible that the fulling mill had always been a third one, and not one of the two mentioned in the earlier documents. Professor Rees says that it was usual to attach less importance to the fulling mill, which is natural, especially in the earlier centuries when the textile industry had not risen to any importance.
The mechanical method of treating cloth, to thicken and toughen it, became known in the 13th century in England and it was developed from the primitive method of tramping the cloth by foot.
In a fulling mill wooden hammers did the work, beating the cloth. As was mentioned before, a fulling mill existed in Caerleon since 1370 at least, and most probably it was in the neighbourhood of the corn mill as some later documents show.
From the 16th century there is some evidence of weaving being done in the Caerleon lordship, but nothing is known of it in the centuries before that. Wool was sent to Bristol from Wales, to the Welsh Back, during the 14th and 15th century but it is probable that if weaving was done in Caerleon area it was for home consumption only.
Some fulling mills were tidal and it is indeed tempting to think the one in Caerleon could have been just that, if it was nearer the river than the corn mill. The tide causes a rise of thirty to forty feet in the river Usk at Caerleon. It is quite possible this advantage was utilised.
In the earlier documents the name "fulling mill" is used, but at least in the 17th century the word "tucking" was known, as can be seen in a lease of the mills of the year 1681. That word is still known in the area. In a document from the beginning of the 18th century both words occur. (14)
In the 18th century there may have been another fulling mill in the town, because a lease of 1729 shows that John Phillips of Caerleon, feltmaker, leased two closes of meadow "abutting . . . to the little lane leading from the Broadway to a piece of land called Gwenidd Vellin". (15) In the Estate Map of Henry Morgan, of 1765, there is indeed a lane leading from the Broadway towards the river. (16)
In the same century, the tucking mill in the marshland dried up. The following is from a lease between Viscount Windsor and his son Andrew: " and also one tucking mill, one decayed tucking mill with liberty to repair also parcel of meadow called carlion Mershes". (17)
A mill pond had existed at the side of the corn mill since the time of the reeve Gilbert Huclet and fish were caught in it.
Many lease-holders or "farmers" of the mills are known from the early 17th century onwards. In the Survey 1622:
"we find that Alexander Seis holdeth in the right of Florence, his wife and Alexander Vayne by ind're date 4 Jun' anno 35 Eliz. (1593), from Henry, Earl of Pembroke, for their lives two ancient mills within the said town of Carlion and also one pasture of Racke (Backe?) warth and Constable warth in the said manor, and also one fuller's or tucking mill in the borough of Carlion, with timber and mines of coal and iron and all other realties at the rent of £16 13s. 4d. an an heriot of the best beast or 40s." (18)
Alexander Seis or Seys died about 1630; his will is of the year 1628 and it is signed by Johannis Brian, Miller of Caerleon. (19)
Alexander and Florence Seys had a daughter Margery who married John Byrd, Collector of Customs for the Port of Cardiff. The mills then stayed in the Byrd family until the second decade of the 18th century, at least.
In 1814, when some of the manor was sold by auction, the following were included: "Lot 3: The Merges, in the occupation of Philip Baker* . . . meadow and pasture; Lot 4: Freehold estate called the Mill Mead or Lands under the Corn Mills of Caerleon. Situate in the parish of Christchurch. ** And the Mill Acre or Angel Piece, situate within the Township of Caerleon, in the occupation of Mrs. Margaret Charles, or her under-tenants". (20)
In the Registers of St. Cadoc's is the following note:
Parts of this article were made possible only by the financial assistance of the South-East Wales Arts Association.
* Philip Baker was a maltster and had property next to the Bull Inn, in the High Street.
** Here we have, after seven centuries, a reminder of Goldcliff Priory which had possessions in Caerleon. These placenames occur in the Tithe Map of 1839. The area in question is in the loop of Afon Llwyd in the marshes.
W. Rees, South Wales and the March, 1285-1415.