Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Trip to Tretower

Because the talk about Gwrych Castle had to be called off on Saturday, my friend was looking for other historical things to do when I went round to see her that morning. She had a few jobs to do, so could only do something fairly local, and Tretower was taking part in the Open Doors project. We considered getting tickets for it online - but it didn't say you had to have tickets, and the event was free anyway, so we decided to just show up at the door.
This was, it turned out, a mistake. Apparently we had to have the tickets, booked online, to get in, and there was no provision at Tretower to make the booking. And neither of us carry a mobile phone to go through the booking process as we stood there. It wasn't the fault of the young man who worked there - he said he'd been getting quite a bit of feedback over the morning to improve the service for next year.
Then another lady showed a card to the young man, and got in. My friend has a card that provides access to CADW sites and I think it was English Heritage - and that was sufficient to get us both inside. (The silly thing is that I'd have been happy to pay the usual entry fee).
We had a little while to wait until the guided tour began at 1pm, so ambled round the garden.

The chap giving the tour was brilliant! Very thorough, and really knew his stuff. He took us over to the castle first, explaining that it was there in the middle of the valley to control the crossing points - there was nothing there before the Normans arrived. He showed how the shell keep developed into the central tower, and then took us back to the house.
The garden we'd been mooching around earlier was not in its original medieval position - the medieval house had two wings coming out which were possibly a bakehouse and a brewing house, or possibly wash house. The line of the roofs are quite clear on the side wall of the house:

Inside, we looked round the kitchen - now fitted out with medieval furniture and fittings. Previously, it was thought to be seventeenth century, and was presented in that way, but new information came to light, and the whole area was changed, with partitions going up for a buttery (for butts, or barrels, of wine and ale, rather than butter), and a servery area just before the great hall, where the steward would sit making sure the courses were served in the right order. Originally the kitchen would have been open all the way to the roof, but they decided to keep the seventeenth century floor so they could use the upstairs rooms.

We talked about tenterhooks, stretching the fabric covering of the walls in the great hall, in the York colours of murry (a dark red) and dark blue - the dye came from the mulberry tree in the garden. It was all designed to impress, and to sway important visitors to the York party, in an area which had owed allegiance to Lancaster only a short time before. The painted cloth behind the dais shows important events in the Vaughan family history, from Agincourt to the siege of Harlech Castle (with Jasper Tudor escaping on a boat in the background), and the Battle of Mortimer's Cross when three suns were seen in the sky, and around the edge are the badges and coats of arms of all the families who owned Tretower, which was an important place in the late medieval period.
Next door, in the solar, there is even some surviving medieval paint decorating the wooden trim at the top of the wall.

And, although we were in the medieval hall, we skipped forward a couple of centuries to talk about tea. When tea was first introduced to Britain, it was taken in the Chinese style, in a bowl - they talked about having a "dish of tea". Pretty soon, handles were added to the bowls - but where to put it down when it might make brown rings on the fine white table clothes? The guide's theory is that they used the saucers - the small plates which held different sauces to pour over the meat of the meal, which would have been empty by the end of the meal, when tea was served. Hence, cup and saucer today - which seems to make sense!

However, the reason we have Tretower today as such a fascinating example of a late medieval hall is that the Vaughans ran out of money, so couldn't change it around as richer families might have - and eventually it became a farm run by a tenant. The great hall was used to store carts, flagstones were laid over the original flooring (what might lurk under them? Medieval tiles, perhaps?) - and the three doors now used upstairs as entrances to the big hall there were found stacked against a wall.
Tretower was used as a tenant farm until 1935, and the first archaeologist to come and examine it was Ralegh Radford, a well known name in archaeological circles.
So we enjoyed Tretower very much - and then we wanted to do something else in the time we had before my friend had to go home.
Looking at the Brecknock History Month leaflet, we decided to head for Brecon. There were a couple of churches there that looked interesting, even if it wasn't the official day for them to be open.
On the way, we stopped off at Cwmdu, and walked round the outside.
We found this:

It's a fragment of Dark Age carved stone, set into the buttress of the church, with a plaque explaining what it is that is a historical item in itself. Apparently one of the Victorian vicars was a bit of an antiquarian, and he collected things like this.

And so on to Llanhamlach, a pretty little Victorian church which contained treasures. The painting of angels behind the altar are the first things to catch the eye, but down by the side of the altar is a very fine tomb:

There were ladies doing the flower arranging for the harvest festival in the church, and one of them told us that this was Lady Jane, who was reputed to haunt nearby Peterstone Court. The guide book goes into more detail. This was Jane Walbeoffe, who lived and died around 1330.
There are other, later, Walbeoffe gravestones lining the porch, with the coat of arms of three cattle (for the "beef" part of the name).
And at the back of the church, under a memorial that looks rather like a fireplace, is the Moridic Stone, from the 10th or 11th century, and probably showing St John and St Mary at the foot of the cross (if it is St Mary, she has very strange breasts!). Or she might be local saint Eiliwedd - nobody really knows.
We left while one of the ladies was practicing harvest hymns (and All Through the Night) on the organ.

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