History of the area
An amateur’s geological overview of the area where we live
There is no doubt that the Kerry, Sarn and Dolfor areas used to look very different from today’s beautiful and diverse scenery. Over the millennia our area has been sculpted by the forces of nature, namely; ice, water, weather and to a small extent volcanic activity and natural earth movements. Latterly, our farmers are doing a great job, influencing the natural environment and making the current countryside a lovely place in which to work and live.
A drive along the Vale of Kerry with Newtown behind you and Churchstoke in front gives a great impression and a few clues to the past. The undulating nature of the ground, the deeply incised valleys of the vale bluffs and the change of direction of river courses are all indicators that our area has been mildly glaciated. A quick glance at the farmed soils shows them to contain lots of stones and pebbles, they vary in fertility and where the rivers have eroded bare banks, they also vary massively in depth and colours. This complex picture is indicative of earth moved by ice, sometimes called drift and is evidenced in the area between the villages of Kerry and Sarn where there is a fantastic drumlin field. Sometimes this scenery is called ‘basket of eggs’ topography because it resembles just that from above. But from ground level and particularly from the A489 you get the impression of driving through gently rounded, bumpy fields. This is ground disturbed and probably pushed along in front of a slow-moving sheet of ice, which after melting deposited this distinctive evidence. The course of the river Mule was probably changed as well during this slow process, but evidence of this today is difficult to spot.
The higher ground either side of the Vale of Kerry and over towards Dolfor probably escaped the direct impact of the ice sheet. But likely it would have been exceptionally cold and barren of life for thousands of years. When the permafrost of the high ground melted the streams would have been enlarged and they eroded their courses even deeper, giving evidence of the depth of soils and its pebbly contents. Sometimes these streams and water-courses are called ‘misfits’ because the smaller volume of water they carry today would not have the erosive power to make the deep valleys in which they lie.
If you investigate the rocks that lie below the soil the geological picture becomes very complex and well beyond my scope in this article. Some of our older buildings are made of a local common stone, known as mudstone. It is a relatively soft sedimentary rock with a lovely grey-green colour and has the big advantage of being easily split along straight planes into flags used for walls or roofs. Other types of rock exist in our area of course and these have been mined or quarried and used as building materials for centuries. Most of our old quarries are now disused and some have found second agricultural uses, but a glimpse inside them often reveals what’s going on underground, if you are interested.
Article kindly submitted by Kerry resident, David Thornton
Kerry and Sarn have active local history groups.
Both organise visits and talks, and meet typically monthly throughout the year and events posted on the Kerry, Dolfor, Sarn Facebook page or via the Kerry Heritage Hub Facebook page
If you are interested in any aspect of local history, here are a few external links that might be informative;
1136: The Manor of Kerry becomes Norman Territory
1176: Celebrated confrontation between the feuding Bishops of St Asaph and St Davids at Kerry Church
1228: King Henry III campaigns against Llewelyn the Great in the Vale of Kerry
1275: The Manor of Kerry falls to the House of York
1714: The first school was opened by the Rev. John Catlyn in the Square
1819: The Rev. John Jenkins, who lived at the Moat, promoted the first modern day National Eisteddfod of Wales
1856: The Reading Room is built to accommodate the local 1 penny readings. London Daily papers and local papers are available for readings
1875: The first sale of sheep by public auction, is held in the square by Cooke Bros. It is the first recorded sale by auction in the County of Montgomeryshire and is believed to be the first in Wales. The Sale still survives today
1887: The telegraph, using the Morse code, comes to Kerry Post Office
Text transcribed directly from the Kerry Information Board, which can be found on the green opposite the Post Office
Historic Buildings - Kerry
St Michael's Church of Wales, Kerry
The church of St Michael and All Angels in Kerry, standing in its large churchyard above the valley floor of the Mule, has been the focal point of life in the locality for many centuries. It is around the church that the village of Kerry has grown.
For a greater level of detail of the church’s history, there is a wonderful booklet entitled ‘Kerry, the Church and the Village’, written by Noel Jerman in the 1970’s, that forms the source text of this article, and remains the seminal documentation available. (History of buildings such as these moves relatively slowly!). Copies of this booklet can be obtained (preferably for a kind donation) directly within the church.
Objects of Interest in the Church
Noel Jerman’s booklet ‘Kerry, the Church and the Village’ highlights many objects of interest that can be seen within the church and churchyard. These include:
• The 15th Century Font, at the west end of the north aisle
• The Chained Bible. An old Welsh Bible, printed in Oxford in 1690, chained to the present lectern
• The Pulpit, incorporating some fine old tracery panels, which dates from the 1883 restoration
• The Piscina, for the washing of the communion vessels, possibly dating from the 14th century
• The Organ, installed in 1890 at a cost of £300
• The Bells, of which there are three, supported by substantial oak framework in the belfry. They date from1728, 1679 and the centre bell from about 1400.
• The Clock, restored at the time of the 1883 restoration.
• Hatchments on the north wall of the north aisle depicting the arms of the Herberts
• Various monuments and tablets that dedicated to local benefactors of the parish and other notable parishioners
Kerry Parish, as it is now, was dominated by two large estates; Dolforgan to the west side of the village and Brynllywarch to the east, the main seats sitting respectively northwest & southeast.
For generations both estates remained in the hands of the same two local families. But, in similarity to many other Montgomeryshire estates, a lack of both heirs and money would eventually see them sold to successful industrialists and financiers from northern England.
DOLFORGAN was for two centuries owned by a branch of the Herbert family. Originally of stone, the house was extended c1790 in brick with Adamasque elevations. The Willans family of Altrincham bought the estate in 1894. During the first years of the 20C the family’s only child, John Bancroft Willans, was responsible for recording the vernacular and ecclesiastical architecture of Montgomeryshire in a huge collection of photographs now in the National Library of Wales. Many of these images can also be viewed on-line on www.peoplescollection.wales.
Dolforgan Hall Image by J B Willans reproduced under Creative Archive Licence © Newtown High School
The Grade 2* listed house also boasted fine formal gardens, a walled kitchen garden and extensive service buildings.
Extending west almost to Dolfor, the estate comprised a number of farms whose dwellings and outbuildings were extensively renovated by Willans.
The estate was dispersed on Willans’ death in 1957.
There is no distinctive unifying architectural style to Dolforgan estate farm buildings but the estate livery of black and white painted brickwork, attempting to imitate local half timbering, distinguished some from their neighbours during Willan’s time.
A pair of 'Gothic' lodges was built c1818 by the Herbert family for their new access driveway to Dolforgan Hall. A listed early iron bridge spans the river.
Dolforgan Lodge East Image by J B Willans reproduced under Creative Archive Licence © Newtown High School
The Brynllywarch and Cilthriew estates were united in the hands of the Pugh family, over two centuries. The original house was rebuilt in 1829 by William Pugh (1783-1842) of Berriew, Deputy Lieutenant of the County (1807), financier and philanthropist, who supported the extension of the Montgomery Canal (1821), the building of Dolfor Road (1823), the introduction of steam power to Newtown's mills (1833), and who was a benefactor to the poor of Newtown. The financial failure of William Pugh, who had to flee to Caen to avoid his creditors, forced its sale in 1838. The purchasers were the Liverpool banking family Naylor-Leyland who over the next 50 years acquired many more of the neighbouring farms.
The house and gardens became well known for their planting and giraffes looking out from the menagerie. A large addition in white brick was made in 1879 by Christopher Leyland.
Brynllywarch PCW Creative Archive Licence © Newtown High School
Brynllywarch Hall School
The house was sold in 1919, and eventually in 1946 Montgomeryshire authority bought both Brynllywarch Hall and Cyfronydd Hall. Cyfronydd for the girls and Brynllywarch for the boys. In 1948 the 2 mansions were converted into residential special schools and on the 29th of October 1951 Brynllywarch opened with 16 pupils. The headteacher was Mr A O Williams and he was assisted by Mr J H Morgan, and there were half a dozen support staff to help run the school. School terms used to run for 16 weeks at a time with no breaks including weekends. In 1971 when Mr Williams retired, Mr J R Lewis was appointed as his successor. He retired in 1989 when Mr D C Williams took over as head. In 2010 Mr R Davies was appointed Acting head until 2011 when the current head Mr G Randell took over.
For more information on the school please see https://brynllywarch.powys.sch.uk/
Kerry Reading Room
As you enter the village of Kerry on the A489 heading towards Newtown, the first building that you see on the right-hand side of the road is the imposing Reading Room.
The Reading Room was commissioned by Mr John Naylor, and built in 1856, as a public building. It acted as a venue to allow the people of the area access to newspapers and magazines, including daily papers from London, local papers, and weekly and monthly periodicals. There is a stone tablet on the front of the building that acknowledges the gratitude of the village to Mr Naylor for his ‘liberality and generosity’.
According to Noel Jerman’s text on Kerry – ‘the Church and the Village’, the first ‘penny readings’ in Kerry were held on 27th November 1865.
By 1887, villagers had the opportunity to join the formally constituted Kerry Reading and Recreation Society, set up to promote readings and other literary pursuits on the evenings of Monday, Wednesday and Saturday.
Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the Reading Room also served as a venue for the locality as a community centre for other meetings, and a variety of social events. It was only in 1957, when the new Village Hall was built, that it ‘retired’ from ‘public service’, and reverted to private ownership.
Sawmills & the Kerry Tramway
A sawmill existed on the present site before the Tithe Survey of 1842, when a 'saw-machine ' was recorded as being present. Apart from Brook Cottage, further up the Miheli brook, there were no other buildings here at the time. The Tithe map indicates the sawmill as the present, stone built, ' Mill House ' converted by the writer in the 1970s. The site was established as a Conservation Area in 2004 by the local authority.
The sawmill, possibly wheel driven at that stage, (deduced from the arrangement of opposed archways in the present cellar and massive machine bases) was at that time purchased by Richard Leyland in 1839 from the estate of the late William Pugh, the former owner of Brynllywarch Hall, Kerry, and being part of the Leyland, Bullin, Naylor banking family of Liverpool, capital was available to convert these older properties into more efficient workshops for their programme of farm rebuilding. Due to unreliable flows in the brook, a reservoir was provided to allow year-round water power to turbines working the woodworking machines and at the Glanmiheli Farm close by, to run agricultural machinery. Over the following half century a small industrial complex was established on the south side of the brook providing a timber yard, milling shed, a smithy, offices, stabling and cottages for staff, with a steam driven tramway to transport timber from Kerry forest and products from the saw-mill down to the standard gauge railway at Kerry station.
Part of the estate development provided by the new owners was a 2-foot narrow gauge steam railway which existed in two phases, from 1887 to 1895 to be relayed during the First World War between 1917 and 1925, due to the demand for home-produced timber. The line ran from sidings in the railway yard at Kerry station to follow the valley of the Miheli brook into the hills, one branch reaching the Cwm quarry near the Kerry Ridgeway. Elsewhere the line reached the forest areas and was retracted as areas were cleared. Motive power for the earlier phase was provided by a Bagnall O-4-2 inverted tank engine, named 'Excelsior' , the second phase tramway was equipped with a Kerr Stuart O-4-O, Sirdar class, ‘Diana' and a Kerr Stuart O-6-O 'Haig' class tank. Baguley petrol tractors were also used in the later phase. To provide manpower to the estate over the First War period, a prisoner of war camp was constructed above Black Hall in the Rhos Dingle.
Our thanks to David Cox and Christopher Krupa for their booklet, ‘The Kerry tramway and other timber light railways', (Plateway Press, 1992).
JDN, for the Kerry history group, July, 2019.
Sawmills 1902 © Newtown High School