Be a Landscape Detective: from Desk to Field – March 2022


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Julian Lovell
2 years ago

This feature does not conform to the usual pattern for a vegetable clamp. Remains of potato clamps tend to take the form of a rough pile rather than the perimetered form we see on Castle Bank. It is quite different from the identified clamps near the settlement at the bottom of the hill.

It is quite possible that the Castle Bank has been ploughed at some time in its history, although I am not aware of any such activity in recent years. It has been used for stock grazing for many years.
The raised edge to the feature suggests some sort of structure and therefore more likely to be a feature of stock management.

Jemma Bezant
2 years ago

Hello Tony – yes, I would expect any upland level area to have been ploughed at one time or another – most often for winter barley or oats. You can see this a lot of the time on 18th century estate maps where larger fields were ploughed in unenclosed sections and marked on maps – sometimes those sections had a later hedge or fence thrown up around them. There was a dramatic mini-downturn in the European climate at the end of the 18th century which some have used to explain this although ploughing again was common during the war years. I would have to think about whether this was an activity that would have happened often on common land like Castle Hill which is usually reserved for grazing and such like.One of the ways in which we can investigate the hypothesis of a possible potato clamp is to look at other known examples to see if they fit our earthwork. There is a good one at Garreg Lwyd near Strata Florida and if you go to the link there’s a good picture of it. These are very low and a fair bit shorter and narrower than the Castle Hill feature. Plus they tend to come in groups of three. Plus, they tend to represent as a single low mound, not as a rectilinear banked feature with a level interior. Anyway, I attach a link to the example mentioned

Tony THorp
2 years ago

Potato clamps are not a heap of spuds! They are carefully constructed for ventilation and are narrow and long enough to accommodate the crop. Lifting is labour intensive and often working against the clock as they need to be dry, so the clamp is built near the crop, not near the kitchen door.

The attached pic is from my Dad’s gardening book, published sometime just after the war. There would have been a drainage break in the surrounding ditch at its lowest point. During the war large areas on, for example, Dolfor Common and Hergest Ridge were ploughed.

We talked about clamps and the humps at the bottom of the rough ground may or may not have been such, but from memory, the shape of the “sheepcote?” fits the bill. Could the top of Castle Bank have been ploughed? I never prodded it to see how much earth there was, but it was flat and had few rocky outcrops, so it could have been.

There must be a record somewhere in the county of which areas were ploughed in WW2, probably in County Hall in Llandod.

(Many of my age will remember spud picking days when us schoolkids joined the Land Army, farmers and even Italian POWs lifting the crop.)


Chris Franklin
2 years ago

I would have been very interested in this, and some of your other talks.
Unfortunately I am giving medieval craft lessons that weekend.
I am interested in learning more about Abbeycwmhir, and don’t live far away, at Felindre.
Could you please put me on your contact list for further talks or activities.

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