Ysbryd Yr Hendre ( spirits of the hill farm)
I spend an awful lot of time in the composing my images so as to hide or make appear insignificant mankind’s stamp on the hills, roads, houses, pylons, and detritus all offend me and although all these can be digitally removed, I endeavour to use a tree or a shadow to my advantage in the hiding of these shapes.
If you have been following my diary you will know that my season begins in late autumn and ends in early spring but its during the depths of winter that the hills give up a layer of their history and shapes appear, they catch your eye or just seem to hold your gaze as you look across the valley.
Nature is at its most comfortable within curves but its during mid-winter that straight lines and right angles appear, sometimes in small coppices or as they cast dawn shadows over frosted fields in and as you study the landscape around them you notice paths and track-ways that have been reclaimed by the earth which they were cut. I have never paid them much attention never made notes or stuck my nose in but after many many years of these shapes slowly finding a place in the depths of my thoughts, curiosity had now developed
I documented the exploration of these places and my journey into their history with a series of short videos.
From my very cursory and initial research into the history surrounding the vernacular building of the Black Mountains I believe their decline was slow and nothing like the violent and dramatic clearances of the Scottish and Irish highlands but no less painful to the community as it died slowly . Their lifeblood was in fact the sheep and an abundance of top quality building stone which was and is still literally lying about on the surface gave the simple hill farmer access to materials that would of only been for the wealthy town dweller. Dates as is common with these vernacular communities are a little faint and forgotten. There are a handful of large Bronze age hill forts which can be loosely dated to 4-5000 year ago which would of supported communities of people both inside the boundary wall and sprawling out across the hill. The ” Hendres ” would of been slowly built upon land that would of been inhabited at least since then, as the roundhouses and hovels where modernised time and time again, from medieval long house to two story homes with the arrival of luxuries like a bread oven and glass windows. Their decline corresponded ultimately with a big crash in the price of wool but started with increasing taxes placed on the industry by a string of Edwards all to fund the 1oo year war which was ironically started to protect the wool industry and its exports to looms of Flanders. Wool became the centre of the British economy up until the middle of the 18th Century until the arrival of the spinning jenny which launched cotton as the fabric of choice to cloth the rapidly growing British population. The industrial revolution and growth of heavy industry tempted the young men of the hill farming communities to the coal fields of South Wales valleys and a subterranean life with its regular wage packet which is/was literally a limestones throw away.
I have only but scratched the surface with this subject and is so often the case with these things and the hills of the black mountains it is littered with innumerable sheep tracks leading me deeper and deeper into into the story of the People of the Black Mountains. I will revisit this and add more layers of the story as they become clearer to me