Village Alive Trust
Village Alive Trust

September 2008: The Trust's work is featured in Herefordshire Life

Well House
Well House

THE rolling countryside of Monmouthshire contains many natural treasures for locals and visitors to enjoy and the county’s built heritage of ancient castle ruins, churches, former mills, whitewashed cottages, solid farmhouses, barns, and the occasional manor house adds to the rural idyll.

Hundreds of Monmouthshire’s oldest buildings in private ownership have been listed by Cadw (Wales’ equivalent of English Heritage) for their historic and architectural significance. Marvellous for those of us who need only to observe and enjoy these treasures, but a potential millstone of expensive maintenance for their keepers who are charged with the upkeep of our national heritage, and face legal action if they fail!

The community of Llangattock Lingoed, near Abergavenny, was faced with closure of its small historic Grade I church several years ago when surveys revealed extensive restoration was needed – costing over £600,000. A landmark on the Offa’s Dyke footpath, St Cadoc’s now gleams white with protective lime-render and inside visitors can see medieval wall paintings uncovered during the repairs. The campaign to save the church through grant-aid and match funding was spearheaded by new deacon Rev Dr Jean Prosser, now a non-stipendiary parish priest.

In 2004 when European Community cash was available to help regenerate rural areas in Wales affected by the Foot and Mouth Disease outbreak, Jean built on St Cadoc’s success and got together a group of local people to bid for a share of the Article 33 grant of the Rural development Plan for Wales. A local charity, The Village Alive Trust (Ymddiriedolaeth Y Pentre Byw) was born.

The Trust enjoys wide support from the community, working with local councillors, farmers, Monmouthshire County Council, the Welsh Assembly Government, Cadw and Architectural Heritage Fund among others. Members provide in-house skills ranging from law, building conservation, sociology, genealogy and website skills to journalism, landscape architecture, graphic design and illustration. Edward Holland, a former conservation officer, is vice president while Jean Prosser continues to be a driving force as secretary. Stefan Horowskyj of Abergavenny architects Morgan and Horowkskyj, is the Trust’s architect.

The Village Alive Trust successfully compiled its Article 33 project in partnership with the owners of local heritage buildings that were in dire need of conservation. In return for gaining funding and expert restoration of the buildings, owners sign up to allow public access on specified open days – the next take place on September 6th and 21st.

The project also collated a CD archive of elderly local people’s memories of schooldays and farming. A website was set up to inform on Trust activities and also details local bed and breakfast and hospitality businesses. It gives information on this beautiful part of Monmouthshire; provides opportunities to see conserved old buildings that are in private ownership and generates income for local businesses through free publicity and extra visitors.

As acknowledged by SPAB (the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings) in its Cornerstone publication ‘repairs to three standing buildings have been completed’ by the Trust. These are a grade II 18th century well house at New Inn Farm, Cross Ash; a grade II pyramidal roofed well house in the same village and a purpose-built grade II Cider House at Cwm Farm, Llangattock dated 1754.

The Trust, said SPAB, ‘has also tackled the Traveller’s Seat milestone at Letravane and protected the sites of Llanfair old chapel and a former cider mill at Little Cwm while deeply engaged in its most ambitious project to date – the grade II* 17th century Great Trerhew Barn at Llanvetherine’. Listed pigscotts at Whitecastle Farm will also be conserved in the next few years.

New Inn well house, set into the hillside above the former hostelry, was used to store spring water for the inn. It had become overgrown and the front wall collapsed after it fell out of use in the last century. The collapse gave an insight into the building’s construction and restoration followed with the pitched stone roof rebuilt and the deep, below ground cistern lime-washed. A niche above the arched opened is filled with a plaque of St Christopher by sculptor Philip Chatfield.

At Cwm Farm, the cider mill is still in situ in the cider house. The building’s unstable south gable wall and external steps to the fruit loft were restored with the vernacular dog kennel built in underneath. The wooden screw for the press still stands in its purpose-built semi-circular recess and a stone chute survives to deliver the stored fruit, mainly perry pears, to the horse-powered stone mill. Visitors are amazed by the untouched quality of the building’s interior.

The Barn at Great Trerhew, Llanvetherine is the Trust’s largest conservation project to date and will be completed thanks to Axis 3 and Cadw funding. The huge building lies at the heart of a historic farm complex run by Trevor and Anne Beavan and family and is thought to have links with the nearby Whitecastle. Still in agricultural use, SPAB describes it as ‘a large 17th century range mostly open to the roof, but with a lofted cow-house at one end, a gabled porch, and an imposing frontage facing the farmhouse, with two matching cross wings added in 1696, one incorporating a cider house.’

Maintenance of such a vast building while not changing its use has proved a challenge and following an Options Appraisal the owners have entered into a partnership with the Trust that means the building will be re-roofed and conserved. With the second phase of work due to begin in September, the magnificent stone and oak timbered building will once again be watertight.

It’s day-to-day use as livestock shelter, shearing shed and store will continue, as it has for centuries. But it will also be a regular venue for open days and community events. Two medieval fairs, complete with maypole dancing and cider tasting, have been held at the farm showcasing rural crafts, such as bee-keeping and spinning, as well as giving hundreds of visitors a memorable day out.

The barn’s cider house will become an educational resource. Plans are in hand to film local farming activities around the Trust’s restored sites and to use new technology to allow ‘virtual’ viewing of the buildings without the constant wear and tear and intrusion which visitors can bring about.

The Trust hopes to encourage others to conquer the thorny issues of looking after heritage buildings and is hosting a conference next year as well as instigating a conservation award scheme to recognise best practice in Monmouthshire.