AHRC Estate Landscapes

‘Deep Mapping' estate archives: A new digital methodology for analysing estate landscapes c.1500–1930

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has awarded a research grant worth £249,538 to a team of research, heritage and archive organisations to map the historical development and influence of landed estates in north east Wales.

The project, which is led by the Institute for the Study of Welsh Estates (ISWE) at Bangor University, will proceed as a partnership with Aberystwyth University, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW), National Library of Wales and North East Wales Archives.

From the late-medieval period through to the early-twentieth century almost every part of Wales became enveloped in a patchwork of landed estates of various sizes. These landholdings were usually attached to a country house (or plas) and provided a foundation for their owners’ social and political influence, which could often extend over centuries. The ownership of these estates also afforded significant capacity for controlling aspects of the landscape’s appearance and arrangement, and influencing how land was used, managed, inhabited and worked – through schemes of agriculture, enclosure, industry, architecture, forestry, leisure, transportation, horticulture, landscape design and relations with tenants. These interactions are integral to understanding the development of Wales’ landscapes, but also its histories, cultures and identities.

Estates made lasting impacts on the landscapes of Wales, through their country houses and farms, fields, woodlands, trees, parks, gardens, mines, quarries and ports. Copious records were produced relating to the ownership, acquisition, inheritance and management of land, and the wide range of activities and people associated with the estate. Theses archives form a major part of the nation’s archival holdings and provide an abundant source of evidence relating to individual places, landscapes and features, often stretching over hundreds of years. Making connections between these archives and the ‘places on the ground’ to which they relate forms a central part of the project.

The research will focus on an area in north east Wales which was packed with landed estates and country houses. The ancient parishes of Mold, Llanferres, Llandegla and Llanarmon-yn-Iâl, straddling Denbighshire and Flintshire, contained a number of influential estates including Bodidris, Colomendy, Gelligynan, Gwysaney, Hartsheath, Leeswood, Nercwys, Rhual, Pentrehobyn, Plas Onn, Plas Teg and Tower. Most of the research will be undertaken at the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and North East Wales Archives (Denbighshire Record Office in Ruthin and Flintshire Record Office in Hawarden) which hold extensive archives relating to these properties and their associated families.

The research of these estates will be underpinned by the creation of an online Geographical Information System (GIS) which will allow historical information derived from these records to be digitised and mapped directly onto the location to which it relates. The final product will be a ‘deep map’ incorporating all of these records and enabling information from different archives to be viewed instantly and in combination. At the click of the button it will be possible to view and move through a full recorded history of the landscape and its individual features, as built up through a layering of records from across the post-medieval period.

This methodology has exciting long-term potentials for how we understand the histories of our landscapes, built environments and communities; opening up new material relating to the histories of these estates, their inhabitants and associated locations. It will also provide an opportunity to improve access to archives by enabling them to be arranged and viewed spatially according to a precise location.

Commenting on the award of the grant Dr Shaun Evans of Bangor University said that:

‘‘The Institute for the Study of Welsh Estates exists to enhance understanding of the role of landed estates in the histories, cultures and landscapes of Wales. Their impacts and influences were often profound. We’ve always recognised that research of this history depends on partnership and collaboration, and I’m delighted to be working with such a fantastic team of colleagues from across the Welsh archives, historic environment, cultural heritage and academic sectors to take forward this exciting project. The area of north east Wales that we’re focusing on raises so many interesting questions; and I hope that our project will make a long-term contribution to how we understand and analyse the history and character of places across Wales and beyond. Sincere thanks to the AHRC for supporting this project.’’

Dr Julie Mathias of Aberystwyth University added that:

‘‘I am delighted to be involved in the Deep Mapping project which will not only uncover fresh insights into the evolution of landscapes in north east Wales and life there in early modern times, but will also provide the opportunity to develop and test an innovative research methodology.’’

The Secretary of RCAHMW, Christopher Catling, commented that:

‘‘This innovative project will enable us to show the exact locations for places that no longer appear on modern maps and thus see how the Welsh landscape has changed over the centuries in more detail than ever before. It will also provide access for anyone with an interest in local history to estate records in all their richness and complexity.’’

The project will start in September 2020 and run for two years.

The project team:

  • Shaun Evans, ISWE, Bangor University
  • Julie Mathias, Information Studies, Aberystwyth University
  • Gary Robinson, School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences, Bangor University
  • Scott Lloyd, RCAHMW
  • Jon Dollery, RCAHMW

Project Partners:

  • The National Library of Wales
  • North East Wales Archives (Denbighshire and Flintshire record offices)

The project will include a number of public events in the region and close engagement with local stakeholders.