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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Severn Estuary Flood of 20th January 1607





Golwg o’r awyr o’r gwaith cloddio yn Allteuryn.
St Mary Magdalen's, Goldcliff, view from north-east. Image/Llun: AP_2005_1219 / NPRN: 307350

Mae’r Comisiwn Brenhinol yn casglu gwybodaeth am arysgrifau yng Nghymru ers tro byd. Negeseuon o’r gorffennol yw’r rheiny, ac fe’u codwyd yn fwriadol er mwyn i ni eu darllen yn y dyfodol. Fe’u gwelir yn gyffredin ar adeiladau ac mae modd eu defnyddio i lunio mapiau a graffiau o weithgarwch adeiladu. Mae arysgrifau’n ddiddorol oherwydd eu hiaith (Cymraeg, Saesneg neu Ladin) a’r digwyddiad a goffeir ganddynt. Weithiau, cafwyd digwyddiadau mor drychinebus nes mynnu codi cofeb iddynt – enghraifft o hynny yw cofeb Tân Llundain (1666). Mae’r arysgrif yn Allteuryn yn un o sawl cofeb i orlif mawr 20fed Ionawr 1607 a wnaeth gymaint o ddifrod i lawer o’r tir ar hyd glannau aber afon Hafren.

Mae’r arysgrif ar blât pres bach yn eglwys Allteuryn yn odli a hynny, mae’n debyg, i’w gwneud hi’n fwy cofiadwy: “On the 20 day of January even as it came to pas/ It pleased God the flood did flow to the edge of this same brass/ and in this parish there was lost 5000 and od pound/ Besides xxii people was in this parish drowned.” Pa mor uchel oedd y dŵr? Mewn sawl eglwys gyfagos (e.e. Llan-bedr Gwynllŵg) dangosir union lefel y gorlif â phlwg plwm (ac ynddo soced i ffon) a lefel. Mae’r uchderau wedi’u mesur yn fanwl-gywir ac yn dangos i’r gorlif gyrraedd uchder o 7.14 m (23.4 troedfedd) uwchlaw lefel y môr. Gan ddefnyddio’r uchderau hynny, gallwn ni fras-fodelu hyd a lled y gorlif ar wastadeddau Gwent hyd at lle mae’r M4 heddiw ar ymyl y gwastatir llifwaddod.

Yn ôl y ffynonellau dogfennol, achoswyd dinistr ar hyd arfordir Cymru cyn belled â Bae Caerfyrddin. Ond ceir gwahaniaeth barn ymysg haneswyr hinsawdd ynghylch ai dygyfor storm ai swnami – pwnc rhaglen wych Timewatch (BBC, 2005) – a achosodd y gorlif. Wnawn ni ddim poeni am hynny: y dirwedd hanesyddol sydd o ddiddordeb i ni.

Er y gall rhai cymunedau fod wedi methu ag ymadfer ar ôl y gorlif, fe ymadferodd gwastadeddau Gwent i raddau helaeth am fod yno (o hyd) system o forgloddiau, ffosydd (reens) a llifddorau (gouts) i reoli’r dŵr. Nid dyna’r tro cyntaf, wrth gwrs, i’r tir gael ei orlifo. Rhoddwyd y gorau i ddefnyddio Priordy Allteuryn ganol y G15fed ar ôl gorlif, a dyna pryd y codwyd eglwys y plwyf. Mae’r morgloddiau y rhoddwyd y gorau i’w defnyddio yn dangos bod proses barhaus o ennill a cholli tir wedi bod yn digwydd yno ers oes yr arth a’r blaidd. O safbwynt archaeolegol, mae’n fro gyfoethog iawn.

Er i’r eglwysi a godwyd o gerrig wrthsefyll y gorlif, mae llenyddiaeth y pamffledi’n awgrymu nad dyna hanes llawer o’r tai. Yn sicr, mae’n anodd iawn dod o hyd i dai cynnar ar wastadeddau Gwent, ond fe godwyd Little Porton, ger eglwys Whitson, yn y traddodiad brodorol lleol. Fe ddysgwn ni gryn dipyn o’i astudio. Yma, yr ydym ar wastatir llifwaddod heb fawr o goed na cherrig adeiladu. Rhaid dod â defnyddiau adeiladu sylfaenol, fel coed, cerrig ac, yn ddiweddarach, frics yma. Yn Little Porton fe welwn ni ddefnydd adeiladu arall, sef clai. O dan y llifwaddodion ceir gre, clai morol gludiog y gellid ei ddefnyddio i godi adeiladau. Er i Little Porton gael ei godi ar ôl y gorlif, mae’n rhoi syniad da o bryd a gwedd adeilad a godwyd yn yr G17eg - adeilad hir ac isel â tho gwellt. Mae’n fwy na thebyg i’r waliau blaen ac ochr gael eu hailgodi, ond wal o glai yw’r un gefn o hyd. Mae hynny’n dangos mai defnydd adeiladu brodorol a lleol oedd y clai morol lleol. Cwympo wnaiff waliau clai, wrth gwrs, pan gânt eu gwlychu, a dyna a ddigwyddodd, mae’n debyg, adeg gorlif 1606/7.

Wrth ochr y bwthyn mae adeilad difyr arall, sef beudy a godwyd o blanciau. Mae i hwnnw, hefyd, do gwellt. Mae’n gwbl annhebyg i’r adeiladau fferm eraill sydd wedi goroesi yn y fro. Er bod coed yn brin, defnyddiwyd planciau’n helaeth wrth ei godi. Codwyd y waliau o blanciau gan eu gosod ochr wrth ochr â’i gilydd a’u cysylltu â sbigynnau. Lwc dda’r adeiladydd oedd iddo gael gafael ar lwyth o blanciau. Hoffwn gredu mai rhan o gynhaeaf y môr oedd hwnnw.


Cysylltau:

Awyrlun o Eglwys Mair Magdalen, Allteuryn, o’r gogledd-ddwyrain.
Aerial view of Goldcliff excavations. Image/Llun: DI2007_1576 / NPRN: 400758

The Royal Commission has been collecting information on inscriptions in Wales for a long time. They are messages from the past deliberately put there for us to read in the future. They are commonly seen on buildings and they can be used them to construct maps and graphs of building activity. Inscriptions are interesting because of the language used (English, Welsh or Latin) and the event commemorated. Sometimes events were so cataclysmic that they demanded commemoration – like the Fire of London memorial (1666). The inscription at Goldcliff is one of several memorials to the great flood of 20th January 1607 which devastated much of the Severn estuary.

The inscription is on a small brass plate in Goldcliff church and is in rhyme, presumably to make it more memorable: “On the 20 day of January even as it came to pas/ It pleased God the flood did flow to the edge of this same brass/ and in this parish there was lost 5000 and od pound/ Besides xxii people was in this parish drowned.” How high was the water? At several adjacent churches (e.g. Peterstone Wentlooge ) the actual flood level is marked with a lead plug (socketed for a stick) and a level. The heights have been accurately measured showing the flood here reached a height of 7.14 m. (23.4. feet) above OD. Using these heights we can model in a rough and ready way the extent of the flood that covered the Gwent levels reaching all the way to the present M4 on the edge of the alluvial plain.

Documentary sources provide evidence that the destruction reached around the Welsh coast as far as Carmarthen Bay. However there are differing views among climate historians as to whether the flood was caused by a storm surge or a tsunami, the subject of a brilliant Timewatch programme (BBC, 2005). That doesn’t concern us here – we are interested in the historic landscape.

Some communities may never have fully recovered from the flood, but the Gwent levels did largely because it had (and still has) a water management system of sea-walls, dykes or reens and sluices or gouts. This wasn’t of course the first time this area had flooded. Goldcliff Priory was abandoned in the mid-C15th after flooding, and the parish church was built then. Abandoned seawalls show that there has been a continual process of reclaiming and abandoning land from a remote period. The area is archaeologically very rich.

Stone built churches withstood the flood but the pamphlet literature suggests that many houses didn’t. It is certainly very hard to find early houses on the Gwent levels. However, Little Porton, near Whitson church, is built in the local vernacular tradition, and is really quite an illuminating house. We are on an alluvial plain without much tree-cover or building stone here. Basic building materials wood, stone and, later, brick, have to be imported. At Little Porton we see a third alternative building material - clay. Underneath the alluvial deposits there is gre, sticky marine clay which can be used for building. Little Porton is a post-flood building but it gives a good idea of what a C17th buildings was like - long and low with a thatched roof. The front and side walls have probably been rebuilt but the rear wall is still clay, and shows that the local marine clay was a local vernacular building material. Of course when clay walls get wet they collapse, and this is probably what happened in 1606/7 flood.

Alongside the cottage there is another intriguing building. This is a plank-built cowhouse, which is also thatched. It is quite unlike any other surviving farm building in the area. Timber is scarce here and yet this is lavishly plank-built. The walls are built from planks set side by side and spiked together. The builder had the good fortune to acquire a load of planks. I’d like to believe that this was part of the harvest of the sea.


Links:

Cyhoeddiadau/Publication:

BBC2 Wales - Hidden Histories - Series 3


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