Historic Landscape Characterisation
Merthyr Tydfil

045 Morlais Hill and Castle

HLCA 45 Morlais Hill and Castle Relict defensive and agricultural landscape; industrial planned Farm; large irregular-shaped fields, early religious, funerary and ritual features; industrial transport corridor; early 20th century leisure characteristics; public health buildings.

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(Photo: GGAT Merthyr 045)

Morlais Hill and Castle character area: area of prehistoric and medieval features, dominated by Morlais Castle.


A nationally important relict landscape of pre-industrial date, dominated by the medieval stronghold of Morlais Castle. The area contains defensive, domestic and funerary features dating to the prehistoric and medieval periods, including a relict field system, prehistoric enclosures and a Bronze Age ring cairn. There are also post-medieval agricultural features and a fieldscape of large but irregularly shaped fields associated with Castle Farm. Industrial features are limited in extent, although the early 19th century tramroad associated with the adjacent limestone quarries does pass through the area.

Historical background

The historic landscape area of Morlais Hill and Castle comprises a relict landscape area of national importance. The area is dominated by defensive features of late prehistoric and medieval date: Castell Morlais, a univallate hillfort of Iron age date, comprising an almost rectangular enclosure of c 1.6 ha, partly obscured by the later medieval castle of Morlais Castle.

Morlais Castle is considered to have been a stronghold of the native lords of Senghennydd before being reconstructed by Gilbert de Clare in c 1270. The site comprises two baileys surrounded by a curtain wall with five or six round towers, largely collapsed but standing in places, all set within a bank and ditch. The adjacent area contains ploughed out field boundaries associated with a rectangular enclosure.

An important funerary and ritual landscape element of the Bronze Age is supplied by the Morlais Hill Ring Cairn to the north of the farmstead; a circular bank of limestone rubble with a possible entrance to the south (PRN 0830m).

An estate map by John Edward Eyre details the Castle Farm and the Castle at Morlais as it appeared in 1766 (St. Fagans Estate, Earl of Plymouth), while Yates' map of 1799 again showed both the castle and the farmstead, then a single range of buildings. By 1814 the post-medieval farm of Castle Farm comprises three separate rectangular building within an irregular straight-sided enclosure connected by track to Pontsarn Road. The OS Surveyor's drawing of 1826 depicted the field pattern much as it appeared on later maps and indeed survives to the present day. It would also appear that the form of the later industrial farm, three ranges around a rectangular yard, was in place by this date, this was certainly the case in 1848 and on the Tithe of 1850, the farm was part of the estates of Robert Henry Clive. The three editions of OS maps between 1875 and 1915 illustrated landscape changes, such as the progressive loss of the area to the north to quarrying, the conversion of the farm to a golf course, which included the construction of a pavilion (the Golf Club). Additional features noted from cartographic sources include Ivor's Chair, Carreg Ifan, an old shaft, and ranges of linear agricultural sheds west of the farm.

Also located at the western edge of the area beneath the prominent site of Morlais Castle was the Pontsarn Sanatorium built 1913 under the auspices of the Merthyr Tydfil Board of Guardians, now converted to flats.


For further information please contact the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust at this address. Link to the Countryside Council for Wales website at www.ccw.gov.uk or Cadw at www.cadw.wales.gov.uk