The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd.

Character Areas

Lower Wye Valley

013 Tintern

Tintern Abbey

HLCA 013 Tintern

Monastic and settlement landscape associated with Picturesque Movement: relict archaeology: monastic (Cistercian Abbey of Tintern and significant associated monastic features); historic associations & ornamental/leisure and tourism (Picturesque Movement); industrial archaeology; medieval and post-medieval settlement/fields: organic cluster and later ribbon development settlement pattern; distinctive vernacular style (reuse of former conventual structures); traditional building materials and distinctive boundaries; communications; and wooded setting. Back to map

Historic Background

The historic landscape area of Tintern is dominated by the remains of the Cistercian Abbey Church of St Mary (SAM MM 102; LB 24037 Grade I), which was founded on 9th May 1131 by Walter fitz Richard of Clare, Lord of Chepstow. The first Cistercian house in Wales, it was staffed from the Abbey de l'Aumone near Chartres, a daughter house of Cīteaux, and quickly developed through gifts of estates in the locality, and by 1291 was farming more than 3000 acres (1215 hectares) and was the fifth richest house in Wales. In 1302 it was given rich lands in Norfolk by Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, and this led to the zenith of its wealth enabling the Abbey to complete the building of the new church, which had been begun in about 1269. Decline set in with the Black Death in 1348-9, and with Welsh unrest, culminating in the uprising of Owain Glyndwr in the early fifteenth century when much damage was done. As numbers fell, so the ability of the Abbey to run its estates properly declined, and it was actually dissolved as a minor house in 1536, closing on the 8th September, and then passed by the Crown to Henry Somerset, Earl of Worcester, the Lord of Chepstow and Raglan.

The Abbey and its estates continued in the ownership of the Earls of Worcester, later becoming the Dukes of Beaufort, until 1901, when the Abbey was purchased by the Crown for preservation for the sum of £15,000. The church had been mostly roofless since the sixteenth century and was heavily mantled in ivy, although still in surprisingly good condition and very much the same as when the Buck brothers had recorded it in 1732, the earliest known depiction of the Abbey. The rest of the conventual buildings had, since the sixteenth century, suffered a variety of fates, conversion to houses or industrial use, or quarried as a source of building stone, but the church was to some degree protected by the influential Beaufort family; Charles, the fourth Duke, instigated repairs in c1750 and the Abbey became a major tourist attraction. This was in part the result of the interest in 'sublime' scenery engendered by Rev William Gilpin following his visit in 1770, and the closing of the Continent to travellers from Britain during the Napoleonic Wars could only encourage this interest.

William Gilpin's popular book Observations on the River Wye (1782) discusses the Abbey in terms of its picturesque quality; he describes the Abbey as much too regular in appearance from a distance, but better at closer quarters. The combination of ruined ivy clad ecclesiastical architecture in the dramatic open river valley setting at Tintern and the contrasting landscape of industrial features, such as mills and ironworks, within the narrow Angidy valley with its wild romantic setting of hill, wood and wild water, proved a draw to early travellers and tourists with an interest in the picturesque and romantic, and contributed to the area's popularity from the latter part of the eighteenth century. In this way the area provided a source of inspiration for artists including J M W Turner and perhaps most famously the poet William Wordsworth, who first visited the Wye Valley in 1793 as a young man of 23, and returned in the summer of 1798, when he wrote his 'Lines Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey'. William Coxe describes the Abbey in 1800 in the terms of a busy tourist attraction, with tourists making moonlit visits by burning torchlight. Robinson cites the publication in 1828 of the eleventh edition of Charles's Heath's Descriptive Account of Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire (Monmouth 1793), as being an indication of how popular a visit to Tintern had become by the early nineteenth century (Robinson 1986).

The Wye Valley turnpike, which actually runs through the Abbey precinct, was opened in 1829. Prior to this date Tintern could only be reached by road from Devauden and almost all traffic was by river. Improvements to the area's transport links culminated with the opening of the Wye Valley Railway in 1876, placing Tintern Abbey on the map as a major international tourist destination.

The purchase of the area of Tintern by the Crown in 1901 led to an extensive programme of restoration and recording at the Abbey under F W Waller and Sir Harold Brakspear which continued until 1928, including the removal of all the ivy and the rebuilding of the south nave arcade. During the same period the settlement of the area and neighbouring Angidy Valley and Tintern Parva entered a period of renewal and extension with the building of estate cottages and other village facilities, including new police station and post office (Robinson 1995; Russell et al 1990; LB24037).

Historic Landscape Characteristics

Tintern is characterised primarily by its ecclesiastical remains, its character enhanced by its natural setting and which creates a serene and picturesque focal point in the Wye Valley. The Cistercian abbey at Tintern was the focus of ecclesiastical lands and activity within the Wye Valley and the surrounding area for much of the medieval period. The significance of Tintern and its Abbey has altered over time, from its ecclesiastic importance as a religious focal point and pilgrimage centre in the medieval period to a tourist destination during the eighteenth century as part of the 'Wye Tour', its popularity renewed from the interest in the picturesque movement. Historical associations, specifically relating to leisure and tourism, stemming from this movement of the eighteenth century have contributed a strong characteristic to the area, and have been key to the preservation of the area's historic features. Until the area's 'discovery' by tourists in the eighteenth century, the abbey at Tintern and its immediate environs were relatively unknown.

The area retains significant numbers of early buildings. In addition various themes are clear. Medieval monastic settlement: Tintern Abbey itself, and other contemporary features, such as the watergate, mill, Saint Anne's house and chapel (part of the abbey gatehouse originally). The ruined remains of the Cistercian Abbey of St Mary's at Tintern (PRN 00713g and 00718g, LB24037; SAM MM102) founded in 1131 form a guardianship site under the management of Cadw. None of the twelfth century structure of the Abbey now survives above ground; the majority of the standing remains belong to the second major phase of the Abbey's construction carried out during the later thirteenth century. The Abbey and its associated buildings are the result of several phases of construction lasting over four hundred years, the ground plan initially following the standard form for Cistercian abbeys, which consisted of three main elements of the church, the cloister and its functional buildings. The surrounding area has numerous minor relict features relating to the Abbey, including drains (PRNs 00719g, 03271.0g; and 03597.0g), and the medieval 'Cold Well' (PRN 00783g).

Principal building material in the area is stone, the complex of the Abbey structure itself being of Devonian sandstone. Much of the abbey stone can be seen re-used in surrounding buildings, many of which have a distinctive vernacular style, which is the result of post-medieval re-use of buildings associated with the Abbey. The principal roofing materials are slate and brick tile. There had been lead roofing to the Abbey but this was soon stripped following the dissolution of the monastery in 1536, the profits of its sale being reserved for the Crown.

The precinct wall (PRN 00714g; SAM MM157) of the abbey complex, sections of which survive up to 2.5-3m in height, is particularly significant. This structure, which defined the outer boundary of the Abbey complex and enclosed 27 acres, together with the associated gatehouse are considered to be among some of the most important surviving examples of their type in Britain. Eighty-six Cistercian abbeys were founded in Britain; of these it is only possible to accurately define the extent of the precinct boundary in sixteen cases, and only seven of these - Tintern being one - retain lengths of their precinct walls and associated gateways, Part of the Abbey gatehouse is incorporated within the listed St Anne's House (PRN 00715g; LB 2051 Grade II*), apparently of thirteenth/fourteenth century date and contemporary with much of the fabric of the Abbey, remains include elaborate windows supposedly from the chapel at the gate. Though the majority of the existing St Anne's House appears to be mid-nineteenth century in date, including the former associated dairy (LB 24050 Grade II), the good survival of the medieval features in the original the part of the building indicates that it remained in use after the Dissolution (Robinson 1995; Russell et al 1990; and Newman 2000). The Abbey Hotel (formerly the Beaufort Arms Hotel), located just within the line of the precinct wall, appears to retain at least one early structure of probable medieval date, the northernmost of the two linear east-west aligned ranges depicted on the First Edition OS map of 1881; this might repay further detailed investigation.

Additional relict medieval and later ecclesiastical remains include the roofless ruin of St Mary's Church (PRN 00751g; LB 2054 Grade II listed), and its churchyard (PRNs 08171g; and 08389g), which contains a number of notable and listed tombs and monuments. St Mary's was the former parochial centre of the parish of Chapel Hill, Tintern. The parish of Chapel Hill was amalgamated with Tintern Parva in 1902 and the church, made redundant in 1972, was burnt in 1977. Little information is available on the church of St Mary's itself, though it does retain medieval fabric, particularly in the battered east end, despite the thorough restoration of 1866 carried out by John Prichard, the Llandaff diocesan architect. The tower has been attributed to Prichard's colleague J P Seddon. The Decorated details, especially the east window, are thought to reflect a fourteenth century or early fifteenth century original.

Much of the settlement in the immediate vicinity of the Abbey is likely to be the result of the conversion of former monastic structures. Also surviving is the Abbey's watergate and the adjoining Anchor public house (LB 24032; Grade II, Watergate SAM MM265). This building, refurbished as a hotel in the mid-twentieth century, comprises two distinct sections forming an L-shape; a longer seventeenth century range of industrial origin possibly a cider-mill with granary over, and a shorter, older range, the house of the miller and ferryman of the Abbey ferry, reflecting an eighteenth century refurbishment of an essentially medieval structure. The Anchor has been in existence as licensed premises since 1806 and is thus likely to be a product of 'picturesque' tourism, but its position by the Abbey's watergate may reflect an involvement with hospitality going back to the Middle Ages. The ferry operated from the fourteenth century until c1920 when rail traffic ceased on the bridge and it became available for foot traffic (Russell et al 1990).

The picturesque is also represented in the surviving building stock: for example the Abbey Hotel with its nineteenth century gothic character (adding to and embellishing what appears to be a much earlier building). Also characteristic is the mid-nineteenth century remodelling of Saint Anne's House, among others. It is thought that construction of the Turnpike Road (1828-9) opened the valley up to tourism (which had been growing since the later eighteenth century) and there are several buildings, which are direct testimony to this, eg the Anchor Inn.

Agricultural activity in the area during the post-medieval period appears to have been largely focused on the substantial farmstead of Abbey Farm, located immediately the south of the Abbey within the Abbey's precinct wall. This comprised two linear agricultural ranges, one of which is slightly staggered: that nearest to the Abbey with its rectangular yard was the farmstead (First Edition OS map of 1881), modified or replaced by an L-shaped range before 1921.

Prior to the twentieth century settlement beyond the immediate environs of the Abbey precinct would have typically comprised dispersed farms and cottages, such as Grove Cottage, Box Cottage and larger isolated holdings including Highfield House, altered between 1881 and 1902, as was the holding at Church Grove Cottages, which was completely remodelled as two semi-detached estate cottages. The linear settlement of large detached twentieth century housing within rectangular plots located on Chapel Hill in the wooded area fronting the lane between the Abbey Hotel (the former Beaufort Arms Hotel) and the Royal George Inn, however, now provides the dominant settlement pattern of the area. The impetus for this settlement expansion appears to have come from the transfer of ownership to the Crown Estate during the early twentieth century and the initial development of the semi-detached pair of estate houses known as Abbey View and Upper Leytons between 1902 and 1921. The Crown Estate buildings (eg cottages and shops) in this and nearby character areas (eg. HLCA014 and HLCA016) are characteristically of an estate style and consciously picturesque in idiom, constructed of stone, brick and tile.

Range of building types: substantial early buildings, larger eighteenth century and early nineteenth century houses, and ambitious c1900 arts and crafts/domestic revival developments associated with the Estate, as well as a series of smaller cottages (probably late eighteenth-early nineteenth century) - generally two-storeyed, two-unit plan with end chimneys, the dominant local vernacular form: these probably relate to industrial history of area. In addition the area has examples of twentieth century suburban picturesque: bungalows built to enjoy the view.

Evidence for industrial activity in the character area survives as relict archaeology dating from as early as the medieval period. Excavation during the 1980s revealed evidence of non-ferrous metalworking, primarily relating to lead and copper, within the Tintern Abbey complex itself (Courtney 1982). The evidence was found late in a sequence of successive medieval building and levelling episodes, no dateable finds were recovered but archaeomagnetic dating has placed this industrial activity firmly in the fifteenth century. The nature of the features also suggests large-scale production. One of the features recorded was an open hearth that was seen to consist of reused millstones. Remains associated with other rural industries, such as cider milling, are also evident in the area.

Communication routes and transport links are also early and include a cobbled medieval road associated with the Abbey, 'the Stony Way' (PRN 03174g), which connected Tintern to the Grange of Ruddings (Reddings) and the manor of Porthcasseg, its route crossing HLCA 009. Other communication features include the Wye Valley turnpike route of 1829, which retains a now listed milestone 300m south of Tintern Abbey (LB 24056 Grade II). The area also contains a number of walks and trails popular from at least the eighteenth century, the direct result of tourist interest and activity, which run through the area linking it to several surrounding character areas and the wider Wye Valley.

Other characteristics include the agricultural field pattern that consists of generally large open fields, water meadows on the flood plain of the Wye, divided by well-developed hedgerows; these form an important element in the setting of the Abbey. It is likely that these fields were used from as early as the medieval period to serve the Abbey and would have been worked by conversii or lay brothers.