The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust Ltd.

Character Areas

Lower Wye Valley

029 Whitebrook Valley

The derelict remains of a stone built mill.

HLCA 029 Whitebrook Valley

Primarily industrial settlement: loose dispersed scatter and small clusters/ribbon development of cottages and larger houses/farms; varied enclosure pattern with irregular evolved enclosures and regular rectilinear enclosures; post-medieval settlement features/building types; industrial archaeology; mills (paper, corn and cider mills, and former wireworks); possible iron forge site (slag heap) and quarries; water management features associated with mills: reservoirs, leats and sluices; wells associated with settlement; communication features; traditional boundaries; mixed woodland and coniferous plantation. Back to map

Historic Background

The historic landscape area of Whitebrook Valley represents a densely wooded tributary valley that contains the White Brook, a stream that runs down the valley eastwards towards its confluence with the River Wye. The area is historically located within the parishes of Penallt, Trellech and Llandogo, which were part of the manor of Trellech held by the Duke of Beaufort.

The earliest known evidence for activity on the White Brook dates to the fourteenth century; a corn or grist mill (PRN 00670g) is mentioned in an Inquisition Post Mortem of 1314; a mill (now converted) survives on the White Brook, however it is unconfirmed whether this is on the same site as the mill mentioned above.

Papermaking industry began in Whitebrook in about 1760 with the construction of the Clearwater Paper Mill (PRN 00665g, 07971g, LBs 24923, 24943, SAM MM 294), which is shown on J. Aram's estate plan of Trellech Manor dated 1772 and at least nine papermakers are documented as being active in the area between 1773 and 1791 (Tucker 1972). Clearwater Paper Mill, powered by a steam turbine engine (replaced in 1869), was in use for over a hundred years until circa 1875 (Newman 2000, 277).

The paper industry flourished and expanded in the White Brook Valley with up to six papermills known to have been in operation along the valley at any one time. Fifty people are recorded as being gainfully employed in the paper mills along the Whitebrook Valley in 1841 (Newman 2000). Accommodation was constructed during the first half of the nineteenth century specifically to house the large numbers of people employed in the Whitebrook Valley.

Documentary evidence attests to a gradual decline in the papermaking industry at Whitebrook from the 1820s onwards, however Bradney notes that 'by 1850 the manufacture of paper was entirely given up and the mills were in a state of ruin' (Bradney 1913). However, documentary sources of the time indicate that paper mills continued in operation throughout the 1860s and 1870s, and in fact the Clearwater Mills were added to and extended in 1863 with the mechanisation of the works through conversion to steam power. It is not until the 1880s that industry declined in the area, when many mills and their contents were put up for sale as profits sunk (Tucker 1972).

A cider mill probably of early to mid-nineteenth century date survives in the valley in a relatively unaltered state. This mill has an interesting hidden history as it was used as accommodation for evacuees during the Second World War.

Historic Landscape Characteristics

Whitebrook Valley, defined by its natural physical geography, a narrow steep sided river valley, is largely characterised by industrial settlement, relict industry and related features. The Whitebrook Valley Bottom has a relatively isolated ambiance, the hustle and bustle of industry now a thing of the past; partly wooded, with a mix of semi-natural deciduous woodland, the area is surrounded by Hael Woods (HLCA 027) to the north and south and also to the east where the woods close in to divide the character area into two detached sections, the upper and lower Whitebrook Valley. Significant remains of the post-medieval landscape associated with paper and wire manufacture survive along the Whitebrook Valley, although many of these remains are now concealed by woodland.

The White Brook is a fast flowing water source, which runs for approximately 3km from its source at Hoop down to the Wye that has been variously harnessed as a power source by numerous reservoir ponds and mills along its length. Structural remains associated with the manufacture of paper, such as Clearwater Paper Mill (PRN 00665g, 07971g, LB 24923, 24943, SAM MM 294) and its associated listed Chimney (PRN 07971g, LB 24923 Grade II), provide a major characteristic. The mill, currently in a ruinous state had an overshot water wheel, and a water turbine, part of which survives today in the wall opposite the mill. Newman considers that the Clearwater Mills may also occupy the site of an earlier seventeenth century wireworks (Newman 2000, 277).

Extensive remains of other paper mills and associated outbuildings, masonry dams, sluices, mill leats and ponds also survive in the character area. Examples of these include Sunnyside Mill (PRN 00667g), the Wye Valley Mills (PRN 00671g), the Whitebrook Farmhouse (PRN 07966g, LB 24920), the Glynn Paper Mill (PRN 07967g), the Wye Valley Mill house (PRN 07968g, LB 24942) and Fernside Mill (PRN 03168g, LB 24948).

The Fernside Mill, adjacent to the former mill house and a stable block, is perhaps the best surviving example of a paper mill in the Whitebrook Valley and is one of only a few to survive in Wales (Tucker 1972; Newman 2000, 277). Located above a group of millponds fed by the White Brook, the rectangular shaped mill building is arranged gable end on to the road and constructed of course squared rock that has been faced with local sandstone rubble The mill is three storeys in its east elevation and single storey in the west elevation above the mill ponds; the current roof of pan tile is believed to be a later twentieth century replacement. The vertical ventilation louvers, necessary for paper drying still survive in places around the building, though many have been replaced.

Other industrial features include the remains of a quay and warehousing associated with the papermaking industry at the confluence of the White Brook with the River Wye, as well as the remains of a Cider Mill at Fern Bank (PRN 07970g, LB 24922) that appears on the 1881 First Edition OS map. The latter building is rectangular in plan and constructed of local red sandstone under a slate roof; internally is a pitched stone floor and the frame of the press still in situ with the crusher in the yard outside, a heavy beamed ceiling supports the granary/apple store over.

Though this character area has strong associations with the wider Wye valley landscape, it remains a coherent and self-contained landscape associated with significant industrial activity from the mid sixteenth century until the end of the nineteenth century, initially with wire manufacture and later with paper-making.

The area's characteristic settlement is largely a result of industrial activity, and the majority of dwellings appear to have been constructed for mill owners and their workers. The settlement pattern comprises informal ribbon development, though includes isolated or small clusters of houses, cottages, and smallholdings located near industrial sites. An indication of the industrial influence on the local settlement pattern and structure is evident in the variety of different building types: in addition to the usual cottages, houses, and farmhouses (including agricultural buildings), are found places of worship (church and chapel), a school, apublic house/inn, and post office, and of course mills. The Whitebrook Valley is notable for a series of fairly substantial houses (in contrast with the Botany Bay and Angidy valley areas), all of which are built in the Georgian tradition, for example Fernside Mill House (PRN 03168g) and Whitebrook Farmhouse (PRN 07966g; LB 24920): these may also be evidence for the prosperity associated with the paper industry. The workers' cottages are generally constructed in the characteristic style of the Lower Wye Valley of coursed stone (rendered or painted), the principal roofing material in the area is slate and pantile.

The communication and boundary characteristics of the area add to the feeling of an enclosed landscape. Communication routes that run through the area exist as narrow winding lanes that are bounded by earth banks and dry-stone walling. Other characteristic features include footbridges and stepping-stones. Characteristic boundaries are typically hedges with established mature distinctive trees, as well as mortared walls and post and wire fencing