Elan Valley puzzle

I am very grateful to Jeff Jones, originally from Liverpool now living in Hereford, who has enthusiastically supported my fascination with monkey puzzle trees. He sent me the first ‘guest’ monkey which you can see featured here on the blog. Last week he sent me this photograph of a lovely mature monkey puzzle… in the Elan Valley.

Monkey puzzle in Elan Valley.

Monkey puzzle in Elan Valley.

Thanks Jeff. This is quite a find, as this is obviously a landscaped tree – planted by a person – rather than the natural inhabitant of the valley. The Elan Valley is in Powys in Wales and is famous for is picturesque scenery, it also contains the Elan Valley Reservoirs.

Elan Valley Reservoirs

Elan Valley Reservoirs: Garreg-Ddu dam and Foel Tower. Photo: T Johnson from Wikipedia

So, I wondered how a monkey puzzle tree ended up living there.

Well, the obvious answer would be that it was planted in the garden of a house in the valley. A quick search revealed that there had been two houses in the Elan Valley, both lost when the valley was flooded to provide the reservoirs. The reservoirs were built to provide water to Birmingham – the rapid growth of the city in the late 19th century had led to a lack of available clean water. There are four main dams and reservoirs – constructed 1893–1904 in Elan Valley, and 1946–1952 at Claerwen.

Map of Elan Valley

Map of Elan Valley (from Victorian Powys website)

On this map you can see the site of two houses which were in the valley – Cwm Elan House and Nantgwyllt House. The excellent Victorian Powys website tells me that Cwm Elan was owned by Shelley’s uncle, and Shelley often visited. You can see photographs of the house here.

The other house was the ‘Big House’ of Nantgwyllt, a mansion house owned by the gentry of the district, Shelley also stayed here. You can see photographs here, of both the house, and also the unusual sight that happened in 1937 when the reservoir level dropped and the garden walls were still visible.

On Jeff’s photograph you can see water in the background… so I wonder if this is a leftover of a grand garden in one of those mansions? I wonder how the owners of those two houses felt about having their property and land compulsory purchased to be flooded? The family fromf Nantgwyllt House moved to Bryntirion, north of Rhayader.

But what about the ‘ordinary’ people? There was a small settlement at Nantgwyllt – a church, a chapel, a schoolhouse and 18 cottages. The whole community was lost. The Victorian Powys website has a map of the area, and also pictures of some of the people from the valleys here.

If this monkey puzzle had been planted at the height of their Victorian obsession, then it was probably around 1880-90… so by the time work on the dams started in 1893, it would have been quite a small specimen. I wonder if this remarkable monkey puzzle tree is the only survivor from the settlement of Nantgwyllt?

And if only trees could speak, what could they tell us?

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