The Layout of the Precincts: survey and boundaries


Morphology and boundary


The postulated Abbey Precinct projected onto a vertical air photograph taken in 1957 (David Austin)

The precise nature and size of the enclosures which constitute the Inner and Outer Precincts at Strata Florida are still under consideration and will need some closer investigation during the course of the project. However it is possible to use early maps, surviving boundaries and field morphology to make a clear proposition.

To the east of the Abbey, part way up the slope behind and running along the contour is a surviving substantial masonry wall with a sunken road running alongside the precinct. Along the north bank of the Afon Glasffrwd there are also, in places surviving walls which drop down below the bed of the river. Just under a kilometre to the west of the Abbey church, and about 50 metres to the west of the modern road bridge there are the remains of a substantial bank and ditch which form part of a curving boundary, now partially destroyed by modern woodland, which links the Afon Glasffrwd to the Afon Teifi.

Close by are earthworks which require survey for further interpretation. The Afon Teifi seems to form the northern boundary of the precinct. Although there are earthworks just to the north which may also be the boundary. It is very noticeable that the fields enclosed by this projected boundary are very well drained and some of the most fertile in the district.

General layout

If the projection about the size of the precinct is correct (c. 45 ha.), then it will be the largest known in the British Isles for the Cistercian order. The geophysics plot of stone buildings shows that they are restricted to an Inner Precinct area as they are in most Cistercian houses, but they are laid out over a larger area (16 ha.) in a much more dispersed pattern than would normally be found. It is hard, at the moment, to be certain as to why this is, but speculation may include the pre-existence of an earlier site beneath, something which the geophysics seems also to hint at. As yet the geophysics work is incomplete especially underneath the farm complex of Mynachlog Fawr and to the south of the church and cloister complex. We can tentatively identify, however, a large inner gatehouse to the west, an infirmary and mill to the south and perhaps a guest-house just south of the gatehouse. Other buildings seem to include ‘back’ gates and the refectory out of which the plas of Mynachlog Fawr was built. The Outer Precinct, again as at other Cistercian Abbeys seems from the geophysics evidence to have no substantial stone buildings with the likelihood that this area was reserved for specialist agrarian and minor industrial activities.


Topsoil prospection survey of phosphate, heavy metals and magnetic susceptibility within the Precinct

Human activities in the past often led to patterns of chemical enrichment and magnetic susceptibility enhancement (through burning) on former ground surfaces. The resulting spatial patterns, although inevitably ‘diluted’ by subsequent bioturbation, leaching, etc. and distorted to some extent by later activities, can often still be detected in modern topsoils. In view of the very limited topographic evidence within the Precinct of the Abbey, a trial topsoil prospection survey (partly funded by KEF grant: HE-08-FSP-1001) of phosphate, lead, zinc, copper and magnetic susceptibility (including fractional conversion analysis) was undertaken by Dr John Crowther in two fields, Y Green and Fynwent Fawr, adjacent to Abbey.


Topsoil prospection survey of phosphate, heavy metals and magnetic susceptibility within the Precinct

Human activities in the past often led to patterns of chemical enrichment and magnetic susceptibility enhancement (through burning) on former ground surfaces. The resulting spatial patterns, although inevitably ‘diluted’ by subsequent bioturbation, leaching, etc. and distorted to some extent by later activities, can often still be detected in modern topsoils. In view of the very limited topographic evidence within the Precinct of the Abbey, a trial topsoil prospection survey (partly funded by KEF grant: HE-08-FSP-1001) of phosphate, lead, zinc, copper and magnetic susceptibility (including fractional conversion analysis) was undertaken by Dr John Crowther in two fields, Y Green and Fynwent Fawr, adjacent to Abbey.
Apart from zinc, all the properties measured displayed marked variability across the two fields which is very likely due to anthropogenic effects: phosphate enrichment probably associated with inputs of animal manure and/or human excrement; lead and copper enrichment, particularly the former, possibly associated with metal working in areas with peak concentrations and more generally with human habitation (e.g. previous studies have linked low levels of heavy metal enrichment with inputs human cess); magnetic susceptibility indicative of in situ burning; and maximum potential susceptibility related to variations in iron content, which could reflect enrichment through human activity, natural variability in soil parent material and/or the effects of natural processes of iron movement and accumulation (e.g. hydromorphic panning) within soils.

Overall, the results have clearly demonstrated the potential of this type of analysis in providing insight into spatial patterns of activity at Strata Florida, in identifying specific locations for further investigation and in generating background data on variability in iron content which is critical to the interpretation of some of the geophysical survey plots. Indeed one such location was tested by a small excavation in which a mass of burning and iron slag revealed he close proximity of an industrial area within the Inner Precinct of the Abbey.

The Geophysics of the Precinct as of June 2008 (Dr Jemma Bezant)

Geophysical survey


An extensive programme of geophysical survey (funded by KEF grant: HE-08-FSP-1001) has been undertaken by Dr Jemma Bezant within the Precinct of the Abbey in the hope of gaining insight into both the location and character of any archaeological structures and features present, and into the nature of the underlying alluvial/terrace deposits and their evolution (e.g. abandoned river channels). The survey was carried out using a Bartington magnetic gradiometer 601 in the dual configuration to allow for rapid, yet accurate, survey.

While this technique is ideal for the prospection of ‘noisy’ archaeological areas that might contain built structures with both domestic occupation and industrial activity, it is also capable of detecting more subtle features such as ditches and former river channels. The survey proved extremely successful in identifying a range of structures (buildings, walls, a linear bank, etc.) and the locations of former ditches and stream courses. The main archaeological structures identified are described in the following section.


Website design by Martin Crampin     Site development by Technoleg Taliesin Cyf.

Administration