The Strata Florida Research Project

As part of the Strata Florida Project as a whole, a major research programme has been developed, setting the site in its social, political and landscape contexts, to include the period of the Abbey’s existence, its antecedents from the later Iron Age onwards and its successors up to the present day. This is a multi-disciplinary project engaging archaeology, history, environmental science and the arts. It has involved a number of institutions led, until 2015, by the University of Wales School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology under the direction of Professor David Austin. Our key strategic research partners have been the Monastic Wales Project and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW). We have also worked closely with the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies.

Phase 1 of the Research Project began in 1999 and its field programmes were completed in the summer of 2015 and we shall be working towards the publication of a major monograph to disseminate the results and evidence. At the same time we shall be examining and designing Phase 2 in the light of all the recent developments in the Strata Florida Project as a whole. Phase 2 will begin in 2019. Phase 2 will continue under the direction of Professor David Austin and the auspices of the Strata Florida Trust.

Research Components

A. Research Design: The Project has a clear high-level Research Design which was first devised and discussed in 2006-7 following some initial work to establish whether a long-term project was viable. This document will be revised as part of the shaping of Phase 2.

The Strata Florida Research Project is focussed on four main narratives or themes:

1. The Abbey itself from foundation in 1164 to Dissolution in 1539

2. The antecedents of the Abbey: a predecessor Dark Age monastery and late prehistoric use.

3. The successors of the Abbey in two main blocks:
a. Gentry house, designed landscape and estate from the Dissolution to 1745
b. The tenant (and subsequently freehold) farm from 1745 to the present day

4. The historic landscape studied at five scales of spatial resolution:
a. The surviving buildings and specific archaeological sites
b. The Abbey precincts (c. 45 hectares)
c. The immediate Abbey environs (c. 8 km2)
d. The Upper Teifi Valley (c. 400 km2)
e. Region where Strata Florida had its lands in Central Wales (c. 4000 km2)

The research, as stated, is informed by a complex high-level research design, but the objectives of Phase I, which focussed on areas 4a-c (with some initial work on 4d), were relatively simple, i.e. to establish:
1. The extent of the archaeological remains of the precinct
2. The nature and extent of the evidence for the landscape history
3. The quality of the archaeological remains in terms of survival

All these were designed to inform the whole Project and to establish whether a long-term archaeological project could be sustained. The results have been outstanding, not least in the establishment of the full extent of the Abbey precincts and buildings and the location of a very rich array of archaeological remains in the vicinity.

B. Work prior to 1999 and outside the project: Strata Florida has been the focus of Antiquarian interest since the 16th century, but it has been the subject of specific research relatively infrequently, perhaps because of the dearth of contemporary administrative documents from the Abbey. However, in the late 1880's there was an extensive excavation and study undertaken by Stephen Williams which exposed the remains of the Abbey much as they can be seen today. Very little more has been done on the archaeology until the beginning of this Project.

What does survive now in the form of documents and architecture has appeared in a small number of important general studies within a number of discourses.

C. Project outputs: There are a growing number of publications and other outputs from the Project. As well as academic publication it has been an important part of the Project aims to communicate with the public through a range of media and creative forms.

D. The Topographic Setting and Environment: The grants of land given by the Lord Rhys in 1165 and 1184 have their core in the Upper Teifi Valley in Ceredigion, West Wales, but with extensive outer holdings extending into a region of 4000 square kilometres. This is all an upland region, predominantly the Cambrian Mountains with glaciated valleys and, towards Cardigan Bay, a narrrow coastal plain.

E. The Abbey Precinct: We have established that the extent of the Abbey's two precincts is unusually large, in the order of 126 acres or 45 hectares, and within them there is a great survival of field remains .

F. The Abbey's Immediate Environs: Y Milltir Sgwar: This consists of an area of some 8 square kilometres defined by the boundaries of the precinct and the land beyond, reshaped by the Abbey as a demesne of specialist farms and production zones to provide for its own direct consumption needs.

G. The Historic Landscapes of the Upper Teifi Valley

H. The Historic Landscapes of the Strata Florida Region: This is an area in Central Wales of over 400 square kilometres which contained the estates of the Abbey. We are primarily interested in the Abbey's own land, but the area also includes the territories of secular owners and tenants and these are also being studied to provide contemporary context for the landscape study. It is clear from our Phase 1 work that the archaeological survival of related sites in this area in extensive.

I. The Historical Context of Wales and the World: This provides the spatial context for the role of the Abbey, monasticism and the Cistercian Order in political, economic and social history. In this research, working with our close partners in the Monastic Wales Project.

This page copyright © Professor David Austin, Chairman Strata Florida Trust

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