Recapturing the Historic Landscape

Image Credit: Peter Britton

The LLS-2 Recapturing the Historic Landscapes project is targeted at anybody with an interest in the history of the Levels. This exciting project will provide volunteering activities, professional supervision and training for people to undertake a wide range of cultural and historical tasks including: archive research, GIS mapping, building recording, walkover surveys, archaeology and submitting records to the Historic Environment Record. Archive-based activities will introduce volunteers to documentary research, enabling skills to be developed in data analysis and transcription. Cartographic and field-based activities will allow volunteers to ‘ground-truth’ the information collected during the archival research and walkover surveys will help us discover which aspects from historic maps survive in the modern landscape. Where possible, archaeological ‘test-pit’ excavations will be carried out across several historical villages in the Levels and volunteers will receive training to understand and interpret the buried archaeological resources.

The project will use the records, court minutes and maps of the Monmouthshire Commissioners of Sewers to explore the development of the landscape of the Levels. The records reveal the impact of tidal and fluvial flooding, the continuity of land tenure, settlement patterns, local government in action, and much, much more. Sewers in this instance are watercourses, either natural or manmade, and commissioners of sewers throughout England and Wales held jurisdiction over drainage and sea defence in low-lying coastal lands including the Gwent, Somerset and Gloucestershire Levels beside the Severn Estuary. The Court of Sewers was a court of record, on a par with Quarter Sessions, and many of its commissioners were also justices of the peace. The work of the court affected almost everyone living on the Levels because tenants and landowners were responsible for repairs and maintenance. The records are therefore brimming with personal names.

Perhaps when you saw the word 'sewers' you thought of rats! The late Rick Turner (who was instrumental in developing the Living Levels project) thought that the history group should be called the RATS (Research and Transcription Service) in recognition of its work using the records of the Monmouthshire Court of Sewers. The language of those records can be a challenge. They contain many archaic terms, often unique to land drainage and no longer in use. Rick started 'Levels Lingo', a glossary that will be further developed during the Living Levels project.

The research undertaken by the RATS will be complemented by other strands of the project. These include field surveys, archaeological investigations and GIS mapping. The following research topics have therefore been carefully chosen to enhance not only these aspects, but also aid the creation of interpretation boards and oral histories.

  • The Gwent Levels 100 years ago

  • The Gwent Levels 200 years ago

  • The impact of the railways on land drainage and landscape

  • The tidal flood of 1883

  • The fluvial floods of 1947

  • The ‘Great Storm’ of 1703

  • Place names and personal names from surveys and maps

  • Who lived where on the Gwent Levels in 1881

  • The Rumney Bridge incident of 1846

  • The improvement of Windmill Reen, 1883

The historical documents relating to the great tidal flood of 1607 are currently being studied by a University of Bristol PhD student who is linking into the Recapturing the Historic Landscape project. It is hoped that every member of the RATS will share their work with a wider audience - be that through story boards at History Days, within a Living Levels publication, on the website or a short talk.

This project is currently full. If you want to join a waiting list to get involved at a later stage, please let us know by emailing

Project Lead
Professional archaeologists and landscape historians

Project Timeline
January 2019 – June 2021

Living Levels reference

Gavin Jones
Living Levels Community Engagement Officer