The Lower Machen Conservation Area was designated in January 1976 and is stuated situated approximately 8 kilometres to the west of Newport city centre.
Download a plan of the Lower Machen conservation area (pdf)
The conservation area is approximately 24 acres and contains 18 listed buildings, two of which (Machen House and St. Michael’s Church) are grade ll*.
Towering above the village to the north west is Machen Mountain (362 metres above sea level) while more directly north is the Sirhowy Valley Ridgeway.
The River Rhymney lies about 0.5 kilometres south of the southern edge of the village.
The northern boundary is defined by the north bank of a cutting that contains the single line rail track of the former Brecon and Merthyr Railway Company while the southern boundary abuts the northern side of the A468 which links Caerphilly to Newport.
At one time this road ran through the southern part of the village however a road improvement scheme circa 1937 resulted in the hamlet being completely bypassed, leaving the original road line mostly intact as an east – west lane through the village.
The conservation area is set within the Lower Machen Archaeologically Sensitive Area, a much larger protected area designated as being of special archaeological interest.
The protection afforded to this wider area helps to demonstrate the special historic significance of the Lower Machen area in general - for example, traces of Mesolithic man have been found nearby.
There is wider evidence of occupation during Roman times with finds of pottery, the remains of several structures and evidence of lead smelting. It has been suggested that the metalworking was carried out on the periphery of the Roman settlement which was centred on the present village area.
It is widely assumed that a Roman road connected the fortress at Caerleon with the fort at Caerphilly and that this road ran through Lower Machen passing close to the nearby Welsh castle of Castell Meredydd which, according to some experts, was probably the last castle to be captured in the final English invasion of AD 1270. Today the site of the castle is a protected Scheduled Ancient Monument.
The medieval village of Lower Machen was situated in the area known as the Welshry as it was controlled by the Welsh in the 12th and 13th centuries and was later governed by Welsh Law.
The church known today as St. Michael (an English Saint) is first mentioned in documentary evidence in 1102 and it seems possible that the church was re-dedicated at some later time (GGAT 2002).
The oldest part of the church visible today is the tower which is said to date from the 15th century. The 18th century Morgan family chapel is described by Cadw as ‘remarkable’, and is the main reason for the grade ll* status of this church.
There was little development in the village during the medieval period and later development was dominated by the Morgan family, most notably with the construction of the two storey, Regency, Machen House and gardens.
This house was built by the Tredegar estate for the Reverend C.A.S. Morgan (d. 1875) the younger brother of the 1st Lord Tredegar. Today Machen House is listed Grade ll* and the gardens are listed grade ll on the Cadw / ICOMOS ‘Register of Parks and Gardens in Wales.
The conservation area itself can broadly be divided into four character areas, north of the church, St. Michael’s Church and churchyard, Machen House and formal gardens and the houses of the surrounding hamlet.
(i) The area north of the church is largely devoid of buildings with the exception of Old Station House and the railway cutting and bridge all grouped together at the extreme north. The eastern side of this area is a wood that is the northern part of the listed gardens of Machen House. This wood, now overgrown, was once laid out with informal footpaths, an ornamental pond and evergreen planting. To the east of the wood are a small area of agricultural land and then a smaller area of woodland which straddles either side of the lane running from the village to Ochrwyth.
(ii) The church of St. Michael together with its churchyard formed the medieval core of the area and is today at the heart of the village. A number of the structures relating to the church are listed in their own right.
(iii) Machen House and gardens are notable not only for the visual impact on the conservation area but also for the important historic link with the Morgans of Tredegar at a time when the family was at the height of its importance. Machen House and gardens are privately owned and are not open to the public. Although much of this area is beyond public view the distinctive castellated boundary walls with turrets built in local stone have an obvious influence on the appearance of the area.
(iv) The remaining developed area of the village is today all housing some of which is quite recent. Some of the older houses did once have different functions. For example ‘Parkfield,’ opposite the church, was once the Lower Machen National School and schoolhouse. The names of other buildings in the village give a clue as to their original function or associations, for example, The Toll House, The Forge and The Old Post. Most of the older houses date from the mid 19th century. Several of these were built by the Morgan family for their estate workers and some display the distinctive architectural features of Tredegar estate properties, notably the gothic arched windows and use of hoodmolds. The Old Post is possibly one of the oldest houses in the village being late 18th century, possibly with an earlier core.
GGAT (2002), Land at the Old Post, Lower Machen: Brief for Archaeological Evaluation, Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust, NEW0270/2/200203/NM
Cadw / ICOMOS (1994) ‘Register of Landscapes, Parks and Gardens of Special Historic Interest in Wales. Part 1: Parks and Gardens’
For further information contact the council’s Conservation Officer (Historic Buildings).