Let’s Get Physical…or why I haven’t been blogging.

Apologies if you have been expecting regular blog posts recently. I’m afraid I’ve been unwell since early October with the re-occurrence of a long-standing kidney problem. The hospital like to give it the official title of ‘Renal Colic’, but to you and me, it’s kidney stones. Big ones.

As I’ve been feeling so run down from already having had two stays in hospital (end of October and middle of November), which includes an operation to fit a stent in my left urethra (a stent is a plastic tube which is used to hold the urethra – the tube between a kidney and the bladder – open and prevent, or at least lessen the chance of kidney infections) my main priority has been to concentrate on ensuring that all my University paperwork is up to date. Things have changed since I started my PhD for the first time at UEA ten years ago, so the level of administration has increased dramatically

As for progress on the PhD – let me provide you with an update of where I’ve reached as I begin year two.

Firstly, the finances – without which I would not be able to undertake this PhD. I’ve reached the halfway mark on my gofundme page http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks
of £1000. Thanks to 48 donations all of which, whatever their monetary value, show that you as supporters believe that the topic I am researching is worthwhile. I’ve paid the instalment for this term, and now I will be able to go back to writing blog entries and using them to highlight the fact that I don’t receive and outside funding (if you aren’t aware of why I have a crowd-funding page – the blog entry http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/please-fund-my-cutting-edge-phd-research/
will provide you with some of the context.

Secondly, the writing process. My supervisor is pleased that the third draft of my introduction chapter is now forming itself into something coherent and enjoyable to read. What my supervisor wants to see is the passion, enjoyment and depth of knowledge I display when I provide lectures on the topic (I am available for bookings in 2015 if your club or society would like to book me) wrapped up in a framework of well thought out references. It’s been particularly rewarding from my point of view watching the way that my supervisor has made suggestions on a draft, and how I’ve interpreted them to make them a far more subtle piece of work then I ever thought I could write.

And now to the content. Although I haven’t been working on specific sites whilst I’ve been unwell / writing my introduction chapter, I have had time to think about how all the sites, particularly those in north-east Wales and north-west Shropshire relate to each other geographically. Some of the sites I am studying have been in existence for nearly a thousand years, and still occupy their place in the landscape confidently and recognisably. Other sites were very transient and lasted less than a hundred years, with documentary sources providing the evidence to identify their location.

If you know someone who would like to fund my research, please pass the links to my gofundme and blog pages on to them. Thank you.

‘The Absence of these Diabolic Machines’ or Semolina, Sugar and Misplaced Suitcases – Excavations at Sycharth Castle 50 years on

Sycharth Motte and Bailey Castle near the village of Llansilin and now administratively in the county of Powys, is most famous as the home of Owain Glyn Dŵr at the end of the fourteenth century in part thanks to a praise poem written by Iolo Goch. 2012 saw the 50th anniversary of its excavation by a team headed by Douglas Hague (working at the time for the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales). The excavation, assisted by Cynthia Warhurst from the Department of Geography, University of Leeds, ran for two seasons in the summers of 1962 and 1963 and the results were published in the 1966 edition of Archaeologica Cambrensis (Hague and Warhurst 1966).  Three trenches were excavated, one on the top of the motte in the north-east quadrant, and two small trenches in the bailey close to the outer edge. The results of the excavations have been discussed, most notably in ’Timber Castles’, written by Robert Higham and Philip Barker and published in 1992, with a new edition in 2004 (Barker and Higham 2004).

I must confess a vested interest in the writing of this paper. When I was an undergraduate casting around for a dissertation in 1996 I bought from the university bookshop a paperback edition of R.R. Davies ‘The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dŵr’ and after devouring the contents was intrigued how so little had been written about Sycharth even though the site had been excavated and a poem existed describing the landscape and environment at a specific moment in history. And so, with undergraduate enthusiasm and on a quest for answers I decided I would write my dissertation on Sycharth and the surrounding landscape.

In November 1997 I travelled up from University in Bournemouth to carry out a geophysical and geochemical survey of two areas to the east and south of the castle earthworks, outside of the scheduled area, aided through lifts to the site and equipment operation by friends and family. My work duly found some archaeological features and my dissertation tutor was pleased that my dissertation had fulfilled its brief. A report on this work appeared in the ‘Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society for 2003 (Smith 2003). In September 2003, now working on the production of the S4/C Television Series ‘Tywysogion’,  I directed an archaeological excavation working with two other professional archaeologists outside of the scheduled area to the south of the castle earthworks. The three of us stayed in my mother’s house in Rossett, some 25 miles away and commuted each day to the excavation. Our sole concession to onsite creature comforts was the portable toilet that was procured from a firm in Oswestry.

The excavations to the south of the castle earthworks in September 2003 found archaeological evidence of the 1962-1963 excavation, in the form of two tent pegs and a broken bag buckle, and a photograph confirmed that a large tent had indeed been set up on the line of the medieval roadway into the castle bailey, which was the highest and driest point in the field below the castle. The discovery of these archaeological remains from the 1962-1963 excavation led me to want to examine the circumstances surrounding the decision to excavate at Sycharth. I also wanted to understand some things which did not correlate with my own fieldwork, including why the ground plan reproduced in the excavation report in 1966 was not able to be incorporated on to the Ordnance Survey data purchased for the recording of the topographical survey. In my searches through the Hague Sycharth Collection I found a sketch plan of the motte, drawn by DBH in 1962 (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420027) which fitted exactly over the published Site Plan of 1966 (Hague and Warhurst p115). In conversation with Cynthia Warhurst (now Cynthia Gaskell-Brown) in 2003 she confirmed that the published site plan was not accurate and having been able to confirm this independently.

1962

An undated outline for the excavation of Sycharth, written by Cynthia Warhurst, states that …”excavation of the site will be of considerable interest in assessing the worth of such poetry as factual description. Apart from the obvious historical significance of the site, the value of the date of the final destruction of the buildings is considerable as it offers the chance of establishing a satisfactory dating for any pottery sequence which may be found there. This would be of significance to the general study of medieval pottery where firmly dated pieces are still relatively rare.” (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Handwritten Draft of proposed work at Sycharth by Cynthia Warhurst, undated)

An outline of the proposed works written for those people who would attend the excavation was prepared by DBH and CW in 1962, four copies of which are in the Collection. The outline covers the known history of the site, the present state of the earthworks, the proposed excavation strategy and life on the excavation. The outline ends with:

“It is expected that transport from Oswestry for arrivals and departures can be arranged, but owners of bicycles or cars will realise that these make for a more civilized life. Transistor radios, however, do not, and the directors will appreciate the absence of these diabolic machines.” (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Typed Outline of Excavation dated 1962 and initialled D.B.H and CW)

Enid Roberts provided Douglas with a translation of the poem before the excavation began. In a letter dated April the 4th 1962 she sends Douglas a copy, and also enquires as to whether he has got on with Sir Watkin (Williams-Wynn, the owner of the site). She also mentions an excavation happening at Deganwy Castle (under the direction of Leslie Alcock 1961-1967) and that Hogg has been there (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Letter from Enid Roberts to Douglas Hague April 4th 1962). Douglas subsequently made notes on the poem on the 7th of April 1962, and thinks that there may be a description of three sets of buildings and attempts to resolve the descriptions of the buildings for himself (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, ‘Thoughts about Iolo Goch’s poem on Sycharth’ handwritten note by Douglas Hague April 7th 1962). In a subsequent letter on the 19th of May, she thanks Douglas for his letter, but complains of being unable to decipher it properly. However she does suggest that he should speak to FPJ and JDK Lloyd about funds (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Letter from Enid Roberts to Douglas Hague May 19th 1962)

On the 21st of May 1962 Douglas Hague received a letter from Hubert Savory, the Honorary Secretary of the Archaeology and Art Committee of the Board of Celtic Studies informing him

“Dear Hague,

I am sorry to say that the Archaeology and Art Committee of the Board of Celtic Studies was unable to make you a grant for your trial excavation at Sychart (sic) (Denb.) when they met last Thursday. Unfortunately the funds which it had for disposal on this occasion were small and priority had to be given to an excavation which was a contribution to the Committee’s own quinquennial programme; it was also felt that a site as important as Sychart (sic) should not be tackled without the assurance of a large fund, although a single short trench on the top of the mound would probably determine the state of preservation of post-hole systems” (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Letter from H. N. Savory to Douglas Hague May 21st 1962).

DBH wrote to the Ministry of Works on the 31st of July with a list of tools required including Spades, Forks, Pickaxes and “2 Elsan Buckets (chemical toilets) & Hesians screen if possible” (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, List of tools required for Sycharth Castle excavation from Douglas Hague to Ministry of Works, Caernarvon July 31st 1962).

On the 10th of August Douglas Hague was published in Letter to the Editor in The Times newspaper and under the title “Welsh Magic” wrote:

Sir, – I would have thought that there was magic enough in the name of Owain Glyndwr to quicken the pulse of any Welshman, yet an excavation of his stronghold at Sycharth has produced no single Welsh volunteer from the universities he all but founded. Sycharth Castle in Denbighshire was burnt by Prince Henry in 1403; surely no excuse for Welsh apathy.

Yours Faithfully, D. B. Hague Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments in Wales and Monmouthshire, 17, Queens Road, Aberystwyth, Cardiganshire.

(Welsh Magic (Letters to the Editor) D. B. HAGUE..
      The Times Friday, Aug 10, 1962; pg. 9; Issue 55466; col D)

Written on the 14th of August, and published on the 18th of August, a David Jones from Northwick Lodge, Harrow-on-the-Hill wrote to Letters to the Editor and said:

Sir,- The letter from Mr. D.B. Hague of the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments (The Times, August 10) makes sad reading.

It seems almost incredible that no single volunteer from the University of Wales should have offered to assist at the excavation at Sycharth, the main residence of Owain Glyn Dwr, some of the features and amenities of which are described by the poet Iolo Goch, who died shortly before the Welsh rising of 1400.

J D K Lloyd sent Douglas Hague a postcard on the 10th of August misquoting lines from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part 1 Act 3 as:

O.G “I can call diggen from the University!”

Hotspur “Why so can I, or so can any man –

But, will they dig when you call upon them?”

And below it writes

‘All but is a masterly statement !? (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Postcard from J.D.K. Lloyd to Douglas Hague August 10th 1962)

These letters brought about a response from the archaeologist Leslie Alcock, at the time Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University College of South Wales and Monmouthshire (later Cardiff University). Written on the 18th and published on the 21st Mr Alcock said:

“Firstly, students of archaeology in the University are fully committed to a number of excavations within the University. Secondly, most if not all of their teachers consider that the excavation of the Sycharth castle-mound is premature in view of our ignorance of the structural features of sites of that type; it seems preferable to excavate a number of simpler sites, so building up a body of comparative knowledge, before undertaking what must surely be the most complex group of timber buildings in medieval Wales”.

Leslie also indicated that sites dating from the medieval period had indeed been excavated, including Dinas Emrys, Dinas Powys, Dinorben and Deganwy. And that “Notices of most of these discoveries have appeared in the Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies of the University of Wales.”

(In 1964 Leslie Alcock directed an excavation at Langstone Court motte, Monmouthshire in advance of construction works on the M4. A single cutting was made from the motte top through the ditch and across an adjacent counterscarp bank. The results were published in Archaeology in Wales in 1994 in a report written by Kevin Blockley with Paul Courtney. The report said: “Even though the site records are now nearly thirty years old, the publication of this excavation was considered important since very few mottes have been excavated in Wales.”)

Douglas subsequently wrote to David Jones on the 20th of August and David’s reply, dated the 22nd of August thanks Douglas for his letter and says that he has written to Mr Alcock directly in order to explain more clearly what he tried to express in the letter to The Editor, and that he was a subscriber to the B.B.C.S.. He also wished Douglas all the best with his future excavation work (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Letter from David Jones to Douglas Hague August 22nd 1962).

The letters to the times also generated interest, with a letter from an L. E. Leaper of Tunbridge Wells who enquired if there was any archaeological work available in the Aberystwyth area, (Aberystwyth, RCHAMW CS420036, Letter from L. E. Leaper to Douglas Hague August 12th 1962) and in his reply of the 14th of August, Douglas suggested that Mr Leaper call and visit him on the following Monday, and that there may be an opportunity for some weekend and evening excavation work at the old motte at Aberystwyth, the excavation of which was being directed by Douglas’s Royal Commission colleague Chris Houlder. (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Letter from Douglas Hague to L. E. Leaper August 14th 1962)

The finds book for the 1962 excavation records the first find as being recovered by J.I on the 27th of August from Cutting D1, 6 inches below the turf and as being a 16th-17th century pottery rim. In total 79 finds were recovered between the 27th of August and the end of the excavation on the 2nd of September (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Sycharth Castle Finds Book August 27th – Sept 2nd 1962 and July 29th – August 12th 1963).

The archaeological excavations were featured in an article in the Border Counties Advertizer (Oswestry Edition) on the 12th of September 1962. Entitled ‘Excavating the home of Owen Glyndwr’, the piece discussed the poem of Iolo Goch, and the findings of the first season of excavation, as well as featuring a quote from Douglas Hague:

“I have little doubt that next year more of the building will come to light. Whether it will be as grand as that described by Iolo Goch I don’t know – those old poets were terrible rogues and syncophants (sic) – but there is no doubt Owen had a country home here”. (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Newspaper cutting from the Border Counties Advertizer (Oswestry), September 12th 1962)

A letter from the Ministry of Works office in Castle Square, Caernarvon dated the 17th of September from a Mr P Hughes of the Ministry of Works, thanking Douglas for his letter of the 12th of September and telling him not to worry about the loss of a bucket, and that the ‘tackle’ would be collected on when a Ministry of Works team went to Montgomery to work the following week (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW, CS420036, Letter from P. Hughes to Douglas Hague September 17th 1962).

1963

A Summary Account of the 1962 Excavation was prepared by DBH AND CW and typed up on the 24th January 1963. The summary report is of interest because it contains information which was not included in the final report, including the information about the pottery assemblage that “Another half dozen pieces picked up on the surface some years ago have been recovered from Bala and Swansea”. The account also sets out a preliminary further excavation strategy for the 1963 season (Aberystwyth RCAHMW CS 420028 Summary Account of the 1962 Excavation at the Motte and Bailey at Sycharth, Denbighshire by DBH and CW 24th January 1963)

A provisional drawing, dated the 19th of February 1963 of the Sections cut on the motte 1962, shows that post-excavation work was being carried out by Douglas Hague (Aberystwyth RCAHMW CS420036, Sycharth Provisional Drawings of Sections cut on Motte 1962 dated 19th February 1963)

The two page circulars for 1963 were prepared by Celia Warhurst, who then passed them to Douglas for comment and edit. The circulars for the 1963 excavation, to be run from the 27th July to the 18th August contained a brief synopsis of what was then known about the chronology of the site, a note on the findings from the previous season’s excavation and a map giving directions to the site. The reading list was succinct, comprising 4 publications. B. Hope Taylor Excavation of the Motte at Abinger, Surrey – Arch Journal 1950; E. S. Armitage Early Norman Castles of England and Wales; J. E. Lloyd Owain Glendower and J. C. Powys Owen Glendower . A novel.  Camping was offered close to the campsite, and water and milk was to be supplied from Bryn Derw – and there was also the opportunity to take a room at the Wynnstay Arms public house in Llansilin, 2 miles to the north from £6 -6 -0 per week. Transport was provided by the site Land Rover from Oswestry Station, as the bus service was infrequent and the hills around Sycharth and Llansilin meant cycling which was not recommended. (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420023 Sycharth Castle, Llansilin; file containing typescript circulars and programmes compiled by D.B. Hague.1963, undated

Hours of work were 9:00 to 6:00pm and those camping were asked to prepare their own potatoes after breakfast. In the original draft the suggestion was made that daily shopping was to be done by a woman with a car (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420023 Draft Circular for people attending the Sycharth Castle excavation 1963, undated).

The correspondence from those wishing to excavate arrived at Bryn Derw arrived around the 25th or 26th of July (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW, CS420021, Letters from Excavation Volunteers to Douglas Hague 25th July  – 26th July 1963), although C B Dodd, the head teacher of Llansilin Primary School wrote to Cynthia Warhurst on the 23rd of July to ensure that tables and benches from the school would be made available to the excavation team (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420021, Letter from C. B. Dodd to Cynthia Warhurst 23rd July 1963).

A chart showing the arrivals and departures of the excavation team is included in the papers and the excavation team contained people from as far afield as Pwllheli, Widnes, Blackpool and St.Albans. 5 schoolchildren, aged between 16 and 17 are included on the list (Aberystwyth RCAHMW CS420021, Bar Chart of 1963 Excavation Team, undated)   although 3 other 15 year old boys, who had previously worked on the excavation of a Roman Barracks block in Chester, were not listed on the chart (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420021 Sycharth Castle 1963 Excavation Attendance Reply Slips from Stephen Robert White, Philip D. Evans and Andy Nickson, undated).

A reply slip was provided at the bottom of the 2nd page

A receipt, dated the 26th of July 1963 from the Ministry of Works contains a list of all the implements and tools borrowed from them, and although countersigned by a Mr Williams, Douglas appears not to have signed for their use (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420021, Receipt from Mr Williams, Ministry of Works to Douglas Hague 26th July 1963).

The excavation team appear to have eaten very well during their time on site, as bills survive recording their food purchases in numerous shops in Oswestry, including J.Boffey – Purveyors of High-Class Meat and Dodd’s Produce Merchants, as well as The Home and Colonial Stores and the Oswestry Industrial Co-operative Society Limited (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420026, Receipts from Sycharth Castle excavation July 24th 1963 – August 31st 1963).

In 1963 the first find was found on the 29th of July by PCC and was a sherd from Cutting D3. 194 finds were recovered from the 29th of July to the 12th of August (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Sycharth Castle Finds Book August 27th – Sept 2nd 1962 and July 29th – August 12th 1963).

One of the excavation team, Stephen R. White, left his suitcase in the back of the site Land Rover when he was dropped off at Oswestry station, and consequently wrote to Douglas on the 4th of August, enclosing a Ten Shilling note, in order that the suitcase could make the journey from Oswestry to Wallasey station (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420026 Letter from Stephen R. White to Douglas Hague August 4th 1963).

With the second and final season of excavations completed, post-excavation work could begin in earnest.  A letter, dated the 10th of December 1963 from Cynthia Warhurst to DBH. The ditch sections had been re-drawn and Cynthia was in the process of working her way through the pottery, as she informs DBH that he “won’t be able to have it in time” and could he also supply names and addresses for those people she had listed in a letter of the previous week so she could send prints of the excavation to them (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW, CS420036, Letter from Cynthia Warhurst to Douglas Hague December 10th 1963).

On May 15th 1964 Cynthia Warhurst wrote to DBH to inform him that she would be going to Sycharth on the coming weekend to collect pollen samples (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420024 Letter from Cynthia Warhurst to Douglas Hague May 15th 1964).

On May 21st 1964 Cynthia Warhurst wrote to DBH saying she had been to Sycharth last Whitsun (the previous weekend) saying that the ditch (round the motte) was slowly filling with water, and that she hoped our “digging hasn’t set this off” (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420024Letter from Cynthia Warhurst to Douglas Hague May 21st, 1964).

On the 9th of May 1965 Cynthia Warhurst wrote to Douglas informing him that John Lloyd had given a deadline of the 31st of May for the paper on Sycharth to be submitted for publication. Cynthia had prepared the typed summary and asked Douglas to work through this and comment upon it. Cynthia also said:

“To be quite honest I am thoroughly fed up with the thing now + you have not really been very helpful in the last 12 months. I too am busy – so I do beg, indeed insist that you get cracking before getting involved with yet another dig (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW, CS420036, Letter from Cynthia Warhurst to Douglas Hague May 9th 1965).

This deadline appears to have passed by however, as DBH was still writing a draft of the final report on the 14th of June 1965 (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036 Partial draft of final Sycharth Castle report handwritten by Douglas Hague, dated 14th June 1965).

Although the Arch Camb says (Paper received August 1965) (Hague and Warhurst 1966 p127) four letters from J. D. K. Lloyd to Douglas Hague dated November 21st 1966, December 3rd 1966, 8th February 1967 and 15th February 1967 are concerned with the process of ensuring that page-proofs are returned and that a typescript is supplied for the printers to work with (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420037, Letters from JDKLL to DBH).

In a letter dated December 16th 1966 Cynthia writes to DBH to inform him that he has “all the Sycharth material papers + books – I can’t even find my copy of the typescript, so I suppose I sent that to you also in one of the emergencies.” (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW, CS420037, Letter from Cynthia Warhurst to Douglas Hague December 16th 1966).

In a letter dated the June 22nd (which must be June 22nd 1967) Cynthia writes to DBH saying “Midsummer greetings! I see Sycharth has burst upon an astonished world”. Quite a bit better than I had feared.

In a letter dated September 5th 1967 Cynthia Warhurst writes to DBH thanking him for the offprints (of the excavation report) and “I haven’t had time to decipher your comments on slots but I am sure half our problems at Sycharth were due to limited excavation;” (Aberystwyth, RCAHMW, CS420037, Letter from Cynthia Warhurst to Douglas Hague September 5th 1967).

I hope this research had shed some light on a famous excavation and shows the wealth of information available in the RCAHMW archives.

References

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Handwritten Draft of proposed work at Sycharth by Cynthia Warhurst, 1962 undated

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420027 Sketch Plan of Motte

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420021 Draft Circular for people attending the Sycharth Castle excavation 1963, undated

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420023 Sycharth Castle, Llansilin; file containing typescript circulars and programmes compiled by D.B. Hague.1963, undated

Aberystwyth RCAHMW CS420021, Bar Chart of 1963 Sycharth Castle Excavation Team, undated

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420021 Sycharth Castle 1963 Excavation Attendance Reply Slips from Stephen Robert White, Philip D. Evans and Andy Nickson, undated

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Typed Outline of Sycharth Castle Excavation dated 1962 and initialled D.B.H and CW, undated

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Letter from Enid Roberts to Douglas Hague April 4th 1962

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, ‘Thoughts about Iolo Goch’s poem on Sycharth’ handwritten note by Douglas Hague April 7th 1962

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Letter from Enid Roberts to Douglas Hague May 19th 1962

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Letter from H. N. Savory to Douglas Hague May 21st 1962

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, List of tools required for Sycharth Castle excavation from Douglas Hague to Ministry of Works, Caernarvon July 31st 1962

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Postcard from J.D.K. Lloyd to Douglas Hague August 10th 1962

Aberystwyth, RCHAMW CS420036, Letter from L. E. Leaper to Douglas Hague August 12th 1962

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Letter from Douglas Hague to L. E. Leaper August 14th 1962

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Letter from David Jones to Douglas Hague August 22nd 1962

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Sycharth Castle Finds Book August 27th – Sept 2nd 1962 and July 29th – August 12th 1963

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036, Newspaper cutting from the Border Counties Advertizer (Oswestry), September 12th 1962

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW, CS420036, Letter from P. Hughes to Douglas Hague September 17th 1962

Aberystwyth RCAHMW CS 420028 Summary Account of the 1962 Excavation at the Motte and Bailey at Sycharth, Denbighshire by DBH and CW 24th January 1963

Aberystwyth RCAHMW CS420036, Sycharth Provisional Drawings of Sections cut on Motte 1962 dated 19th February 1963

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420021, Letter from C. B. Dodd to Cynthia Warhurst 23rd July 1963

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420026, Receipts from Sycharth Castle excavation July 24th 1963 – August 31st 1963

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW, CS420021, Letters from Excavation Volunteers to Douglas Hague 25th July – 26th July 1963

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420021, Receipt from Mr Williams, Ministry of Works to Douglas Hague 26th July 1963

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420026 Letter from Stephen R. White to Douglas Hague August 4th 1963

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW, CS420036, Letter from Cynthia Warhurst to Douglas Hague December 10th 1963

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420024 Letter from Cynthia Warhurst to Douglas Hague May 15th 1964

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420024Letter from Cynthia Warhurst to Douglas Hague May 21st, 1964

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW, CS420036, Letter from Cynthia Warhurst to Douglas Hague May 9th 1965

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW, CS420037, Letter from Cynthia Warhurst to Douglas Hague December 16th 1966

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW, CS420037, Letter from Cynthia Warhurst to Douglas Hague September 5th 1967

Aberystwyth, RCAHMW CS420036 Partial draft of final Sycharth Castle report handwritten by Douglas Hague, dated 14th June 1965

Barker and Higham 2004 Timber Castles BT Batsford London

Blockley, K with Courtney, P Langstone Court Motte Monmouthshire: Excavations by Leslie Alcock Archaeology in Wales 1994 Volume 34 Council for British Archaeology: Wales 17-25

Davies, R.R. Davies ‘The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dŵr’,

Hague, D, B, and Warhurst, C, 1966 Excavation at Sycharth Arch Camb Vol 115

Smith, S, G 2003 Report on the Geophysical and Historical Survey at Sycharth Castle, Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, 52, 17-36

Welsh Magic (Letters to the Editor) LESLIE ALCOCK.  The Times Tuesday, Aug 21, 1962; pg. 9; Issue 55475; col F

(Welsh Magic (Letters to the Editor) D. B. HAGUE. The Times Friday, Aug 10, 1962; pg. 9; Issue 55466; col D)

Welsh Magic (Letters to the Editor) DAVID JONES. The Times Saturday, Aug 18, 1962; pg. 7; Issue 55473; col F

Aberystwyth RCAHMW C420027 D.B. Hague Sycharth Collection Sycharth Castle, Llansilin; one field drawing and two provisional sketches produced by Douglas Hague 1962.

We Continue…! Or welcome to year two.

So what have I been doing since I last wrote a blog post? Well, researching and writing of course! Actually, I thought as I’m about to start Year Two of my PhD I’d give you – the people who are making this whole adventure possible – a progress report on where I am up to with the research process.

Research Progress – Parks:

When I began the research process, the existence of the medieval park, particularly in North Wales was considered to be an ‘import’. That is to say that the examples identified were created during the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century by incoming Lords. These lords, and their new Lordships, which King Edward I created in large areas of North East Wales were shown to have ‘new’ parks in them by the documentary evidence for their creation. The general consensus among historians was that Welsh royalty had hunted where they wished, and that there had been no requirement for management and regulation of hunting,hunter and hunted.

The last study of the quantity and distribution of medieval parks in Wales had been published in 1983 as part of a national gazetteer of England, and although useful as a starting point it did not contain any distribution maps of the parks identified. In north Wales eight parks were identified, whilst for Shropshire (within my defined study are of the north west of the county) there were ten. The current total I have is forty eight, an increase of thirty parks.

Some of these parks were identified in a 1994 study by Shropshire County Council, whilst others had been recorded in documentary sources not utilised in the 1983 study. An important part of my research is to attempt to identify,from an archaeological perspective, the physical location of these parks on the ground and produce a distribution map which can be used by future researchers to refine my work further.

Research Progress – Gardens:

The historical understanding of high-status medieval gardens has, until fairly recently, been a subject which historians have primarily been the most prolific in understanding and interpreting. Garden archaeology, as a discipline in its own right has benefited greatly from the application of non-intrusive techniques, such as Geophysical Survey and LiDAR, where both the surface of the ground, and the buried features beneath can be interpreted without the need for excavation. Whilst not a perfect science, it does provide an important extra dimension to the research process.

The definitive text, entitled ‘Mediaeval Gardens’, was published in 1981. Since then there has been no subsequent attempt to produce a successor to this volume, and from my own point of view I have been concentrating on collating evidence, rather than working on its interpretation. However, during this process I have managed to identify the location of the royal garden of Caernarfon Castle, and also understand how it was the most sophisticated in design of all the Edwardian castle gardens, with water playing a very important role in its design.

Research Progress – Designed Landscapes: Without doubt, the most important accomplishment this year has been the submission of an article to the journal ‘Archaeology in Wales’ on the medieval designed landscape around Dolbadarn Castle in north-west Wales. To have my paper accepted, containing revolutionary ideas about the way the castle functioned is something I am incredibly proud of, and as soon as it is published, I will be putting the paper on my blog.

Finally – a note about the crowd funding page at http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks

It has had 2,400 shares since it was set up and raised £1000 towards my course fees. I can’t thank all of you enough, and if you think someone else would enjoy reading what I do, please share it with them.

The Medieval Magic in Pit T349

The cover of  the Tywysogion 'Princes' book published to accompany the S4C series

The cover of the Tywysogion ‘Princes’ book published to accompany the S4C series

It is now eleven years since I began work as a researcher and archaeologist on the series Tywysogion ‘Princes’, which was broadcast in 2007. As part of the research work, I visited a number of museums, foraging for stories in the artefacts held there which could become part of the series. One of the stories which did not end up in the finished series was the story of pit T349 .

During the late 1960s and beginning of the 1970s around the castles and towns of Rhuddlan was the place to dig. For several reasons, several areas were opened for archaeological excavations, with a book eventually published about the work: http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/cba_rr/rr95.cfm

Note that castles and towns – not castle and town – is the correct form in this instance.

The original Rhuddlan Castle on the right with the Edwardian Rhuddlan Castle on the left. The Anglo-Saxon burgh, the Welsh llys and the Norman town were all in the fields immediately above the motte of the Castle. The Edwardian town is where modern Rhuddlan is  today. .gov.uk/cms/hwbcontent/Shared%20Documents/VTC/ngfl/history/bdag/castles/projects/castles/units/rhuddlan/imagebank/aerial_gtj.jpg

The original Rhuddlan Castle on the right with the Edwardian Rhuddlan Castle on the left. The Anglo-Saxon burgh, the Welsh llys and the Norman town were all in the fields immediately above the motte of the Castle. The Edwardian town is in the top left of the picture where modern Rhuddlan is today.

https://hwb.wales.gov.uk/cms/hwbcontent/Shared%20Documents/VTC/ngfl/history/bdag/castles/projects/castles/units/rhuddlan/imagebank/aerial_gtj.jpg

Excavation site 'T' is marked with a red dot

Excavation site ‘T’ is marked with a red dot

The excavation site ‘T’ was examining what happened to the ditch around the old Norman town as the new castle and associated town were constructed. Pit T349 was cut into the top of the ditch after it had been filled and levelled.

T349 is to be seen at the top of the image

T349 is to be seen at the top of the image

A quote from the excavation report describes T349 far better than I ever could.

Pit T349 (Site T ) deserves special comment. It appeared to have been dug hhrough the final infill of Ditch III, ascribed above to the summer of 1277. The collection of objects it contained is remarkable. The barrel padlock No 86, with a date range within the 11th and 12th centuries, was found with bucket handle No 75 and chain No and the finely worked, unused Whetstone MSF 32 above a layer of lead Which had been poured into the pit around some wooden object. If the collection were prehistoric Would undoubtedly what it labelled ritual. Even around 1277 its deposition suggests some deliberate acts connected with changes in control and perhaps the moving of castle and borough sites.

So what kind of magic is happening here? Finding examples of such events are very rare. Usually, there is a magical element in the process of burying a person, and a large number of bodies have been excavated with something ‘additional’ to the usual which is included as someone is placed in their grave. What might be visible here is the burial of the Welsh community by the Welsh themselves as the new castle is constructed. Interestingly, and something not raised in the original report, is who gave permission for this event to take place? To melt the Lead a fire would have been required, and the items deposited would have to be collected together, items the archaeologist considered were already old when they were deposited. Who carved the now lost wooden object, and what exactly was it? Finally, how many people were part of this important ceremony, and who were they? As I have discovered during this research, this isn’t the only example of magic being used in the medieval period I’ve discovered.

Aberth yn Rhuddlan…ond i pwy a pam?

Un o’r pethau sydd wedi dod yn amlwg yn ystod fy ngwaith ymchwil ac ysgrifennu y blog yma ydi cynlleied o bobl sy’n siarad Cymraeg – neu yn hytrach – yn defnyddio cyfryngau cymdeithasol trwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg – sydd yn dilyn a blog. Felly, rhaid codi ymwybyddiaeth o’r gwaith dwi’n gwneud ar eich archaeoleg, hanes a llenyddiaeth chi.

Clawr llyfr 'Tywysogion' gafodd ei gyhoeddi i cyd-fynd efo'r gyfres ar S4C

Clawr llyfr ‘Tywysogion’ gafodd ei gyhoeddi i cyd-fynd efo’r gyfres ar S4C

Mae’n unarddeg mlynedd rwan ers i mi gychwyn fel yr ymchwilydd ac archaeolegydd ar gyfres ‘Tywysogion’. Fel rhan o’r gwaith, roedd rhaid ymweld a nifer o amgueddfeydd, a chwilota am straeon yn y creiriau i fod yn rhan o’r gyfres. Un o’r straeon na orfenodd i fynu yn y gyfres orfennedig yw hanes ceubwll T349.

Yn ystod diwedd y 1960au a chychwyn y 1970au o amgylch cestyll a trefi Rhuddlan oedd y lle i dyllu. Am nifer o rhesymmau, agorwyd nifer o mannau cloddio archaeolegol, ac yn y diwedd cyhoeddwyd gyfrol am y gwaith: http://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archives/view/cba_rr/rr95.cfm

Nodwch mae cestyll a trefi – nid castell a tref – yw’r geiriau cywir.

Castell gwreiddiol Rhuddlan ar y dde gyda castell Edwardaidd Rhuddlan ar y chwith. Roedd y burgh Eingl Sacsonaidd, y Llys Cymreig ac y Tref Normanaidd yn a caeau yn union uwchben mwnt y Castell. Mae'r tref Edwardiadd lle mae Rhuddlan fodern heddiw https://hwb.wales.gov.uk/cms/hwbcontent/Shared%20Documents/VTC/ngfl/history/bdag/castles/projects/castles/units/rhuddlan/imagebank/aerial_gtj.jpg

Castell gwreiddiol Rhuddlan ar y dde gyda castell Edwardaidd Rhuddlan ar y chwith. Roedd y burgh Eingl Sacsonaidd, y Llys Cymreig ac y Tref Normanaidd yn a caeau yn union uwchben mwnt y Castell. Mae’r tref Edwardiadd lle mae Rhuddlan fodern heddiw
https://hwb.wales.gov.uk/cms/hwbcontent/Shared%20Documents/VTC/ngfl/history/bdag/castles/projects/castles/units/rhuddlan/imagebank/aerial_gtj.jpg

Safle cloddio 'T' wedi marcio a dot coch

Safle cloddio ‘T’ wedi marcio a dot coch

Roedd y cloddio yn safle ‘T’ yn edrych ar beth digwyddodd i ffos yr hen dref Normanaidd wrth i’r castell a dref newydd cael ei godi. Roedd ceubwll T349 wedi ei dori i fewn i dop y ffos wedi iddo gael ei ail-lenwi.

Mae T349 i'w weld ar dop y tudalen

Mae T349 i’w weld ar dop y tudalen

Rhaid dyfynnu adroddiad yr archaeolegydd yn y man yma.

Pit T349 (Site T) deserves special comment. It appeared to have been dug through the final infill of Ditch III, ascribed above to the summer of 1277. The collection of objects it contained is remarkable. The barrel padlock No 86, with a possible date range within the 11th and 12th centuries, was found with bucket handle No 75 and chain No 80 and the finely worked, unused whetstone MSF 32 above a layer of lead which had been poured into the pit around some wooden object. If the collection were prehistoric it would undoubtedly be labelled ritual. Even around 1277 its deposition suggests some deliberate act connected with changes in control and perhaps the moving of castle and borough sites.

Felly, pa fath o hud a lledrith sydd yn digwydd yma? Mae darganfod esiampl o digwyddiadau fel hyn yn anarferol iawn. Fel arfer, gwelir hud a lledrith yn rhan o’r brocess o gladdu unigolyn, a mae nifer helaeth o cyrff wedi dod i’r amlwg yn dangos fod rhywbeth ‘ychwanegol’ i’r arferol wedi cael ei cynnwys wrth rhoi y person yn y bedd. Tybed be a welir yma ydi claddu cymuned Cymraeg gan y Cymru wrth i’r castell newydd godi. Yn diddorol, a rhywbeth na godwyd yn y adroddiad gwreiddiol, pwy rhoddodd caniatad i’r digwyddaid yma? I toddi y Plwm rhaid cael tan boeth, a rhaid hefyd casglu y creiriau yma at ei gilydd, rhai mae’r archaeolegydd yn meddwl oedd yn hen ac wedi cael ei cadw. Pwy cerfiodd y gwrthrych pren, a beth yn union oedd hi? Yn olaf, faint o bobl oedd yn rhan o’r serimoni arbennig yma, a pwy oeddyn nhw? Fel dwi wedi darganfod yn ystod y gwaith yma, nid hwn yw’r unig esiampl o hud a lledrith yn cael ei ddefnyddio yn ystod yr oesoedd canol.

Adventures in Space and Time…

This week, I’ve been involved with two different groups and their respective meetings. On Monday I was showing members of Dyddio Hen Dai Cymreig / Dating Old Welsh Houses http://www.datingoldwelshhouses.co.uk/index.html around the site of a medieval llys or manor house known as Sycharth – if you want to know more about Sycharth – my blog posts:

http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/to-begin-at-the-beginning-or-has-anyone-seen-that-confounded-bridge/

http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/standing-on-the-toes-of-giants/

http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/06/16/the-revolution-will-be-televised/

will provide you with some context of why I was asked to show this group around. Sycharth (if you’ve either read the above blog posts or know already) was burnt down in the early part of the fifteenth century by Prince Hal – later King Henry V – and his men. With no house to visit – the group wanted to see how the poem which described the site compared to the archaeology excavated in the 1962-63 and 2003 and the geophysical survey undertaken in 1997 and 2009.

Members of DOWH walking up to the site of Sycharth. The ditch around the garden is visible to the right of the central group of walkers.

Members of DOWH walking up to the site of Sycharth. The ditch around the garden is visible to the right of the central group of walkers.

The work of DOWH since their inception in 2004 as the Snowdonia Dendrochronology Project has now funded over 100 denrochronological dates. Go to http://www.scribd.com/doc/53735685/Dendrochronology if you want to know more about this scientific technique.

Standing at the entrance to the llys at Sycharth and explaining how the poem describes the both it and the landscape around it.

Standing at the entrance to the llys at Sycharth and explaining how the poem describes the both the llys and the landscape around it.

On Saturday I was in Aberystwyth giving a version of a blog post which was published on the ‘Beyond Borders’ website in August 2013. http://beyondborders-medievalblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/love-like-hare-monuments-and.html This was at the Canolfan Uwchefrydiau Cymreig a Cheltaidd / Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies http://www.wales.ac.uk/en/CentreforAdvancedWelshCelticStudies/IntroductiontotheCentre.aspx for their Fforwm Beirdd yr Uchelwyr / Poets of the Nobility Forum.

The Centre brought together five researchers who are all looking at different aspects of the Poets and their poetry. As the only archaeologist there it was interesting to see literature specialists would take to my research, and I’m pleased that I had such a positive response to my research and how I am using the poetry to inform my archaeological and historical research.

Left to Right: Professor Dafydd Johnston, Dr Ann Parry Owen, Dr Lowri Haf Morgans, Hanna Hopwood, Spencer Gavin Smith, Dr Cynfael Lake.

Left to Right: Professor Dafydd Johnston, Dr Ann Parry Owen, Dr Lowri Haf Morgans, Hanna Hopwood, Spencer Gavin Smith, Dr Cynfael Lake.

Avengers Assemble…Part II

In 1378 a Mercenary Captain fighting in the Hundred Years War was assassinated. His name was Owain ap Thomas, and he was a Welshman fighting for the French against the English, and his assassination was ordered by the English Crown.

Assassination of Yvain de Galles at the siege of the castle of Mortagne-sur-Gironde - from Jean de Wavrin’s 'Chronique d’Angleterre' British Library Royal 14 e iv

Assassination of Yvain de Galles at the siege of the castle of Mortagne-sur-Gironde – from Jean de Wavrin’s ‘Chronique d’Angleterre’ British Library Royal 14 e iv


[Owain is on the right falling backwards – his assassin, John Lamb, is behind him].

This might sound a sub-plot from ‘Game of Thrones’, but this was all very real and had repercussions which we are only just really beginning to understand in terms of the history, archaeology, literature and art history of this particular man.

Owain ap Thomas was also known as Owain Lawgoch or Yvain de Galles. His career as a mercenary captain in France, Switzerland and Guernsey, lasted from what the documentary sources can tell us from 1363 to 1378. He was buried in the nearby chapel dedicated to St.Leger, and his mercenary company continued on, fighting for the French Crown without him.

The story of Owain ap Thomas was written about by in A.D. Carr (1991). Owen of Wales: The End of the House of Gwynedd. University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1064-8. Copies are hard to find, but if you are interested in the period you should try and find a copy. The book identified the manors (consisting of a manor house and associated land) which Owain left behind when he went to France, and these were in Powys, Gloucestershire, Cheshire and Surrey. Inquisitions were held by the authorities in each of these places to find out when he had left and what property and possessions he had left behind.

The manor in Surrey was at Tatsfield (Latitude 51.287393; Longitude 0.029869080) and had been in Owain’s family for three generations. His grandfather Rhodri ap Gruffudd (brother of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd who had been Prince of Gwynedd until his death in 1282) had come into possession of the manor in about 1310, and it belonged to his son Thomas from 1315 to 1363.

I’ve been researching the archaeological evidence for the estates of Owain Lawgoch since 2004, and a paper on them was included in a book published in 2008 entitled ‘Mercenaries and Paid Men: The Mercenary Identity in the Middle Ages’. You can download a copy of the paper from http://works.bepress.com/spencer_gavin_smith/ The history of Tatsfield in the years after 1363 is for me, particularly fascinating. The manor itself ceased to exist as an administrative entity after Owain left, and it was handed over to the lords of the adjoining manor of Titsey (Latitude 51.278615; Longitude 0.014226437). They constructed a court house in Tatsfield to deal with the administration of the cases that happened there, but they continued only to live in Titsey.

I directed an excavation in Tatsfield in 2004, and the evidence from this and from the historical evidence I’ve also been able to research, suggests that the Manor House there was dealt with in the same way the Llysoedd were removed during the Edwardian Conquest (see http://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/avengers-assemble-but-where/). The paucity of building materials left on the site suggested careful dismantling rather than simply pushing the building over and rendering it unusable. Doing this would leave a visible marker and a place where assembly could happen, and the proximity to London – only 20 miles to Westminster – would have been an even more potent and visible reminder than a series of castles along the north Wales coast.