Archaeology, Cymru, Europe, Ewrop, History, Uncategorized, Wales

New Shoots and Tree Roots

Apologies for the lack of activity. I have been chronically unwell (again). That, coupled with the shear volume of material I had collected, and unfortunately also curated, meant I felt I had nothing constructive to offer by the way of a blog post. Finally however, my last operation – hopefully for a while at least – will be on the 22nd of April 2016, so I expect to be able to write happily unencumbered by the usual ever growing rock army of kidney stones.

In among all this internal excitement I have also moved house. We (my wife and our three cats) now live in the flat which used to belong to my paternal grandparents. Built in the 1970s, it is light, bright and airy and most importantly my desk is now by a big window rather than tucked away in the far corner of the last place we lived.

As part of the moving in process I decided I would re-establish the container garden my grandfather maintained, and pots and soil in hand I planted up some heather and lavender and replanted my wife’s strawberry plant. As I stood and admired my handy work from the kitchen window, arm deep in washing up suds, I decided I would work on the material for my PhD chapter on gardens. It is by far the weakest chapter in terms of content and structure, but the strongest in terms of the new discoveries I have made during the research process. Unfortunately, many of these ideas have gone straight into the lecturing notes and Power Point presentations, rather than into the chapter as they should have.

Last summer I was fortunate enough to be one of two archaeologists working on an archaeological excavation in Rhuddlan (Latitude 53.288595; Longitude -3.463749). I’ve blogged about Rhuddlan previously, see:

https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/our-dark-garden/

and

https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2014/06/01/the-medieval-magic-in-pit-t349/

for some context to the area of North Wales I’m talking about.

The excavation was undertaken for a client who had planning permission to build a new house within a medieval burgage plot directly opposite the north-west corner of the Edwardian castle [A burgage was a town rental property owned by a king or lord. The burgage usually, and distinctly, consisted of a house on a long and narrow plot of land with a narrow street frontage]. A preceding archaeological evaluation, which examined only a small percentage of the total area of the site found medieval and post-medieval pottery and hints of some kind of ditch system within the plot.

Documentary research established that the front of the burgage plot was now lost under part of a row of nineteenth century cottages, but the rear of the plot, as far as all the evidence indicated had been unencumbered by buildings and appeared to have always served as a garden in one form or another. My fellow archaeologist and I employed the services of a mechanical excavator to remove the considerable overburden dumped on the plot from the building of both the cottages at the front of the plot but also from the construction of another row of nineteenth century cottages to the western side of the plot.

The archaeological excavation of the medieval deposits revealed that the rear of the plot had not been occupied by a property, but had served as open space within which over the following centuries a series of pits and ditches had been dug, some of which had animal bone within them. However it was something far more ephemeral which was uncovered that I was more excited about for my PhD research.

The natural ground surface (that is the surface into which we find cut the earliest archaeological deposits on any site) was on one part of the site imprinted with the ends of tree roots. This was where a tree had established itself within the soil higher up than the natural and had then tried to extend its tree roots through the natural. In this case, the natural was a very hard and impermeable clay, meaning the tree roots left ‘dents’ as it tried to force its way into the ground.

Tree Roots Not Marked
The site post excavation (after all excavation had been completed). Rhuddlan Edwardian Castle is at the top of the picture. Scale 1x1m.
Tree Roots Marked
The indentations within the red circle are those left by the tree roots as they tried to push through the natural clay.

Why are tree root indentations exciting? The Edwardian castle garden was only 80 metres (262 feet) away and planted on identical geology. Although all above ground evidence, except for the well within the garden has disappeared, the excavations reveal the kind of archaeological evidence we should expect if an excavation on the site of the Edwardian Castle garden was undertaken. And I haven’t given up on the idea that I could be the person to lead and carry out that excavation.

FURTHER INFORMATION:

My Manchester Metropolitan University page – which describes the aims and objectives of my PhD research:

http://www2.mmu.ac.uk/hpp/research/current-phd-students/

You can also help fund my research – which has reached its original funding target. However if you like what you read, then you can still donate.

http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks

My Academia.edu page – where you can download my published research:

http://mmu.academia.edu/SpencerGavinSmith

 

 

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Way out in the Country

My Manchester Metropolitan University page: http://www2.mmu.ac.uk/hpp/research/current-phd-students/

Please help fund my research: http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks – just over 50% funded to date.

My Academia.edu page: http://mmu.academia.edu/SpencerGavinSmith

This week I’m looking at the wider world around Dolbadarn Castle (Latitude 53.116526; Longitude -4.114234) after spending the last three weeks in these blog posts:

https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/lector-si-monumentum-requiris-circumspice/

https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/facial-recognition/

https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/the-lady-of-wales-and-her-secret-garden/

looking at the ‘male’ and ‘female’ sides of the structure and architecture. But how does this structure relate to the wider world in which it was constructed? The answer interestingly, has been staring everyone in the face since the very beginning. Llanberis as a village saw little growth in the post-medieval period until two separate factors, the Industrial Revolution and the tourist trade changed the perception of the landscape and to a greater and a lesser extent respectively the landscape itself. The former need not detain us here, but the latter is important in terms of how visitors to this part of Snowdonia interacted with their surroundings.

After the first pioneering tourists in the 1770s came the landscape painters. After the landscape painters, some of whom exhibited in places where their work was viewed by the British upper classes, came Royalty. They wanted, it seems, to see what all the fuss was about in this part of the country. Queen Victoria arrived in 1832. To honour her visit there was a Royal Victoria Hotel, a Victoria Terrace, a Pont Victoria ‘Victoria Bridge’ and a plantation of trees named ‘Coed Victoria’ – Victoria’s Trees. The hotel was constructed in the early nineteenth century to cater for the burgeoning tourist trade and was extended in late nineteenth century.

'Parc Bach' on the 1st edition O.S. map to the west of Dolbadarn Castle. 'Parc Bach' is Welsh for Little Park.
‘Parc Bach’ on the 1st edition O.S. map to the west of Dolbadarn Castle. ‘Parc Bach’ is Welsh for Little Park.

On the 1st edition Ordnance Survey map – dated 1888 – in addition to the panoply of ‘Victoria’ names there is an area to the west of the castle called ‘Parc Bach’, in English ‘Little Park’. The name ‘Parc Bach’ represents a survival of the Welsh royal landscape and provides an additional piece of evidence for the sophistication of Llywelyn and Joan’s castle.

A little, or inner park was a park which was constructed in close proximity to a high-status residence from the twelfth century onwards. A little park could serve a variety of purposes, but was principally designed to serve as a backdrop to the buildings, and could also serve as a venue for staged events or entertainments. A window in the western gable end of the Joan’s hall would allow a view into the park, and an examples of this type of arrangement are known from Woodstock (Oxfordshire) and Windsor (Berkshire).

All the evidence presented in the last four blog posts has been recovered without the use of archaeological excavation and by using evidence derived from the maps, fieldwork and the visible architecture and I hope it has provided you with food for thought. In the next blog post we’ll be on the other side of my study area in Shropshire, looking at an early seventeenth century map and what it can tell us.

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Trwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg (A blog post through the medium of Welsh)

Wythnos yma, dwi wedi dewis ysgrifennu am fy ngwaith ymchwil trwy gyfrwng y Gymraeg. Er mae fy nhreuthawd PhD yn cael ei ysgrifennu yn Saesneg, mae rhan helaeth o’r cerddi dwi’n trafod ond ar gael yn ei iaith gwreiddiol, sef yr iaith Gymraeg. Mae cerddi ‘Beirdd yr Uchelwyr’, sydd wrthi yn cael ei golygu gan staff y Ganolfan Uwchefrydiau Cymreig a Cheltaidd Prifysgol Cymru yn Aberystwyth a cyhoeddi fel cyfres, yn gallu helpu ateb cwestiynnau am hanes ac archaeoleg y cyfnod.
http://www.wales.ac.uk/cy/YGanolfanGeltaidd/ResearchProjects/CompletedProjects/PoetsoftheNobility/CyflwyniadProsiect.aspx Rhaid cynnwys hefyd y safle we http://www.dafyddapgwilym.net/index_cym.php gan Brifysgol Abertawe ar waith y bardd Dafydd ap Gwilym

Mae cerdd ‘Yr Eos a’r Frân’ gan Dafydd ap Gwilym yn son am Nghoed Eutun, ger tref ganoloesol Wrtyn yn Sir Dinbych. Sgwenais yn y blog mis Mai blwyddyn diwethaf am hanes y nghoed Eutun /Parc Eutun, https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/05/19/making-the-familiar-unfamiliar/ ond nid am yr eos a oedd yn byw yn y parc. Mae’r Eos angen cynefin sy’n cynnwys coedlanoedd a prysgwydd, a mae’r cynefin yma yn cael ei creu gan dynion y tywysog sy’n gyfrifol am y coed.

Eos
Eos

Fel archaeolegydd, dwi’n tueddu i feddwl fod colled yr Eos i wneud a newidiadau i sut mae’r parc yn cael ei ddefnyddio, gyda llai o bwyslais ar gadw cydbwysedd i’r cynefin o mwy o bwyslais ar gwneud pres trwy rhentu y tir allan i ffermwyr lleol.

Mae cestyll y mers yn cael ei cynwys yn y cerddi. Ysgrifenodd y bardd Iolo Goch yn y gerdd i Ieuan ab Einion am llys ‘Fulk’, a llai o bres yn cael gwario arno. Mae’r enw Fulk yn perthyn i deulu Fitz Warine oedd yn cysylltiedig a castell Whittington, nawr yn Sir Amwythig. Mae’r dogfennau sy’n son am gastell Whittington ar yr un pryd mae Iolo yn ysgrifennu y gerdd yn egluro fod llai o arian wedi cael ei gwario ar gadw y castell mewn cyflwr da – ond bod y gardd sy’n perthyn i’r castell mewn cyflwr da ac yn werth pres.

A Gateway at Whittington Castle, Salop 1794 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851  Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-whittington-shropshire-the-castle-gatehouse-d00377
A Gateway at Whittington Castle, Salop 1794 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/turner-whittington-shropshire-the-castle-gatehouse-d00377

Dwi’n gobeithio ellir y blog yma codi ymwybyddiaeth am fyng ngwaith ymchwil ar gyfer PhD – a hefyd y ffaith nid oes pres ymchwil ar gael i wneud y gwaith yma. I helpu’r achos, sefydlais tudalen lle ellir cyfrannu at talu ffi y gradd http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks Os fedrwch helpu, diolch yn fawr iawn am eich cymorth yn yr achos yma.

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And now for something completely different…click on my picture to watch the video…

Something a little different this week. A Vlog filmed at Flint Castle. If you think you can help me with my research. Visit my page at:  http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks
Something a little different this week. A Vlog filmed at Flint Castle. If you think you can help me fund my research. Visit my page at: http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks

(And if you can edit the sound to reduce the wind noise – thank you very much).

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From Psychiatrists to Peter Rabbit

My apologies for not putting up a blog post in quite a while, so I hope you will read this one in its entirety, and if you think someone else should read it, please pass it on.

On the 6th of December 2013 I was at work when I suffered what can best be described as the mother and father of depressive panic attacks. It really frightened me and thinking of the consequences of what I might do to myself in this mood, I drove myself straight to my Doctor’s Surgery and asked to see someone. The receptionist was really patient with me, especially after she told me there was no Dr. available to see me and I pointed out I wasn’t leaving, because I was scared of walking away from a situation where I would receive help.

The Dr. who saw me took one look at me, asked me a couple of questions and immediately phoned to make me an appointment with the mental health team at one of the major hospitals. I was taken there and after a brief conversation with a nurse was put in a quiet ‘special’ room to wait for a full assessment. The room had very heavy furniture with rounded edges and no easy way to get your fingers underneath to lift any of it up. The windows were bolted shut, the pictures screwed to the wall and a panic button fitted behind where the assessor was to sit. I suppose people had been there in far angrier moods than me.

The assessment was an opportunity to talk. I was allowed to ramble on, follow tangents and let everything tumble out of my mouth in an unfocussed narrative. Much is written about how writing a PhD can be detrimental to your mental health, but not much is written about when a PhD is the glue that binds your mental health together. I have a good life, as many people do who suffer mental health issues, but when that indefinable something gets in under your skin and the tiny problems you are experiencing start to expand and fill your every thought. Well, you get the picture.

I’ve been ill before, and I mean physically ill. I’ve had a couple of operations on my kidneys and my gall bladder out. Add to that some other scars from various other adventures and I have parts of my skin that look like a dog chew toy. Physical pain I can handle, junior doctors at the end of my bed staring at my testicles I can handle, but letting someone look inside your head is a very different experience indeed. In one sense, writing these blog posts are letting people inside my head, by explaining the inner workings of how I come to work out various concepts and points of my thesis. In another sense, many of you don’t know me as a person and form your opinions of me from what I write on here, and my writing has meant that my first term was funded by you, and I in turn am inspired by your faith in me.

After the assessment by a psychiatrist I was allowed home and this was the start of my recovery. In order to recover from something like this you have to admit that you understand that there are problems, and that you need to address each one as an individual rather than screw them up into one big ball which is then juggled around as one big worry. Making sure I fulfilled my obligations to you, the people who support me by reading the blog and contributing to my PhD fee payment fund http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks is something which I have to admit worried me and was rolled up in my big ball.

Thanks to the dispassionate honesty of my psychiatrist, the love of my family and the support of three friends in particular – you know who you are – I’ve been able to work through my problems and I’m now well enough, both physically and mentally, to be able to continue with the writing process and to able to talk about my latest discovery, which all starts with the ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tale_of_Peter_Rabbit by Beatrix Potter.

One of my friends has just given birth, and she and her husband have decorated the nursery. They chose to put up illustrations from ‘The Tale of Peter Rabbit’. I remembered that the illustrations were drawn in the garden of Gwaynynog Hall near Denbigh (Latitude 53.177178; Longitude -3.445713) and so posted a link to the BBC News article http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/north_east/4441615.stm to show her.

Galch Hill

And then I thought. Hang on a minute. Where exactly is Gwaynynog Hall? So, I checked my maps and it lies within one of Denbigh’s medieval parks. Which then made me think that Peter Rabbit, or at least the rabbits that Beatrix Potter was inspired by when she created Peter Rabbit, arrived in the area during the medieval period. Whether these were imported by English or Welsh royalty is a little bit more difficult to establish without archaeological excavation of the medieval rabbit warren locations, but it is an important step forward in understanding the landscape. And I’ll be sure to tell my friends’s newborn daughter someday how she helped me start writing again.

If anything in the first part of this blog post struck a chord, you could try the following websites:

http://www.mind.org.uk

http://bemindful.co.uk

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Edits and Contracts

Just to let everyone know I’m completing the edits on a paper for ‘Mining History’ (which I mentioned last week), and I’ve got a contract to read and sign for a book contribution. Normal service will be resumed next week. In the mean time, please have a look at previous blog entries and if you feel inclined, contribute to my PhD research fund.

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Enroled…Thank you so much! Let’s keep the adventure going…

So now I’m back in the fold of the academic community.

MMU_Logo

And I wouldn’t be here with the help of the online community of people who may never have met me, but have read my posts on this blog and felt able to contribute to funding my research.

Am I nervous about restarting? Yes. But, having been able to keep a toe in academia through attending conferences and seeing material published in books and journals whilst I have been a little bit out of the loop is very comforting.

Time I feel to provide a comprehensive update of what I am writing about and why it needs to be done.

My PhD will consist of four chapters when completed. These will be:

1. Introduction to the topic and previous research undertaken.

2. Parks

3. Gardens

4. Temporary and Permanent Designed Landscapes

In addition to these, there is a Bibliography and a Gazetteer – created so each landscape component can be entered onto either a regional or national archaeological database.

Some of the people mentioned in the research will be be very familiar to you. The ‘big’ names like Owain Glyn Dŵr or Edward I make an appearance, but not as the leader of a rebellion, or as ‘The Hammer of the Scots’, but rather as men who created landscapes to enjoy with their families and utilise for economic gain.

I’m also writing about men like Reginald Balle, who lived in the village of Hope in north east Wales (Longitude: 53.118235; Latitude: -3.0328984) during the middle of the fourteenth century and how he profited from the creation of a brand new park just outside the village. And the numerous un-named servants who for 15 days in May, for at least a century and probably much longer, would have to climb trees to capture fledgling sparrowhawks in Pennant Lliw, near Llanuwchllyn in central north Wales (Longitude: 52.876692; Latitude: -3.744210).

aerialphoto

You may have visited some the places I’m writing about, for example Conwy castle (Longitude: 53.280082; Latitude: -3.825695) on the shore of the Conwy Estuary and the River Gyffin. Others, however are a bit further off the beaten track, like Hornspike on the Wales-England border Longitude: 52.903693; Latitude: -2.775291).

This research needs to be done for the simple reason that it has never been done before in a complete way. This research pulls together information from many different sources in three different languages and helps archaeologists, historians and literature specialists all work together to look at this area of the country.

So, please, if you enjoy my blog and would like to help. Either share the link for my blog, or if you are able to contribute then you can do so at: http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks

Thank you…and enjoy watching the work unfold here.