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

 

 

Uncategorized

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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The Lady of Wales and her Secret Garden

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

During the previous two blog posts https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/lector-si-monumentum-requiris-circumspice/ and https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2014/12/30/facial-recognition/ I discussed the ‘male’ side of Dolbadarn Castle (Latitude 53.116526; Longitude -4.114234) and how that masculinity was articulated in the architecture of the building. This week, I want to look at the ‘female’ side of the castle and how that too is reflected in the architecture. The area of the castle I want to discuss is above the red line drawn on the plan of Dolbadarn Castle reproduced below:

Plan of Dolbadarn Castle, area to be discussed is above the red line/.
Plan of Dolbadarn Castle, area to be discussed is above the red line.

The place and power of his Llywelyn’s wife, Joan – known as the ‘Lady of Wales’ – has been noted by historians, particularly Dr Danna Messer (http://independent.academia.edu/DannaMesser) in her recent PhD “The Uxorial Lifecycle and Female Agency in Wales in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries”. Joan was a vitally important part of Llywelyn’s world, and her accommodation and social arrangements in and around the ‘female side’ of the castle are just as sophisticated as the ‘male’ side.

The entrance to Dolbadarn Castle is on the eastern side over looking Padarn Lake, now difficult to access because of the Ministry of Works post and wire face. Once the castle doorkeeper (someone who is mentioned in the Welsh law books) had granted access, then a visitor to Joan or her retinue would have turned right and passed through the fore-building attached to the castle curtain wall to arrive at the entrance to her hall.

Historians have commented previously on the fact that the Welsh law book specific to the Kingdom of Gwynedd in the thirteenth century contains a considerably expanded number of staff for the queen. The queen in this instance is Joan, although no work had been undertaken to attempt to place her and her staff into any of the castle accommodation which would have existed and is visible in the archaeological record. This hall was excavated during the repair and restoration of Dolbadarn Castle in the 1940s, and unfortunately there are no records of any archaeology which was recovered during this work. Understanding how the hall was used through archaeological means does become more difficult, however there are other methods which can be utilised. Although the hall was excavated, the areas to the north and south were not disturbed. By examining these areas, there may be opportunities to understand the relationship the hall had to these areas and the castle as a whole.

Dolbadarn Castle from the opposite side of Padarn Lake.
Dolbadarn Castle from the opposite side of Padarn Lake.

Beyond the hall is a triangular space which has not previously been discussed in any great detail. This space, walled in and separated from the rest of the castle by the hall, would appear to have served as a garden for Joan when she was in residence. A garden could be created prior to the arrival of the Queen and her household, and an example of this is the garden at Tintagel Castle (Longitude 50.668936; Latitude -4.761529) in Cornwall.

Tintagel Castle garden is the large rectangular structure in the middle of the picture
Tintagel Castle garden is the large rectangular structure in the middle of the picture

This garden would have consisted of potted plants which were put into the garden space. The advantage was that these plants could be moved with the female household. In terms of archaeological evidence, this can limit remains to broken and discarded plant pots or if the archaeologists are more fortunate, environmental evidence may be found.

In the next post, I’ll look at how all these elements around Dolbadarn Castle form one sophisticated and complex royal landscape.

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The Boss (with apologies to Bruce Springsteen)

Today I had the opportunity to visit the archaeological excavations being undertaken at Holt Castle (Longitude 53.077958; Latitude -2.880319). Of the Lordship castles constructed in north east Wales after the Edwardian Conquest of 1282, Holt is the most incomplete structurally, but has arguably the most fascinating story.

Holt Castle was constructed by the Lord of the new Lordship Bromfield and Yale, William Warenne, to replace the burnt out and partially demolished shell of Castell Dinas Bran. This castle had been constructed by Gruffydd ap Madog for his Principality of Powys Fadog.

Essentially – the Edwardian Conquest saw a redrawing of the administrative boundaries, with the new Lordships replacing the old Principality, and a Welsh Prince replaced by an English Lord.

William Warenne decided he need a new castle from which to run his new lordship, and decided (although we don’t know how he came to this decision) that a site on the bank of the River Dee and close to the English Border was the most suitable. There he had the masons in his employ quarry away the sandstone river bank to create a boss of rock, on which the central block of the castle was built.

DSC_4125crop

The central boss of rock on and around which Holt Castle was built

The boss of rock was five sided, and an outer wall was constructed parallel to it. Which as the photograph shows has now gone, robbed out to construct Samwell Hall, the predecessor of the current Eaton Hall in Cheshire.

DSC_4128crop

The remains of one of one of the bases of the outer wall towers visible in the centre of the trench

The excavations are a fantastic example of how organisations, in this case:
Cadw http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/
Northern Marches Cymru http://www.northernmarchescymru.co.uk/
Wrexham County Borough Council http://wrexham.gov.uk/
and
Holt Local History Society http://holtlhs.weebly.com/index.html

can all work in partnership in order to bring this monument back to life – and as today was the ‘Day of Archaeology’, I couldn’t imagine a more apt example to highlight what archaeology is all about.

Uncategorized

An Attempt to Buck the Trend

Dolbadarn Castle (Latitude 53.116526; Longitude -4.114234) sits on a promontory above two lakes, the Padarn and the Peris, with the village of Llanberis the nearest modern settlement. Tourists today visit to walk around the village and some climb Mount Snowdon, either by using the railway which was installed to transport them to the top at the turn of the twentieth century (weather permitting) or by walking up the Llanberis Path.

A century prior to the construction of the railway, a very different sort of tourist came to admire the view. Not for them the strenuous clamber to the top of the highest mountain in England and Wales, but rather a more sedate walk to find the perfect viewpoint of the castle and paint it in the very new and very fashionable ‘landscape’ tradition.

In 1990 an exhibition of these paintings was brought together and exhibited by the National Library of Wales. As a landscape archaeologist I was fascinated by the fact that so many of the paintings were painted from the same narrow viewpoint, with the main, round castle tower being the only discernible feature. An example of this is ‘Dolbardarn Castle’ by J M W Turner, painted in 1799-1800.

http://www.llgc.org.uk/index.php?id=581

In many ways, the prototype for the angle and viewpoint depicted in the ‘landscape’ tradition can be seen in the illustration produced by the topographical artists Samuel and Nathaniel Buck in 1742.

th

And, in many ways, many other modern day tourists specifically visiting the castle unconsciously mirror this viewpoint to encompass what they feel makes the ‘perfect’ view. But the ‘perfect’ view doesn’t always tell the ‘perfect’ story.

As part of my PhD research I’ve been looking at how academics and non-academics alike interact with castles and their landscapes and Dolbadarn provides a particularly interesting case in point. For example, the other people working in proximity to Dolbadarn Castle whist the landscape painters were exploring the lakeside had a very different view of their surrounding landscape.

Dolbadarn 13.05.05 025

This view, taken from the Dinorwig slate quarry workings, gives a different perspective of the castle and its surrounding landscape and has enabled me to begin to understand how and why the castle was constructed where it was and the symbolism it contains – and it is a topic I will return to in a future blog post.

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Archaeological Arrogance?

The A55 expressway across North Wales passes many archaeological and historical sites. Many of them are preserved and respected, either by national bodies or in private ownership. Occasionally they are compromised by the whims of succeeding generations, for example the later road and rail bridges around Conwy Castle, but on the whole those which were deemed of sufficient importance were protected by legislation of one form or another.

One site I am writing about in my PhD thesis has disappeared from the landscape. I pass its former location twice a day as I drive from my house to the office and look up at the jagged hole in the skyline which was once the site of an Iron Age Hillfort.

This jagged hole was created because the solid geology which made up the Hillfort was Limestone, and the Limestone was needed to provide the flux in the blast furnaces for making steel at the nearby steelworks in Shotton, but what of the archaeological and historical significance of this site being removed lorry load by lorry load?

The most recent name for this site is Dinorben (Latitude 53.265522; Longitude -3.545362). The voracious appetite of the steelworks saw an intermittent programme of archaeological excavations from 1912 to 1978, with the result that the understanding of the archaeological context of the Hillfort is now well understood through various publications.

Or is it?

This Hillfort has previous, both archaeological and historical, which has been neglected in the drive to tell one story over another. In 1334, the Hillfort was recorded in ‘The Survey of the Honour of Denbigh’. This is one of the extents which I mentioned in a previous blog post (https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/si-longtemps-et-merci-pour-le-poisson/) and which were compiled in the Fourteenth century describing who owed what service to the ‘new’ English Lord of the Manor – who had replaced the Welsh Prince after the Edwardian Conquest of 1282-1283.

The Hillfort is known as ‘Pendinas’ (Top of the City) and is described as a wood of nearly five acres, covered with poor scrub and in the possession of Johannes of Rhuddlan. Whilst ‘Pendinas’ may have been the official name, by the time the archaeologists arrived in the early Twentieth century it was known as ‘Parc y Meirch’ (The Horse Park). The Hillfort defences were reused during the medieval period as the location of a horse stud, and if the horses were ill, then they could avail themselves of a holy well, dedicated to St. Siôr, titular saint of horses.

This narrative however, merited only the briefest of mentions in the archaeological reports produced on the site, and the archaeologists changed the name of the site from ‘Parc y Meirch’ to ‘Dinorben’ – the name of a land division. Quite why the archaeologists felt the need to change the name I’ve yet to fully decipher, but it appears that medieval name and story was known by the archaeologists, but it did not fit with the story they wished to tell.

To compound the issue further the medieval finds, consisting of horse shoes and pottery, were confined to an appendix of the main site report written in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The reason for this confinement may be because the principal archaeologist was a prehistorian, and again, the story was not the one which needed to be told.

Parc y Meirch is a very important site in terms of understanding how a medieval horse stud related to the wider landscape within my PhD study area. The side lining of one interpretation over another because it does not fit your personal archaeological aims can never help the overall understanding of a monument in a landscape, and ensuring that archaeological and historical evidence is presented in a balanced manner will always advance the archaeological agenda, even if you don’t agree with the findings, or even the name of the place you are excavating.

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Giant Novelty Roundabout

To an archaeologist, context is everything. Show them a find and because they invariably know what it is from the vast store of broken objects in their head, the question will be “Where did you find it?”. Sometimes however, the relationship between context and object becomes eroded, or even worse, lost completely. The object can sometimes then take on a life of its own, generating a history and archaeology which can hamper its further interpretation or reinterpretation.

Caernarfon Castle (Latitude 53.139370; Longitude -4.2769593) is one of the most famous castles in Wales, and probably Europe (with perhaps a bit of North America and Canada thrown in for good measure). It’s big, bold, brash, iconic and an illustration of the power of the myth that is King Arthur.

The last one? Really?

The history narrative the majority of people know, and more importantly believe in, is that written by the victors. And as a consequence certain phrases assembled from the narrative become part of the stock phrases of description, ‘Edward the First’s Iron Ring of Castles’ is almost always included for example – just type it into a search engine of your choice just to see how ubiquitous it has become.

Over time, the archaeological context between the castle and the town has slowly been eroded, with the excavations within the castle walls being small scale, piecemeal affairs and excavations around the castle walls having to contend with the 19th and 20th development and redevelopment of the Slate Quay (to the south of the castle) and the former medieval quay (to the west of the castle).

The construction of the principal Local Council Administrative Offices (to the north of the castle) during the 1980s and the development of Castle Square, known in Welsh as ‘Y Maes’ – The Field (to the east of the castle), most recently in 2009, have all made for a very different experience for today’s visitor, compared to their medieval predecessor.

Where can we visit then, to gain at least some idea of the original context of the current Caernarfon Castle, and its predecessor, the original Caernarfon motte and bailey Castle?

I lived in Caernarfon for six years, and during this time, part of my PhD research concentrated on the landscape context of the Castle, Town Walls and its hinterland. Which is when I found this view.

DSCF1610

I’ve never seen this image published in any of the academic books on the subject, and it gives a very good idea of how the castles (built one on top of each other) could be seen in the wider high status landscape of the associated medieval park.

I identified the park from a combination of aerial photographs, tithe and ordnance survey maps, fieldwork and place name studies. The fieldwork proved to be particularly rewarding, with the pebble-dashed building in the centre left of the image marking the eastern edge of the park boundary and surviving banks and ditches are visible on the northern side. From the point of view of high-status vistors availing themselves of the facilities available in the park, both the Welsh Princes of Gwynedd and the subsequent English Crown enjoyed the same opportunities, if not quite the same view.

What ever you may think of the current Caernarfon Castle, it is certainly an impressive backdrop to a landscape created and managed by the Royalty they deposed. And importantly provides some context for the reasons behind the construction of the Edwardian Castle on the shore of the Menai Straits.