Uncategorized

Patterns in the Palimpsest

Many of my friends and colleagues have found themselves confronted with tweets, facebook messages or e-mails which usually consist of: “I’VE FOUND ANOTHER PARK!”

Whilst the response from my fellow academics is usually “Excellent!”, those not so familiar with this kind of landscape research tend to ask “How?”. So, in this blog post I thought I’d explain some of the methods used to find and identify a park as medieval and then attempt to place it in its context.

Cambridge University Library has one of five known sets of proof maps prepared for John Speed’s ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’, which was published in 1611/12, and they are available to view online at: http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/deptserv/maps/speed.html

Below is an extract taken from the map of Denbighshire showing the area around Wrexham, North East Wales (Latitude 53.045083; Longitude -2.9931521).

Abenbury

As you can see, there are two parks marked on the map, one of them ‘Holt Park’, but the second has no information provided for its location other than it is to the east of Wrexham. At this time the castle at Holt and its attendant town were the most important focal point for the administration of the area, whist Wrexham was a town in all but name (Wrexham was awarded its borough charter in 1857, whilst the borough of Holt was dissolved in 1886). My blog post on the excavations at Holt Castle can be found here: https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/26/the-boss-with-apologies-to-bruce-springsteen/

Whilst the medieval landscape of Holt has seen some academic research, the history of the park to the east of Wrexham is a little more enigmatic. The map shows that it has a very straight western boundary, and this equates to the very straight edge of the park known today as Cefn Park.

Cefn Park Map

Map of Cefn Park

Cefn Park AP

Aerial Photograph of Cefn Park

The Park is now divided into two separate estates, known as Cefn Park and Llwyn Onn. The majority of the papers relating to the estates were either lost in a fire in the house of Cefn Park, and those that do survive only extend back to the Eighteenth Century. All three depictions of Cefn Park show it as an being roughly oval in shape. This is usually an indicator that a park was laid out in the medieval period, but is it possible to be more precise with a date?

At the Marford bailiwick court held on 5 October 1333 the jurors referred back to the time when Roger de Kettley, chief forester, ‘took all the wood of Glyn, which was previously common, into a fenced enclosure for the lord’. The ‘wood of Glyn’ is now the part of the park around the National Trust property of Erddig Hall http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/erddig/

This suggests then that a new park was required by the English Lord of Bromfield and Yale at Glyn, which is close to the former motte and bailey castle of ‘Wristleham’ (Wrexham), recorded as being in existence in 1161. This, along with a new park laid out at Holt (and recorded on the John Speed map) indicates a considerable reorganisation of the landscape.

The question therefore, is where is Cefn Park in the records of the period? The Extant of Bromfield and Yale, taken in 1315 for the new English Lord describing who owed what service to the him after he had replaced the Welsh Prince following the Edwardian Conquest of 1282-1283, appears to contain the answer.

Cefn Park is in Abenbury, and the ‘Extent’ records that it is held by Griffi ap Ior, Griff ap Hwfa, Ienna ap Hwfa and Griff ap Ior Fychan (‘ap’ is son of, Fychan is ‘little’ or ‘junior’), except one-fifth which is held from the Queen (the wife of Edward II).

These men, and their ancestors, appear to have held the land in return for carrying out services including supplying grain, gathering nuts and making and repairing some of the buildings required by the lordship administrators. All of these services needed land, and it appear then that Cefn Park was no longer a hunting park of the Princes of Powys, but had been ‘disparked’ and put to use supplying these resources.

It kept its western boundary as this was the division between it and the pasture owned by the Abbey at Valle Crucis, which they had been gifted in 1202 and the charter for which still survives.

How much older than 1202 then is Cefn Park? At the moment I’ve exhausted the sources available to me, so I suspect that archaeological excavation of the park, either its boundaries or any identifiable internal features may provide the answer.

Advertisements
Uncategorized

Standing on the Toes of Giants

In 2003 I was waiting to stand on the stage of the Llansilin Village Hall in front of 200 or so people. (I say ‘so’ because the Llansilin Local History Society, who were hosting the event had put out 200 chairs and all of these were occupied, and in addition several more people were stood at the back of the hall).

It was six years since I’d begun my research into the site of Sycharth motte and bailey castle (Latitude 52.824530; Longitude -3.1808960). In the intervening period I’d discovered how much there was to learn – about archaeology and academia.

A few weeks previously, whilst putting the lecture together, I’d decided the title would be ‘Has Anyone Seen The Confounded Bridge’. In 1891 a tile drain had been laid in the ditch around the motte, and during this work, a piece of timber 21 feet long had been found. The 1914 ‘Inventory of Denbighshire’ published by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (and now available as a free of charge download) http://www.rcahmw.gov.uk/HI/ENG/Publications/Bookshop/?book=66 duly noted this, but offered no further information as to the whereabouts of the timber.

A piece of timber 21 feet long in a castle motte ditch is likely to have been part of the bridge sill beam, from which the bridge superstructure would have been built. As I liked to use catchy titles for my lectures, I thought using a Led Zeppelin lyric would be quite off-beat and quirky, and would highlight the fact that this piece of timber had gone missing and that maybe the local population might be able to help track it down.

My mum had come along, mostly as moral support, because she was by now very, very (you know how it is), very familiar with my research. As we sat there on a couple of chairs I told her that a woman called Dr. Enid Roberts would be attending. Dr. Enid Roberts was a legend. In the 1960s she had provided a translation of the poem to Sycharth to Douglas Hague, the Director of the original archaeological excavation, and during the 1970s had published a series of articles on the genre of medieval Welsh Praise Poetry to houses. The fact that she had come to hear me lecture was an absolute honour…and had made me just a little nervous.

As we looked round we spotted a man reading a copy of the 1960s excavation report. Someone had obviously decided to do their homework, and I thought he looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. The introductory slide for my lecture was up on the screen on rotation with slides advertising the forthcoming Llansilin Local History Society, and I noticed the man laughing at my slide and pointing it out to his friend sat beside him.

And then it dawned on me who the man was. It was Robert Plant, former singer with Led Zeppelin. He was laughing at the fact I’d used lyrics from one of his songs as my lecture title. I went outside and told my friends who was in the Hall. They said “Aren’t you nervous of standing up in front of Robert Plant to give a lecture?” I said, “No. He’s come to listen to me, but Dr. Enid Roberts is in there in the front row and I’m petrified!”.

After the lecture, Dr. Roberts told me that I had done some excellent work and gave me some pointers as to what I should look at next. Whilst my friends ended up in the local pub with Robert Plant. But I learnt soon after that some academics were not always going to be as immediately helpful as Dr. Enid Roberts.