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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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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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Lector Si Monumentum Requiris Circumspice

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

In my blog post https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/an-attempt-to-buck-the-trend/ I wrote about how different people looked at Dolbadarn Castle (Latitude 53.116526; Longitude -4.114234) from different perspectives and viewpoints. This month I had an article published in the journal ‘Archaeology in Wales’ for 2014 entitled “Dolbadarn Castle: A Thirteenth Century Royal Landscape” (pp.63-72).. I won’t recount the full article here but I will offer a few insights into the castle’s design and symbolism.

The round tower at Dolbadarn Castle
The round tower at Dolbadarn Castle

The round tower at Dolbadarn is a very sophisticated structure, and in seeking a parallel for it, rather than look at other marcher round towers it would appear that the Wakefield Tower in the Tower of London is perhaps the closest in form and function.

The Wakefield Tower at The Tower of London
The Wakefield Tower at The Tower of London

Whilst the exterior now appears unremarkable, subsumed and altered – with tourists passing by it to reach for them ‘the main event’ of The White Tower, the interior gives some idea of its original purpose.

The interior of the Wakefield Tower, Tower of London
The interior of the Wakefield Tower, Tower of London

The Wakefield Tower was constructed during the reign of King Henry III as part of his new royal lodgings. Work by Curnow, published in 1977 and by Thurley, published in 1995, demonstrated that the Upper Room of the Wakefield Tower was used as the King’s Great Chamber and was designed to contain a ‘chair of estate’.

As part of my research I went back and re-examined the original reports on the conservation of Dolbadarn Castle by the Ministry of Works in the 1940s and 1950s and the subsequent description by the RCAHMW in their second volume on ‘Caernarvonshire’, published in 1960. I also went to the castle on several occasions (helped by living in the village of Llanberis just next door) and re-examined the fabric for myself.

The interior of the round tower at Dolbadarn Castle can, for ease of explanation, be divided into four sections. The flooring arrangements for the round tower were discussed by McNeill and compared to other round towers (2003: 99).  The lowest section comprises a basement, and this would have been reached through a trapdoor in the floor. It is here that high-value goods are likely to have been stored, with the vent providing some air circulation once the trapdoor was closed. At first floor level is the doorway into the round tower, protected by a portcullis which would have been raised to allow entry inside. Looking around the room clockwise, the first floor provided access to the garderobe tower, to a doorway on the opposite side of the room and to the right of this is a fireplace, whose chimney flue runs through the thickness of the wall.

The second floor was accessed from the spiral staircase which ran within the width of the wall. Looking around the room clockwise, there is a large window opening into which the portcullis slid, followed by the second floor access to the upper floor of the garderobe tower. To the right of these are two windows, a fireplace whose chimney flue runs through the thickness of the wall and finally another window.

What is immediately apparent is the difference in the amount of light which would have originally entered the first and second floors respectively. The first floor has no windows, and two doors, one of which, next to the fireplace was much narrower than the other, the portcullis protected entrance. By contrast the second floor has four large windows, allowing light to flood into this room.

Interior of the first floor of Dolbadarn Castle from the entrance door.
Interior of the first floor of Dolbadarn Castle from the entrance door.
Interior of the second floor of Dolbadarn Castle from the internal staircase.
Interior of the second floor of Dolbadarn Castle from the internal staircase.

The second floor would appear to have served at Llywelyn ab Iorwerth’s Great Chamber, in a similar fashion to the King’s Great Chamber on the upper floor of the Wakefield Tower. A ‘chair of estate’ would have sat on the wall opposite the spiral stair entrance, and with light entering the room from all sides it would have made for an impressive meeting with the ‘Prince of Aberffraw and Lord of Snowdon’. The mountains of Snowdonia, including Snowdon itself served as the backdrop to Llywelyn, as they could be seen from the second floor windows, or by climbing the spiral stairs to view them from the wall walk round the roof of the tower.

The Round Tower of Dolbadarn Castle from the lower slopes of Mount Snowdon.
The Round Tower of Dolbadarn Castle from the lower slopes of Mount Snowdon.

Next week I’ll explain how the Wakefield Tower and the Round Tower at Dolbadarn are different – and why medieval coinage may have something to do with this.

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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.

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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.