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

 

 

Archaeology, Art History, Cymru, Europe, Ewrop, History, Literature, Poetry, Shropshire, Sir Amwythig, Wales

The Trees of Tilstock Park

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 we are on the Shropshire / Flintshire border looking at Tilstock Park (Longitude 52.931698; Latitude -2.710032). The earliest date for a park at Tilstock is 1361 when it is recorded in an ‘Inquisition Post Mortem’. An Inquisition Post Mortem recorded the lands held at their deaths by tenants of the crown.

If want to know more – have a look at http://www.inquisitionspostmortem.ac.uk: “The project will publish a searchable English translation of the IPMs covering the periods 1236 to 1447 and 1485 to 1509. From 1399 to 1447 the text will be enhanced to enable sophisticated analysis and mapping of the inquisitions’ contents. The online texts will be accompanied by a wealth of commentary and interpretation to enable all potential users to exploit this source easily and effectively.”

Back to our particular Inquisition taken in 1361, which was taken on the death of Ankaretta Lestrange. Although the park is not recorded prior to 1361, it must have been in existence prior to this date for it to be included. From 1361 to the end of the century there are records of the Parkers (those officials responsible for maintaining the parks) but in this post I want to look at the ‘death’  of the park, rather than its ‘life’.

During my research I found this image which was published in Rowley, T. 1972 ‘The Shropshire Landscape’, Hodder and Stoughton, London.

Tilstock Park c.1600
Tilstock Park c.1600.

(The annotations are mine on a photocopy before anyone thinks the book was defaced!)

This map – produced c.1600 – shows the ‘death’ of Tilstock Park. With the trees being chopped down by men equipped with axes. Having looked at this map in the book, I wasn’t happy with the reproduction of the original as some things didn’t look quite right, and it said in the book there there was no north marked on it.

Annotations on a copy of Tilstock Park c.1600
Annotations on a copy of Tilstock Park c.1600.

I thought I’d use my copy as it shows my ‘workings out’, and gives some idea of how I look for clues, both in maps and in the landscape. Firstly, the original map does have north marked on it, it just happens that it is written in Latin.

Latin words for 'North', 'South', 'East' and 'West' around the edge of the original map
Latin words for ‘North’, ‘South’, ‘East’ and ‘West’ around the edge of the original map.

Septentrionales = North / Meridies = South / Oriens = East / Occidens = West

Another way of orientating the map would be to look at where the county of Flintshire is marked, and in this case the county of Flintshire should be to the west of the county of Shropshire. So, with the map orientated, what other clues can we glean from the map?

Tilstock Park in its final incarnation had two gates, one on the western side and one on the eastern side. The gate on the western side had a park lodge outside of the park on the northern side, and there was another building in the north western corner of the park. On the southern side of the park was a water gate which allowed the flow of water to be controlled into a series of fish ponds on the south eastern side.

Fish Ponds in Tilstock Park
Fish Ponds in Tilstock Park.

Rowley thought that the park was divided into three – and in the ownership of Greene, Chawner and Gregorie. However, although Chawner and Gregorie appear to be depicted on the map, with axes over their shoulder, there is no sign of Greene. It would appear that in this case Greene refers to an open space, something we would expect to find in a medieval park.

Chawner and Gregorie depicted with axes
Chawner and Gregorie depicted with axes.

Chawner and Gregorie are probably felling the trees in Tilstock Park in order to see them off and make some money as they change the use of the park from something which would have derived its income from a variety of sources, for example from the deer and other animals kept in the park, from the fish in the ponds and from the sale of wood. The park would now become an open space used as farmland, in this case pasture for sheep or cows.

Armed with the knowledge the original map was kept in the Shropshire Archives in Shrewsbury, I went to see why it hadn’t been reproduced in the book and why Rowley had made a copy. When I saw the original, I quickly understood why. The map was in several shades of green with black ink illustrations on top. This meant it was very difficult to read, and even more difficult to photograph.

So, what does Tilstock Park look like today?

Tilstock Park Today
Tilstock Park Today in the wider landscape.

The most obvious feature visible in the park from the air is the site of the former fish ponds.

Tilstock Park Today. The edge of the former fish ponds is highlighted in blue
Tilstock Park Today. The edge of the former fish ponds is highlighted in blue.

The boundaries of the park are also clearly visible, and next week we’ll look inside the park in greater detail to see what else can be identified in the archaeological record.

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.

Uncategorized

Avengers Assemble…but where?

Obliteration.

A very powerful word. It tends to be used to describe the removal of an item from the landscape – and conflict – where ever it may happen, can provide examples of something that was there at one moment only to have ceased to exist in a recognisable form the next.

If you visit a medieval site today, with manicured lawns and helpful guidebook, the most obvious thing to notice is that there is actually something left to visit. Even with a tumultuous event like the Dissolution of the Monasteries, where the communities were removed and buildings stripped of useful materials, much of the fabric can have survived the 500 or so years since the event, albeit with piles of fallen masonry removed and a gift shop for all the essential purchases.

Valle Crucis Abbey (Latitude 52.988696; Longitude -3.1868157) http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/1e/Valle_Crucis_Abbey.JPG
Valle Crucis Abbey (Latitude 52.988696; Longitude -3.1868157)
http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/1e/Valle_Crucis_Abbey.JPG

Sites composed of earthworks, for example motte and bailey castles, can appear at first glance even more ephemeral. Understanding how each individual lump and bump relates to another does take practice, but an understanding of the typology of different monument types means that even these can be interpreted as the visitor walks around the site.

Earthworks of Tomen y Bala Motte and Bailey Castle (Latitude 52.911565; Longitude -3.5954770)
Earthworks of Tomen y Bala Motte and Bailey Castle (Latitude 52.911565; Longitude -3.5954770)

Some sites however, defy simple interpretation if they have been ‘removed’ from the landscape because of their social, political or cultural importance. During the Croat-Bosnian war in 1993, the 16th century Stari Most bridge over the river Neretva in the City of Mostar, Bosnia (Latitude 43.205425; Longitude 17.483822) was destroyed by Croat forces.

Stari Most bridge over the river Neretva in the City of Mostar, Bosnia (Latitude 43.205425; Longitude 17.483822) prior to destruction.
Stari Most bridge over the river Neretva in the City of Mostar, Bosnia (Latitude 43.205425; Longitude 17.483822) prior to completion of the destruction process.

The removal of the bridge had a twofold purpose. Firstly, access from one side of the river by the inhabitants of Mostar to the other was limited, and secondly the Stari Most bridge was considered one of the most important pieces of Islamic architecture in the Balkans, and designed by Mimar Hayruddin, an apprentice of architect Mimar Sinan. With the cessation of hostilities, reconstruction of the bridge was considered a priority as the destruction was seen as a deliberate removal of cultural property by the Croatian forces. UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) headed up a process which saw the bridge rebuilt and reopened in 2004 http://www.gen-eng.florence.it/starimost/

Here then, we see that cultural pressure can be brought to bear both to destroy and replace an important monument, but what happens when only the first part of the process is carried out?

During the Edwardian Conquest of Wales, part of Edward I’s strategy was to construct a series of castles at strategic points around the North Wales coast. As well as providing places where soldiers could be based in order to react to any Welsh threat, perceived or otherwise, these castles replaced the pre-existing system of llysoedd which served as the administrative centres for the Welsh Princes. The main hall of the llys complex was an important meeting point, and as such Edward had each of them removed, either taking them down and recycling their component parts into other buildings or moving them to be reconstructed within one of the new castles.

Ystumgwern Hall, reconstructed within Harlech Castle (Latitude 52.859926; Longitude -4.1092917). Originally from the Llys at Ystumgwern - location not known but general centre of Ystumgwern at Latitude 52.795159; Longitude -4.1002822.
Ystumgwern Hall, reconstructed within Harlech Castle (Latitude 52.859926; Longitude -4.1092917). Originally from the Llys at Ystumgwern – location not known but general centre of Ystumgwern (Latitude 52.795159; Longitude -4.1002822).

The removal of the hall from the llys complex at Ystumgwern meant that the location was subsequently lost to future generations who might have used the halls as a meeting point at which to assemble and plan a revolt against their new rulers. As archaeologists we can apply a suite of techniques to search for the llys complex and find out more about why these locations were so important, but we cannot replace these buildings in the landscape in the same way the Stari Most bridge has been replaced.

Next week’s blog post will examine the fate of a llys complex and its inhabitants with a very particular story to tell.

Again, thank you for your support through http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks – the last fortnight brought another £25 in donations towards my PhD course fees.

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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.

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Our Dark Garden

With due deference to everyone who has tweeted, retweeted, donated or sent best wishes to me and my quest for PhD funding, I thought that this blog post should talk about some of the medieval gardens I’ve been researching, and the variety of sources available for such a study.

The earliest contemporary written evidence for the creation of gardens in Wales is to be found in the biography of a twelfth century king, Gruffydd ap Cynan, of the Welsh kingdom of Gwynedd. The Historia Gruffud vab Kenan says:

‘Then he increased all manner of good in Gwynedd, and the inhabitants began to build churches in every direction therein, and to plant the old woods and to make orchards and gardens, and surround them with walls and ditches, and to construct walled buildings, and to support themselves from the fruit of the earth after the fashion of the Romans’.

Some evidence for this reorganisation and improvement of Gwynedd has been identified, most recently by David Longley, and his research into the medieval landscape of the island of Anglesey. However, there are problems which mean that further work is still needed.

Archaeological excavations of medieval high status sites in Wales have tended to be small in scale, and to date very few high-status Llys (Royal Court) sites have been excavated. Exacerbating this is the fact that only some of the Llys site locations are known, as they fell out of use during the fourteenth century because they were no longer needed by the new administration.

The Edwardian castle at Rhuddlan (Latitude 53.288595; Longitude -3.463749) serves to highlight some of the issues which I have encountered during my research.

This castle was constructed from 1277 onwards to replace an earlier motte and bailey castle on a nearby site to the south, which in turn replaced a Llys, the location of which is most probably under the motte and bailey earthworks.

DI2010_1781

Crown Copyright DI2010_1781
The motte and bailey castle is in the trees to the right of the image.

Edward I, as part of the provision for his wife, Eleanor of Castile, and her household, had constructed for her a garden within the castle precinct between July 1282 and March 1284. The location for this has been suggested as within the inner courtyard of the castle, where it would have been overlooked by the Royal apartments.

The documentation states that encircling the head of the castle well (which had a boarded roof), a little fishpond lined with four cartloads of clay brought from the nearby Rhuddlan marsh was created and set around with seats. The adjacent courtyard was laid with 6000 turves and the lawn fenced with the staves of discarded casks.

Rhuddlan Castle was taken into state care in the twentieth century and following World War II conservation works were carried out. As part of the conservation works the moat was emptied:

DI2010_2242

Crown Copyright DI2010_2242
Excavation of the moat in 1949.

Unfortunately I have not been able to find any archaeological documentation to accompany the photographs taken, meaning any environmental evidence, including medieval plants, which may have existed within the moat has now been lost. In addition, there has been no programme of survey or excavation within the inner courtyard of castle, meaning that the location of the garden and fishpond is not conclusively identified.

During my research, I re-examined the historical sources, and found mention of a second garden at Rhuddlan Castle in 1285. This was described as a herber (a pleasure garden) opposite the north gate of the castle, and significantly, outside of the castle precinct. Fieldwork I undertook earlier this year suggests that this herber lay within the ditch to the north of the castle and may well have been accessible from the River Clwyd immediately to the west. The location of the herber is at the bottom left of the first photograph under the trees.

Further research of sites such as the Edwardian Castle of Rhuddlan will revolve around planning the best recording strategies for these two garden locations, whether that is deemed to be survey or excavation. Given that there is in close proximity an earlier motte and bailey and a Llys site, both of which are likely to have gardens of one form or another associated with them, there is exceptional potential for understanding the change and development of Royal gardening taste of both English and Welsh Royalty during the medieval period.

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.

Uncategorized

The Revolution will be Televised

Last Friday a medieval home called Sycharth made an appearance on a programme called ‘Britain’s Secret Homes’. The five part series is looking at 50 (as the title reveals) of the lesser known, but very important houses in Britain.

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Sycharth was number 37 https://www.itv.com/itvplayer/britain-s-secret-homes/series-1/episode-2 and I’m really pleased with the finished result. Probably the most satisfying feeling was that this was all about Owain Glyn Dŵr’s property, and not about the fight for freedom which usually clouds the issue when discussing his legacy.

Also important is that we were able to tell the story to an English language audience and have the poem written about the house spoken in its original language. Reaching an audience of millions with this is an amazing experience and importantly this is just one house from one point in the medieval period and the wider landscape and all the archaeological potential was only lightly touched upon.

Something which was cut from the segment was a specially commissioned ‘cywydd’ (a form of poem) by the poet Tudur Dylan Jones. Tudur is a multiple Eisteddfod winning poet, so you know you are going to get quality when you commission a cywydd from him. http://vimeo.com/68401196

Below you’ll find the original poem in Welsh, and a recent English translation. Even if you are unable to read the Welsh, you should be able to discern the beautiful rhythm of the original.

Llys Owain Glyn Dŵr yn Sycharth

Addewais yt hyn ddwywaith,
Addewid teg, addo taith;.
Taled bawb, tal hyd y bo,
Ei addewid a addawo.
Pererindawd, ffawd ffyddlawn,
Perwyl mor annwyl mawr iawn,
Myned, eidduned oddain,
Lles yw, tua llys Owain.
Yn oddain yno ydd af,
Nid drwg, yno y trigaf
I gymryd i’m bywyd barch
Gydag ef o gydgyfarch;
Fo all fy naf, uchaf ach,
Eurben clear, erbyn cleiriach;
Clod bod, cyd boed alusen,
Ddiwarth hwyl, yn dda wrth hen.
I’w lys ar ddyfrys ydd af,
O’r deucant odidocaf;.
Llys barwn, lle syberwyd,
Lle daw beirdd aml, lle da byd.
Gwawr Bowys fawr, beues Faig,
Gofuned gwiw ofynaig.

Llyna’r modd a’r llun y mae:
Mewn eurgylch dwfr mewn argae.
(Pand da’r llys?) pont ar y llyn,
Ac unporth lle’r ai ganpyn;
Cyplau sydd, gwaith cwplws ynt,
Cwpledig pob cwpl ydynt.
Clochdy Padrig, Ffrengig ffrwyth,
Clostr Wesmustr, clostir emswyth;
Cynglynrhwym pob congl unrhyw,
Cangell aur, cygan oll yw.
Cynglynion yn y fronfron fry,
Dordor megis daeardy,
A phob un fal llun llyngwlm
Sydd yn ei gilydd yn gwlm.
Tai nawplad fold deunawplas,
Tai pren glan mewn top bryn glas;
Ar bedwar piler eres
Mae’i lys ef i nef yn nes.
Ar ben pob piler pren praff,
Llofft ar dalgrofft adeilgraff,
A’r pedair llofft, o hoffter,
Yn gydgwplws lle cwag cler.
Aeth y pedair disgleirlofft,
Nyth lwyth teg iawn, yn wyth lofft;
To teils ar bob ty talwg,
A simnai lle magai’r mwg.
Naw neuadd gyfladd gyflun,
A naw gwardrob ar bob un.
Siopau glan, glwys cynnwys cain,
Siop lawndeg fal Siep Lundain.
Croes eglwys gylchlwys galchliw,
Capelau a gwydrau gwiw;
Popty llawn poptu I’r llys,
Perllan, gwinllan, ger gwenllys,
Melin deg ar ddifreg ddwr;
A’i glomendy gloyw maendwr.
Pysgodlyn, cudduglyn cau,
A fo rhaid i fwrw heyday
Amlaf lle, nid er ymliw,
Penhwyaid a gwyniaid gwiw.
A’I dir bwrdd a’i adar byw,
Peunod, crehyrod hoywryw,
Dolydd glan gwyran a gwair,
Ydau mewn caeau cywair,
Parc cwning ein por cenedl,
Erydr a meirch hydr, mawr chwedl;
Gerllaw’r llys, gorlliwio’r llall,
Y pawr ceirw mewn parc arall;
Ei gaith a wna pob gwaith gwiw,
Cyfreidiau cyfair ydiw,
Dwyn blaendrwyth cwrw Amwythig,
Gwirodau, bragodau brig,
Pob llyn, bara gwyn a gwin,
A’I gig, a’i dan i’w gegin;
Pebyll y beirdd pawb lle bo,
Pe beunydd caiff pawb yno;
Tecaf llys bren, pen heb bai,
O‘r deyrnas, nawdd Duw arnai;.
A awraig orau o’r garaged
Gwyn fy myd o’i gwin a’i medd!
Merch eglur llin marchoglyw,
Urddol hael anianol yw;.
A’i blant a ddeuant bob ddau,
Nythaid teg o beneathiaid.
 
Anfynych iawn fu yno
Weled na chlicied na chlo,
Na phorthoriaeth ni wnaeth neb,
Ni bydd eisiau budd oseb,
Na gwall, na newyn, na gwarth,
Na syched fyth yn Sycharth.
Gorau Cymro, tro trylew
Piau’r wlad, lin Pywer Lew,
Gwr meingryf, gorau mangre,
A phial’r llys; hoff yw’r lle.

Court of Owain Glyn Dŵr in Sycharth

I have promised twice before now,
fair promise, promising a journey;
let everyone fulfil, as much as is due,
his promise which he promises.
A very great pilgrimage,
certain prosperity, such a dear destination,
is going, swift promise,
It is beneficial, towards Owain’s court;
swiftly will I go there,
not bad, there will I dwell
to bring honour into my life
by exchanging greetings with him;
my leige can, highest lineage,
bright golden head, receive an old codger;
it is praiseworthy, though it is but alms,
Course without shame, to be kind to the old.
I will go to his court in haste,
The most splendid of the two hundred;
a baron’s court, place of refinement,
Where many poets come, place of the good life;
queen of great Powys, Maig’s land,
promise of good hope.

This is its manner and its form
In the bright circle of water within an embankment:
(isn’t the court fine?) a bridge on the lake,
and one gate through which would go a hundred loads;
there are couples, they are couple work,
every couple is coupled together;
Patrick’s bell house, French fruit,
the cloister of Westminster, comfortable enclosure;
each corner is bound together in the same way,
golden chancel, it is entirely symmetrical,
bonds side by side above,
cheek-to-cheek like an earth house,
and every one looking like a tight knot
Is tied fast to the next one,
nine-plated buildings on the scale of eighteen mansions,
fair wooden buildings on top of a green hill;
on four wonderful pillars
his court is nearer to heaven;
on top of each stout wooden pillar
a loft built firmly on the summit of a croft,
and the four lofts of loveliness
coupled together where poets sleep;
the four bright lofts turned,
a very fair nest load, into eight lofts;
a tiled roof on every house with frowning forehead,
And a chimney from which the smoke would grow;
nine symmetrical identical halls,
and nine wardrobes by each one,
bright fair shops with fine contents,
a lovely full shop like London’s Cheapside;
a cross-shaped church with a fair chalk-coloured exterior
chapels with splendid glass windows;
a full bakehouse on every side of the court,
an orchard, a vineyard by a white court;
a lovely mill on flowing water,
and his dovecot with bright stone tower;
a fishpond, hollow enclosure,
what is needed to cast nets;
place most abounding, not for dispute;
In pike and fine sewin,
and his bord-land and his live birds,
peacocks, splendid herons;
bright meadows of grass and hay,
corn in well-kept fields,
the rabbit park of our patriarch,
ploughs and sturdy horses, great words;
by the court, outshining the other,
stags graze in another park;
his serfs perform all fitting tasks,
those are the necessities of an estate,
bringing the best brew of beer from Shrewsbury,
liquors of foaming bragget,
every drink, white bread and wine,
and his meat and his fire for his kitchen;
shelter of poets, everyone wherever he be,
were it daily, he will have everyone there,
loveliest wooden court, chief without fault,
of the kingdom, may god protect it,
and the best woman of all women,
blessed am I by her wine and her mead!
Fair girl from the line of a knightly ruler,
she is dignified and noble by nature;
and his children come in pairs,
a fine nestful of chieftains.

Very rarely was bolt or lock
to be seen there,
nor did anyone act as porter;
there will be no want, beneficial gift,
nor lack not hunger nor shame,
Nor ever thirst in Sycharth.
The best Welshman, valorous feat,
owns the country, of Pywer Lew’s line,
slender strong man, best spot,
and owns the court, splendid is the place.