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My Story: Why I’m blogging about my Research

For those of you new to the blog I thought I’d recap the who / what / where / when / why and how I write something every Sunday and post it on the Internet, with links through to some of my previous posts and other related pages.

My name is Spencer Gavin Smith, and I’m from the town of Wrexham in North East Wales (Latitude 53.045083; Longitude -2.9931521) and I’m writing my PhD on the topic of ‘Parks, Gardens and Designed Landscapes of Medieval North Wales and North West Shropshire’ part-time at Manchester Metropolitan University.

This is me.
This is me.

I began this research back as an undergraduate in 1997: https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/to-begin-at-the-beginning-or-has-anyone-seen-that-confounded-bridge/ and was fortunate to receive the support of Dr. Enid Roberts – one of the specialists in the field, at a lecture I gave in 2003 https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/05/02/standing-on-the-toes-of-giants/ – and had a Rock and Roll legend in the audience to boot!

My research covers the disciplines of archaeology, history, literature and the visual arts. I’m trying to identify through these sources of evidence, the creation and use of medieval parks, gardens and designed landscapes of Medieval North Wales and North West Shropshire. This topic has not been covered in any great detail previously, with https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/si-longtemps-et-merci-pour-le-poisson/ and https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/21/an-attempt-to-buck-the-trend/ giving you some idea of the cutting edge research I’m undertaking.

Even though this research is cutting edge https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/07/14/please-fund-my-cutting-edge-phd-research/ I’ve had problems convincing charities and other organisations to fund it because it is multidisciplinary. I wrote to 123 charities, and not one them felt able to fund me – some didn’t even bother to reply to me.

I consequently set up a Crowd Funding page at: http://www.gofundme.com/medievalgardensandparks and thanks to the kindness of strangers and one or two friends they provided enough funding in the space of a month to cover my first terms fees https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/18/taking-stock/

I’m now enrolled at University https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/10/13/enroled-thank-you-so-much-lets-keep-the-adventure-going/ under the academic care of a supervisor I have a great deal of personal and professional respect for and the writing is going really well https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/08/26/patterns-in-the-palimpsest/ and https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2013/09/15/shropshire-and-everything-after/ give you some idea of this.

I’m still looking for funding – and here is what’s in it for you.

· I’ll include your name in my PhD acknowledgements.
· Answer any questions you have about what I’m writing about.
· Give you a real or virtual tour of any of the sites I’m writing about.
· I’ll give a real or virtual talk about my research to a group of people you think would be interested.
· If I get a book deal when I’ve finished the PhD, I’ll put your name in the acknowledgements.
· If I get a book deal when I’ve finished the PhD, the person who provides the greatest amount of funding will receive a free signed copy of the finished book.

Thank you and I hope you enjoy the blog.

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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.

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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.

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‘To Begin at the Beginning’…or ‘Has Anyone Seen That Confounded Bridge?’

Lines from Dylan Thomas ‘Under Milk Wood’ and Led Zeppelin ‘The Crunge’. Which probably seem to be an odd way to start a blog on Medieval Parks, Gardens and Designed Landscapes. However, in their own way, they have led to this blog being written. So, I thought I’d attempt to explain why I feel I should blog on this topic (although I am sure other topics will find a place at some point).

My name is Spencer Gavin Smith and I currently work as an archaeologist in the contracts section of the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, who are based in Bangor, North West Wales.

My blog will be about the research I have been carrying out for my PhD thesis entitled ‘Parks, Gardens and Designed Landscapes of Medieval North Wales and North West Shropshire’. As it is still a work in progress, the blog will highlight why I’m carrying out the research, and how the disciplines of Archaeology, History, Literature and Art all entwine to make this topic so interesting to study.

I’m from the town of Wrexham in North East Wales, (Latitude 53.045083; Longitude -2.9931521). I went to both Welsh Language Primary and Secondary Schools, so I’m comfortable using either language. I chose to read Heritage Conservation at Bournemouth University for my Undergraduate Degree, and during my second year, I was, like most other students at that time of their University lives, casting around for a dissertation.

One day, I was in the University Bookshop and I saw a paperback entitled ‘The Revolt of Owain Glyn Dŵr’, written by someone called R.R. Davies. I’d not done history at GCSE, and at A Level the curriculum I studied covered the 19th and 20th centuries. I was aware of Owain Glyn Dŵr – what school child, and especially one in North East Wales where he came from, couldn’t fail to have heard of him. But beyond a few basic facts I didn’t really know very much at all.

So I bought the book.

And within a few pages I was hooked. Not by any inherent nationalism fuelled by being in a University on the south coast of England but by the beautiful way the book was written. I ‘understood’ for the first time how history can be brought to life by the deft touch of someone who has a mastery of the sources at their fingertips. I curated that book – it became something I involved and devoted my time to in order to try and gain some understanding of a world which occupied the same space as I had growing up, but a very different time.

But, I found there was a problem with the book, and one I wanted to solve.  

Within the chapter on Owain Glyn Dŵr was a small section which dealt with his house, known as Sycharth (which probably translates as Sych ‘Dry’ and (g)arth ‘Courtyard’). According to R.R. Davies there was a contemporary poem which described the house and its surroundings, and the photograph of Sycharth published in the book showed that the site was still there and had not been built upon. In addition to the poem, in 1966 an archaeological excavation report had been published about work on the site.

Which all left me confused. If the poem described the site, and archaeologists had excavated there, why had R.R. Davies written so little?

I had my dissertation topic. Now to start on the research.