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

 

 

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Avengers Assemble…Part II

In 1378 a Mercenary Captain fighting in the Hundred Years War was assassinated. His name was Owain ap Thomas, and he was a Welshman fighting for the French against the English, and his assassination was ordered by the English Crown.

Assassination of Yvain de Galles at the siege of the castle of Mortagne-sur-Gironde - from Jean de Wavrin’s 'Chronique d’Angleterre' British Library Royal 14 e iv
Assassination of Yvain de Galles at the siege of the castle of Mortagne-sur-Gironde – from Jean de Wavrin’s ‘Chronique d’Angleterre’ British Library Royal 14 e iv

[Owain is on the right falling backwards – his assassin, John Lamb, is behind him].

This might sound a sub-plot from ‘Game of Thrones’, but this was all very real and had repercussions which we are only just really beginning to understand in terms of the history, archaeology, literature and art history of this particular man.

Owain ap Thomas was also known as Owain Lawgoch or Yvain de Galles. His career as a mercenary captain in France, Switzerland and Guernsey, lasted from what the documentary sources can tell us from 1363 to 1378. He was buried in the nearby chapel dedicated to St.Leger, and his mercenary company continued on, fighting for the French Crown without him.

The story of Owain ap Thomas was written about by in A.D. Carr (1991). Owen of Wales: The End of the House of Gwynedd. University of Wales Press. ISBN 0-7083-1064-8. Copies are hard to find, but if you are interested in the period you should try and find a copy. The book identified the manors (consisting of a manor house and associated land) which Owain left behind when he went to France, and these were in Powys, Gloucestershire, Cheshire and Surrey. Inquisitions were held by the authorities in each of these places to find out when he had left and what property and possessions he had left behind.

The manor in Surrey was at Tatsfield (Latitude 51.287393; Longitude 0.029869080) and had been in Owain’s family for three generations. His grandfather Rhodri ap Gruffudd (brother of Llywelyn ap Gruffudd who had been Prince of Gwynedd until his death in 1282) had come into possession of the manor in about 1310, and it belonged to his son Thomas from 1315 to 1363.

I’ve been researching the archaeological evidence for the estates of Owain Lawgoch since 2004, and a paper on them was included in a book published in 2008 entitled ‘Mercenaries and Paid Men: The Mercenary Identity in the Middle Ages’. You can download a copy of the paper from http://works.bepress.com/spencer_gavin_smith/ The history of Tatsfield in the years after 1363 is for me, particularly fascinating. The manor itself ceased to exist as an administrative entity after Owain left, and it was handed over to the lords of the adjoining manor of Titsey (Latitude 51.278615; Longitude 0.014226437). They constructed a court house in Tatsfield to deal with the administration of the cases that happened there, but they continued only to live in Titsey.

I directed an excavation in Tatsfield in 2004, and the evidence from this and from the historical evidence I’ve also been able to research, suggests that the Manor House there was dealt with in the same way the Llysoedd were removed during the Edwardian Conquest (see https://medievalparksgardensanddesignedlandscapes.wordpress.com/2014/05/04/avengers-assemble-but-where/). The paucity of building materials left on the site suggested careful dismantling rather than simply pushing the building over and rendering it unusable. Doing this would leave a visible marker and a place where assembly could happen, and the proximity to London – only 20 miles to Westminster – would have been an even more potent and visible reminder than a series of castles along the north Wales coast.

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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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Interviewed for the Radio and Chapter 1 Draft handed in…

Two sides of my academic coin this week.

I regularly contribute to BBC Radio Cymru (Welsh language service) and BBC Radio Wales (English Language service) programmes. Usually it is to provide expert comment on an archaeological story which is in the news, and that has some kind of Welsh perspective or angle. This week, however, was a little bit special as on BBC Radio Cymru on Thursday morning I got to comment on a story which has a family connection.

DSC03640

My great-great Uncle was Edward John Smith – Captain of the RMS Titanic.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-17513240

In 2012 I was fortunate to be asked to contribute to several news items, and a programme for the Welsh language television broadcaster S4C on the Welsh people connected to the story of the famous steamship.

This week, one of the most iconic items connected with the events of the 15th of April 1912 was auctioned after its provenance had been authenticated. The item was the violin played by RMS Titanic bandleader Wallace Hartley as the ship sank with the loss of 1,517 lives, including Hartley’s and my Great-Great-Uncle.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-wiltshire-24582739

The violin sold for £900,000.

Personally, I find it comforting that Captain Smith may just have heard this instrument being played that night, and that a tangible archaeological artifact floated rather than sank, safe in its protective cocoon and strapped to its owner, who unfortunately did not survive the experience.

This week I also collected my University identification card.

DSC03650edit

Which makes it all official really doesn’t it?

To that end, Chapter 1 has gone off to my Supervisor for her to cast her expert eye over it…let’s see what polishing and preening, nipping and tucking, and padding and fleshing my draft requires.

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Si longtemps, et merci pour le poisson

Writing a PhD thesis can raise questions you never thought you would have to contemplate finding an answer for when the research began. I assumed (naively perhaps) that I would just sit down, write about Welsh Castles, show where their landscapes were and be made a Doctor.

Except it doesn’t really work like that.

You sit down, start writing, and then find a reference. This reference takes you off to a book you’ve never heard of – and before you realise it a whole sub-plot has appeared in your research.

Which is what happened to me with the Otters.

It all began so innocuously. As part of my reading I have to look at the medieval extents 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. Within them I found a reference to something called ‘Cylch Dyfrgwn’ – with literally translated means ‘Otter Circuit’.

As an archaeologist, I’d never heard of an ‘Otter Circuit’. And, having thought about it, I’d not read about any otter bones being found on the excavations I’d been reading about. Was there a connection between the two?

An ‘Otter Circuit’ was a service which had been carried out under the Welsh Princes, and which was subsequently carried over to the English Lords. Essentially it was a hunting party who travelled around a prescribed piece of land from place to place keeping the ‘uneatable’ animals under control, of which the otter was classed as one.

Just because the animals were ‘uneatable’ did not mean that the event to hunt them was not without symbolism and ceremony. The ‘Devonshire Tapestries’, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum and dating to the Fifteenth century depict an otter hunt in detail http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/d/devonshire-hunting-tapestries/ and, although stylised, the detail of the hunting equipment and methods is clearly depicted. The main piece of equipment, a two pronged spear, continued to be used unchanged well into the Twentieth century.

otterhunt

The lack of archaeological evidence for the Otters from the ‘Otter Circuit’ can be explained by the fact that they were killed where they were caught, so the remains which were not useful were left at the spot. The skins were subsequently used for high-status clothing, and unfortunately these materials have not survived to the present day.

I’ve probably spent way too much time unpicking this story to try and understand the place of Otters in the medieval world, but the data I’ve collected can be used by modern researchers to understand the medieval range of the Otter and hopefully aid in ensuring the continued growth of the population.

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Making the Familiar, Unfamiliar

Academic disciplines move at different speeds. So a piece of information that may be common knowledge to one group may be completely unknown to another. In this case, ignorance really isn’t bliss.

To illustrate my point, here’s one a thousand years (or so) in the making.

Eyton (Latitude 52.991226; Longitude -2.968168) is an area to the south of Wrexham. The name, which means “Island Settlement”, is applied to a village, and also to several buildings including ‘Eaton Hall’ and ‘Eaton Grange’, as well as to landscape features including ‘Eyton Bank’ and ‘Park Eyton’. You will have noticed that in the case of ‘Park Eyton’, the words are reversed. This is because it should be ‘Parc Eyton’, and therefore, is in the Welsh, not the English language.

Why? Well, let’s start with a date nearly everybody knows. 1066. William the Conqueror arrives from France and before you know it is King of England (this blog isn’t about the minutiae of that topic – you can read those elsewhere). The Welsh, well, to be honest, they didn’t really notice. Their Chroniclers are still dealing with the fallout from the death of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn “King of the Britons” who had been assassinated three years previously.

During Christmas 1085, William commissioned a survey of the land he held and of the people living on it. Originally it was known as the Winchester Roll / the King’s Roll or the Book of the Treasury, but by 1180 it was known as the Domesday Book.

The western edge of William’s land holdings was, to be honest, a little blurry. Wales, certainly in the North, had not been ‘conquered’. A little singed and plundered, yes. But not conquered. At the time the Surveyor’s for the roll / book passed through, some places were under new control, and Eyton provides an excellent example. The entry covers Trevalyn, Eyton and Sutton Green. This is an area approximately 14km (8 miles) long and 5km (3 miles) wide. Importantly for my research the Surveyor’s list 2 ‘enclosures’ or ‘hays’. The full entry can be found here http://www.domesdaymap.co.uk/place/SJ4148/sutton/ and explains what it all means at the same time.

The Surveyor’s role was to record items of value, so an enclosure for the capture and control of deer (which is what a ‘hay’ is) would have been recorded. Just because of where it is in Wales doesn’t necessarily mean the invading Normans or the previous neighbours next door, the Anglo – Saxons, built it.

So. The medieval historians are aware of a deer enclosure in Eyton. Are any other academic disciplines like to have encountered it? Well, yes. The academics studying medieval Welsh poetry were aware of two poems by different authors mentioning ‘Eytun’ http://www.dafyddapgwilym.net – Poem 154 is by the very famous and very, very funny Dafydd ap Gwilym and is one of the examples.

Documents survived from 1269 and 1270 discussing who the park belonged to and how it should be divided up on the death of its owner. Parish historians had identified that Parc Eyton was a distinct landholding during their research into the Tithe Maps (a map of a parish or township, prepared following the Tithe Commutation Act 1836. This act allowed tithes to be paid in cash rather than goods. The map and its accompanying schedule gave the names of all owners and occupiers of land in the parish) produced in the early 19th century.

First archaeological record of Parc Eyton? 2004. http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/308744/details/PARK+EYTON%2C+PARK%2C+RUABON/

First Map of Parc Eyton which shows the original boundaries and suggests how large the landholding eventually became? Last Week. I made it.

942879_10151356971290997_249957180_n

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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.