April 6, 2018

Newsletter 2007

Our first duty this year is to record the great sadness of all members of the Association on hearing of the tragic death on holiday of our President, Richard Avent and of his youngest son, Rhidian, and to send the deepest sympathy of all of us to his widow, Dr Sian Rees, who is herself well-known and loved among the Cambrians.

Richard had taken over the role of President just three weeks earlier during the Chester Meeting and had clearly enjoyed his week with the party. He was, of course, already very well known, having spoken to the Association at many of Cadw’s castles in the past, but in Chester, away from immediate professional responsibilities, we saw a more relaxed Richard, with time to chat to all the members over meals and to demonstrate his very wide knowledge and interest in all manner of aspects of the past, not forgetting the crucial role of the President in graciously thanking speakers, efficiently chairing the AGM and, of course, giving a scholarly but entertaining address. At Beeston Castle we had a demonstration of his effortless command of castle studies and of his ability to convey that knowledge in just the way best suited to the audience and the circumstances. We had arrived 17 minutes before the site opened, so it was suggested that he talk about the history of the site before we went in to look at the archaeological detail – which he did, elegantly rounding it off in exactly 17 minutes! As President-elect he had attended Trustee meetings, despite his heavy work-load, and had been a most wise counsellor. The Association had looked forward to many years during which it would have benefited from his interest and concern. He will be most sadly missed.

He will be sadly missed, too, right across Wales and on the wider British conservation scene, as the many official obituaries demonstrated. As Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Wales for more than 20 years he guided Cadw through fat and, more frequently, lean years, several political manoeuvres and the pressures of changed priorities. Throughout this period he steered a steady course, quietly but firmly, which delivered an enviably effective and comprehensive service to the historic environment, in the form of the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts, coveted in many other regions but frequently under threat from political ideologues, and provided the public monuments of Wales with one of the best series of guidebooks in the English (and Welsh)-speaking world. The transition from the scholarly but slightly austere blue guides of the 1960s to the all-colour productions of today with their masses of stimulating illustrations is a brilliant (and rare) example of how accessibility can be increased without ‘dumbing down’. Cadw under his guidance also embarked upon a series of country-wide surveys to ensure that the baseline of knowledge about various monument types was up-to-date, maintained to a uniformly high standard, and available to be consulted by the public. This foresighted policy will be part of a very considerable legacy, for which his successors will undoubtedly bless him and for which we, now, must be grateful.

Other deaths we must sadly recall include Professor Leslie Alcock, O.E.Craster and Sir Kyffin Williams.

Leslie Alcock was President in 1982, shortly after he had left University College Cardiff to take up the chair of Archaeology in Glasgow. The Summer Meeting that year was in the Lake District, conveniently placed between the two. While he had been in Cardiff Leslie, whose interests lay in the post-Roman period, had carried out important excavations, such as that at Dinas Powys in Glamorgan, which put Wales firmly on the map of that period. He was also interested in the organisation of the archaeological profession and in 1961 was the instigator and first Secretary of the Welsh Group of the Council for British Archaeology. He had a gruff exterior, but a heart of gold.

Oswin Edmund Craster, a splendid name from Northumbria, where his distinguished family originated, had been Principal Inspector of Ancient Monuments in Wales for the Ministry of Works 1954-65, during which time he often spoke at Cambrian meetings. The son of a librarian of the Bodlean, he was a member of SOE during the Second World War, parachuted into France and into Burma, twice mentioned in dispatches and awarded the Croix de Guerre. As an Inspector he was particularly interested in the physical aspects of the monuments for which he was responsible. It was he who inserted a small pebble (a Craster Pebble) to prevent people rocking the capstone of the Portal Dolmen at Dyffryn Ardudwy and he retained an interest in the condition of Skenfrith Castle to the end of his long life.

Sir Kyffin Williams, a member of the Cambrians since 1977, was less well known as a conserver of monuments, though he painted Standing Stones and other knurled monuments to great effect. He was most definitely well-known, however, to everyone in Wales, and to very many beyond, as a wonderful landscape painter, raconteur and ‘general good egg’.

Meetings in 2006

2006 saw three Cambrians meetings: the Easter Conference in Aberystwyth which looked at the future of archaeological and historical societies; the Summer Meeting in the city of Chester and mid Cheshire, and the Autumn Weekend in Pembrokeshire based on Fishguard.

The Easter Conference provided a forum for members of societies of varying size and age to discuss practical problems and share experiences about which activities are popular with members and which are suffering a decline. Although the numbers (32 participants) were not as high as we had hoped, those who attended enjoyed the week-end and found the lectures and discussions useful and stimulating. During the summer some societies initiated new activities which had been directly inspired by ideas put forward at the conference, just what the organizers had hoped would happen. A summary of all the lectures and discussions can be found on this site.

The Summer Meeting in Chester was blessed with wonderful weather, 45 members attended and enjoyed three days looking at the city in some detail and then had two and half days in the countryside of mid Cheshire, visiting castles, churches and gardens and enjoying the excitements of the canal system which had contributed so much to the industrial wealth of what is normally considered a rural county. In the city we had the benefit of the knowledge and enthusiasm of Simon Ward of Chester Archaeology and at the Amphitheatre and the Castle, our member, Henry Owen John of English Heritage, enabled us to get privileged access. Each evening members were able to walk back to their hotel by a different section of the Walls and along the towpath of the canal, a peaceful route through a very busy town.

Chester City Council and English Heritage are organising a very full and fascinating international conference on Roman Amphitheatres on 16-18th February in Chester. Rather expensive (£82.25 without conference dinner) but it’s hot stuff with speakers from all over the world! “This unique conference will range across all aspects of the study of Roman Amphitheatres and the spectacles that took place there……. accessing the latest research and thinking from many different perspectives”. Contact Amphitheatre Conference Office, EMMM Ltd, Southdene House, 16 Booths Hill Road, Lymm WA13 0DL 01925 752078 or www.emmm.co.uk/amphitheatre

During the Pembrokeshire Weekend, which over 70 members attended, the weather was less kind, but spirits were not dampened. The meeting had been organized by Hugh Morgan with a very varied programme which included chasing the French from Pencaer and the builders of Stonehenge from Preseli as well as a day in St David’s where the party was given the most expert guidance around the Bishop’s Palace by Rick Turner of Cadw, and around the Cathedral and the new works being undertaken there by the Dean, our member the Very Rev J. Wyn Evans.

Thanks are offered to all those who worked hard to make these meetings so enjoyable, instructive and stimulating: Jeff Davies, who organized the practicalities in Aberystwyth, Frances Llewellyn, who oversaw the Chester Meeting and Hugh Morgan in Pembrokeshire. Anyone who would like to be involved with planning future meetings, please contact the General Secretary. We’d love to hear from you!

Archaeologia Cambrensis, the National Library of Wales and the Web

Earlier this year the CAA Trustees were asked whether they would be willing to allow the National Library to include Archaeologia Cambrensis amongst a group of Welsh Journals which it wished to make available in digitised form through the web. The Library was applying for a grant to cover the digitisation work to the Joint Information Systems Committee and this summer we heard that the money had been granted. The first stage of this ambitious project aims to digitise all the output of the Welsh periodical press from its inception in 1735 to 1900. This means that, along with a lot of other early journals, the now rare and often difficult to find volumes of Arch. Camb. published between 1847 and 1900 which contain so much valuable material, will soon be available electronically in a searchable form. The Library promises that this exposure will give us a great new audience and a new profile!

Cambrians’ Website – www.cambrians.org.uk

This year has also seen the development of the Cambrians’ Website. This gives general information about the Association, provides a printable Application Form (and happily, a few people have been using it) and will include the contents of this Newsletter, together with its Meeting Return forms, so if you lose yours, you can easily print out another! It also provides summaries of past meetings for those who could not be there (or who were foolish enough to choose not to come!) and gives details of the content of recent volumes of Arch. Camb. It also contains the application forms for Research Grants and details of eligibility etc.

The Association is most grateful to Gwilym Hughes for organising the long-awaited birth of CAA on the Web and to Orchardweb for creating and up-dating the site. Whether through the Website, or other databases, Halfway House seems to have been identified as a ‘research facilitator’ with requests from Australia, northern Italy and even deepest Cardiff for photocopies of odd pages of early Arch. Camb. volumes and of things even more obscure (which luckily the university library in Bangor had on the shelves)!

We continue to be immensely grateful to the hard work of the Editor, Bill Britnell. Another volume of Arch. Camb. will be sent to you very shortly, the volume for 2005. And in the autumn, the volume for 2006 should appear and thus bring the publication timetable up to date and re-inaugurate a single annual production. Alleluia!

Research Grants

This autumn there were three applications for research grants which were all granted, to a certain level. Dr Jonathan Kissock of University of Wales, Newport was given £200 towards the costs of a survey of a deserted medieval village site at Llandewi on Gower. Dr J. L. Davies, our President in 2005, was given £2,437 for a geophysical investigation of the Roman fort at Llwyn Brain, Caersws. The information from this survey will be incorporated into the forthcoming revision of Roman Frontiers in Wales and the Marches which will also contain the amazingly good results obtained from geophysics around other Roman forts through work by the archaeological Trusts for Cadw’s Roman Vici project. The third grant, £2,000, was given to the Llangynidr Society to provide professional direction to their current excavations at a deserted sixteenth century farmstead at Blaen y Cwm. This small society has carried out active fieldwork and excavation for several years and took part in the Aberystwyth Conference. Funding from the Brecon Beacons National Park has dried up and the Association was happy to put its money where its mouth is and support such an active group.

The Llangynidr Society had applied last year, but the application had come in too late. Please note that applications should arrive with the Hon. Secretary by the middle of October to reach the Trustees meeting, with references in place and queries sorted, at the beginning of November. Additional applications may be entertained in the spring (latest date beginning of March) if there is money remaining.