April 6, 2018

Newsletter 2017


Our President-elect for 2017, Professor Prys Morgan, will be very well-known to members, especially those who have attended his elegant and wide-ranging lectures on all matters cultural and historical given, up and down the country, under the most prestigious banners. Members who were in Ruthin last summer will long remember his survey of the Renaissance figures of the Vale of Clwyd which brought life to the castles and houses we visited. We look forward to his Presidential Address this coming summer.

This year we welcomed 27 new members, the largest number for some years, many of them joining via the website. But sadly we have lost others, our erstwhile Treasurer Mr W H Howells, Miss Muriel Bowen Evans, editor of the Carmarthenshire Antiquary, Hugh Toller, the Roman road expert and Drs Chas Parry Jones of Anglesey, L R W McMahon of Brecon and A J P Campbell of Chester. Very sadly Mrs Nia Anthony of Pembrokeshire died suddenly just after the summer meeting. On a happier note we have celebrated the 100th birthday of two members this spring : Miss Eirwen Evans of Abergele and Miss Olwen Davies of Bangor.

Our institutional membership base is not growing and several local authority libraries have cancelled subscriptions. Meanwhile public procurement procedures become ever more onerous and no doubt take up the staff time and money which might be used on more books (or even computers). Members will know that the very valuable 19th century volumes of Arch. Camb. are available digitally through the National Library of Wales. Through the efforts of the Secretary, the Editor and Dr Toby Driver, we hope that the early 20th century ones will also soon be available online.


2016 was a busy year with three successful meetings: a weekend on Historic Woodland and Parklands based in Raglan and organised by Dr Sian Rees, to whom we are especially grateful because it was put in place at short notice, the Summer Meeting in the Vale of Clwyd organised by Frances Llewellyn and the Autumn weekend in Exeter organised by Heather James and Frances Griffiths.

Historic Woodland and Parkland in Wales

Members gathered at the Beaufort Arms in Raglan on April 15th and after lunch set off to visit nearby Raglan Castle where Liz Whittle described the nature of the elaborate water gardens created below the castle by William Somerset around 1560. Members examined the shell alcoves created in the original moat wall and then went down to the terraces which overlooked the lake and the site of the complex ‘knot garden’ of small canals at its upper end. From this formal Renaissance garden members drove to Clytha Park, the epitome of the picturesque and romantic approach. The ’Castle’ is little more than a facade: the focus of the view from Clytha House but it is also the stage from which the parkland can be admired. Sadly many of the great trees in this park are reaching the end of their natural life and looking ’interesting ‘rather than inspiring. This emphasised the never-ending need for management of living landscapes, a topic which would de discussed the following day.

In the evening, after dinner, Prof David Austin, President of CAA, spoke about the concept of exclusivity in land use and enjoyment, from later prehistory (when boundaries first appear in the landscape) through to the Early Modern period when concepts of property and individual ownership lead to the present impression of ‘enjoyment for the elite’ which hangs over the term ‘parkland’.

On the following morning Paula Keen of the Woodland Trust spoke about woodland management and the importance of ‘ancient woodland’. In Wales the SE has the highest proportion of surviving ancient woodland (and Wentwood Forest is the best recorded), despite the 19th pressure to grow conifers for pit props.

Liz Whittle spoke on Mediaeval Deer Parks. Known from the 13th century they were essential woodland pasture and may be recognised by enclosure with a bank or wall with inner ditch and internal division for deer management. Several have lodges. They are a feature of large estates, both lay and monastic, and increasingly became a symbol of status rather than part of the agricultural economy.

Prue Keely spoke about William Emes (1729-1803) who had worked on 90 parks, at least 12 in Wales. He worked on 4 estates for the Clive family and his clientele spread from there : from Powis he went to Gregynog, Erddig, Chirk , Baron Hill. At Erddig, where the archive of his plans is complete, the Cup and Saucer is a brilliant answer to flooding problems. Everywhere he was keen to plant flowering trees, with which he could frame fine views, his particular hallmark.

Ken Murphy spoke of surveys and archaeological analysis carried out by the Dyfed Archaeological Trust at 3 notable ‘created landscapes’ in South Wales, Hafod, Penllegare and Piercefield. Piercefield was the oldest and had been quite radically changed and was now badly overgrown; Hafod, the most famous picturesque landscape, had been more subtly changed by its designer; and the latest, Penllegare, was the product of industrial wealth.

Stephen Briggs described his discovery and study of the house and family of Gwernyfed near Talgarth where he had made a survey of the garden. Starting in 1605 the family history of this never especially wealthy estate was full of interest and warranted more time than we had available.

The Saturday afternoon was taken up with a trip to Piercefield where we went up to the Eagle’s Nest to look down over the meanders of the River Wye, a small sample of the 6 miles of picturesque walks available there. The party then went to Tredegar House, now owned by the National Trust, where Stephanie Evans took us around the garden and explained plans for restoration work, which she spoke about in more detail on Sunday morning. The afternoon ended with a splendid tea in Raglan at the home of Sian Rees.

After dinner Stephen Briggs spoke again, about difficulties in identifying houses in rather unskilled paintings. He illustrated this with a discussion of 4 paintings (post 1664) of Dinefor House and Castle.

On Sunday morning David Austin and Rob Thomas spoke of their historical survey work to inform the restoration of the designed landscape at Middleton Hall, now the National Botanic Garden. The estate had originally belonged to the Middletons of Chirk but the main developments were made in 1789-1825 by William Paxton, another wealthy Nabob. They were followed by Stephanie Evans’ similar work on Tredegar House and the Morgan family, whose fluctuating family fortunes were the key to changes in the estate.

Lisa Fiddes then turned the discussion from private to public parks, the product of the Victorian interest in good works and public health. These parks, sometimes originating from private gardens, often contained exotic plants and large greenhouses, with leisure and sports facilities added later. Many are now suffering from a lack of maintenance.

The final lecture of the Conference was by Pat Neil of the Friends of Pembrey Court (Carmarthenshire) on their fight to preserve and restore the house and garden, first recorded in the 12th century, abandoned and therefore saved from modernisation in 1677, tenanted until 1948 when it was threatened with demolition, and finally sold for £1.00 in 2010. She thanked the CAA for a grant towards a geophysical survey of the garden area.

Summer Meeting in the Vale of Clwyd

Members assembled at lunch time in Ruthin , the base for the week where people were staying either at the Castle Hotel in the centre of town, or at the 6th form house of Ruthin School – Goodman House – on a self-catering basis, a new venture for CAA. The evening meal for both parties was in the Castle Hotel.

The first afternoon was spent exploring Ruthin itself, the 19th century gaol, now a social museum, the Collegiate Church of St Peter with its almshouses and the remains of the 13th century Canons’ quarters in the parish offices at the back, and the great red sandstone castle at the other end of the ridge. Our visit there with Will Davies was the high point of the day since he had just completed a major survey of the ruins and of the 19th century mansions in the interior, in preparation for the foundation of a Conservation Trust which it was hoped would be able to halt the decline of the mediaeval structures.

In the evening we visited the 15th century hall house Nantclywd yr Dre which happily had been preserved and was now a museum run by Denbighshire County Council and was available to us as a lecture venue throughout the week.

On Tuesday we visited Rhuddlan, a long established river crossing defended by a Saxon burgh, a Norman motte and an Edwardian Castle. The day was enhanced by the guidance of Prof Howard Williams of Chester University and of Dr John Kenyon our new President. For lunch we went to Dyserth to see the church and the fine 11th century cross and other monuments and then drove along the Flintshire ridge to see the churchyard at Trelawnyd with its 14th century cross,17th century hooded tombs and splendid view of the prehistoric Gop Cave and the huge Gop Cairn, perhaps a Passage Grave, above it. Pursuing the ridge we noted the line of the Whitford Dyke, no longer thought to be part of Offa’s Dyke but a separate land division in this much disputed border area. Then we saw the second great cross, Maen Achwyfan, with brilliant sunshine enhancing the sculpture, and went on to visit Whitford church to see more early stones and later memorials, notably to Thomas Pennant, Moses Griffiths and Rev Ellis Davies, for many years Editor of Arch. Camb. On the way back to Ruthin we passed through the mediaeval borough of Caerwys.

The day ended with the Presidential inauguration and lecture in Nantclwyd House.

On Wednesday we visited the castle and town of Denbigh where Chris Jones Jenkins explained the amazing plumbing of the Castle Gatehouse and we visited the town walls with their wonderful views of the Clwydian hills. The afternoon was devoted to the area around Henllan and its famous 15th and 16th century houses described to us by Peter Welford. The first visit was to Foxhall where we saw the modest Foxhall of Humphrey Llwyd, still standing and lived in; and the immodest Foxhall Newydd of John Panton, never completed and now a ruin, though still an impressive one. From there we visited Berain, more famous as the home of Catrin of Berain than for its architecture, since like many late mediaeval halls it had been altered as fashions, and the social status of its owners, changed. It had been rescued in the early 20th century by Harold Hughes, another Arch. Camb. editor, and the present owners welcomed us warmly. Since the party was large it was divided and alternated between the house and the Elwy Valley where Frances Lynch described the geological importance of the valley and its caves at Cefn and Bontnewydd to the understanding of glaciations in Britain and early human settlement.

The public lecture that evening was an exciting tour d’horizon of the Renaissance in the Vale of Clwyd by Dr Prys Morgan illuminating a period of quite exceptional culture and money-making in the area.

On Thursday the Cambrians went on pilgrimage to Holywell via another visit to Maen Achwyfan to see the carving under cloudy conditions – a completely different experience. Starting at Basingwerk Abbey near the coast we walked up the valley to the parish church, led by Sian Rees who had headed Cadw’s conservation project at the well. Mediaeval pilgrims would have taken this route through green fields but in the 18th century the lower valley had been transformed into a water-driven industrial centre with cotton mills, smelters and copper rolling mills. Little now remains of most of these works except the mill ponds.

From the parish church we went to the Well chapel and then down to the Holy Well itself with its beautiful hexagonal well basin, now cleaned of most of its centuries of candle smoke. A visit was made in small groups to the tiny museum in the Caretaker’s Cottage.

In the late afternoon we drove to Halkyn Mountain to see the mining landscape and the hillfort on Moel y Gaer, the subject of a particularly fruitful excavation in the 1970s when two series of densely packed Iron Age houses were revealed on a hilltop never disturbed by ploughing. The final visit to the day was to view the only stone circle in Flintshire, at Pen Bedw, possibly another centre of pilgrimage in its day.

On Friday the party was divided. Two thirds went to the fine houses and churches amongst the Clwydian hills, while the other third took a more strenuous tour of the hillforts in the area.

Party A visited Tomen y Rhodwydd, one of the finest motte and bailey castles in Wales and then went to the Church at Llanarmon y Iȃl to see the monuments of the Bodidris family. From there they went for lunch at Rhual, a 17th century house near Mold which has remained in the same family since the late Middle Ages. Unusually, the family were Dissenters in the 17th and 18th centuries and an early out-door baptistery survives. After lunch there was a visit to Cilcain to see the fine wooden roof adorned with large angels and strange animals. Bryn Bella, the Palladian villa built by Hester Thrale and her second husband Gabriel Piozzi in 1792-5 on her return to her native county, was visited next (by courtesy of Mr and Mrs Neumark). They enjoyed the wonderful new gardens which now surround the elegant house. Finally they visited the church at Tremeirchion, another small church with fine monuments and the remains of a churchyard cross.

Party B covered much the same ground, starting at Ffynnon Beuno cave near Tremeirchion. This is a small sunny cave with evidence of human occupation in the later Palaeolithic. First excavated in the 1880s (and visited then by CAA) it is still producing material of great interest. The group then moved forward in time and up onto the hills to visit two famous hillforts, Moel Arthur and Moel Fenlli. These contrast in size and in evidence for occupation. Moel Arthur is small and heavily defended on the east side but there is little evidence for occupation inside it; though recent work has shown activity from the Mesolithic through the Late Neolithic to Early Bronze Age on the slopes outside. Moel Fenlli is a classic huge contour fort with visible house platforms and is much visited. Fiona Gale explained Denbighshire County Council’s work to protect the ramparts from erosion by visitors at both hillforts. From the east side of the valley Party B went down to the western side and followed the river through the cliffs at Pwllglas to look at the two hillforts which seem to guard this entrance to the head of the valley. The chief settlement of this area, almost a distinct territory, is Derwen where there is a fine church (now under the care of the Friends of Friendless Churches) with a well-preserved churchyard cross.

In the evening Rachel Pope of Liverpool University who has been excavating at Pen y Cloddiau for several seasons, lectured on her work on the Clwydian hillforts.

On Saturday, the final morning, the Cambrians visited four of the finest churches in the valley : Llanrhaeadr, St Marcella’s at Whitchurch near Denbigh, the Cathedral at St Asaph and Llanynys, hidden among the central marshes near Ruthin. The three parish churches are all double-naved, like so many in the region, and Llanrhaeadr and St Marcella’s contain some exceptional memorials to members of the great families of the valley. Llanrhaeadr has one of the finest Jesse windows in Wales and Llanynys has a huge wall painting of St Christopher which has been recently conserved and cleaned.

After returning to Ruthin for lunch, the party dispersed.

Autumn Meeting 2016: The City and Cathedral of Exeter

The meeting was based at the Mercure Southgate Hotel close to the city walls and started on the Friday afternoon with a visit to the Exeter City Guildhall with the finest late mediaeval hall in Exeter and an elaborate late 16th century portico and carved door. It has been the centre of city government for 600 years. We were given a tour of the building and a lecture on its architecture by John Allan who was our immensely learned and entertaining guide for much of the weekend.

After dinner there was a lecture by Dr John Salvatore on Roman Exeter – the fortress Isca Dumnoniorum from which the 2nd Legion moved to conquer South Wales. It continued as the civilian capital of the region. This was the first of a series of lectures which followed through the morning of Saturday and the following evening, providing us with an authoritative review of the history of the city.

In the morning Dr Robert Higham spoke on Saxon and Norman Exeter when King Alfred refortified the site against the Vikings. William the Conqueror besieged the burh and eventually built a castle within the northern corner of the walls. Prof Mark Stoyle then took the story forward to the next great siege, during the Civil War when Henrietta Maria had to leave her newborn daughter behind and flee the city.

The final lecture of the morning was by John Allan and was an introduction to the history of the Cathedral which we visited under his guidance during the afternoon. As Consultant Archaeologist to the Dean and Chapter his knowledge was infinite and we all benefitted immensely from his ability to convey both the bigger picture and the detailed evidence.

After the tour many members remained in the Cathedral for Evensong and then moved to the recently renovated Cathedral Library where we were welcomed by Canon Librarian, Ann Barwood. The library contains a priceless collection of 9th to 12th century manuscripts, several of which have references to Welsh saints.

After dinner John Allan spoke to us again about ‘Exeter’s Golden Age 1450-1750’ which provided an excellent introduction to the following day’s tour which included the Customs House and the Quayside, both products of Exeter’s wealth from the cloth trade at this period.

Sunday morning started with a tour of the Walls bringing us to the Castle at the northern corner. Originally a Norman motte and keep, it now houses the law courts. Returning to the Mercure for a welcome coffee, the party then set off to visit the Quayside just outside the southern city wall where the river had been made accessible to deep draft boats by a canal dug in the 1570s. Excavation had revealed the original timbers of the 17th century warehouse there, one of the earliest commercial buildings surviving in a British port. We also visited the splendid Custom House of 1680 with its magnificent plaster ceilings, before dispersing to find lunch in the many commercial establishments on the quay today.

After lunch several members visited the Underground Passages an amazing series of tunnels which held the lead pipes bringing water into the mediaeval city from springs at St Sidwells in the suburbs. Originally built in the late 12th century by the Cathedral Chapter they were later extended by the City Corporation and remained in use until the cholera epidemics of the mid 19th century. Today they provide a fascinating visit for those who do not suffer from claustrophobia!


We received 7 applications for grants this year, amounting to £12,650 which is more than we could afford to pay out. We know that the money available to university departments has been seriously cut and that other public monies to extend and enhance the historical value of commercial projects is also becoming increasing hard to find, so we have eaten into capital this year in order to be able to dispense over £8,000.

Because of these difficulties we have had to clarify our priorities for grant giving and have thought that it might be helpful to applicants to state them here:
1. the archaeological/historical merits of the project, endorsement of referees and its adherence to interests and aims of the Association, including use of amateurs, volunteers, ‘hard to reach’ sectors
2. whether the project would/should attract funding from other institutions
3. whether the project is a discrete single piece of work with a clear outcome, or a multi- seasonal project that will require further funding in future years

In considering point 3 we have found that there have been a number of excavation campaigns which have extended beyond the originally stated period and we are now having to cut back on these. However we have been able to fund some radiocarbon dates for these projects because they fulfil criterion 3.

This year therefore we have given 4 grants for radiocarbon (AMS) dating: to Bill Britnell for dating cereals from Gwernvale (samples not previously within range of the dating technology); to Oliver Davis for 5 samples from Caerau hillfort; to Gary Lock for dates for Moel y Gaer and to Rhiannon Philp for dating the peat around the human footprints on the Gower shore at Port Eynon. All these samples come from contexts which could not have been predicted when the original research brief was written and which we judge should add considerable value to the work already done at these sites.

We have also given money to Neil Ludlow to pay for the translation of specific documents relating to Pembroke Castle, to inform the interpretation of the results of geophysical survey work at the site. This is a clearly defined element of a very large on-going programme of research.

In addition we have given smaller sums to excavations on Skomer Island and at Meillionydd on Lleyn.


The winner of the Association’s £250 junior prize, administered through the Welsh Schools Historic Initiative, was Caldicot School, Monmouthshire for their project ‘Hidden Histories: how settlement has changed in and around Caldicot and why’. The pupils’ researches were presented through displays, including a timeline, a model of the area, information boards and a Powerpoint presentation’.

The senior prize for BA or MA Dissertations on a topic relating to Welsh archaeology or history was awarded to James Exall (University of South Wales at Pontypridd) for his BA dissertation on ‘Charting the decline of the Welsh Language, 1891-1911: a case study of Mold’ which made use of the census information to map language against place of birth and occupations. The work displayed clear understanding of problems of social analysis and an ability to develop conclusions and arguments. A runner-up prize was also given this year, the recipient being Una Tregaskis (Bangor University) for her study of The Ty’r Dewin Bucket, a small Early Mediaeval stave-built bucket found in a bog near Brynkir in 1881 which is now in the Gwynedd Museum in Bangor.


The Eisteddfod this year will be taking place in Anglesey, near Bodedern, from August 4th – 12th. The Cambrians’ lecture will be given on the Wednesday afternoon (August 9th) as usual in the Societies’ tent (but this year there are two of those and I’m not sure yet which it will be in. It will appear in the programme!)

The speaker will be Dr Glenda Carr who will be speaking on ‘O Ble y Daeth Enwau Lleoedd Môn?’ (‘The Provenance of Anglesey Place-names’). The lecture is being organised in association with Cymdeithas Enwau Cymru (Welsh Placename Society).