April 6, 2018

Newsletter for 2018


Our President-Elect for 2018 is Dr Mark Redknap who will be well-known to many since he has been working at Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum of Wales for many years, first as curator for the Medieval Collections and now as head of the whole Archaeology Department, in which capacity he has had the unenviable job of overseeing the move of the department from Cathays to St Fagans. The new history gallery is due to open in its new home next summer. Dr Redknap is a particular expert in the Early Medieval period and is the excavator of the crannog in Llangors Lake and of the Viking settlement in Anglesey at Llanbedrgoch, both remarkably informative sites.

This year we have lost two members who had a notable impact on the way in which our heritage is protected and how the archaeological profession had developed over the last fifty years. Dai Morgan Evans died in March after a long battle with cancer. He had been an Inspector of Ancient Monuments in Wales in the early 1970s when the scale of development and the consequent loss of archaeological and historical sites were intensifying and the need for new arrangements for excavation and the rescue of information was becoming apparent. Together with the late Richard Avent, Dai conceived a coherent structure within Wales which, through the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts, gave a coherence to rescue archaeology here which was lacking in England. A few months later came the death of another of the giants of the profession, Dr Geoffrey Wainwright. He had left Wales by the 1970s and was an Inspector in England, carrying our large scale excavation on some of the best known monuments in southern England and, when he became Chief Inspector, altering the way in which the archaeological profession was organised and financed. When he retired he returned to Pembrokeshire and remained active in fieldwork to the end.

This year we have also lost Miss Joan Beck who was Chairman of the CAA Committee for many years, organised several good meetings and was a valuable judge to the Blodwen Jerman prizes. She was a much-loved teacher of history and Deputy Headmistress at Winsford in Cheshire. Another historian we have lost is Prof Emeritus J Gwynn Williams, erstwhile professor of Welsh History at Bangor University and the author of a history of the college. We have just heard of the death on December 4th of Mrs Dorothy Evans, a member since 1953 and someone whom everyone who met her will remember with affection. We also record the deaths of P J Ridgwell of Painswick, Glos who had been a member since 1960, RJK Evans of Merthyr Tydfil, Valmai Trevena, of Aberystwyth and Irene Carruthers, of Newborough, Anglesey.

Notice the new logo!! It is the same shield and motto but with supporters. It is from the Presidential Badge given to the Association by JDK Lloyd when he was President in 1954.


This year there were two meetings held: the Summer Meeting in Ironbridge, organised by Frances Llewellyn with the help of Paul Belford, Roger White, Penny Ward and David de Haan, and the Autumn weekend organised by Profs Muriel Chamberlain and Prys Morgan focussing on the port of Swansea.


The base for the summer meeting in Ironbridge was the Madeley Court Hotel, itself a tangible part of the story since it had been the home of Abraham Darby himself when he first came to work in the valley.
The first afternoon was ‘history light’ as it were as we visited Blists Hill Victorian Town with costumed guides and reconstructed shops. This industrialised village alongside the Shropshire Canal is relatively late in the history of Ironbridge but the Museum is a fascinating mixture of original manufactories, contemporary buildings and equipment rescued from other sites and some element entirely re-created to provide the appearance and feel of a late Victorian town.

That evening we enjoyed a lecture on Wroxeter by Dr Roger White of Birmingham University which provided a wonderful introduction to our visit to the Roman town on the following day.

Tuesday was devoted to the Roman and Early Medieval history of the region with visits to Wroxeter Roman Town and to the Saxon church and village which succeeded it as guardian of the river crossing. In the afternoon we went to Shrewsbury Museum to see the display of the finds from Wroxeter and then to visit the other Saxon church on the Severn at Atcham.

At Wroxeter we visited the ruins under the guidance of Dr White, first visiting the on-site Museum to discuss the history of the early fort and the civilian town and market which followed it. We then examined the visible remains and the reconstructed Roman houses, built under the direction of Dai Morgan Evans for a recent TV series.

We then drove down to the church and examined its Roman, Saxon and 17th century features before enjoying very elegant buffet in the adjacent hotel. In the afternoon we were in Shrewsbury Museum and then visited Atcham church on our return. Here there was a similar story of re-used Roman and Saxon materials in the mediaeval building and some fine later monumental tombs.

That evening our lecture was by Paul Belford on the earliest iron-making in the Severn Gorge, our introduction to the industrial history which would occupy the rest of the week.

On Wednesday morning Paul led us down the Coalbrookdale water courses from Abraham Darby’s first coke furnace at the top to the site of Sir Basil Brooke’s earlier steel making furnace and to the exotic-looking Coalbrookdale Co. Warehouse at the edge of the Severn, now the Museum of the Gorge with a wonderful model of the gorge and its accretion of industrial enterprises.

In the afternoon we visited Broseley, originally the main town of the region with its wealth built on coal mining. The chief manor was Benthall, a fine 16th – 17th century house with a fascinating family history involving Wenlock Priory, recusancy, the Civil War and Charles II’s escape and the study of the crocus, for which the garden is famous.

After visiting Benthall we drove down to Wenlock Priory to enjoy the beautiful and peaceful ruins with the remnants of a particularly elegant Chapter House. But despite appearances, this site, too, had a role in the industrial history of the region. As a major landowner the monks had been the first to exploit the mineral wealth, developing the local coal mines.

That evening saw the installation of Prof Prys Morgan as President and the delivery of his Presidential Address on the work of Iolo Morgannwg as a stone mason and architect. This will be published in next year’s Arch Camb. It was followed by a wine reception and dinner.
On Thursday we went to Coalbrookdale again to visit the newly redisplayed Museum of Iron which outlined the history of iron-smelting from the Romans to the Darbys and beyond. It also displayed some of the amazing decorative ironwork which was the staple of the Coalbrokedale Company after the collapse of the iron munitions business after 1815.

We moved then to the domestic life of the Darby family, visiting their two houses overlooking the furnace and warehouses and the mill pool which supplied the power to the works. These two fine 18th century houses have been rescued from dereliction and Rosehill has been furnished as it would have been in the mid 19th century.

After lunch in the sunny cafes of the town centre we re-grouped at Toll house on the Ironbridge itself where we were met by David de Haan. David de Haan had been closely involved with the repairs to the bridge in the 1970s and had made a very close study of the construction process. As Education Officer for the Museum he had made a half scale model of the bridge which had been very helpful to understanding the sequence of erection. Standing in the shade under the bridge pointed out the telling details which reveal the way in which it was put together. The casting of such large pieces would have been a demanding, but not extraordinary job; but their assembly and erection is a prodigious achievement. The timescale for the project – from the enabling Act of Parliament in 1776 to the opening in January 1781 is also pretty impressive!

After visiting the bridge went to the Bedlam Furnaces with David de Haan who explained that that it is most likely that the casting of the arches was done in the original furnace here, which had been bought by Abraham Darby III in 1776. It is currently being conserved by English Heritage who are also planning more work on the bridge.

The 164th AGM of the Association was held before dinner on this evening.

Friday was devoted to looking at the various ceramic industries which in the later 19th and early 20th century were the main money makers in the Gorge. We began at the Jackfield Tile Museum, housed in the splendid showrooms of the Dunnill Craven Factory, but which shows products of all the local tile producers, including the very beautiful botanical tiles produced by the Maws family who were very well-known botanists, as well as industrialists.

For lunch we went across the river to Coalport where a New Town had been established at the junction of the Shropshire Canal and the river in 1775. This had attracted John Rose
(because of the transport facility) who founded the Coalport China Company which became one of the major porcelain manufacturers of the mid 19th century. It was still a strong company when it transferred to Stoke in 1926. The Coalport Museum is housed in its late 19th century buildings and a number of modern craft workshops have set up beside it.

In the evening Kate Cadman, curator at the Coalport Museum, talked to us on the history of the ceramics industries in the region and about their influence on others and the inspiration on which they drew.

Saturday was the last day of the meeting and members travelled in their own cars to the abbey of their choice – either Buildwas or Haughmond – both very beautiful abbeys but influential in different ways in the Middle Ages. Those who did not have to hurry home then visited the Shrewsbury Flax Mill Maltings where Penny Ward showed us this large mill, the world’s first iron-framed building built in 1776-7. This huge fire-proof mill and warehouse has had various uses but was without a role after 1987. At last a significant grant for refurbishment and re-use has been obtained from HLF and work is just beginning. The Cambrians added a donation as we left to return home in the afternoon.


The Autumn Meeting in Swansea was based in a splendid and historically appropriate building, as the Summer event had been at Ironbridge. This was the former Headquarters of the Swansea Harbour Board which is now the Morgan’s Hotel, set right in the middle of the port area.

Sadly the weather was not as good as it had been in Shropshire and the afternoon tour of the old port area lead by Prof Prys Morgan and Gerald Gabb was plagued by high winds and heavy rain, but everyone survived. The indoor visits to the Dylan Thomas Centre in the old Guildhall and to the Royal Institution of South Wales, now Swansea Museum, both very close to the hotel, were very welcome and full of interest. The ruins of the castle, now much better displayed, were equally interesting, but not quite so comfortable to visit.
We also had a tour and short history of the hotel building itself with a discussion of the process of conversion.

After dinner in the very grand dining room we had a lecture by Mike Lewis of Newport Museum on Medieval Shipping in the Bristol Channel.

He began by explaining that he would be dealing with this broad topic principally through the prism of the Newport Ship, the largest and best preserved medieval merchant vessel ever recovered in Britain. The medieval ports of Newport and Swansea were very similar. Swansea’s history as a port effectively begins in the 13th century, with the River Tawe providing a long inlet for ships to berth

He briefly outlined the discovery of the ship in 2002 and the rescue excavation that revealed some 26m of an estimated 30m long vessel. He explained how advanced digital imaging systems were used to record the surviving timbers and make 3D digital reconstructions and scale models.

Dendrochronological dating has shown that it was built in northern Spain c. 1450, and was repaired with British oak c. 1465. The ship was clinker built in a long tradition in northern Europe. It is now thought that the vessel had had three masts – and three decks and probably a transom stern and a rudder.

As a typical trading vessel of the 15th century, it would have been used in the wine trade from Gascony and Spain, but also to transport passengers, and at times for warfare. Analysis of microscopic plant remains from the hull are revealing details of incoming cargoes destined for south Wales and Bristol, where wool and cloth would have been loaded for export.

How did the ship end up in Newport? It is possible that the vessel was owned by Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – the Warwick archives record a ship putting into Newport for repairs in 1469. Perhaps the vessel was in fact in process of being decommissioned – there are signs of structural problems and that such ships did not have long life spans — and was simply abandoned in Newport creek.

Saturday morning began with two lectures which set the scene for our visit to the Swansea Maritime Museum where members spent the second half of the morning and found their own lunch before embarking on their chosen excursion for the afternoon.

Gerald Gabb spoke on ‘Swansea, Town and Port’. He showed a series of engraved and painted views of the late 17th and 18th century, all showing a town strung out along the River Tawe. Particularly fine was Thomas Hornor’s view of the town viewed from ‘Kilvegh’ Hill.

Swansea had the advantage of a sheltered bay, the Mumbles ‘roads’ being an area where off-lying ships could safely anchor. He stressed that Swansea was a river, not a sea port. Medieval records show evidence of shipbuilding, wine imports (probably via Bristol) and trade in fish from Iceland.

He stressed the compact nature of late medieval and early modern Swansea’s trading zone – Ireland, Brittany and the Bristol Channel with a trade mostly in coal. Not until 1717 do we have the first mention of copper imports – a trade fostered by the Channel Island merchants. Other speakers covered the copper trade and the emergence of ‘Copperopolis’.

He concluded his talk by illustrating the development of Swansea’s docks. An aerial view showed the location of the 1798 and 1806 piers and Kings Dock. The early Victorian predeliction for floating docks was achieved by putting lock gates at either end of a stretch of the River Tawe and the main course of the river was led out to Fabian’s Bay by the ‘New Cut’ east of the river. The old river course then became the North Dock. South Dock (1859) was west of the river mouth and later The Prince of Wales Dock was built to the east. This developing complex was served by a dense rail network.

The 20th century saw the decline of the port and now the docks have either been filled in or put to new leisure uses; a marina occupies the South Dock and residential development surrounds it.

Professor Louise Miskell of the History Department at Swansea University gave a lecture on ‘The Copper Trade 1750-1830: Products and Processes’. Whilst we know about the copper ore coming into Swansea, we know less, she said, on its copper products. The first smelting works in Swansea date to c. 1717 and the town and port were well placed to develop this industry; Anglesey and Cornwall with zinc and copper ores were no vast distance and finally there was a long length of navigable river that could get the ore inland close to the necessary fuel (coal) sources. By 1850 the whole of the lower Swansea Valley was densely industrialised.
The key factor in growth was the new demand from the 1760s onwards for copper sheets to sheathe the wooden hulls of warships and merchantmen to protect against marine boring worm damage, and weed and barnacle growth which slowed ships down. The advent of steamships meant an increased demand for cylinders and boilers – and in the distillery trade. Swansea smelters were good at reacting to market demand and at technical innovation and scientific inquiry.

Granulated copper ‘shot’ from Sweden had been used in European brass making but an early 19th century British breakthrough in shot manufacture from smelted copper, whereby less copper was needed to make brass, soon adopted in Swansea, led to an increase in the domestic kitchen ware market.

It was more difficult to trace where the exported goods were going. The ‘manillas’ from the Penclawdd works which were used as a currency in slaving and other transactions in Africa were never as dominant a part of the industry as people have supposed. The copper industry declined in the 1920s mainly due to the globalization of the ore trade; South American countries developed their own manufacturing.

Turning to the dominant families, Louise Miskell said that the Williamses and Grenfells were more dominant in the early 19th century than the Vivians. She has published studies on the close knit intellectual life of these families and their interests in scientific developments.

In the afternoon a select group went by car to Oystermouth Castle, owned by Swansea City and run by volunteers who gave us a warm welcome. The main keep has been given an exciting glass floor allowing access to the chapel and fragments of the mediaeval frescoes which once covered the walls. These were discovered during the installation of the floor.

Others took the bus to the Guildhall to see the famous Brangwyn panels and to visit the newly re-opened Glynn Vivian Art Gallery. Luckily the weather was better than on Friday.

The final group (much the largest) took an exciting Rib-boat ride from the harbour along the Gower coast and back. This involved getting into heavy duty waterproof suits and roaring over the waves. It was more exhilarating than most had anticipated. Some even declined the experience, but others declared it the best thing they had done in years!

After dinner, Professor Huw Bowen gave a lecture on ‘Copperopolis in an international context’. He began with some telling statistics. By the 1820s Swansea was producing 90% of the British output of smelted copper and by 1860 65% of the total world output, despite having no local deposits. Swansea was the world’s first globally integrated industrial system. The sheer density of the riverside industrial infrastructure and its diversity and wide range of global exchanges amply justified its name: ‘Copperopolis’.

From the 16th century Bristol and Swansea were closely connected industrially and as ports. Bristol entrepreneurs, lacking their own fuel, were instrumental in developing the south Wales coal trade through the port of Swansea.

The key to success however was markets. Despite the production of copper ‘manillas’, Swansea’s wealth was never as wholly built on the slave trade as Bristol’s. Asian markets – especially India were vital. A mutually dependant relationship was forged between Swansea and the East India Company in the 1730s. Bulk copper and copper and japanned goods found ready markets in India. Notable entrepreneurs such as Chauncey Townsend and Herbert Mackworth moved to Swansea, and by the 1780s up to a quarter of Swansea’s output was going to S E Asia

There were other markets across the whole of the far flung 18th and 19th century British Empire. Men from Swansea were prospecting for metals in South America and northwest Australia. Goods and luxury products from all over the world came to Swansea, but by the end of the 19th century ‘the writing was on the wall’.

Professor Bowen ended his lecture with an assessment of this of this world-dominating industry’s legacy: a devastated landscape. In the 1950s the lower Swansea Valley was the largest such toxic area in Western Europe. Swansea, however, was amongst the first to undertake large scale regeneration projects involving the total removal of buildings and all metallurgical traces. Not until the 1970s was an industrial heritage seen as an asset to redevelopment.

On the Sunday morning Prof Bowen led the party on a cruise up the River Tawe, once a polluted industrial drain but now transformed back to a living waterway lined with trees and meadows; its industrial buildings transformed with new enterprises and its hinterland now housing the new Liberty football stadium. Prof Bowen is himself involved in this transformation since Swansea University’s History department is closely involved in current projects to reconnect with the city’s industrial heritage, and he provided a very illuminating commentary to our quiet journey up and down the river from the old docks to the Copper Quarter and back.

This voyage formed a fitting finale to the meeting and on their return members dispersed, either to trains and cars or to a final lunch in the Morgan’s Hotel.


The Trustees award grants at their November Meetings to a variety of research projects and applicants. These are reported upon in this Newsletter and on the Association’s website and in Archaeologia Cambrensis. A wide range of research work is eligible: excavations, assistance with all aspects of post-excavation work, (dating, drawing, photography) survey work of all kinds, historical research; all within the Association’s overall charitable objective to ‘examine, preserve and illustrate the ancient monuments and remains of the history, language, manners, customs, arts and industries of Wales and the Marches and to educate the public in such matters’. For some projects the Association is the sole funder; more commonly our grant forms part of a package of funding. Application forms are available to download from the Association’s web site – none are considered without two references being provided. Amounts awarded are generally between £500 and £2000.

The Association is keen to widen the range of applicants and to encourage young researchers and amateur group projects. We are also open to supporting new research techniques. The Trustees bear in mind, as a broad guidance for their decisions, the ‘Research Framework for Archaeology in Wales’, which is regularly updated after extensive consultation (see www. archaeology.org.uk). A number of projects supported by the Association’s grants have resulted in published Reports in Arch Camb. It is also hoped in future to include on the website the short reports on work supported by the CAA grants, that successful applicants are required to provide.

Demand almost always exceeds supply forcing difficult choices. We need to ‘grow’ the Fund! Following a suggestion by our member Mr Paul Oldham,Trustees have decided to make the Research Fund a stand- alone Designated Fund within our overall accounts. We now invite donations from members – and indeed from anyone interested in promoting archaeological and historical research in Wales. Cheques should be sent to the Hon Treasurer, Mrs Jenny Britnell, 75 Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury, Salop SY2 6BE. We will acknowledge donations by name, but not amount, in the Newsletter and any donation large or small will be gratefully received and put to good use: thus we wish to acknowledge Mr Paul Oldham’s donation to the Fund in 2017.

Awards 2017:
The following awards were made in November 2017:

£1000 to Margaret Dunn towards dendrochronological dating and building recording for the Discovering Old Welsh Houses in N E Wales project.
£1500 to Professor Ray Karl and Katharina Moeller for continuing excavations on the Meillionydd project in Lleyn.
£1200 to Sian Rees on behalf of the Ruthin Castle Conservation Trust for a reconstruction drawing to aid publicity and inform future work.
£1370.48 to Dr Andy Seaman for a GIS enabled survey of the landscapes surrounding Dinas Powys to create cost paths and viewsheds, a discrete component of the Dinas Powys Revisited: Power in the Landscape project.


The Eisteddfod next August will be in Cardiff Bay and events will be held within the existing buildings, so we are not yet sure where our afternoon lecture on Wednesday August 8th will be held. As soon as we know it will be announced on our website (www.cambrians.org.uk), probably in the spring.

The lecturer will be Dr Eurwyn Wiliam, erstwhile Curator at St Fagans and currently the Chairman of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. His title will be ‘Adeiladu tŷ ar dywod: D. Lleufer Thomas, Iorwerth C. Peate, a chreu pensaerniaeth draddodiadol i’r genedl’ (‘Building a house on sand: D. Lleufer Thomas, Iorwerth C. Peate, and the creation of a traditional architecture for the nation’).

This will look at Thomas’s ground-breaking recording of traditional buildings for the Royal Commission on Land reports of the 1890s; how Peate interpreted too widely that and other evidence; and then how Peter Smith, Bill Britnell, Richard Suggett and others, have now placed the ‘Welsh’ longhouse more firmly into context.


The junior prize for 2017 of £250 was won by Hawthorn Primary School, Rhondda Cynon Taf. Their project was on the Nantgarw Chinaworks, an important part of the town’s history but one little known to the present younger generation. By visiting the site, and discovering why it was located at Nantgarw and studying the pottery, the pupils were able to design their own pieces and make and fire their own pottery with the Nantgarw Artist in Residence, Sally Stubbings.

Miss Eiluned Rees attended the prize-giving on behalf of the Association on 7th July at The University of Trinity St Davids, Carmarthen.

The senior prize was won by Elizabeth Williams, Cardiff University for her MA dissertation : Beside the Sea: A study of prehistoric cliff enclosures along the South Wales coastline of the Bristol Channel.