January 11, 2023

Newsletter for 2023


Download a pdf of the newsletter by clicking here.


This year we hope we are returning to normal, no more catching up with plans made long before.  We have an exciting programme with a visit to western France in the summer and, before that, an Online Spring Conference – one of the really useful innovations of the Covid years, with an autumn weekend in Brecon.

Our President-elect for this year is Prof Alasdair Whittle, FBA, FLSW, recently retired from the chair of Archaeology at the University of Cardiff and now a Distinguished Research Professor there.  He graduated from Christ Church, Oxford and in 1978 came to Cardiff as a young lecturer.  His academic work and publications have concentrated on the Neolithic of Britain and Europe, looking both at economies and at monuments. More recently he has directed projects aiming to gather and analyse chronological data for significant monument types. His publication, Gathering Time, has been highly influential, not least in making people realise that we need more Welsh dates for enclosures – and the new edition will undoubtedly have some (financed is part by the CAA Research Fund).  In Wales he has been particularly involved with megalithic tombs and his most recent collaborative publication with Bill Britnell, The First Stones, is on the Black Mountain tombs, which we will be visiting during our summer meeting planned for 2024.

Our most notable loss of 2022 was the death of Prof. Muriel Chamberlain of Swansea University, a great supporter of the Historical Association as well as the Cambrians.  She had been our President in 2003 and a hard working and formidable Chairman of the Committee for many years.  Her obituary appears in the most recent volume of Archaeologia Cambrensis.   Two other well-known Cambrians and educators, Mike Scott Archer of Brecon and Eryl Rothwell Hughes of Bangor died this year.  Both had enthusiastic pupils and followers.  Dr D. Gareth Davies, a Bronze Age metalwork expert died in Cardiff and Richard Aldrich of Colwyn Bay also died this year.

In the confusions of Covid we missed the news of the death in 2021 of Canon James Cunnane, the Catholic priest in Cardigan and a noted local historian; Mrs Eluned Gruffydd of Aberystwyth; Peter Jones of Conwy and I.E.Symonds of Dinas Powys.



Twenty-eight new members were enrolled in 2022, with membership at the date of our 2022 AGM standing at 509. The Membership Secretary is very grateful to all those who updated their subscriptions to reflect the 2022 increase, the first in 30 years. Four-fifths of you have done so, and we are now in a much healthier financial position as a result.

Those who have not yet paid their subs increase will be receiving a reminder note and a new Standing Order form with this newsletter.



Genevieve Cain continues in charge of our website www.cambrians.org.uk which is updated regularly and contains a wealth of material and news. We are very grateful to her for this work.   Our outreach via Facebook (www.facebook.com/CambriansArchaeology) continues to increase, as does Twitter (@CambriansArch) – it is via these channels that posts and Tweets about upcoming events, news, and other CAA items are promulgated.  If you are on social media, then please stop by and Follow us.

We continue to regularly update our YouTube page, which now also includes the Presidential Address for 2022 by Dr Elizabeth Walker on the significance of Welsh caves to Palaeolithic archaeology. Lectures from the autumn meeting in Llangollen (2021) were made live earlier in the year and, in all there are 16 lectures available.   Access is via our YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/@cambrianarchaeologicalasso89 or via the ‘Talks’ page on our website –  https://cambrians.org.uk/talks/   Those who have given us their e-mail addresses have regular updates from us, via Andrew Davidson.   Many thanks, Andrew!





July 4th – 9th 2022

A longer illustrated version of this report is available as a PDF by clicking here.

On Monday July 4th   thirty-seven Cambrians arrived in the Ribble Valley in Lancashire.  Some had had to start the previous day, but by lunch time nearly all of them had managed to find their way off the M65 and reach the Mercure Dunkenhalgh Hotel in Clayton le Moors where we were staying for the week.

The afternoon excursion was to the Helmshore Mills Textile Museum, just outside Accrington. The two mills, established in the late 18th century and working up to 1967, are judged to be the most original and best-preserved examples of cotton spinning and woolen fulling establishments that are still operative.   In 1971 they were saved by a group of local enthusiasts and the Museum is now run by Lancashire County Council.

Dr Jan Graffius, the curator of the Stonyhurst Museum came to speak to us before dinner.  She introduced us to the Collections we would see the next day, relics, mementos, books, portraits, curiosities, most of them with complex stories of survival against the odds, before they eventually found sanctuary with the Jesuits.

On Tuesday morning we headed for Stonyhurst College which is essentially three visits in one.  There is the great Shireburn mansion and its gardens; there is the Jesuit College and its role in the religious and educational politics of the 19th and 20th centuries and there is the Museum and its store of unexpected treasures.  Arrival from Hurst Green tells you a lot about the grandeur of the Shireburn Mansion!

The Shireburns, who remained Catholic throughout the Reformation and its aftermath, were the major family of the locality from the 14th century till 1717, when Sir Nicholas died and the estate and the great house was inherited by his daughter, the Duchess of Norfolk and then, in 1754, by a cousin, Thomas Weld of Dorset who, as an alumnus of the Jesuit College at St Omer, gave the great house to the Jesuit Mission returning to England, to avoid war in Europe and to establish a Catholic school, newly legalized  in England. This history is more or less an epitome of the recusant history of the other great houses that we visited in the course of the week.

The Museum contains a fascinating array of quite mixed material.   St Thomas More’s hat was kept in his family for over 200 years before it was taken to St Omers by a descendant. There is a major collection of early embroidery and vestments, of which the most notable were made by Catherine of Aragon and her ladies ‘in the time of her sorrows’ and include others made by a fearless recusant lady who embroidered her name on them.  There are  some notable Welsh books and relics, including what are believed to be the skulls of David Lewis and Phillip Evans, both Jesuits martyred in Monmouth.   A manuscript book recording the medical details of 17th and 18th century cures at Holywell was another item which excited a lot of interest. It deserves editing for publication.  We could have spent a whole week looking at the exhibits and pulling rare books off the shelves!

But we had to leave to go for lunch and a tour of Browsholme Hall .  The origin of the present house goes back to 1507 and it was extended in 1603.  In 1711 there were further enlargements and in 1804-7 a very ambitious building programme and extensive landscaping carried was out by Thomas Lister Parker.   He was a generous a patron of artists and a companion of the Prince of Wales, which led to bankruptcy and the sale of the house to a cousin, Thomas Parker.  The 20th century saw a decline in all historic country houses and Col Robert Parker (1900-1975) struggled to keep the house from decay.  In 1978 the current owner and his parents came up from Cambridgeshire to revive the hall as a family home.  The house provided a fascinating mix of family memorabilia, fine furniture and serious art.

After the tour we got back into our bus and drove up the Hodder Valley towards the Trough of Bowland in the most perfect weather – brilliantly clear and the sun shining. Bowland, was for many centuries a Royal Forest for deer hunting and as such has a very interesting environmental history.

Chipping is a small stone-built village made prosperous in the 17th century by cloth-making and selling.  One clothier, John Brabin, a Puritan shopkeeper, founded a School and Almshouses in 1684.  Both are still standing, as is the charity fund he bequeathed.   We visited both the Anglican church, a 13th century foundation, and the Catholic church which was built in 1827, just before Catholic emancipation. Externally this is very discreet; internally it is large and very fine.  It still has its late Georgian interior with tall columns and fine paintings.  The Vatican II re-arrangement here has been exceptionally well done, with the new altar reflecting the style and elegance of the old.  All this led to an impromptu seminar on the politics of Catholic Emancipation.

In the evening we had the Presidential Reception and Lecture.  Our incoming President, Dr Elizabeth Walker of Amgueddfa Cymru National Museum Wales was inducted into her new role by the out-going President, Dr Eurwyn Wiliam – of the same institution, the first time this juxta position has occurred!  The lecture is available on You Tube (see above).

On Wednesday we set off to go to Clitheroe and Sawley via a glimpse of one of the rare hillforts of Lancashire — Portfield Camp where an interesting Late Bronze Age hoard, with links to Ireland and Anglesey, had been found in 1966.

We passed through the old market town of Clitheroe and saw the remains of the Castle keep from afar.   In Sawley on the banks of the River Ribble, we visited the Cistercian abbey founded in 1146 by the Percy family.  In 1536 Sawley was suppressed without opposition, but in the autumn of that year the Pilgrimage of Grace inspired its restoration under a new abbot, William Trafford.   With the defeat of that rising, Trafford was hanged and the abbey was plundered.

The remains of the Abbey are under the care of English Heritage, but they don’t give very much information so, with the help of Richard Haslam we spent a pleasant hour teaching ourselves about what we were looking at.  The lack of official information led to lively discussion amongst ourselves, before we left for lunch at Samlesbury Hall.

Samlesbury Hall  is one of Lancashire’s outstanding timber-framed halls, but the estate and the building itself have had quite a disrupted history.   The estate is mentioned in 1185 and in 1322, a time of Scottish raids, the heiress married Gilbert de Southworth and the Southworth family owned it until 1678 when the repercussions of the Civil War and family feuds brought them to bankruptcy.  The present south wing is the oldest surviving part and may have been built in 1520 by Thomas Southworth.   The family was implicated in various plots around Mary Queen of Scots and had also become embroiled in a Witchcraft Trial in 1612. Thomas Braddyll bought the bankrupt estate and the house became a ‘fustion factory’, occupied weavers.  In 1834 it became an inn, and later a Pestalozzi School.

In 1862 it was bought by Joseph Harrison, a successful power loom maker and philanthropist from Blackburn.  He and his son William lavished money, time and knowledge on the restoration of the south wing and the hall, and built the extensions. The estate was sold in 1924 when it was bought by a builder for demolition.  But public outcry led to the foundation of the Samlesbury Hall Trust, to use it for public benefit.  We had a very fine lunch there and then toured the oldest parts of the house before moving on to Whalley.

Whalley Parish Church : St Mary and All Saints  is certainly the oldest building in the town. The Saxon Crosses in the churchyard are all judged to date from the 10-11th centuries and are comparable to a swathe of crosses from Cheshire to south-west Scotland.  All three have been damaged, but the one south of the nave has a good shaft with a lot of twisting vegetal ornament.  Sadly the head is badly damaged, but is clearly comparable to others from the region. Four fragments of other shafts and 1 piece from the centre of a cross head which may be 9th century in date, are built into the south wall east of the church porch. A Roman altar stands in the north aisle.

The church has a long history visible in a Norman doorway, Early English windows and  a 15-16th century timber roof very similar to that at Ribchester.  But the major feature of this church is the late mediaeval and 17th century woodwork:  the stalls which came from the Abbey and the later pews and benches.  The misericords are said to be “some of the most rewarding in the country”.

Whalley Abbey was another Cistercian community.  The monks came to the Ribble Valley from Cheshire in the 1280s.  But they were unsettled and tried to move several times. The building dates for various elements of the monastery span 1330 to 1430.  The layout seems to have been traditional, with a large church with a cloister range to the south.  The sacristy, Chapter House, and dormitory were on the east side; the refectory on the south, by the river.  On the west side was the cellarium, or stores, with the lay brothers accommodation above, built in 1415.  It is one of the better preserved elements because it was converted to agricultural use.   The Abbot’s Lodging was a large courtyard house some distance to the east with its own gardens and gateway.  The two gateways are the most complete of the mediaeval buildings.

The abbey was suppressed in 1536, but the detail of what happened in Whalley is not recorded. The abbot at the time was John Paslew, abbot since 1507, and he might not have gone quietly.  In 1537 he, like William Trafford, was charged with treason and executed.

In 1553 the abbey was sold to John Braddyll and Richard Assheton who converted the Abbot’s Lodging.  Subsequent members of the Assheton family demolished the abbey church and most of the other buildings, established formal gardens and adapted the house as fashions dictated.

In the 1920s both the Catholic diocese of Salford and the new Anglican diocese of Blackburn became interested in the abbey site.  In 1922 Salford acquired the west wing of the cloisters. In 1923 the Anglicans bought Assheton House for an education and conference centre.   In the 1930s there were extensive, but poorly recorded, excavations of the abbey church.  Archive photographs suggest that the ‘restoration’ is not entirely accurate.

We examined the ruins and were puzzled by the trenches below the monks’ stalls, explained by English Heritage as a heating system – none of us had seen this elsewhere.  Some of us got lost at this point and missed seeing the cellarium and also the very fine long western gateway. After we had gathered everybody, some from cosy tearooms, we returned to Dunkenhalgh.  This evening before dinner Marie-Thérèse Castay, with the aid of her brilliant slides, gave us a taste of the Saintonge area which we will be visiting this summer.

On Thursday we were in Burnley where we looked at both the industry and the landed wealth of the 18th century recusant families when Burnley was still a small market town.  But during the 19th century, with improved road and new canal connections it becomes one of the most important cotton weaving towns in the world.

Our first visit was to the Weavers Triangle Museum on the late 18th century canal. This museum of social life, from 1850s to 1950s, is run by a small charity in the Wharfmaster’s House and the Toll House. It gives an introduction to the cotton industry and upstairs shows life as lived when most of us Cambrians were young children or teenagers.  An evocative visit which everyone enjoyed!

Having looked at the industrial centre we moved to the leafy parkland of Towneley Hall the home of the Towneley family from at least the late 14th century till 1901 when Lady O’Hagan died and the house (cleared of all its furniture) and park was sold to Burnley Council as an Art Gallery and Museum.

Burnley, like Blackburn, had many wealthy industrialists with notable collections of art and antiques. Over the years donations of money, collections, and the return of much of the original furnishings by the 3rd Lord O’Hagan, have made the Gallery and Museum a fascinating mix of history and of art.

Amongst the family treasures are the Whalley Abbey Vestments (1390-1420) and the furnishings of the chapel, including an early 16th century altarpiece from Antwerp brought home by Charles Townley in 1800, sent to a local convent in 1896 and returned in 1968 when the convent closed.

The house itself is of outstanding interest and has a complex building history with active change from 1380-1860.  The oldest part is the back (W) of the current three-sided court where there was probably an open Hall House, to which was added a stone Tower House of c.1450 to the S.  Eventually it became an enclosed courtyard house, but the east side was demolished by Richard Towneley (1689-1735) and in the West wing — his new baroque Entrance Hall — he created one of the most splendidly decorated suites of plastered rooms in the country.  Sadly this area is now closed to visitors because of a worrying report on the state of the floors above.

Like many landowners in the region the Towneleys were recusants and remain Catholic to this day.  At the time of the Dissolution Sir John Towneley (1473-1540) rescued the Whalley Abbey vestments.  His son, also John, records on a painting of himself, his wife and their 14 children, that, between 1564 and 1594, he had been imprisoned many times in various places (listed) and had paid out £5,000 in fines for non-attendance at the parish church.

In the Civil War Towneley Hall was occupied by Parliamentary troops while the family was active in support of the king.  Later they were involved in Jacobite plots and Francis Towneley (1708-1746) came back to Britain in 1743, from serving in the French army and stayed in Wales.  When Charles Stuart arrived in Scotland he and David Morgan of Penygraig raised a small regiment in Manchester. Francis joined the retreat to Carlisle and surrendered in December 1745.  He was taken to London, tried and executed.  His head was rescued and brought back to Towneley Hall chapel.  His brother John (1697-1782) made his career in France and was a friend of Voltaire.  In later life he introduced his nephew Charles to Paris.

Charles Townley (as he spelt it, 1737-1805) had been educated at Douai, after which he went to Paris until he came back to Burnley in 1758 to run his estates.  He was interested in agricultural improvement and was a promoter of the Leeds Liverpool Canal.  However he spent a fair time abroad and in his later life lived mainly in London, where he kept his growing collection of sculpture and antiquities, amassed during three Grand Tours of Italy – 1767, 1771 and 1777. He was a talented artist himself and was elected both FSA and FRS and in 1791 was made a Trustee of the British Museum.  He died in London but is buried in the Towneley crypt in the parish church in Burnley, as many Catholics were before 1829.

Gawthorpe Hall, Padiham is a tall compact house, very unlike Samlesbury, Stonyhurst or Towneley Hall.  Its origins lie in a house built in 1600-5 for the Rev Lawrence Shuttleworth.  The Shuttleworth family continued to live here until 1967, but in the mid 19th century the male line failed and the heiress married James Kay, assuming the name Kay-Shuttleworth.   He was a politician, social reformer and educationalist, born in Rochdale.  His marriage to Janet Shuttleworth in 1842 brought change and public attention to both house and family.

In 1847 a major programme of restoration and remodeling was initiated at Gawthorpe. The architect was Sir Charles Barry, with AWN Pugin, the same team who had rebuilt the Houses of Parliament.   The public attention was largely related to Wales, because he was the Secretary of the Privy Council Committee on Education which in 1847 brought out The Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the State of Education in Wales — the treasonous Blue Books.   Though Sir James may have had the best of intentions, his reporters were astonishingly insensitive and decades of controversy followed the publication.

When we arrived, we stood on the front lawn and Dr Prys Morgan gave us an impromptu lecture on the Blue Books and their impact, which led to a lively discussion.  The National Trust staff began to wonder when we would come inside.  The Blue Books didn’t feature in their story, which mainly concentrated on the notable Edwardian women of the family.

The house contains and displays highlights from the Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth Textile Collection.  Miss Kay-Shuttleworth (1886-1967) was the last member of the family to live at Gawthorpe.  She was passionate about textiles, printed and embroidered, and throughout her life was an enthusiastic and informed collector.   A collection which undoubtedly deserved more time!

That evening we had a pre-dinner lecture from Dr Cynthia Johnston, from University College London.  She is a great expert on the exceptional collectors of the Ribble Valley, and especially on the rather enigmatic Edward Hart of Blackburn, whose collection of books, bequeathed to Blackburn Museum, is believed to be one of the best in the country.  He and his Collection, which we would see the next day, were the subjects of her lecture.

Friday July 8th was our last full day in the valley and we concentrated on Blackburn, another mediaeval town transformed by industry in the 19th century.   We went first to an outlying pre-emancipation Catholic church which, unusually, was very flamboyant.   This was Pleasington, built in 1816-19 by John Palmer for John Butler the local landowner, in a style which echoed ‘all the styles in use from the Saxons to the so-called Reformation’. It is strikingly tall and, generally, the style is Perpendicular Gothic, but with Noman dog tooth mouldings around the windows.   The carvings, by Thomas Owen, are rather crude and the architectural decoration is a puzzling mix of periods, but the impact is amazing.

Inside, Owen’s carvings by the alter are rather horrific, but the huge windows make it very light.  We had a fascinating talk by Canon Kevin Kenney, who discussed its history and the re-ordering of this rather idiosyncratic church after Vatican II when altars were moved forward, the difficulties of financing it and of pleasing parishioners with differing views.

From Pleasington we went to nearby Hoghton Tower where we were given a warm welcome to the gardens, but had only limited access to the interior of the house because they were preparing for a wedding reception the next day!

The siting of Hoghton Tower is remarkable; the approach is via a long straight drive rising to a gatehouse in the centre of a square enclosure. The de Hoghtons have lived in the area since the Norman Conquest; originally they lived on the lower land, but the central tower (blown up, perhaps accidentally, by stored explosives in the Civil War) may have been a mediaeval Tower House. Certainly the present house, with gatehouse and double courtyard was built by Thomas Hoghton —  a very late castle design.   It has remained essentially unaltered since then, but from the late 1700s to 1862 it declined, because the family was living elsewhere.  In 1862 the 9th baronet, began a programme of restoration, and the family returned and still live there today.

Thomas Hoghton was a devout Catholic who went into voluntary exile ‘for blessed conscience sake’ in Douai where he helped his boyhood friend (Cardinal) William Allen to found the seminary.  During his exile his brothers ran the estate.  Alexander Hoghton was known to be a patron of Shakespeare who possibly may have stayed at Hoghton Tower in 1580 – when Edmund Campion, the first Jesuit Missioner to England, was also there.

A younger son, Richard, was brought up a Protestant at Queen Elizabeth’s court and he and his son, Gilbert, were both favourites of James I. In 1617 James and his courtiers stayed at Hoghton Tower for two days.  The festivities nearly bankrupted the family!   When the Civil War broke out Sir Gilbert supported the king and lost his estates, but his heir had supported Parliament and they were restored to the family.  His successor, Charles, 4th Baronet, is described as a ‘great scholar and mathematician’ who founded Preston Grammar School and was a friend of William III.   The family remained Protestant and in the mid 18th century Hoghton Tower was listed as a Presbyterian Chapel.

Like Samlesbury, Hoghton in 1824 is listed as the base for 2 cotton spinners and a calico printer.  This was to change after 1862 when the family returned.   The work of restoration continued until 1901.  The Hoghton gardens are a very rare and well-preserved example of walled gardens of the late 17th century.

We lunched at Blackburn Cathedral before walking up to the Museum    In face of growing populations the medieval parish church had been replaced in 1820-26 by a new building by John Palmer. Here his work is much calmer than at Pleasington, and without much stained glass, the impact is clean and tall and light with an air of pleasant Strawberry Hill Gothick. The striking concrete corona over the crossing with a very tall slim spire above, is very beautiful, but has caused trouble and had to be rebuilt in 1998-9.

Blackburn Museum with its wide-ranging collections was the focus of our afternoon.  The Free Library and Museum was one of the earliest, and the rich industrialists of the area supported it with generosity.   One of the most generous was the ropemaker,  Edward  Hart (1878-1946), who donated his History of Writing Collection , which begins with cuneiform tablets and  covers Mediaeval manuscripts, many illuminated Books of Hours,  Arabic and Persian books, Early Printed Books, early editions of Chaucer, Dante, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Blake and Byron, and his collection of books from private presses.   There is also his comprehensive collection of Greek and Roman Coins.   Others who left significant bequests were Thomas Boys Lewis (1869-1942) who left his collection of 18th-19th century Japanese Prints and his Bulgarian Icons.  He was a mill-owner and manager, who also taught Greek and Latin in the Blackburn Technical College.  The Art Gallery contains 8 Turners and some very good Pre-Raphaelites.

On our last day we drove in our own cars across the valley to Ribchester  to the remains of the Roman fort and the Museum housing the material from its various excavations.

Ribchester was the Roman Bremetenacum, a fort at the river crossing on the Roman road from Manchester to Carlisle.  It also lay on the E-W road towards York. The fort’s history is very similar to forts in north Wales: founded in 72 AD, rebuilt in stone about 120 AD and occupied into the 4th century. This fort lay close to the river and the eastern quarter has been swept away, but the western gate and rampart survive to the west of the church.

The Roman remains were well known to Leland, Stukeley and other early scholars, and Thomas Pennant recorded his visit here in 1774.  In 1796 a fabulous Roman bronze helmet was found, as well as several good inscriptions. These finds led to excavations in 1812 and John Garstang, the son of a Blackburn doctor and later Professor of Egyptology in Liverpool, carried out his first excavation there in 1874.  Further excavations took place in 1904, and in the 1980s and 90s in the graveyard and elsewhere in the town.

The parish church of St Wilfrid is essentially a 13th century church with additions and modifications up to the 16th century.  A damaged wall painting of St Christopher is on the N wall.  Across the nave is the Hoghton Quire (or pew) with a high enclosure, like the one in Whalley. The roof is 16th century, also very like Whalley. The west gallery is 18th century but the supporting columns are probably Roman.

Some members, with long journeys before them, left at this point, but others went up the very narrow road to Stydd to the large car park of the Catholic church of St Peter and Paul, (1789) one of the best examples of the ‘Barn Churches’ built before Emancipation.  From the road the group looks like a central house with two wings.  The end of the church has domestic windows suggesting two floors.  In comparison with Chipping, this church was rather a disappointment because it has lost its 18th century interior and stained glass windows, in a severe Vatican II re-ordering.

From there we walked past the Shireburn Almshouses, a charming group built in 1728 through the bequest of John Shireburn, of the Stonyhurst family, for five Catholic spinsters or widows.  The building is now owned by a Housing Association. We continued up the hill to the Parish church of St Saviour.  In the late 13th century this was acquired by the Knights Hospitallers but there is little sign of their Preceptory. The church is now redundant and cared for by a local Trust.  In the sanctuary are the 14th century graves of Adam and Lady Alicia Clitheroe and – more surprisingly — the grave of ‘Bishop’ Francis Petre who was a Catholic priest – the Vicar General (1752-1775) of the Northern District (the pre-1850 term for the local leader of Catholic clergy). Three other Catholic priests are also buried there.

The presence of Catholic burials is less puzzling in the light of the purchase in 1686 of Stydd Manor by a consortium of Catholic families: Stanford, Shireburn and Walmesley.  This included the church and its graveyard with rights of burial.   In 1756 the Walmsleys left their house to their cousin, Francis Petre, who used it as a base for running the Northern District.   After his death, his chaplain, Fr William Fisher, was maintained by the Walmsleys and it is he who built Stydd Lodge (the presbytery) and the disguised church in 1789.

Returning to the car park, the Cambrians dispersed in search of lunch and the motorway to bring them home after a full week of recusancy and art.



12-14 September, 2022

The theme of this meeting was a study of the early medieval monasteries and the historic houses of the Vale of Glamorgan. We were based at Cowbridge, founded in the Roman period and developed as a 13th century walled town. 47 Cambrians participated in the meeting and on the first afternoon we were guided around the historic centre by Edith Evans, the excavator of several Roman sites in the town, and Bill Zajac who escorted us around the town architecture, the charming Physic Garden and Cowbridge church. We then walked up the hill to the castle of Llanblethian, where John Kenyon described its history and architecture, especially the remarkable and magnificent 14th century gatehouse.

On our return to the hotel, we were treated to a lecture from Jeremy Knight on the cluster of important early medieval monasteries in the area, setting the scene for the sites, crosses and inscribed stones we were to visit over the next few days.

On Tuesday, we visited the ruins of the great house of Old Beaupre, probably built in the early 14th century by the Basset family. This early phase was described for us by John Kenyon, while Prys Morgan elaborated on the dramatic re-modelling of the house in the 16th century, with its glorious inner porch built in 1600 by Richard Basset.

Next we proceeded down the narrow Vale lanes to the church of St Cadoc’s, Llancarfan, where Anne Ballantyne, who had conserved the church’s spectacular series of 15th century wall paintings described the Seven Deadly Sins, Death leading a young man out to the churchyard and a most spectacular tableau of St George and the Dragon.. Nothing remains of the early medieval monastery  known to have stood here but the present 12th century church has many other features of interest including part of a fine medieval rood screen and carved panelling.

We then proceeded to the medieval mansion of Fonmon Castle. While we ate our lunch, Andy Seaman of Cardiff University, who, coincidentally, was excavating in the grounds of the castle, described his excavations of medieval burials, boundaries and a corn drying kiln. Prys Morgan guided us around the castle, notably the remarkable hall and library, described by Newman as the “glory of Fonmon” with its elaborate plaster ceiling. We returned to the coach via the formal gardens which adorn the approach to the building

The early clas at St Illtud’s Church, Llantwit Major, is believed to have been founded by St Illtud in the early 6th century. The remarkable collection of early Christian stones in the church was described for us by Jeremy Knight, while Michael Davies joined us to talk about the method of conserving this hitherto ruinous section of the church where the stones are now displayed. We then walked around the complex church building to appreciate its historic development.

Our last visit of the day was to the church at Llysworney, dedicated to a legendary Celtic saint, and heavily restored by the Victorians but with some features surviving  from the 12th or 13th century. We were then refreshed with tea, Welsh cakes and bara brith kindly provided by Jill and Edward Jacobs and Katherine Kettle.

On our return to the hotel our President Elizabeth Walker made the awards to the winners of the G T Clark prizes for 2022 (Jane Kenney, Mark Redknap and  Alan Lane, Richard Stone, Evan Jones and Sian Rees) and to Dan Hunt who won the Gwobr Archaeoleg Cambrian Archaeological Award for his MSc Dissertation. This was followed by a lecture by Prys Morgan who masterfully described the great houses of the Vale from the 16th to 20th centuries, illustrated by sumptuous images.

The final morning saw us travelling to the isolated house of Sker on the windswept coast adjacent to Kenfig Burrows, built on the site of a medieval grange of Neath Abbey. Michael Davies, responsible for the on-going conservation of this hitherto ruinous building, showed us around the 16th century building, including internal rooms.

Some years ago, the southern wing of the building had collapsed, but our visit fortuitously coincided with its rebuilding, which with Michael’s guidance we were able to examine.

So engrossing was the visit to Sker, not to mention the coffee and biscuits unexpectedly produced by the caretakers, that we left rather later than planned to visit Merthyr Mawr.

But the walk from Merthyr Mawr House along the path through the woods, so kindly cleared especially for us by the Estate, did not disappoint. For there was the ruinous late 15th century chapel of St Roque, the walls of which sheltered two fine inscribed pillar crosses, one known as the Conbelani Stone.  Jeremy Knight described these and then the second collection of early medieval stones housed behind Merthyr Mawr church, a little further along the road. This concentration of early Christian stones, including, notably, the inscribed Paulinus stone, suggests the former presence of an early monastic clas foundation in the vicinity.

Sadly, we were unable to visit the ruins of Candleston Castle, a casualty of the time taken to do justice to Sker and the Merthyr Mawr crosses, sites which, unlike Candleston, are privately owned and normally inaccessible. We are indebted to the owners of all these sites as well as to our speakers who spoke with such erudition and enthusiasm to make our autumn meeting so memorable.



In 2022, for the second year, the Association ran a programme of Walks and Talks in different areas of Wales led, throughout the year, by Trustees and members. The first, braving the squalls of March, was a moorland walk in the Western Brecon Beacons led by Heather James to see two beautiful stone circles. A few weeks later, in April, walkers were able to follow Fiona Gale to look at Moel y Gaer hillfort, Rhosesmor, and the remains of lead mines on Halkyn Mountain in North-east Wales.  Again in April, Frances Lynch led a moorland walk above Harlech, visiting the Moel Goedog Circle, and the Iron Age and Medieval settlement at Erw Wen.

Then in the south west, Rhiannon Comeau guided Cambrians to Mynydd Dinas, reviewing the medieval landscape of North Pembrokeshire.  In August, Heather James returned to the Brecon Beacons with a visit to Arosfa Garreg Roman marching camp and the sites of several medieval longhouses.  In September Rachel Swallow led three walks through historic villages in Farndon parish on the Cheshire/Wrexham border. And in October, our President Elizabeth Walker and Jeremy Knight, led a vigorous full-day walk on Gower, across the beach to Burry Holms and up to Rhossili Down where we looked at sites from the Mesolithic, Neolithic, Mediaeval and 20th century.

Later that month, Jan Bailey and Sue Ware showed us a stretch of the Monmouthshire and Brecknock Canal at Llangynidr, constructed in the 1790s as two separate canals.  The final walk, in November, was at Caerwent Roman Town, Monmouthshire where Sian Rees led 12 stoical participants around the entire circuit of the spectacular town walls and gates

The Programme will continue in 2023. So far, walks are already planned to examine the landscape around Caernarfon, in the Gwent Levels at Magor/ Undy and the Gower where our President has offered a two-centred walk around Parkmill  (to visit Parc le Breos Neolithic tomb and Cathole Cave) and Rhosilli. We will ensure that walks will have a good distribution throughout Wales to allow participation to as many as possible.

Details will be published on the website and social media.


The Annual General Meeting for 2022 was held online on Thursday October 13th and was followed by a repeat of the Presidential address originally given during the summer meeting.  This fascinating lecture is now available on the Society’s You Tube channel.

Our Christmas Lecture this year was given by Richard Suggett on December 8th: Discovering Wall Paintings in Welsh Churches.    It was given in association with the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments and related to his new book Painted Temples: Wallpaintings and Rood Screens in Welsh Churches 1200-1800, but also discussed broader issues of discovery and conservation.  It is hoped that these Online Lectures will become a regular feature of our annual programme.





Darganfod – Discovery 2023: a celebration of new archaeological research in Wales

Saturday 1st April 2023 will see the return of our very popular biennial Darganfod-Discovery conference, organised by Rhiannon Comeau and Tudur Davies for the CAA and by Oliver Davis of Cardiff University. As in 2021 it will be held online as a free Zoom event, to allow our far-flung membership to participate. Projects supported by the CAA Research Fund and the research of some of our prizewinners will be featured, and we will also hear from a number of early career researchers. More details about talks and registration will be emailed to members in the early Spring.



JUNE 17th – 24th 2023

The former province of Saintonge, now part of the Département de Charente-Maritime occupies a central location along France’s western seaboard. It can boast a long, if troubled, history starting with Neanderthal occupation. But it is with the arrival of the Santones, a Celtic tribe coming from the Swiss/German border who were to give the province its name, that history started in a big way, at Pons oppidum. After the Iron Age, the Romans came, and Saintes was to reach a particularly sophisticated degree of romanisation, as appears in the remains of its earlier period, the Germanicus Arch, what is left of the Roman baths, and the amphitheatre, not to mention the network of roads, villas and aqueducts, and what is now the Gallo-Roman site of Le Fâ, and probably was the lost Roman town and port of Novioregum.

The next high tide in the history of Saintonge is the 11th and 12th centuries with the blossoming of Romanesque art. Such was the quantitative as well as qualitative wealth of Romanesque productions that Saintonge is the French province which can boast the largest number of Romanesque churches. Of these, we will only see a few, but they will enable us to appreciate the beauty of Romanesque carving, as well as the distinctive local features of this European art.

The third theme of our visit to Saintonge will be related to the maritime dimension of the province, with the vast expanses of marshy land which, as the sea withdrew, have now taken over the salt marshes which, until then, had been the main source of wealth, of white gold as it was called. Also related to the maritime heritage is the port of Rochefort, (created by Colbert, the minister of Louis XIV the Sun-King) where many aspects of its naval vocation are still visible, from the dry docks to the rope-making factory and the school of naval medicine.

We have booked the BLEU NUIT HOTEL a small (there are no large hotels in the centre of Saintes), friendly hotel located in the heart of Saintes close to the old town, and near the amphitheatre and St Eutropius’ church. Although they have a DBB tariff there is no restaurant in the hotel itself (the same applies to the other hotels we have tried), but the hotel has deals with 3 restaurants which are very close, so that should not be a problem as it entails less walking than what we often do when we stay in halls of residence.  The rooms can all accommodate 2 people and we would be very grateful if as many members as possible would consider sharing with a friend.  Remember that your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after your period of travel.

A booking form can be downloaded here.



Saturday June 17th

Arrival in Bordeaux. Participants will be met at the airport and/or the Railway station – Journey by coach to Saintes, and arrival at the Bleu Nuit Hotel – settle in and evening meal

Sunday June 18th   Full day in Saintes

10.30  walk to the Roman baths of St Saloine

11.30   walk to Germanicus arch

Lunch nearby (pre-booked)

1.30   The Archaeological Museum

Free time to rest at the hotel (if it is hot), or walk in the old part of the town

4.30  Arrive at the Roman Amphitheatre

5.30   St Eutropius church     (World Heritage Site)

8.00  Evening meal (same time all week)


Monday June 19th    Morning in Saintes, afternoon in Pons     

9.30   Walk through the old town to the Cathedral

10.30   Abbaye aux Dames

11.15   St Pallais’ church

11.45  Departure from St Pallais’ church for Pons, the oppidum of the Santones

Lunch at Pons (pre-booked)

2.00   The castle keep and medieval remains of the upper town

3.30  The Pilgrims’ Hospital (medieval stopping place on the ‘Chemin de St Jacques’ to Compostella)   World Heritage Site

4.15  St Vivien’s church


Tuesday June 20th    Romanesque churches and a 17th – 18th century chateau

9.00  Departure for St Peter’s church at Aulnay   (World Heritage Site)

11.30  Departure for Saint Jean d’Angély

Lunch at St Jean d’Angély  (pre-booked)

2.00  Departure for Fenioux church and Lanterne des Morts

3.00 – 6.00  La Roche Courbon chateau, gardens and park


Wednesday June 21st  More Romanesque churches   

9.00  Departure for Rétaud

10.00  Departure for Rioux

11.00  Departure for Thaims

12.00  Departure for Talmont  church and village overlooking the estuary of the Gironde

Picnic lunch and free time to explore

3.00  Departure for the Gallo-Roman site of Le Fâ

5.00  Departure for Saintes stopping en route at Mortagne s/Gironde  to view the monument to Owain Lawgoch


Thursday June 22nd  Visit to the ‘Pays des Isles’

9.30 Departure from Saintes

9.45  Corme Royal (visit of the Romanesque church)

10.30  Broue tower, the keep and the landscape of marshes

12.00  Lunch at Bourcefranc le Chapus  (pre-booked at a restaurant overlooking the bridge to the island of Oléron)

1.30  Visit to Fort Louvois (a Vauban fort)

3.30  Departure for Brouage  (walk on the ramparts and leisurely time in the little town)

5.00  Return to Saintes


Friday June 23rd   Rochefort

9.00  Departure for Rochefort

9.30 – 12.00  Visit to the Naval Medical School, the Rope-making Factory and the dockyard

Lunch (pre-booked)

2.00  The Naval Museum

4.30   Charente crossing on the Transporter Bridge

5.00   Return to Saintes (if time allows possible stop at Echillais, a Romanesque church bearing a resemblance to a Roman triumphal arch)


Saturday June 24th

Return by coach to Bordeaux airport and/or railway station – departure time from Saintes made to fit the earliest flights or train departures.



Eisteddfod Lecture

This year the Eisteddfod will be in Llŷn, at Boduan, and our lecture will be given by Professor Huw Pryce.  His subject will be ‘Grym y Gorffennol yng Nghymru’r Oesoedd Canol’ [The Power of the Past in Mediaeval Wales].  Members will be aware of his new book Writing Welsh History recently published by Oxford University Press.  We anticipate that it will be at our normal time, the afternoon of August 9th.  Watch the website for confirmation.



Autumn Meeting 22nd-24th September 2023


Brecon is one of Wales’s most interesting and attractive county towns, best known today as the Gateway to the Brecon Beacons National Park and for its festivals, notably the Brecon Jazz Festival and Brecon Baroque.

A strategically located Norman foundation, it still retains the key features of a ‘castle borough’: substantial parts of the castle, parts of which are incorporated into our hotel and its grounds, remains of its Dominican friary now Brecon College (where we will have a private guided tour by the College archivist) and of course the former priory of St John the Evangelist, which became the cathedral church for the new diocese of Swansea and Brecon in 1923. The cathedral and close fully merits an afternoon’s exploration with a number of speakers.

The medieval town developed on the eastern side of the Afon Honddu at its confluence with the Usk and although its street plan reveals its medieval origins, its constraining walls and gates were swept away in later 18th century improvement. The prosperity of the town was due to its proximity to the burgeoning industrial south Wales valleys and many of its fine town houses and civic buildings are from this Georgian era.  Saved from dereliction, the basin of the Brecon and Abergavenny Canal is now used by leisure craft but its railway, appearing late in 1863 succumbed to closure in 1962. We shall explore the town’s plan and buildings on a ‘perambulation’.

The recently completed new development of a conjoined Museum, Art Gallery and Library – Y Gaer – will be explored with the help of staff and a member of the Brecknock Art Trust. Brecon was – and is – a ‘garrison town, its 1804 Barracks housed the South Wales Borderers from 1873 and we plan to visit the Royal Welsh Regimental Museum housed in the Barracks.

We hope to be accompanied in parts of our programme by members of the Brecknock Society.

With our Summer Meeting for 2023 being held in France, the Presidential Inauguration and Lecture will take place at the Brecon meeting in September with Dr Elizabeth Walker handing over to President-elect Professor Alasdair Whittle.

Our final morning will also involve prehistory with Dr Toby Driver leading a guided walk around Pen-y-Grug hillfort close to the town. Other options are available. We hope that those members joining us who are familiar with Brecon will find much that is new in this Programme and, for those unfamiliar with the town, the weekend will be full of exciting discoveries.



In order to keep costs down we do not plan to hire any transport. Brecon can be reached by bus from Cardiff, Hereford and Abergavenny, where there are train stations. Within the town assistance can be provided by members who will be travelling by car. Moderate levels of walking are involved. Our day costs therefore involve hire of a sound system for the walks and talks, entry charges to the museums and donations, together with some speakers’ costs. The registration fee will be £30 with an additional £35 to cover the day costs. Meals must be pre-booked with the organiser.


A booking form can be downloaded here.


Friday 22nd September

12.00-2.00   Registration at The Guildhall Brecon, and booking choice for Sunday morning’s visits.

2pm-2.30   Short walk and talk to Christ College.

2.30-4.30    Guided Tour of Christ College by Mrs Felicity Kilpatrick, College Archivist followed by tea at the College.

4.30-5.30   Walk and talk returning to the Guildhall.

5.30   Lecture in the Theatre, Brecon Guildhall by Nigel Clubb, President of the Brecknock Society and Museum Friends: ‘An Overview of the Development of Brecon, its Buildings and Monuments’.

7.00   Dinner at the Clarence Inn


Saturday 23rd September

9.00   Assemble at The Guildhall.

9.00-10.00   Walk and talk from the Guildhall to the Cathedral.

10.00    Assemble at the Cathedral car park (those not wishing to walk to the Cathedral can drive and park there).

10.00-12.30   Guided tour of the Cathedral by Dr Mike Williams, Chapter Clerk, Brecon Cathedral followed by an examination of the monuments and ledger slabs with Professor Emerita Maddy Gray.

12.30-1.30   Lunch (pre-booked only) at the Tithe Barn, Cathedral Close.

1.30-2.00   Walk and Talk from the Cathedral to Y Gaer.

2.00-4.00   Assemble at Y Gaer (Museum and Gallery) – Welcome and Introductory talk by William Gibbs of The Brecknock Society and Museum Friends, followed by visit to the museum and art gallery – self guided.

4.00-5.00   Free time for tea OR guided Walk and Talk on the Watton area in Brecon.

5.00   Assemble at the Guildhall.

5.00-5.30   Reception and Presidential Inauguration.

5.30-6.30   Presidential Lecture by Professor Alasdair Whittle: ‘West Side Story: the early Neolithic in Western Britain and Ireland’.

7.00   Dinner (pre-booked) at the Clarence Inn.


Sunday 24th September

Choice of activities:

9.30   Guided walk around Pen-y-Crug hillfort by Dr Toby Driver, RCAHMW. The hillfort is close to the town – transport by private cars, but lifts can arranged. This will also feature as an event in the Cambrians Walks 2023.


9.30   Short walk and guided tour of Brecon Canal Basin, speaker Sue Ware.

11.00-12.00   Private visit to The Royal Welsh Regimental Museum, The Barracks, Brecon.

Meeting concludes around midday.



Research Grants 2022

Katie Faillace was awarded £2000 for travel to Simon Fraser University, Canada, where Professor Michael Richards is providing lab facilities free of charge for a new biomolecular technique to analyse early medieval skeletal remains from excavations at Five Mile Lane, Barry that could throw light on population mobility, marine resource exploitation and animal management.

Caroline Kerkham was awarded £483,  the cost of National Library of Wales licences and digital scans and archival prints to illustrate her forthcoming article ‘I cannot resist the pleasure’:  Tourists and Welsh Gardens in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries,’ intended for publication in a book titled Garden Archaeology in Wales being edited by C Stephen Briggs.

Professor Mike Parker Pearson was awarded £2000 towards costs of excavations in 2023 at Ffynnongroes, Crosswell, Pembrokeshire on four ditched circles, which may be Middle Neolithic ‘formative henges’ rather than ploughed out Bronze Age tumuli.

Dr Andy Seaman of Cardiff University was awarded £1,344 to obtain 4 radiocarbon dates for excavations at Fonmon Castle.   Members attending the Cowbridge Autumn meeting in September 2022 heard Andy describe the multi-period features revealed so far in a joint Fonmon Castle Estate and Cardiff University landscape archaeology project.

The Association is very grateful to Paul Oldham for his generous donation of £300 to the Research Grant Fund this year.


G.T. Clark Prizes 2022

These prizes are awarded every five years for books on the history or archaeology of Wales and the Marches published in the previous five years.   The five categories are Prehistory, Roman Period, Early Mediaeval, Mediaeval and Post Mediaeval.    This year no publication has won the Roman period prize.   The other prizes are listed below.

Prehistory:  awarded to Jane Kenney for A Welsh Landscape through Time : Excavations at Parc Cybi, Holy Island, Anglesey.  Oxbow Books  2021

Early Mediaeval  : awarded to Alan Lane and Mark Redknap for  Llangorse Crannog: the excavation of an Early Mediaeval Royal site in the Kingdom of Brycheiniog.  Oxbow Books 2019.

Mediaeval :  awarded to Evan Jones and Richard Stone (eds) for World of the Newport Ship: Trade, Politics and Shipping in the Mid-Fifteenth Century.  University of Wales Press  2018

Post-mediaeval : awarded to Mark Redknap, Sian Rees and Alan Aberg  (eds) for Wales and the Sea: 10,000 years of Welsh maritime history.  RCAHMW / Y Lolfa   2019


Dissertation Prize

This newly re-conceived prize, Gwobr Archaeoleg Cambrian Archaeology Prize, is organised by a committee of Trustees under Dr Tudur Davies.  The prize was won by Dan Hunt for his work on Pembrokeshire Promontory Forts and their investigation by various non-intrusive means.  It was his MSc dissertation completed for the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education, and was awarded to him this year at the Cowbridge meeting.   Next year’s prize has already been launched on social media and through contacts at universities.

Student Bursary

The Cambrian Archaeological Association Student Bursary, has been established through a legacy from our late member Olwen Davies of Bangor.  It provides small grants (up to £200) to student members  (full or part-time) looking for funding to support conference attendance or research-related travel costs where they relate to research on the objectives of the Association. More details can be found here – https://cambrians.org.uk/grants-and-prizes/student-bursary/