Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Power, Prerogative and Privileges of the Lords of Glamorgan

The medieval lordship of Glamorgan was one of the largest, wealthiest and perhaps the most important lordship within the Welsh marches. The marcher lord of Glamorgan also simultaneously held the honour of Gloucester and other lordships within England making the lord of Glamorgan one of the richest and most powerful men in Britain who was often engaged in affairs of national importance. 

(Sixteenth Century depiction of Robert Fitzhamon founder of Glamorgan)

The lordship of Glamorgan was formed in 1093 when Norman baron and vassal of king William II (1056-1100) Robert Fitzhamon (d 1107) seized power from the last native Welsh ruler of Morganwg, Iestyn ap Gwrgant (d 1093), and divided out his new fiefdom amongst his retainers. The stronghold and administrative centre of the lord of Glamorgan was Cardiff castle, its Norman stone built keep after nearly 900 years is still a dominant feature of Cardiff's skyline. The impressive stronghold of the de Clare dynasty Caerphilly castle, one of the largest castles in Britain, too still stands as a silent and evocative reminder of the power and ambition of the lords of Glamorgan.

(The Norman keep at Cardiff castle)

In the centuries after the initial conquest Glamorgan was gradually expanded by an aggressive series of military campaigns instigated by successive lords of Glamorgan; conflict with the native Welsh rulers of Blaenau Glamorgan and beyond it seemed was an almost permanent feature of life in the march and would be an issue that many of the lords of Glamorgan would have to address.

The marcher lordship of Glamorgan however owing to its unique foundation incorporated rights and privileges that made the lord of Glamorgan more powerful than the King’s English barons.  Upon accession to the lordship of Glamorgan the new lord could enjoy almost complete autonomy from the English crown as the king’s writ did not apply in the march, the lord of Glamorgan did not even owe the king military service. 

The lord of Glamorgan could deal with all civil matters regarding his subjects in his own court; for example, in the year 1245 Richard Seward lord of Talyfan and Llanblethlian was outlawed by Richard de Clare (1222-1262) on account of his alliance with Hywel ap Maredudd leader of Welsh resistance against the de Clare’s, and had his estates confiscated by earl Richard.  Seward felt that he had been unfairly treated and appealed directly to king Henry III (1207-1272) to intercede on his behalf, but there was little the king could do and Seward it seems lost all of his land holdings and possessions within Glamorgan.

(King Henry III)

The lord of Glamorgan did not need a royal license to construct castles.  For example, a dispute between Gilbert de Clare, also known as Gilbert the Red, (1243-1295) and Llewellyn ap Gruffudd prince of Wales (1223-1282) in the early 1270's lead Gilbert to begin building a massive new castle at Caerphilly.  This new construction was not appreciated by king Henry III who did not want to enflame further hostilities between prince Llewellyn and the ambitious Gilbert de Clare who were both also embroiled in the second Barons War in England (1264-1267).  Caerphilly castle was temporarily in royal control while a solution to the trouble was sought, Gilbert however had other ideas, and managed to regain his castle at Caerphilly by a simple rouse; the king was virtually powerless to take it back.

(Caerphilly castle)

Perhaps the most prized privilege enjoyed by the lords of Glamorgan was the right to wage private war.  It was not just Welsh lords that the lord of Glamorgan would turn his ire to if he was aggrieved or felt a sense of entitlement, but on occasion his fellow marcher lords.  For example, in the year 1222, earl Gilbert de Clare (1180-1230) mobilised a force of soldiers and began a siege of Dinas Powys castle seemingly over the issue of wardship with the heir to the lordship of Dinas Powys being a minor at the time.  The castle of Dinas Powys for reasons that are unclear was in the custody of William Marshal the younger earl of Pembroke (1190-1231) and Gilbert was quite within his rights to not only claim wardship of any given lordship within his territory but to go to war to enforce his prerogative.  It took the efforts of King Henry III to quell the violence and order William Marshal to give custody of the castle to Gilbert.

(Contemporary depiction of a medieval siege) 

These events show us just how powerful the lords of Glamorgan actually were and the lengths that they would go to to get what they wanted.

The power enjoyed by the lords of Glamorgan did not go unnoticed by the monarchy and after nearly two hundred years of near complete autonomy in the march and no doubt many a raised eyebrow in England, the lord of Glamorgan finally met his match in none other than king Edward I (1239-1307). King Edward I, also known as Longshanks, really needs little introduction.  King Edward's campaigns in Wales and Scotland show us just how brutal and efficient he could be if he wanted something badly enough and Edward had a very clear vision of Britain unified under his rule which did not include his barons waging private war. 

A series of events involving Gilbert de Clare the red earl of Gloucester and lord of Glamorgan, and Humphrey de Bohun (1249-1298) earl of Herford and lord of Brecon during the late thirteenth century, gradually drove Edward to curtail the power of both earls and exert royal authority over the marcher lords, something previous monarchs were unable or unwilling to do.  There were quite a few  sources of discontent between Gilbert and Humphrey but the most contentious issue between the earls occurred in 1289 when Gilbert began building a castle at Morlais near Merthyr Tydfil on land claimed by Humphrey to be within the boundaries of his lordship.

(Gilbert de Clare The Red)

Edward was abroad at the time in Gascony and could not deal with the issue personally but a commission consisting of some of the most powerful people in England including Queen Eleanor, the king's cousin the earl of Cornwall, regent of England while Edward was away, and the archbishop of Canterbury, assembled with a view to persuading Gilbert to desist from his actions, but they failed.

In the year 1290 earl Humphrey formally appealed to the king against earl Gilbert for trespass; however, Gilbert failed to turn up at the royal court.  Edward promptly issued a proclamation forbidding private war.  Gilbert's response was audacious.  Gilbert sent his soldiers into Brecon with the de Clare banners unfurled and stole livestock and other possessions belonging to earl Humphrey.  Several of Humphrey's men were also killed in the raid.  This brazen act of aggression was a direct challenge to the king's authority and tells us a great deal about Gilbert's character and his sense of privilege within his lordship.

(Brecon castle)

A second Brecon raid took place not long after in June when earl Gilbert was actually with king Edward at Westminster, and a third raid took place in November.

Earl Humphrey once again protested to the king but it seems he was prepared to drop the matter for the sake of marcher prerogative, but by now Edward was heartily fed up of Gilbert's increasing acts of defiance towards the crown and established a royal commission at Brecon in 1291 with a jury of 24 to hear evidence of raids and counter raids in that took place in 1290.  Earl Gilbert, predictably, and in another act of defiance didn't bother to show up. 

A new royal commission was established at Abergavenny in October 1291 this time personally headed by the king.  Both earls had no choice but to attend on this occasion, and although Gilbert vehemently protested he was arrested along with earl Humphrey. Both earls were put on trail at Westminster in January 1292 where they had their estates declared forfeit for life; both earls were then thrown back in jail afterwards.

(King Edward I)

Edward however didn't intend to keep them in jail for too long or to permanently keep their estates and their liberty and possessions were eventually restored to them although they were both heavily fined, earl Gilbert 10,000 marks and Humphrey 1000 marks respectively.  Edward's actions were intended to show both earls that royal authority was supreme and that waging private war would no longer be tolerated.

For a time there was peace in the march, but in 1295 King Edward had further cause to take Glamorgan into royal custody as Gilbert intended to launch a millitary offensive against one Morgan ap Maredudd, the leader of a short lived rebellion against Gilbert within Glamorgan, after Morgan had declared himself the king's loyal subject.  Gilbert had also delayed surrendering the temporalities of the bishopric of Llandaff to John of Monmouth who had been elected to the see of Llandaff which contributed towards Edward's decision to once again temporarily confiscate the earl's estates as a reminder that the earl's actions would not be tolerated.  Earl Gilbert's estates were restored to him in 1296 but shortly after Gilbert de Clare died with the prerogative of the marcher lord to wage private war dying with him.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Secret Barry Island

After much hard work, many late nights and countless cups of coffee, the authors’ of this blog, Mark and Jonathan Lambert, are to have our first book published with national history publisher Amberley Publishing.  The book is devoted to the past - times of Barry Island, something which in literature has no precedent; we take the reader deep into history through the long distant past of this erstwhile lonely island turned popular tourist destination.  

During the course of many years research into the locality, which began a long time ago in a quiet corner of the library of Cardiff University whilst attempting to write an archaeological dissertation, it became clear that there was not one single publication dedicated alone to the history of Barry Island, although there was certainly scope for such a work – a vision was formed.

Local and national history is a genuine passion for the authors’ and the choice of Barry Island for a first book was a mixture of a need for such a book about this popular location, and given that we are from Barry, there was a personal element to a place that we are both so familiar with. Previous to our book, one could gain snippets of information about the history of Barry Island in various old and out of print publications, but nothing particularly detailed or anything which formed anything close to a cohesive whole. They all seemed to lack something whether it be detail, periods from Barry Island’s past which were omitted, wider scope and context or were written in a dated style. 

Our publisher Amberley Publishing have been very good with us during the whole process and we couldn’t have signed with a better publisher for local history. Amberley constantly worked with the authors’ to help deliver a book which conforms to their expectations, but were also flexible to the authors’ original vision which has remained largely intact. Despite the body of our work remaining largely unaltered, there will always be it seems some form of compromise to be reached. The most notable in our case was the amount of images, the word count and the title. The book was originally called Saints, Smugglers and Sand – the Barry Island Story (very apt we thought). This was something we changed to fit in with the Secret series Amberley publish. Our original cover was also changed for a generic but tasteful cover which all of the books in Amberley Publishing Secret series have.

(The original cover for Saints, Smugglers and Sand – the Barry Island Story)  

We are thankful that during the formative years of the island’s development during the late Nineteenth Century archaeologists' such as John Storrie and John Romilly Allen took an active interest in the extant remains and recorded what they could, or there would be less material for the authors’ to utilise. Incidentally, the authors’ believe it highly likely that there were probably more remains from other periods in time on the island, but were destroyed during the construction of the majority of the housing.

Some readers might be wondering why there is no Butlins or much about the Twentieth Century discussed. Fundamentally the book is about the period of time when Barry Island was literally an island and this history terminates during the late Nineteenth Century. The history post - Edwardian is very well known and we are primarily archaeologists who do not have much interest in holiday camps, Twentieth Century domestic architecture or the Second World War – major themes that, as interesting as they are to many, would be much more suited to a picture history book rather than a primarily text based publication.

The process of dealing with organisations and institutions in regard to obtaining permission to reproduce written material or images was an interesting one. The authors' were surprised just how obliging and helpful the majority of the organisations we approached were. We are grateful to the Cambrian Archaeological Society, the Cardiff Naturalists’ Society and British History Online as well as the Portable Antiquities Scheme in Wales and Mark Lodwick for their kind permissions to reproduce images and utilise academic articles from within their pages. The Glamorgan Archives were also very helpful and is also a great place for the historian to find material. We are also grateful to individuals such as local historian Tom Clements of Barry who, without his kind permission to reproduce a good number of his fascinating images of old Barry, there would be no Secret Barry Island.

It has all been a journey of discovery for the authors’ and a unique experience; one which will be of benefit as we have more than one more book planned for the future.  Overall the authors' are very pleased with the end product, a work that we feel is very well balanced and takes into account all of the major themes of the past – times of this popular resort.  We hope you enjoy reading about and discovering the history of Barry Island as much as the authors' have enjoyed writing this book.

Available Thursday 15th June 2017 from any major distributer of books as well as direct from Amberley Publishing.


Friday, 21 April 2017

Ewenny Priory Open Day

Located off the beaten path down a series of meandering lanes Ewenny Priory is one of many hidden gems to be found throughout the Vale of Glamorgan.  Although only a ten minute drive to the nearby town of Bridgend, Ewenny Priory has the feeling of yesteryear about it due to its pleasant rural surroundings and the fact that it is very much a working estate.  With a few small exceptions it would appear that little has change at Ewenny Priory for centuries. 

Ewenny Priory was founded around 1116-1126 on land given to the Benedictine religious order by William de Londres, one of Robert Fitzhamon's followers, who had by the year 1107 firmly established himself in the area by building nearby Ogmore castle to control his new fief.  William's son Maurice it seemed further endowed the priory and his tombstone records him as being 'the founder'.

At the heart of Ewenny Priory is the church of St Michael which for the most part has remained unaltered since its construction making it the most complete surviving example of Norman architecture in South Wales and certainly the most impressive; impressive enough that William Turner felt inspired to make sketches for a full blown painting when he visited in 1795.  Two gentlemen antiquarians who paid a visit during the 1830's were also enthralled by their sojourn to the church of St Michael which was expressed in their 1840's publication 'The Tourist in Wales' stating that 'every admirer of antiquity will be highly gratified in examining its simple and impressive architecture'.  We couldn't agree more.

(Ewenny Priory by J.M.W Turner 1797)

Equally as impressive are the fortifications which surround the priory, constructed during the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries, one might well be forgiven for thinking that they belonged to a castle befitting that of a marcher lord than a religious establishment; a testament to the turbulent times in which Ewenny Priory began its existence.

The visitor however must be content to view this medieval marvel from the exterior as despite being able to access the church, which is owned by Church in Wales, the majority of the medieval Priory forms a part of the private grounds of the Turbervill family who have owned Ewenny Priory and its surrounding lands since the beginning of the Eighteenth Century. 

We were therefore surprised upon one of our previous visits to discover that the current owners of Ewenny Priory had generously decided to throw open their doors and invite the general public into the grounds of their private residence, for a limited time, which afforded us a rare opportunity for a wander around this fascinating place, something we had always wanted to do.

Upon entering the grounds one is greeted with several outbuildings, several of which bear the date 1871.  These buildings are of an obsolete function as they were intended to house horses and coaches and now form a quaint reminder of times gone by.  Contiguous is a large building ostensibly of Nineteenth Century date but containing both medieval and Tudor period mullions set in its walls betraying its antiquity. Described by our Victorian antiquarians as being 'ruinous' at the time of their visit, this building from what we saw was in a tolerable state of repair, although it did look like it hasn't been modernised at all, right down to sporting its original sash windows, behind one of which an archaic Victorian gas lamp is still in situ. 

(View of Tudor and medieval features)

This building was most likely a service wing to the main residence and once originally formed part of the medieval cloister and presumably a part of the now vanished Tudor mansion that was built by the Carne family who purchased the Ewenny Priory from the crown in 1545 for the sum of £727. 6s. 4d. 

The main residence which is contiguous to the service wing is a stately looking Georgian mansion replete with neat rows of sash windows and dates to the early Nineteenth Century.  Our Victorian gentlemen visitors it seemed also appreciated this building describing it as a 'handsome mansion', although like the adjacent service wing this building has earlier antecedents and possibly incorporates medieval structures in its fabric.

(Ewenny Priory House)

It was in the environs of Ewenny in the year 1770 that local gentleman Henry Knight (esq) felt aggrieved enough by another local gentleman, one Thomas Bennet, to write him a formal letter inviting him to settle a score and we could not help but to think of this as we approached..

'Respect to the company prevented my taking the proper notice of the insolence of your language yesterday at Ewenny, but it were disrespect to myself not to resent it now.  I therefore acquaint your self-importance that you behaved like a fool and spoke like a liar-which I am ready to make good as a gentleman ought, when and wheresoever you think proper to appoint'

We tentatively walked across the neatly kept front lawn of the house, ever conscious that we were visitors on private land, half expecting an irate grounds man to come storming over to eject us, but of course that was not to be.  In fact, with the exception of a few other curious people we barely saw a soul.

Access to the interior of Ewenny Priory afforded us a look at the rear of the church, which contained as we expected an abundance of Romanesque architecture. One particular arch was a source of curiosity as it seemingly exits in isolation to the church and forms the entrance to a small garden.  As we approached something large quickly flittered its way across the other side of the arch.  Our ears were almost immediately assailed by a loud squawking sound.  A quick look revealed the source of this noise and before us stood a rather magnificent looking peacock with its wings fully stretched; something you don't see every day.

(Romanesque Arch in isolation)

To the south of the Romanesque arch is a substantial medieval tower which was probably constructed during the mid to late Twelfth Century and formed a part of the original defensive circuit that surrounded the Priory.  Despite the fact that the tower is roofless it is in very good condition, we were however surprised upon entering to discover that this building had been converted into a dovecote sometime after its use as a defensive structure had ended.

 (Late Twelfth Century tower)

The original Twelfth Century curtain wall had once extended to the west of this tower but was unfortunately torn down during the early Nineteenth Century to afford the owners of the newly rebuilt house a better view of the deer park, which is where we decided to explore next.  We walked the entire precinct of the park which is now in use as arable farmland.   

(View of Ewenny Priory from the deer park)

We re-entered the Priory precincts through the south gatehouse, something we have only been able to glimpse from the road outside on previous visits.  This gatehouse is in very good repair and looks like it has hardly been altered since it was built during the late Thirteenth Century.  We noted a number of murder holes in the vaulted passage but no grooves for a portcullis such as the north gatehouse exhibits.

(The south gatehouse)

To  access the upper part one has to climb an external stone staircase which leads to a narrow corridor.  To the right of this corridor is the chamber directly above the vaulted passage below.  This room was very plain and austere displaying no internal features of note whatsoever, not even a fireplace.  The floor tiles looked Victorian in date and the walls washed a yellow colour.  Following the corridor leads to a medieval garderobe, or latrine and with that a dead end.

The other part of the gatehouse is to be accessed from downstairs, and with very good reason, as it is missing its upper floors and roof.  Its seems an incongruous sight to see a late Victorian fireplace, with a much earlier fireback bearing the date 1719, which probably was taken from the big house surmounted half way up the wall. 

(Interior of south gatehouse complete with Victorian fireplace)

Our next port of call was a large garden which lies immediately west of the south gatehouse.  This garden is surrounded on three sides by the original medieval curtain wall, which one could walk if feeling adventurous enough, although we decided against it.  With the exception of a row of bee-hives located against the north wall, it seems that this garden is utilized for very little else at present with its current state being unkempt, which we thought lent it a certain charm. 

There was however a curious stone built feature to the south of the garden that attracted our attention which looked a bit like a large well with a set of steps leading down into a pool of water.  This feature is most likely contemporary with the medieval priory although its function puzzled us somewhat.

(The garden as seen from the north gatehouse)

Our last stop was the north gatehouse which we have viewed many times from the outside.  A short walk up a stone spiral staircase to the rear of the building and we were in the room directly above the vaulted entrance.  It would seem that this building unlike the south gatehouse had not been utilized during the Victorian period but like every other medieval feature we have come across was in excellent repair and looked almost exactly how it looked when it was first constructed.  Behind this room is another smaller room accessed by a very low door, which I banged my head on more than once being quite tall, with alcoves set in the south wall reminiscent of the dovecote we saw earlier.   A doorway on the opposite side of the main room lead to a garderobe which was unprotected by iron bars so we didn't get too close, and then out onto the curtain wall. 

(View of the curtain wall from the north tower)

Throughout our visits, no less than three for myself, we spoke to quite a few nice people who were also interested in the history of the place and like ourselves were curious enough to make several visits.  The current owners of Ewenny Priory must be commended for this generous act and hopefully we will see the medieval Priory of Ewenny open again at a further date.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Llancarfan Medieval Wall Paintings

Llancarfan is an ancient place, its origins, unlike most villages found throughout the Vale of Glamorgan, lies before the Norman Conquest of Glamorgan C 1093, as it is thought that a religious establishment has existed in the area since around 500 AD.  The church dedicated to St Cadoc, a local man, whose alleged deeds were first committed to parchment in this very place by Lifris at around 1100, is a fine example of medieval ecclesiastical architecture and contains many treasures such as a rare wooden reredos and an unusually large carved wooded chest. 

Recently St Cadoc's church has been able to add yet another treasure to its collection.  In 2008 a series of medieval wall paintings were re-discovered, having already been noted in 1877-78 but covered up again, and the long, painstaking process of conservation begun, which has already yielded fascinating results. 

Most of the paintings are still hidden beneath centuries of lime wash with just a small portion visible as the conservation work is still ongoing.  The extant paintings however were more than enough to make us content with our visit.

(One of the recently uncovered paintings)

The paintings have been dated to the late medieval period and depict a variety of themes.  These paintings although a rarity in the Twenty First Century would not have been unique in their day as most churches throughout Britain would have been painted internally-their walls blazing with colour instead of the bland lime wash that is seemingly ubiquitous in many churches today.  The great religious reformation during the mid Sixteenth Century which began with Henry VIII divorcing Britain from the Roman Catholic church and the wholesale conversion to Protestantism during the reign of Edward VI kick-started the process of eradicating all traces of the ancient religion that had been spread throughout Britain by missionaries from Rome almost a millennia previously.

Anything overtly associated with Catholicism was suppressed, religious houses were confiscated and shut down, their occupants made homeless, the ritual and dogma associated with Catholicism too was made obsolete, incense, icons and art were made redundant including the paintings on the walls of Llancarfan church which were probably lime washed over sometime during the middle of the Sixteenth Century.

Most of the paintings unsurprisingly contain references to religion.  Many of the images depicted in the paintings might seem abstract to us today- even macabre, but these paintings were designed to convey to a largely illiterate population graphic allegorical themes rather than the artists skill with a brush as many would primarily view them in the Twenty First Century.

All the themes are of interest.  The multi-headed beast for example seems quite typical of the fire and brimstone mindset associated with medieval Catholicism, and the quite obvious perils of sin are graphically illustrated.  For example, on the left we a man committing suicide by thrusting a sword through his body, we see lust illustrated by two lovers locked in embrace and further to the right two men with swords engaged in combat denoting envy.

Above the sinners is a regal figure wearing a crown who is surmounted by two satanic looking creatures, clearly embodying pride and implying that from prince to pauper no-one in society was immune from the consequences of sin. 

(Medieval society was left in no doubt of the consequences of sin)

Perhaps the most striking image is that of St George and the dragon.  St George was adopted by the English during the Crusades and later became the patron saint of England.  St George is portrayed as a contemporary knight and his image dominates the south wall.  This painting is thought to be the largest and most complete of its kind in Britain.

(St George and the Dragon)

To the right of St George appears a young man stylishly dressed in late Fifteenth Century attire seemingly in the prime of his life accompanied by what appears to be a skeleton in a bridal veil. This grisly painting expresses the medieval awareness of death.  During the medieval period death and disease were never very far away with an average life expectancy around thirty.  The Fourteenth Century saw the arrival of the Black Death which not only killed off a large chunk of the population of Britain, but also caused mass terror due to its inexplicability. 

(Man in Fifteenth Century attire with skeletal bride)

The wall paintings at Llancarfan can be viewed during regular church opening times. 

Friday, 4 November 2016

Westward Corner Barrow

The west end of Barry and its pleasant garden suburb area is home to numerous buildings of antiquarian interest, including Barry's most well known historical landmark Barry castle, the former seat of the Norman de Barry family from whence the original village of Barry and consequently the town, takes its name.   Also extant and perhaps equally as well known is the Roman building at the Knap.  This building dates to around the late Third Century AD and is thought to have been connected with the Roman military owing to a lack of creature comforts which the Romans were so fond of such as a hypocaust system and mosaic floors which were Conspicuous by their absence.

The Romans  and Normans however were not the first people to inhabit this area.   A far older historical landmark is also extant at west Barry, and that is Westward Corner round barrow.  This barrow, which dates to the Bronze Age C 2300-800 AD, is located on the promontory overlooking Porthkerry Bay and is surrounded on four sides by modern housing, which probably helps to explain why it is not as well know as other buildings and features of historical interest within the locality.

The mound itself is quite well preserved and rises to a height of 1.8 m with a diameter of 9 m and was noted during an inspection in the year 1976 to be surrounded by a ditch of irregular depth with the east and north sides measuring  4.6 m wide.  The ditch however, although a contemporary feature, is thought to have been disturbed fairly recently by modern quarrying with the west and south sides in particular being affected.  Both of the east and north ditches had apparently been filled in by 1982 leaving only the ditch on the west side extant which is around 1 m deep and 2 m wide extending and abruptly terminating to the south. 

(Westward Corner barrow seen from the east)

Similar examples of this type of round barrow, or tumulus, are to be found scattered throughout Barry.  Two examples once existed at the Knap, but have both unfortunately been destroyed by erosion, although archaeologists were able to investigate what remained of the barrows during the middle of the Twentieth Century.  No less than three confirmed Bronze Age round barrows are to be found on Friars Point.  These barrows were subject to various excavations during the Nineteenth Century by archaeologists Allen Romily and John Storrie.  Another round Barrow is to be found at Atlantic Trading Estate.  Unfortunately no systematic excavation of this barrow has been carried out to date. 

Limited excavations have taken place at the Westward Corner barrow.  These excavations have shown the mound to be composed of limestone rubble and earth, although to our understanding, these excavations did not probe deep beyond the mounds surface.  Barrows from the Bronze Age however quite often contain single burials with earlier burials tending to be inhumation types, and later burials being cremation types.

The excavation of the barrows on Friars Point revealed evidence for cremation burial in the shape of a clay-baked urn found in one of the tumuli.  Similarly, when investigated in 1958 and again in 1967, what was left of the two barrows at the Knap yielded fragments of a cinerary urn.   It is possible that the barrow at Westward Corner could be contemporary with those scattered around the near vicinity, which if it is, is likely to contain a cremation burial and thus date to the middle/ late Bronze Age. 

Archaeologists however are not satisfied that these ancient and curious prehistoric lumps that proliferate the landscape of Britain were simply places to bury the deceased and nothing more.  Current archaeological theory propagates that these mounds, far from being simply a burial place, acted as territorial markers and boundaries within the landscape and served to venerate those buried within.  It is also thought that due to the amount of effort required to construct these tombs, their relative disparity to an assumed large population, and the rich assemblage of finds contained within many Bronze Age barrows, such as bronze weapons and gold found in some earlier barrows, that these tumuli were generally reserved for an elite.  Therefore the Westward Corner barrow was most likely a tomb for a forgotten and obscure elite with probable links to the wider community.

Westward Corner barrow is easy to find, simply drive or walk the length of Westward Rise to find it or alternatively walk the length of the green opposite Marine Drive then take a sharp right at last house before you reach the woods.  Despite the fact that the barrow is well presented it is still a sad sight to behold as its immediate environs have been destroyed, which include a large section of the enclosure that once surrounded the barrow, and as with any building of historical interest, the immediate environs and setting are considered by many to be just as important as the feature itself. 
Still, it is enough to see that this feature is still extant and more or less intact, to be preserved for future generations to appreciate, understand and enjoy.  

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The Medieval Village of Merthyr Dyfan

Those who have paid a visit to Merthyr Dyfan would be forgiven for thinking that the unprepossessing mass of housing that occupies this part of the modern town of Barry has little or no antecedents beyond the mid Twentieth Century when the large housing estate that lies north-west of the suburb was constructed. The housing estate, built in the 1950s, was to be the first of many modern developments in the vicinity of Merthyr Dyfan which would completely transform the character of the area from a rural setting to a concrete jungle and effectively absorbed the village of Merthyr Dyfan into the town of Barry obliterating both its medieval and post medieval landscape, the last of which was sadly destroyed at White Farm. 

It would probably come as a surprise to many however to discover that cramped in amongst the modern dwellings is to be found the church of St Dyfan and St Teilo, this medieval building, now an anachronism in its modern setting, is the last surviving remnant of the medieval village of Merthyr Dyfan and the only visible reminder of the modern suburb's antecedents.

Merthyr Dyfan during the medieval period was a part of the manor of Cadoxton, which was in turn was a part of the higher lordship of Dinas Powys.  It is possible that Merthyr Dyfan was not a sub-enfeoffed manor like Cadoxton, and was perhaps instead run by a steward or bailiff as a demesne rather than a fief to support a knightly incumbent, as documentary evidence relating to any resident lord residing at Merthyr Dyfan is conspicuous by its absence from historical sources.

(Church of St Dyfan and St Teilo Merthyr Dyfan)

The exact time the village of Merthyr Dyfan began its formative years is unknown but what we can say with some certainly is that all of the available evidence points towards a post conquest date.  The earliest surviving building in the area is of course the church dedicated to St Dyfan and St Teilo which has been dated to the early Thirteenth Century.  The earliest written reference made towards Merthyr Dyfan occurs during the middle of the Thirteenth Century when it was included in the Norwich Taxation of 1254 and was valued at £3.  Merthyr Dyfan is also mentioned in the 1291-2 Taxatio as Ecclesia de Martheldenan and was valued at £2. 13 s. 4d.

The archaeology of Merthyr Dyfan is represented by the remains, and partial remains of fourteen buildings, eight of which were examined by the now defunct  Barry Archaeological Group between 1968-77, and were re-examined, along with a further six buildings by the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust in 1982 in advance of a housing development.  The archaeology is concentrated to the south-east and west of the church with church itself seemingly the centre of the village.  Of the archaeology the majority of the remains appear to represent dwellings with no less than eleven of the buildings serving this purpose, but also represented is a barn, bake house, forge and corn-drying kiln.  Absent are the remains of a manor house or castle, which undoubtedly would have been extant at Merthyr Dyfan, but unfortunately have been obliterated or are still buried waiting to be discovered.

Much of the archaeology of Merthyr Dyfan has been badly damaged by modern housing developments making precise understanding of many of the buildings near impossible, enough however has survived to enable us to at least gain some idea of the dynamic that once existed at Merthyr Dyfan and to allow us as archaeologists some room for interpretation.  We are also fortunate to be able to draw upon a finds assemblage consisting of 16 silver medieval coins, one silver post medieval coin, and a medieval seal matrix found by local metal detector enthusiasts during the development of White Farm which were responsibly reported to the government under the Portable Antiquities Scheme; these finds help provide a valuable supplementary source of evidence.

Two of the best preserved buildings are located to west of St Dyfan and St Teilos church.  The first dwelling, located contiguous to a hollow way, is represented by both a house platform and surviving masonry.  This building, which was aligned east-west and measured 9.10 m by 7.60 m, was a substantial dwelling.  Evidence of a doorway with associated porch was noted on the northern side of the building as well as evidence of the internal walls being plastered; in addition, Pennant sandstone roof-slabs and green-glazed ridge- tiles were found within the building as well as pottery dating from the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries.

The evidence points towards this being a building occupied by one of the more affluent inhabitants of Merthyr Dyfan; certainly it was one of the larger dwellings examined and at this point in history roof slabs were not a common sight in many domestic buildings throughout medieval Glamorgan, with most dwellings at this point in time exhibiting thatched roofs; certainly no evidence of roof tiles was found in any of the other buildings examined at Merthyr Dyfan.  Wall plaster was also a commodity enjoyed by those with means.  It would appear that this building was extant around the beginning of the Fourteenth Century; a prosperous time for many in medieval Britain.  It would seem however that this building was not in use for very long as it was abandoned during the same century it was constructed in as no dating evidence beyond the Fourteenth Century was found on the site. 

Another building, aligned north-south and located nearby to the west of the previous building was also a substantial structure constructed with dry stone walls measuring approximately 12.20 m by 7.60 m.  This building was only partially excavated, but showed that it probably also contained a plastered internal wall; pottery dating to the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries was also found.  Given the buildings size and that it was probably plastered internally its possible that someone of more means than the average serf lived here.  Once again from the pottery evidence we can infer a terminus post quem of no later than the Fourteenth Century. 

Located close to both buildings and near the Cold Brook stream were the remains of a corn drying kiln.  Kilns of this type would have existed in every village in Glamorgan as agriculture was a key element to the local economy. This kiln consisted of a circular pit with flue and like the houses contained fragments of Thirteenth and Fourteenth Century pottery.

The remaining archaeology is located on the south-east side of the church with much of it being covered/destroyed by modern housing making interpretation difficult.  For example, the remains of two medieval buildings were examined near Collard Crescent but due to the extant remains being but a tiny portion of the overall structure and the confusing sequence of features encountered, conclusions that could be drawn from these remains were limited. Four buildings examined near Marloes Close suffered from similar conditions, namely the fact that only a tiny portion of their structure was available for examination, all of these buildings however were thought to be dwellings.
Another, more complete medieval dwelling, was excavated near the Ffynnon John Lewis well, which like most of the other buildings, had been robbed of its stone.  Internally the building was divided into two parts, with the inner room containing a clay floor and a stone lined hearth adjacent to the wall, the hearth measured just under 1.00m.  The outer room also contained a clay floor and contained a slab lined drain which emptied outside a doorway located within the west wall. 

Of the utilitarian buildings examined there existed the remains of a barn, this structure was located near to the four medieval dwellings on Marloes Road.  This building probably served as an outbuilding related to one of the nearby dwellings; once again, Thirteenth to Fourteenth Century pottery was found in the vicinity, and interestingly, a spur rowel.

Near the barn structure were located the remains of a forge, like many of the other buildings, it had mostly been destroyed. Finally, the remains of a substantial building were uncovered in close proximity to both barn and forge; this building, measuring 12.30 m by 6.00 m, contained a keyhole shaped oven or kiln, leading archaeologists to deduce that as well as serving as a residence this building might also have served as a bake house.  Pottery of Thirteenth and Fourteenth Century date was also found here.

All of the buildings examined thus far at Merthyr Dyfan showed no evidence of being occupied beyond the Fourteenth Century.  This is no surprise, as the catastrophic events of this point in time such as plague, famine and war, hit Wales hard and killed much of the population.  Excavations at the nearby villages of Barry and Cosmeston have confirmed the velocity and severity of these events as none of the buildings examined thence showed any signs of occupation beyond the Fourteenth Century.

(Depiction of an innocent being molested by plague dating to the mid Fourteenth Century.  Medieval society was at a complete loss to explain let alone to combat the various epidemics that swept across Europe)

At Merthyr Dyfan there was however one possible exception. One building showed evidence of being continuously occupied until the Eighteenth Century.  The building, also located next to the Ffonnon John Lewis well, showed a stratographic sequence of three floor levels, the lowest being of clay and almost certainly medieval in date, the second consisted of a cobbled surface set in clay, and the final layer being composed of limestone flags and of probable Eighteenth Century date; this building is incidentally shown on an estate map dating to 1783.

The assemblage of metal detected finds is of particular interest and comprises a completely new resource unavailable via conventional archaeology.  The spatial distribution appears to have been restricted to a small area located in the field immediately west of the church of St Dyfan and St Teilo, which was most probably the site of one of the many village fairs that occurred in Merthyr Dyfan throughout the medieval period.  Most of the finds consist of coins and are represented by penny, half-penny and farthing denominations which would have been used for small transactions.  The earliest coin in the assemblage is a half penny coin of king Stephen (1135-54) which was minted around the middle of the Twelfth Century, nearly a full century before the earliest written evidence and architectural survivor at Merthyr Dyfan; however, coins during the medieval period tended to be in circulation for a long time with this example being very worn making it very unlikely that it was lost at the time it was minted.  The majority of the coins in the assemblage however date from the early Thirteenth through to mid Fourteenth Centuries thus reflecting the earliest written, architectural and archaeological dates giving us a neat terminus post quem of early Thirteenth Century for the genesis of Merthyr Dyfan.  

The latest medieval coins in the assemblage consist of three pennies of Edward III (1327-77).  After this date there is a gap of nearly two centuries before any more coin finds, with the latest silver coin in the metal detected assemblage being a debased silver groat (four pence) of Henry VIII (1509-47) dating to 1544-47, thus corroborating the archaeological evidence of a mid Fourteenth Century decline of Merthyr Dyfan.  

(Some of the coins from Merthyr Dyfan)

The  seal matrix, which dates to the Thirteenth/Fourteenth Century, is also of great interest, as this item gives us two names associated with Merthyr Dyfan, names that given the scant documentary evidence from the medieval period, would have been otherwise lost to us.  The encircling legend reads  S-WILLIEI FIL ROBERTII seal of William son of Robert.  Who was William and his son Robert?  Chances are we will never know, but this seal was obviously the property of someone with a certain amount of standing in the village as literacy was very rare during the Thirteenth-Fourteenth Centuries, with one of the village officials being a likely candidate.

It would appear from the archaeological evidence that Merthyr Dyfan was very much the typical nucleated Glamorgan village and contained all the elements needed to sustain itself in an economy that was for the most part agrarian; corn drying kilns, a bake-house, a smithy as well as numerous domestic buildings were extant and in keeping with a community that worked with seasons and was for the most part self sufficient.  It would appear that the inhabitants of Merthyr Dyfan also liked to participate in social gatherings as the numerous coin losses attest to. 

Merthyr Dyfan seems to have recovered somewhat from the catastrophes of the Fourteenth Century and survived into the late medieval-post medieval period in a shrunken form; architectural evidence for the recovery of Merthyr Dyfan comes in the form of the crenelated tower attached to St Dyfan's Church which was constructed sometime during the early Sixteenth Century; interestingly, in the year 1553 commissioners of Edward VI paid a visit to Merthyr Dyfan and appropriated a number of items of value from the church, including a copper-gilt cross, thought to be worth 20s, and a number of costly ecclesiastical vestments.

The Subsidy Act of 1543, which was enforced throughout the 1540s, gives us a reasonable idea of the population levels at Merthyr Dyfan during the early post-medieval period; for example, this tells us that there were approximately 23 people eligible to pay tax in 1543.  In subsequent years we see that number diminish slightly, however there were almost certainly more people residing in Merthyr Dyfan who were too poor to pay this tax and thus absent from the lay subsidy returns.

(View of Methyr Dyfan around 1900)

Much of the land around Merthyr Dyfan during the Sixteenth Century was still in the possession of the lordship of Dinas Powys, but like many other villages during the post medieval period, was enclosed and leased to a succession of tenants.  Merthyr Dyfan thus fell into a sleepy post medieval existence, an existence which remained unchanged for centuries as successive generations lived out their lives within the parish fields and farmsteads they called home, were baptized, married and finally buried in the church of St Dyfan and St Teilo.  This rustic way of life lasted until up until the middle of the Twentieth Century when continuity with the medieval past was finally broken and the land around the village was concreted over in the name of progress and thus destroyed. 

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Barry Castle

Tucked away in the west-end of the modern town of Barry are the remains of Barry castle; it makes for a somewhat incongruous sight to see its ruined gaunt-grey edifice cramped in amongst the roomy late Victorian/Edwardian mansions that proliferate the area.  The castle, although a ruin, is still an impressive structure and appears to have had all the hallmarks of a strong military stronghold complete with drawbridge, port cullis and murder holes, despite being in essence a fortified manor house that in reality could probably not have held off a prolonged siege for any great length of time. It may not have been the home of a marcher lord, and there are certainly larger and more impressive castles in South Wales, but Barry castle nether the less is a fascinating place that represents a world and existence long vanished, a world steeped in legend and romance, a feudal world that would seem very alien if one were to step back in time.  

(The present remains)

The remains of Barry castle constitute the only visible remains of the medieval village of Barry.  During the medieval period there were in fact two settlements called Barry; to distinguish them they have had the prefixes ‘east’ and ‘west’ ascribed for clarity with west Barry being a sub-manor of the contiguous Penmark and East Barry (Cadoxton) a sub-manor of Dinas Powys. It is likely that the origins of the village of Barry lie with the coming of the Normans and their establishing of a fief for a knightly incumbent lord as Barry was designated as one knights fee.  Barry, being a sub-manor, was smaller in size than its larger and more profitable relation at Penmark, which was worth two knight's fee. 

The de Barry family acquired the manor of Barry around the early Twelfth Century, probably not long after the Norman conquest of Glamorgan C 1093.  Members of the de Barry family later migrated towards west Wales and settled in Manorbier during the reign of Henry I (1100-1135), and eventually onto Ireland during the latter part of the Twelfth Century.  The name of Barry is most likely derived from the nearby shrine of St Barruc, located on Barry Island; this religious shrine had been in existence long before the Normans arrived in Glamorgan.

Gerald of Barry, aka Gerald of Wales (1146-1223), a famous relation of the de Barry family, had opportunity to record for posterity the origins of his family's Christian name when accompanying Archbishop Baldwin on his Welsh tour in 1188; Gerald states "Not far from Caerdyf is a small island situated near the shore of the Severn, called Barri, from St. Baroc, who formerly lived there, and who's remains are deposited in a chapel overgrown with ivy, having been transferred to a coffin", further stating,  " From hence a noble family, of the maritime parts of South Wales, owned this island and the adjoining estates, received the name of de Barri". 

The present remains date to the early Fourteenth Century and consist of four buildings which include the hall (south building), the gatehouse, the south-west tower, (also vanished), and the curtain wall to the west, north and east.  There has never been any extensive excavation of Barry Castle so its early antecedents are a bit of a mystery; in fact, we have little idea of what Barry castle looked like before the construction of the present remains.  The most compelling archaeological evidence for early occupation of the site comes in the form of a hearth and waste pit along with associated Twelfth Century pottery, all of which were excavated when the council cleaned-up the site in the 1960’s.   

What shape and form Barry castle took during this period is a mystery, although it is quite probable that any early structure would have been made of perishable materials such as wood.  It is also worth noting that an estate map commissioned in 1622 by the St. John’s depicts the castle within a possible enclosure; an external ditch beyond the west wall was also discovered during trench digging for electricity cables in 1960 and 1979.  It is possible that these ditches might have formed a part of a defensive enclosure that surrounded the early buildings.  

Despite our lack of knowledge regarding Barry castle during its formative years, we are however fortunate to have a record of Barry's earliest known knightly incumbents, the first of which was one William de Barry (1180–1234).  In 1225 William saw military service in Ireland fighting for King Henry III and during the years 1232-4 William de Barry was involved in Richard Marshal’s rebellion; he also witnessed charters being granted at the comitatus at Cardiff in 1201 and again in 1208.  It would appear that William had a son named Lucas (1200 – 1237).

There is recorded another William de Barry as resident of Barry castle during the mid Thirteenth Century. He is also recorded as being a witness to charters being granted at the comitatus at Cardiff in 1247 and again in 1249; William was also witness to a land grant relating to Cogan.  By the end of the Thirteenth Century Barry was in the hands of a second Lucas de Barry (1287–1323), who was actually present on one of Edward I Scottish campaigns. The de Barry's during the Thirteenth Century were clearly busy people who not only lived up to their feudal obligations on a local level but were actively engaged in national affairs of consequence.

(The de Barry family were well connected people, this picture depicts a prominent relation, uncle of Gerald of Barry, Maurice Fitzgerald (1105-1176), a cambro-Norman baron who spearheaded the Norman invasion of Ireland)

Despite a good deal of documentary evidence existing archaeological evidence relating to Barry castle during its initial phase, and for much of the Thirteenth Century is unfortunately rather slim; however, part of the vanished west building was discovered during trench digging in 1960 and 1979 when the South and East wall sections were uncovered. The archaeology suggested that this building was a substantial structure measuring 7.3 metres by 14.5 and was a part of the late Thirteenth Century phase; it is possible that this structure could also have formed a part of the north-west side of the perimeter wall.

Architecturally, the gatehouse is the most intact and visually impressive survival at Barry castle; this structure dates to the early Fourteenth Century.  The resident lord of Barry manor at the time the gatehouse was built was John de Barry (1300-40) whose father Lucas de Barry granted John the manor upon his marriage to Isabelle, daughter of Philip de la More, before he left to embark on Edward I Scottish campaign, It is likely that it was he who commissioned or at least oversaw the construction of this imposing building. 

The gatehouse would have been entered via a gothic segmented pointed arch main entrance, which was typical for this period, and contained a variety of defensive features to deter any would be attackers.  There would have been a drawbridge and portcullis, of which the grooves still survive, there would have also been two large inner wooden doors.  Above the gatehouse was a vaulted gate-passage with the above room acting as a chapel or oratory with a small alter set within the sill of the east window; this room also contained the portcullis and was directly connected with the main hall. Directly above the main entrance was a large splayed lancet window, of which the left jamb survives, as well as an eroded head which would have formed one of two, possibly depicting a knight and his lady.  The window would also have had iron bars inserted and is dated at around 1310-50. 

(View of the interior of the gatehouse taken in 1910)

It is possible that the quasi-military image projected with this gatehouse could have been pure medieval swank as it seems superfluous given that this was in essence a manor house with muscles; however, there may have been a genuine need to improve security as this was a turbulent time politically. For example there was a serious rebellion by the dispossessed Welsh lord Madog ap Llywelyn, led in Glamorgan by Morgan ap Maredudd (son of the dispossessed former lord of Machen Maredudd ap Llywelyn) which affected all of the Glamorgan area as it had popular support amongst the Welsh.  Gilbert de Clare, the then marcher lord of Glamorgan, was ultimately unable to subdue the rebellion and Edward I had to intervene to bring it to an end in 1295.

The hall (south building) has had most of its walls robbed of their stone, with only the north and east walls surviving to any length, and was located directly adjacent to the south of the gatehouse.  The hall was the largest building in Barry castle and also formed a part of the south perimeter wall with the building consisting of two levels; the upper floor acted as the main hall and the lower level served as a cellar or storage basement.   

One would have gained access to the basement storage area by a door from the courtyard.  The upper hall would also have been accessed from the courtyard but by a flight of stone steps.  The hall itself would have been the grandest room in the castle; its interior walls would have been rendered and perhaps had imitation ashlar, heraldic emblems, religious scenes or those from everyday life painted onto the plaster as can be viewed at other castles, such as at Chepstow, or even at lowly cottages, such as the wedding lady painting painted on a plaster wall at Cold Knap Farm sometime during the 1560s.  In fact, it would have probably been a fairly colourful place.  The hall would have had wooden beams which would have had rested on stone corbels, some of which survive, as well as having carved and painted timber work and dressed-stone embellishments. There would have also been a grand fireplace in the north wall, some of which also survives.  

(Conjectural illustration of Barry castle during the Fourteenth Century)

The chapel, which was located contiguous to the hall would have had a slightly higher floor level, and would probably also have had painted walls, perhaps depicting biblical scenes as was common in medieval churches.  Just to the right of the chapel entrance was another door; this is speculated to have led out onto a wall-walk.  Medieval halls tended to have garderobes (toilets) but this facility appears to have been absent at Barry, which is not to say it didn’t exist.  An interesting feature of this building is that its north-east corner is rounded to facilitate the passing of carts into the courtyard.  

Of the wall sections the east wall is the best surviving example although its walk-way has vanished. There survives however a damaged loop with a segmentally pointed rear-arch. Another splayed loop with a pointed rear arch also survives in the east wall.  The east building itself however has completely vanished. Barry castle reached its zenith during the early to mid-fourteenth Century with no more further building work being noted architecturally or archaeologically, although interestingly during this period John de Barry was complicit in the baronial uprising of 1321 and managed to get all his lands confiscated for his pains, although they were restored to him in 1327.

It would seem that the second half of the Fourteenth Century saw the slow decline of Barry castle. Archaeological evidence supports the castles decline and comes from clearing work undertaken by the local council during the 1960’s.  A clay medieval floor was discovered within a large northern chamber which contained pieces of broken pottery dating to the late Thirteenth and early Fourteenth Centuries.   In a corner of this chamber were two waste pits which contained limpet shells and also more pottery also dating from around the early Fourteenth Century.  This medieval clay floor also contained fragments of Cornish slate which had been used for roof tiles as well as glazed ridge tiles indicating that this structure was neglected and abandoned sometime during the Fourteenth Century.  The tiles and pottery were sealed beneath an 18th century lime-mortared floor.
After nearly 200 years of occupancy Barry Castle left the de Barry family via one Thomas Marshal (1340-86), the son of Joan (1331-51) who sold it to the St. John’s of Fonmon, who were at this time joint lords of Penmark.  Oliver St. John was lord of Barry until 1373, although it appears he did not reside here as he leased Barry for life to John Andrew of Rhoose. 

By the early Sixteenth Century Barry castle was partially ruined as Tudor antiquary John Leyland noted in the late 1530s that "This castle stondith on a little hil, and most of it is in ruine. Master St John of Bedordshir is lorde of it".  It was during the late Sixteenth Century that one William Wilkyn erected a cottage within the shell of the old hall which doubled as an ale-house.  In the year 1583 William was indicted for selling ale without a licence and for keeping suspected prostitutes.

The castle and presumably the manor of Barry was in the hands of the St. John's until 1660 when it was finally sold on by Oliver St. John for the sum of £1,740 to Evan Says of Boverton.  Throughout the late Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries the gatehouse of Barry castle was in use as a meeting place for manorial courts which probably contributed to its relative good state of perseveration.  William Wilkyn's cottage was pulled down in around 1800 and the remains of Barry castle were left pretty much as we see them today.