The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Caer Llugwy Roman Fort, Capel Curig, Conwy (Bwrdeistref Sirol), North Wales

View of Roman fort at Caer Llugwy by Peter Mitchell. (Wikimedia Commons).

NGR: SH 74583 57237.  On a flat area of grassy land beside the Afon Llugwy and surrounded by woodland at the west and eastern sides are the almost rectangular earthworks of Caer Llugwy Roman fort. It was a minor posting fort – the site of which is now on private land a few miles east of Capel Curig – in the Conwy district of North Wales.  The nearly 4 acre earthworks of this Roman fort lie just southeast of the A5 road in the Llugwy Valley; and it is also called Bryn-y-Gefeiliau, taking its name from a nearby farm. It dates from 90 AD when it was built of earth and wood, but was extended on the E side, and built of stone around 120 AD whereas the western part was then annexed. This western section had a mansio-type building, which was like a lodging house or country hotel! There were excavations at the site back in 1861 and between 1920-22 but the fort was first recognized as such in the mid 17th Century by Lhuyd. To reach the site head west out of Betws-y-Coed on the A5 for a couple of miles until just before Pont-y-Pair Bridge where you turn left onto a lane for ½ a mile – the Roman fort (site) is on the right-hand side opposite Cae Awr woods. The earthworks are on private land. 

The Roman military machine marched into the Llugwy Valley towards the end of the 1st century AD in order to consolidate their hold on the north of Wales, in particular the Conwy Valley, and to build a small fort on level ground beside the river Llugwy (the course of which might have been different at that time). The first fort they built in 90 AD was of earth, turf and wood, and was at the western side of this flat area of land just where the river takes a large loop around; then in about 120 AD they added a second, smaller section of fort on the east side of the earlier section, which was built of stone; the western section was then annexed and a mansio with a courtyard built; the foundations of this building still stand 3 feet in height in the clump of trees. Roman auxiliaries would have built the fort. The fort and its annex were surrounded by an almost square-shaped defensive stone rampart and double ditch, which were rounded at the corners as was the norm for Roman forts. It’s sad that much of the stone-work has been robbed-away to build walls and farm buildings in the local area, and now only foundations remain of the mansio building. Caer Llugwy Roman fort is a ‘scheduled’ ancient monument.

Map showing Roman forts, camps and roads in North Wales.

A cohort of 500 auxiliary soldiers would have been stationed here by the early to mid 2nd Century AD. However, around 155-158 AD the fort beside the river had been abandoned and the soldiers sent to the north, probably to help strengthen and guard Hadrian’s Wall, or the Anto-nine Wall, or some other outpost. Or was the Llugwy Valley and the surrounding high ground to inhospitable? The “presumed” Roman road north from Tomen-y-Mur to Caer Llugwy and then north to Caerhun (CANOVIUM) would be extremely difficult in bad weather; and to compound this – the Ordovices tribe were still a major irritation to the Romans in the north-west of Wales. It would seem, however, the fort may have been re-occupied in some way during the 3rd and 4th Centuries AD.

There was a mansio at Caer Llugwy Roman fort. The word ‘Mansio’ comes from the Latin ‘mansus’ meaning a place to stay for rest and refreshment. A Mansio was an official stopping place on a Roman road maintained by the government for the use of officials and those on official business. It was essentially an Inn. The Mansio structure was similar to that of a standard villa design built with three wings arranged around a courtyard, but more specific with rooms for the traveller, stables for horses, and often a small bathhouse and a latrine. There may have been underground heating systems (hypocaust) built into these buildings, making for an almost cosy place to stay! Caer Llugwy had one! 

It is widely known that the Romans were mining for metals in the north of Wales. The copper mines were certainly being exploited by them and also gold and lead were being dug; and we also know they were looking for pearls in the river beds, especially the Afon Conwy! The fort at Caer Llugwy was almost certainly used as a base/station for these mining operations, which is borne-out by the name Bryn-y-Gefeiliau – Hill of the Smithies.

Christopher Houlder (1978) says: “The Roman road from Caerhun ……..southwards kept mainly to the hills, but where it dipped across the Llugwy valley at Bryn y Gefeilau (746 572) a minor fort was set up in the I century, possibly as a mining station.”     

Michael Senior (1984) tells us: “The Romans Arrive: They launched their first attack into North Wales under the leadership of Suetonius Paulinus, from the legionary headquarters at Chester, in the year 61 A.D. It is likely that the road across the hills originates from that expedition, and that a small field fort would have been established in the valley. Their purpose was to invade and subdue the island of Anglesey, which, Tacitus tells us, “was feeding the native resistance”. This first invasion however met with failure. With the Roman general and a large part of the army so far away, the Britons of the south-east, under their famous queen Boudicca, took the opportunity to revolt. Suetonius had hardly reached Anglesey when the news came, and the army in Wales had to withdraw at once and set out on that effective system of routes on the long march south.

“It is probable that the more substantial fort (Caerhun) at the river crossing dates from the second, more extended campaign. In the late summer of A.D. 77 he tribe whose territory was North Wales, known to the Romans as the Ordovices, ambushed and massacred, somewhere near our area, an outpost of Roman cavalry. This was a serious blow to Roman morale, and demanded action.

“The new Roman governor of Britain, Agricola, took the courageous decision of marching into North Wales late in the year, risking a winter campaign in the mountains. He pursued the Ordovices, perhaps taken off-guard, into their strongholds, and to ‘cut to pieces’, Tacitus says ‘almost the whole fighting force of the nation.’ To consolidate this victory he decided to carry through the earlier abortive attempt to occupy Anglesey.  One of the key elements in a strategy involving moving men between Chester and Anglesey was the protection of the crossing of the Conwy river, particularly as this point could also be supplied by sea. The crossing place which the Romans chose was a little upstream of later ferries and bridges, and would no doubt have been the junction of the lowest possible fording point with the highest navigable tidal water at that time. It lies at Caerhun, near to the present church and hall of that name (776703).”   

Mr Senior (1984) goes on to say that: “Part of the explanation for this Roman presence on the bank of the Conwy may possibly be the importance to Rome of British pearls. A Latin historian records that Julius Caesar himself was impressed by their size. It is known that Conwy’s pearl industry, which took place up the river until modern times, was extremely ancient. The pearls grew in the large fresh-water ‘horse-mussels’, which some people claim may still be found in the Trefriw area.  Whatever the reason for their coming and remaining, there is no doubt that the effect of it was to put North Wales on the map. The existence of that road set the pattern for future communications, and facilitated movement into and out of the area from then on. The existence of that Roman community at Caerhun gave an impetus to a settlement pattern within the valley, and no doubt stimulated activity which helped to stir the valley from its long sleep.”     

Sources / References & Related Websites:-

Houlder, Christopher, Wales: An Archaeological Guide — the prehistoric, Roman and early medieval field monuments, Faber And Faber, London, 1978.

Senior, Michael, The Conwy Valley — Its Long History, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Capel Garmon, Llanrwst, 1984.

The BBC,  Roman Britain, The British Broadcasting Corporation, London, 1966.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caer_Llugwy

https://coflein.gov.uk/en/site/95274/details/caer-llugwy-bryn-y-gefeiliau-roman-site

Check out this Link:  http://ardal-wales.co.uk/english/local-history/roman-period/

Link to Cadw:  https://cadw.gov.wales/sites/default/files/2019-04/InterpplanRomanConquestofWales_EN.pdf

https://ancientmonuments.uk/128314-bryn-y-gefeiliau-roman-site-capel-curig#.XxnJW1LsZjo

http://www.welshsecrets.com/places-to-visit/roman-wales/ad/caer-llugwy-bryn-y-gefeiliau-roman-fort,14

https://www.romanobritain.org/4-celt/clb_tribe_ordovices.php

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.

 

 


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Ancient Cross at St Lawrence’s Church, Eyam, Derbyshire

Eyam Parish Church, Derbyshire, by C. Daniel.

NGR: SK 2178 7639. At the south side of St Lawrence’s parish church at Eyam in the Peak District, Derbyshire, there is a beautifully sculptured 8 foot-high Saxon cross which is said to date from either the 8th Century or the 10th? It is also known as a Mercian Cross. Some of the design-work on the shaft and head bears some similarity to Celtic design. In the 8th Century Christian missionaries (from the north) set up the cross at Crosslow to the west of Eyam. The cross-shaft was originally a couple of feet taller than it is at present but, despite that, it is one of the best-preserved of all the Mercian crosses in the Midlands. St Lawrence’s church (site) is possibly a Saxon one and a church from that time may have stood where the present building now stands and, with that in mind, the font inside the church was thought to date from the Late Saxon period, though it would seem more likely to be 11th-12th Century Norman, and to have come from Hathersage!  The present church is a mixture of 13th to 15th Century architecture and is located in the centre of the village of Eyam on Church Street, near Eyam Hall. Eyam is 9 miles southeast of Chapel-en-le-Frith.

Eyam Cross by C. Daniel.

Clarence Daniel (1966) informs us that: It is scarcely necessary to draw attention to the Saxon Cross—the most venerable landmark in the village. For over a thousand years it has stood shelterless and bareheaded, exposed to the ravages of wind and rain, the wayside witness to an unperishable story. Perhaps this simple translation of the Gospel was being wrought out of living stone about the same time that a spark inspiration kindled the emotions of Caedmon at Whitby. Fortunately it escaped mutilation when Puritan zealots were authorised by an act of Parliament passed in 1643 to remove and destroy ‘“all crosses in an open place’”, although the top portion of the shaft has since been broken up and used for cobble stones. Until the visit of John Howard, the prison reformer, it lay almost smothered by weeds in a corner of the churchyard, but his concern for the preservation of such a valuable relic inspired its erection in a more prominent position.

“Mercia was evangelized by missionaries from Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, and the Eyam cross resembles in certain characteristics the type for which Iona is famous. Upon the head and arms, figures of angels are sculp-tured in relief; whilst the upper portion of the shaft is adorned with a representation of the Virgin and Child, beneath which a figure holding a trumpet, or bugle-horn. Below these pictorial panels in an elaborate tracery of scroll-work woven into three circles. The carving on the reverse of the shaft consists of five foliated scrolls in each of which a trefoil design is cleverly triplicated.

Neville T. Sharpe (2002) says: “To the west of Eyam there is Crosslow House and a cross once stood on the opposite side of the road at SK20677. Another possible site is the open piece of ground in the middle of the village opposite Eyam Hall where the stocks stand, which is still called ‘“The Cross.”’ Wet Withins at SK225790 on Eyam Moor, a site of pre-Christian worship, has also been put forward. The first of these three sites stands beside the road from Eyam to Foolow where one might expect to find a wayside cross, but an ornate cross like the one in the church-yard would have looked well in the centre of the village.

“The front of the head facing west has four angels holding sceptres on their shoulders; one is in a circle in the middle of the head and one on each of the arms. On the top of the front of the shaft are two enthroned figures in panels with arched tops; the lower figure is holding a horn in front of his body. The remainder of the front of the shaft below is decorated with circular interlaced work. On the opposite side of the head are four angels; the centre one holding a sceptre and the other three blowing trumpets. The whole of the back of the shaft is decorated with foliage, the stems of which form five bold spiral coils, with leaves and bunches of grapes in the centre of each, and leaves and buds filling up the spandrels at the sides. On the end of the north arm of the cross is a figure holding a book, and on the end of the south arm an angel. The north and south faces of the shaft are covered with interlaced work composed of knots. Believed by some to date from the eighth century, this cross has much in common with those at Bakewell and Bradbourne.” 

Sharp (2002) adds that: “On the south wall of Eyam Church is a sundial made by William Shore, a local stone mason in 1775. It is a source of wonder to watch visitors gaze at this sundial for a few moments before checking     its accuracy with their watches, and finding to their amazement that it is correct. The cross stands beside the path through the churchyard on the south side of the church and it was in this position prior to the restoration of the church in 1872. The shaft is 6 feet high of an octagonal cross-section and badly pitted due to the elements. It stands on a base mounted on three square stone steps. It is certainly much older than the 1656 inscribed on it. A plaque on the base reads: “AD 1897 This ancient churchyard cross was restored in loving memory of Charles Lewis Cornish Priest Vicar of this Parish 1841-46.”’ There is another cross built into the exterior west wall of the vestry which formerly was on the gable of the chancel. Could this be the original head of the cross in the churchyard?  

Daniel (1966) also adds that: “In the vestry is a Saxon font, but this is a comparatively recent acquisition from Brookfield Manor, Hathersage, where it did service in the garden as a flower bowl. The Norman font was shorn     of its antiquary interest and value by an unimaginative mason who planed away the carving from its bowl when instructed to clean it of paint. It will also be noted that there is no drain; a fact which recalls those days when the water was only blessed twice a year and was kept under lock and key regardless of its possible contamination.”     

Sources / References & Related Websites:-   

Clarence, Daniel, The Story of Eyam Plague – with a Guide to the Village, Cratcliffe, Eyam, near Sheffield, 1966, with Illustrations by the author.

Sharpe, Neville T., Landmark Collector’s Library – Crosses of the Peak District, Landmark Publishing Ltd., Ashbourne, Derbyshire, 2002.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eyam

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/eyam-cross/

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/eyam-saxon-cross-church-street-eyam-6957

https://ancientmonuments.uk/106831-anglian-high-cross-in-st-laurences-churchyard-eyam/photos/3137#.XvUzclLsZjo

http://www.peakscan.freeuk.com/peak_district_history_.htm

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.