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Cymdeithas Hynafiaethau Cymru - Cambrian Archaeological Association












News 2009

Alert readers will have noticed that the Cambrians have a new General Secretary. Members from the south west of Wales will already know Mrs Heather James very well from her work with the Dyfed Archaeological Trust, of which she was Deputy Director for many years, and for her great contribution to the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society and other local historical societies. Together with her late husband, Terry, she had an enormous impact on our knowledge of the Roman and medieval history of Carmarthen town and of the wider region and was always happy to share that knowledge. She is the author of several weighty tomes and a number of more accessible works and will bring to her work for the Cambrians an impressive and widely respected professional reputation and an enthusiastic and friendly approach to the day to day running of the Association.

Canon Michael Coombe will remain as a Trustee but has been able to lay down the burden of office that he bore for several years longer than he had agreed to, way back in 2002! The Association owes him a great debt of gratitude for his hard work and long journeys over the last six years.

Members will have been saddened to hear of the sudden death in February 2008 of Geoff Mein who had become a regular at recent summer meetings. Geoff had been a lawyer with the National Coal Board, but was chiefly known in Cambrian circles as the enthusiastic leader of the Trostroy Excavation Group who had been working on the site of Trostroy Castle near his home in Usk for many years, and making some important and complex discoveries, from prehistoric through to medieval with some challenging stratigraphy. Sadly the full report had not been completed, but interim reports had been regularly published in Archaeology in Wales.

Another enthusiastic regular at summer meetings, Elwyn Lewis from Llangeler, Ceredigion, has also died recently. His health had been declining and he attended the Conwy Meeting this year in a wheelchair, but though it was an effort for him, he enjoyed it immensely because he found the company so agreeable.

Other members, less frequently seen in recent years, died this year, the distinguished journalist, Charles Quant and Bill Putnam who had been a very active fieldworker in Montgomeryshire with the late Jack Spurgeon but had moved some years ago to the University of Bournemouth where he was one of the founding members of the archaeology department.

While it is always sad to record the death of long-standing members and friends it is pleasing this year to also record that we have had over thirty new members, many of whom have reached us via the website. We are very happy to welcome them to the Association and hope that we will see them at some of the meetings planned for this year and the years to come.


Three very successful meetings were held in 2008: an Easter Conference in Aberystwyth, the Summer Meeting at Betws y Coed in the Conwy Valley and a long autumn weekend in Kraków, south Poland. Full accounts of all three can be read on our website and will published in Archaeologia Cambrensis next year.

The Easter Architectural Conference was planned as a tribute to the late Vernon Hughes and covered the Welsh Vernacular, religious buildings and seaside towns, all within the context of conservation. The location gave the Association an opportunity to celebrate the centenary of the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments with a tour of their offices. Professor Bill Davies, a life-long friend of Vernon Hughes and one of the foremost architects of a modern Welsh vernacular gave the keynote speech on the Friday evening. Lectures throughout Saturday and on Sunday morning were topped off with a tour of Aberystwyth, both a medieval borough and a seaside resort, with Michael Freeman.

The Summer Meeting was based at the historic Royal Oak Hotel in Betws y Coed and looked at both sides of the lower Conwy river and explored the uplands around its upper reaches. Bridges were one theme, the Gwydir estate another and also early tourism. On visits to historic houses, members were able to see the restoration work at Plas Mawr, Conwy, at Gwydir Castle where the panelling of the dining room had been retrieved from America, at Hendre where work was still very much ‘in progress’ and to explore the still-puzzling history of the buildings at Plas Iolyn. In a notoriously wet summer in a wet region the Cambrians were surprisingly lucky with the weather and were able to sit out some of the worst downpours at tea with the enterprising Cooperative in Ysbytty Ifan and in a gastronomic high spot in the ‘foodie’ town of Llanrwst.

The Autumn Meeting in Poland, led by the Rev Dr David Williams, was a truly memorable event for the 44 members who attended. The party was based in the centre of Kraków, a rich medieval city with a famous university and many fine churches with late medieval carvings and some beautiful modern stained glass. Outside the city the notorious concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau were visited by some of the party while the others went to a Benedictine monastery. Not surprisingly a Cistercian abbey was also on the itinerary for another day where, as friends of Dr Williams, we were entertained in the refectory to a simple but surprisingly generous lunch! Part of Sunday was spent down a Salt Mine, originally a late medieval royal monopoly gradually expanded to a virtual city underground.

MEETINGS PLANNED FOR 2009 - see Meetings and Events



Money has been granted for two new research projects this year. Adam Voelcker, whom members who were at the Summer Meeting will remember for his expert guidance around Betws y Coed, was granted money for work on his proposed biography of the architect, H.L.North. The Pevsner Buildings of Wales volume on Gwynedd to which Adam contributed, together with our members Richard Haslam and Julian Orbach is due for publication next year. Order your copy now!

We have also granted money towards the long-term research excavation by Dr Chris Caple of Durham University at Nevern Castle in Pembrokeshire.

Two other grants were made towards on-going projects. We gave money for a radiocarbon date from excavations near Bala which we supported last year. The excavator, Tudur Davies was also the winner of the Blodwen Jerman Prize for his Sheffield University dissertation on the Early Medieval Landscape of the Bala area.

The other project is an expansion of Margaret Dunn’s dendrochronological dating programme for 16th and 17th century houses in north west Wales. She spoke to the Summer Meeting about the very interesting results which had come from the smaller pilot scheme which she had run in the Beddgelert area and it is obvious that the combination of local family research and scientific sampling is providing important new insights into architectural development in the region.

Some of the product of last year’s grant-aided research on Dr Gardner Wilkinson will be appearing in the volume being published early this year by the Carmarthenshire Antiquarian Society Carmarthenshire and Beyond: Studies in History and Archaeology in Memory of Terry James. This is a very wide-ranging volume which should be of interest to all readers of Arch Camb. It costs just £17 (+3.50 p&p) from Mrs J Davies, Erw Hir, Llanarthne, SA32 8JD.



All members will be aware of the publication of this, our fourth Index volume, because of the generosity of the Ethel and Gwynne Morgan Charitable Trust which paid for its distribution to everyone. The earlier volumes II (1901-60) (£12) and III (1961-80) (£18) are available post free from CAA Publications, Halfway House, Halfway Bridge, Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 3DG. Volume I is out of print.

The Index was launched at a ceremony, ‘A Celebration of Indexes’, in the National Museum of Wales on December 9th at which the compiler, Mrs Elizabeth Cook, spoke about how she had set about the task which she had found deeply fascinating and enjoyable; Tom Lloyd described early attempts to index the 19th century volumes; Tony Carr, our current President, discussed his indexing of medieval names in Anglesey and Andrew Green, the Director of the National Library of Wales, looked at the future of indexing and information management. But the morning, of course, belonged to Donald Moore who had managed the production of all four volumes and had contributed all the so-useful lists of Cambrian personnel and activities which define the Association, alongside the publication of the journal. After the speeches everyone enjoyed a buffet lunch in the Court Room of the Museum serenaded by carols from the Great Hall below.


Members will know that Archaeologia Cambrensis is exchanged with a great number of other comparable publications across Britain and Europe. The societies are all listed at the end of the Members List. The Trustees have recently initiated an audit of the volumes we receive in return which are available for consultation by members. They are all coming in, and they represent a very considerable resource of scholarship, not only the annual journals but also monographs and catalogues. The quantity of material from Germany and Spain, for instance, is impressive and the Dutch material is largely published in English. Members wishing to use the Library should contact the NMW Librarian, John Kenyon (e-mail:


The Eisteddfod will be at Llanfor, Bala, this year and, as usual, the Cambrians’ lecture will be held on the afternoon of the Wednesday, August 5th. The lecturer this year will be our President, Prof Tony Carr, and the Chairman will be a distinguished past-President, Trefor Owen. The subject of the lecture will be Penllyn a’r Tywysogion.