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Cymdeithas Hynafiaethau Cymru - Cambrian Archaeological Association














Celebrating 150 years of the Tal y Llyn Railway and of CAA travel

The last week of August 2016 marked two notable anniversaries. It was the culmination of a year of celebration for the Railway Company (and its Preservation Society) which was opened in 1865 to bring thousands of tonnes of slate from Bryneglwys Quarry above Abergynolwyn down to the harbour at Tywyn. In 1866 the McConnel family ( Manchester cotton merchants suffering decline due to the American Civil War) who had recently bought the quarry, were looking to expand the traffic of their new industrial railway to bring tourists to Tal y Llyn. Application for the necessary permission to carry passengers in spring 1866 ran into trouble with regulation, and the summer was lost -- apart from one notable band of excursionists: the Cambrian Archaeological Association, desirous of visiting Castell y Bere!

An account of the visit in a local journal states that " the Tal y Llyn Railway is one of those 2 ft lines constructed for the purpose of carrying slates, but also used to convey passengers. As the passenger traffic on the Tal y Llyn Railway is not expected to be very extensive the coach accommodation was only just sufficient for the ladies, and most of the party were stowed away in slate trucks ".

The Cambrians' own account (in Arch. Camb . for 1886) glosses over the slate trucks and simply says that "Through the courtesy of the Tal y Llyn Railway and Slate Quarries Company a special train was placed at the service of the meeting from Towyn to Abergwynolin (sic) station, whence Castell y Bere was reached by a picturesque walk over the side of the opposite hill. Here Mr Wynne of Peniarth met the excursionists, and pointed out in detail the ruins of a castle stated to have been the largest in North Wales after Beaumaris" . At the end of the meeting they were careful to thank both railway companies who had facilitated their travel. Votes of thanks were offered to the Directors of the Cambrian Railway for their kindness in conveying members throughout the week at reduced prices. And to the Directors of the Tal y Llyn Railway for their placing a special train at the service of the members and to Mr Connel (sic) for his personal exertions and assistance". In fact it was the company solicitor, David Howell who was also a member of the Cambrians, who had initiated the event.

Ian Drummond, the historian of the line, had picked up this notable beginning to passenger services and invited the Cambrian Archaeological Association to send a representative to the final day of the Year of Celebration on Sunday August 28 th . Frances Llewellyn was delighted to take up this offer and brought down with her a copy of Arch. Camb . for 2001 which contained Keith Mascetti's Presidential Address which chronicled the extensive involvement of the Association with railways over the years; from pioneering means of travel, as in 1866, to 1971 when a visit was made to the Narrow Gauge Museum in Tywyn and when Arch. Camb. was one of the first history journals to publish industrial archaeology.

The photograph shows Frances handing over the volume to the Chairman of the Tal y Llyn Railway Preservation Society, David Ventry, and receiving the new history of the railway for the CAA library in the National Museum, before stepping into a First Class carriage for a very pleasant round trip up and down the valley on a beautifully sunny Sunday morning.




Members will be pleasantly aware that Archaeologia Cambrensis has caught up with it nominal year this December. Volume 164 for 2015 has just hit your doormats and we should congratulate the Editor on this landmark of efficiency as well, of course, for the quality of the papers which it contains and of the production. The need for a scholarly volume on the history and archaeology of Wales and the Marches was the initial spur to the foundation of the Association and it is a credit to all those who have run the Association over more than 150 years, and to the succession of scholarly and efficient editors, that the journal has maintained its standards and (generally) its regularity.

Our President-elect this year is John Kenyon, the very distinguished student of castle building. He has recently retired as Librarian for the National Museum of Wales where he was particularly helpful to the Editors of Arch Camb and of Archaeology in Wales in helping to compile the bibliography of Welsh historical and archaeological studies that is such a useful feature of both. This summer, at his inaugural meeting in the Clwyd Valley , we will be calling on his expertise at several of our visits.

This year we have lost a past President and Editor, Professor Trefor Owen, our distinguished member Professor Geraint Gruffydd, an erstwhile National Librarian and two of our longest serving members, Miss Muriel Bowen Evans, Editor of the Carmarthenshire Antiquary , who joined in 1947, and G.B Owen, who was Assistant Registrar at Bangor University for many years and who became a member in 1951. We have also lost Mr W.H Howells who was Treasurer for many years and also a notable photographer of the Associations meetings in the 1960s and 70s. The Cambrians have always included several doctors amongst the members --- very useful for an organisation that runs excursions in often remote areas; this year we have sadly lost two of them, Dr Chas Parry Jones of Anglesey and Dr LFW McMahon of Breconshire. We have gained 12 new members this year but we need more. Please do urge your friends to join and point them towards the website from which it is very easy to print out the Application Form and send it in with a cheque - or a bank transfer. The Account Number is now on the form, for those who prefer internet banking. If each member could bring in one new member it would be wonderful.




This year both our very good meetings were organised by Heather James, really quite an unfair burden to place on anyone ..... but she is so good at it! Moreover she has provided these short accounts of them.



Some 50 people attended this meeting based on campus at what is now The University of Wales Trinity St Davids. Our first tour on Monday morning, under the able guidance of President-elect Professor David Austin, was of The Old College - St David's College - founded in 1827 in Lampeter to educate the clergy. We were then led through the town to St Peter's Church, of Victorian build but on an ancient site where Professor Martin O'Kane spoke on the 19th and 20th century stained glass, notably the west window by Wilhelmina Geddes. The afternoon visit to Llanwennog Church, with tea provided by the parish, showed us the juxtaposition of a fine medieval church, sensitively restored by the late Roger Clive-Powell, and 20th century woodwork by the local squire and his wife and by their then guest, the refugee Belgian wood-carver, Joseph Rubens of Bruges. The afternoon ended with a visit to Jen Jones' Quilt Centre and the evening with Gerald Morgan's entertaining and erudite talk on ' Welsh Clergy in the 17th century'.

Tuesday was a day devoted to the Romans, travelling by minibuses up the Sarn Helen to the Roman Signal Station at Carreg y Bwci where Dr Jeff Davies explained the reasons for its siting and form. Descending via the droving village of Ffarmers where we stopped at the Village Hall for tea, cakes and a short talk, we reached Pumpsaint for lunch. After explaining the location of fort features exposed by excavation, Professor Barry Burnham gave us a detailed tour and explanation of what is - and is not - known of the Roman Goldmines at Dolaucothi. The evening lecture on the recent discovery and excavation of the Roman Villa at Abermagwr (part funded by the Cambrians) was jointly delivered by Drs Jeff Davies and Toby Driver. ( AND a visit to the Roderick Bowen Library had been fitted in before dinner!).

On Wednesday we visited the newly-restored iconic Unitarian Yr Hen Gapel, Llwynrhydowen and were addressed by Dr D Huw Owen, formerly of the National Library and now in retirement a tireless worker for Chapel preservation. Welcomed in rather wet conditions to the nearby mansion of Alltyrhodyn by the owners, Mr and Mrs Donald Usher, and entertained to coffee, we sat in the main drawing room to hear of the Lloyd family from Mr Thomas Lloyd and how the 1820 house encased an earlier. Lunch at the National Wool Museum was followed by a tour demonstrating the surviving working machinery of the former Cambrian Mills. By late afternoon the weather cleared and we walked through the town to Newcastle Emlyn Castle where David Austin spoke about its history and some debate then ensued. After dinner retiring President, Professor William Manning, handed the chain of office to Professor David Austin who spoke, in the newly refurbished Founders' Library, on his 20-year-long work on the landscape evolution of the parish of Cellan.

On Thursday we travelled up the Teifi Valley beginning the day at Llanddewi Brefi church where Heather James drew attention to the site topography fitting the legendary accounts of St David at the Synod of Brefi and, once inside, the superb collection of Early Medieval inscribed stones and crosses. After lunch at The Talbot, Tregaron, the afternoon was devoted to an in-depth tour of Strata Florida with our new President, concluding with a special visit to the former Stedman family house.

Still spry on our last morning, Cambrians boarded our bus for a tour of the newly opened Cardigan Castle , following a million pound restoration, led by Glen Johnson, whose involvement dates to his schoolboy years as a guide employed by the eccentric Miss Wood, former owner and recluse. In the afternoon the group split, with some going to the Nash-designed Llanerchaeron House and gardens, (speaker Richard Suggett) others on a whistle-stop tour of no less than 3 coastal promontory forts and hillforts led by Toby Driver. The week was brought to a delightful end with a pre-dinner drink in the garden of the President and his wife, Gaenor Parry, followed by a Conference dinner.



This meeting in Cardiff was also organised by Heather James, with much help from fellow Cambrian David Lermon. We were based in the centrally located Parc Hotel, Park Place and were fortunate to have superb weather throughout. Assembling outside Cardiff Castle , we were met by the Curator, Mathew Williams and divided into two groups for an extended tour with Mathew and his colleague Dorian Thomas. Led from one ever more intricately decorated room to another we were given full explanations of both the 3rd Marquess's and William Burges's overall intentions and the astonishing details of imagery and allusions. Many stairs were climbed and narrow passages negotiated before the two groups were reunited back into the Banqueting Hall and the Castle Grounds. After dinner, Robert Peel, a garden designer and historian, who has made a special study of Bute Park , explained how the 'Cardiff connection' had come about through the marriage of the 3rd Earl (and later 1st Marquess) of Bute to Lady Charlotte Windsor, heiress to the vast Herbert lands in Glamorgan. Whilst concentrating on the gradual evolution of Bute Park, Cardiff 's magnificent 'green lung', he set its design and planting within the other Bute landscapes at their numerous estates in Scotland and England .

We enjoyed an excellent set of lectures on Saturday morning beginning with Dr Mark Redknap's account of the 19th century and later excavations of Cardiff Greyfriars and the patient work underway to bring all the available information together. Dr David Jenkins' lecture on the ' Port of Cardiff , its ships and shipowners' was delivered con brio and with excellent illustrations. Sadly Diane Walker was not able to be present but Mathew Williams read her lecture on the fascinating subject of patronage of religious buildings in and around Cardiff by the 3rd Marquess (a devout Catholic convert) - Anglican, Jewish, as well as Roman Catholic. Finally John Hilling spoke on the Butes and Cathays Park , and the long and complex background to the final building of Cathays Park government and cultural buildings. His book on the subject is shortly to appear, and on the following Sunday morning, John's tour of the buildings, their Portland stone sparkling in magnificent autumn sunlight led on seamlessly from his talk.

On the Saturday afternoon we were led around Castell Coch by Rick Turner, recently retired from Cadw, who explained how the attraction for the 3rd Marquess and William Burges was in the design and construction of this recreated medieval castle - hardly ever in fact used by the Butes once finished! Serious archaeological excavation had preceded Burges' rebuilding heavily influenced by the French architectural historian Viollet-le-Duc. In the early 20th century Castell Coch was used by the Pentwrch Hunt and, concluding his tour and talk outside, Rick drew some fascinating analogies between the Butes' use of the Castle and the probable intentions and uses by the equally wealthy and powerful medieval owners, the de Clare lords of Senghenydd. No longer should we consider castles solely as defensive structures - the medieval Castell Coch was as much a hunting lodge and retreat.

The afternoon concluded with a most informative tour by Jean Rose of St Margaret's, Roath and particularly the family history of those interred in the monumental granite sarcophagi of the Bute mausoleum there. After dinner Mathew Williams gave a witty and erudite talk on William Burges and the 3rd Marquess of Bute describing the close friendship between the two men and the Marchioness, as well as examining the relationship of wealthy patron and imaginative architect and designer.

On Sunday morning, after the tour of Cathays Park , we had coffee in the The Park House Club - a building designed by William Burges for James McConnochie, dock engineer to the Bute Trustees, in a French gothic style that rapidly became popular in Cardiff . Finally - and with a smaller group, we walked through Bute Park to catch the waterbus down to Cardiff Bay in the company of David Lermon and Elaine Davey, visiting the Pierhead Building and then the somewhat neglected but high quality buildings of Mountstuart Square , once the commercial hub of the city. Finally we were able to see one of the most threatened buildings - the Coal Exchange - where the Association and supportive members made donations to the campaigners fighting for its preservation.


'The Speech House Laws' - the CAA Constitution

A second and final motion will be put to the 2016 AGM as part of the process of updating our constitution. The motion and full text will be placed on the CAA website, together with the draft Trustees Report and Accounts, a month before the AGM in Ruthin on July 7th . Hard copies of the motion can be requested from the General Secretary.

Those members who wish to see the full Accounts, rather than the summary which will be available at the AGM, should write to the Secretary in June and ask for an e-mail copy to be sent to them.



Research Grants awarded in 2015

Eight applications were received this year, amounting to £12,475, but unfortunately, due to lack of funds, we could only make grants of £6,775. We were happy to continue our support to Margaret Dunn's Dating Old Welsh Houses Project which is still going from strength to strength and broadening its scope. We also continued support of two major late prehistoric settlement excavations at Meillionydd in Lleyn and at Bodfari in the Vale of Clwyd which will be visible from our bus during this summer's excursions. We also gave money to obtain new AMS dates for Hoyles Mouth Cave to bring the National Museum's great Palaeolithic research project to completion. We shall be seeing one of that project's major sites at Pontnewydd during our summer meeting. We also provided some money towards the 'Origins of Stonehenge' project, for work on a possible megalithic tomb or barrow at Pensarn; supported less ambitious work at Blaen Bowi in Ceredigion where we were last summer, and a study of the Renaissance house, Plas Teg, in Flintshire.



Eisteddfod Lecture 2016

This coming year the Cambrians' Eisteddfod lecture on Wednesday August 3rd in Abergavenny will be given by Frank Olding. Members who came to the Ebbw Vale meeting a few years ago will know that he is one of the best speakers on Welsh industrial history. His subject will be Y Cymoedd yn arwain y byd: Hanes diwydiant yng Ngwent The Valleys lead the World: Industrial History in Gwent.



Living off the Land: Agriculture in Wales c. 400-1600 AD
July 16th 2016 at Cardiff University
Registration fee £30 (£15 for students)

This Day School is being organised by CAA members Rhiannon Comeau and Andy Seaman and will offer an overview of the current understanding of medieval agricultural systems and present some recent Welsh case studies.

Tudur Davies: Culture, climate, coulter and conflict: pollen studies from medieval Wales

Della Hooke: Resource management of seasonal pastures - English Welsh comparisons

Mick Monk: Changing perspectives of early medieval Irish farming

Stephen Rippon: The Fields of Britannia: Continuity and change in early medieval landscape

Sara Elin Roberts: Living off the Land in medieval Welsh law

David Austin: Byw ar y Mynydd: a Welsh historic upland landscape of living

Bob Silvester: Field systems in North Wales - 40 years after Glanville Jones

Rhiannon Comeau: 'In rodwallis' - medieval agriculture in Welsh north Pembrokeshire

Andy Seaman and Alice Forward: Settlement and Agriculture in medieval South-east Wales

For further information contact or or check the University of Canterbury website.


Members who were at our Autumn meeting last year may like to know that Clive Hughes' book 'Arm to Save your Native Land' - Army Recruiting in North West Wales 1914-1916 is now available in paperback in English from Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst for £8.00.