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CPAT - Windows on the Past

The Medieval period, AD 1100 - 1500

The Norman Conquest and the Welsh Resistance from the late 11th century onwards left Clwyd and Powys crowded with that great symbol of domination and control — the medieval castle. The nature of Anglo-Norman castle-building has been dramatically revealed at the motte and bailey castle of Hen Domen near Montgomery, excavated by Philip Barker, a former chairman of CPAT, and in the later stone castles, at Chirk and Flint for example. During the last ten years there has also been extensive research at the 13th-century Welsh castles of Dolforwyn near Welshpool and Caergwrle, north of Wrexham.

The control and management of large medieval estates in the Marches such as those of the Earls of Powis is well illustrated by the study of Powis Castle and their principal manor at Mathrafal.

A key feature of the economic exploitation of the medieval landscape was the creation of towns in the 13th century. The larger-scale excavations undertaken by CPAT at Montgomery and New Radnor and smaller-scale excavations at Talgarth are beginning to make significant contribution to our understanding of their foundation and development and of the nature of town-life in general.

A useful indicator of the structure of the medieval economy is pottery, and CPAT’s Medieval Pottery Fabric Series built up from these and other sites is becoming an essential reference point for the study of medieval pottery in the region.

Another major feature of the medieval landscape was the church, and the archaeology of churches and their graveyards has featured prominently in recent programmes of work. ‘Lost’ churches at Welshpool, Capel Spon near Buckley and Capel Maelog near Llandrindod Wells, have been rediscovered. At Capel Maelog in particular CPAT was presented with an opportunity to study the development of a medieval churchyard through to its abandonment in the 16th century.

At Pennant Melangell near Llangynog, in the very northern tip of Montgomeryshire, recording and excavation undertaken with the close co-operation of contractors and the architect carrying out renovation and rebuilding work revealed important new information about the way in which the church developed and about the Romanesque shrine to St Melangell. Smaller-scale work at a number of other churches, including Whitford and Llanfair Caereinion, has been helpful in elucidating their medieval ground plans.

Tomen Llansantffraid

Motte at Tomen Llansantffraid

Right: The section through the motte at Tomen Llansantffraid indicates a surprisingly complex sequence of four or five structural elements, evidently designed to control the form and stability of the final structure. © CPAT

The motte at Llansantffraed Cwmdeuddwr, probably built in the 12th century, commands a ford across the Wye just to the east of Rhaeadr, Radnorshire. Although greatly disturbed in the 18th–19th centuries, excavation and recording work between 1982–90 in advance of building and maintenance work provided a rare opportunity for studying the construction of the castle mound (see photo below). Work was funded by Cadw, with the permission and assistance of Mr Seymour Price and Radnorshire District Council.

Bishop's Moat

Left: Bishop’s Moat motte and bailey castle, Churchstoke, Montgomeryshire. This is a particularly fine example of the numerous earth and timber castles built in the Welsh borderland during the period of the Anglo-Norman conquest. © CPAT 84-C-469


Various excavations have been undertaken in Montgomery, one of the principal medieval boroughs of the Welsh borderland, most notably at Pool Road between 1984–87. These revealed a sequence of medieval timber buildings set on a platform next to one of the principal roads in the borough, with an open yard area behind and a property boundary to one side.

Montgomery Castle

Right: Montgomery Castle, founded in the 1220s, became an important base of operations for Edward I’s Welsh campaigns in 1276–77. The castle dominates the fortified town on the lower ground below, which was granted borough status in 1227. © CPAT 84-C-468

The earlier building, about 5 metres by 9 metres in size, was of posthole construction. This was replaced by a building of sleeper-beam construction with an oven and an open hearth, and with evidence that the walls were of wattle and daub construction. This sequence of building techniques — from posthole to sleeper-beam construction — is evident elsewhere in Wales during the medieval period.

Pottery evidence indicates that the area was occupied from soon after the founding of the borough in the 13th century up to the early 15th century.

The excavations at Pool Road, undertaken in advance of housing development, were funded by Cadw and the Manpower Services Commission and were carried out with the permission of Powis Castle Estates.

Evidence from here and elsewhere within the town suggests that the medieval borough was more densely occupied in the medieval period than at the present day. This underlines the point that undeveloped sites represent an important archaeological resource.

New Radnor

Excavations at The Porth, New Radnor, between 1991–92 revealed important new evidence of medieval and later buildings on Church Street, just inside the western gate of the fortified borough. The earliest structure, probably of 13th–14th century date, had been a timber building, while later buildings were constructed at least partly in stone. It had previously been unknown whether the medieval town — now no more than a village — had ever expanded to fill the area enclosed by the defences.

Left: Medieval stone-lined cess pit, found during excavations by CPAT at The Porth, New Radnor, in 1991–92. © CPAT

Within one building was a well-preserved corn-drying kiln with an arched flue linking the fire–pit to a raised drying floor. Ironworking appears to have been carried out in a further building. To the rear of the buildings were a number of pits, including a stone-lined cess pit, which produced a significant assemblage of medieval pottery.

The excavations were funded by Cadw and carried out with the permission of the landowners, the Meredith brothers.

Pennant Melangell

Pennant Melangell church

Right: Footing of the 12th-century apse revealed during the course of excavation at the east end of Pennant Melangell church. The apse, enclosing a prominent grave traditionally held to be that of St Melangell, was originally entered by the blocked opening visible in the east wall of the chancel. © CPAT

Excavation and recording work between 1989–94, during the course of renovation and repair, has provided important new evidence of the history and development of this beautiful and remote medieval church, tucked away in an isolated valley south of the Berwyns, to the west of Llangynog.

According to legend, St Melangell, an Irish princess, had been banished from home by her father because she would not marry the man he wished. Having spent many years in isolation at Pennant, she was encountered one day by Brochwel, Prince of Powys, whilst he was out hunting. A hare being chased by his hounds ran to the folds of her skirt for protection, and though urged on by the huntsman the hounds would not approach the hare. On hearing her story, Brochwel bequeathed her the lands at Pennant as a place of perpetual sanctuary.

Pennant Melangell stone gable

Left: Detail of one of the stone gables of the 12th-century Romanesque shrine to St Melangell. The involuted leaf motifs show late Celtic influence. © CPAT

Excavations have revealed evidence of an earlier cemetery, pre-dating the Romanesque church. The church, possibly built by the 12th-century nobleman Rhirid Flaidd, commemorated by the poet Cynddelw as ‘priodawr pennant’ (proprietor of Pennant), was evidently built with an apsidal grave chapel at its eastern end , enclosing a prominent grave which is traditionally held to be that of Melangell.

Pennant Melangell rood screen

Left: Brochwel, the 8th-century prince, shown out hunting in scenes depicting the legend of Melangell carved on the late 15th-century rood screen. © CPAT

Further evidence was noted of the various changes and repairs made to the church during the course of the 15th–19th centuries, and the opportunity was taken to make a detailed record of the surviving fragments of the elaborate Romanesque shrine to St Melangell before these were reconstructed within the chancel of the church.

Excavation and recording work undertaken by CPAT was funded by Cadw and carried out with the help of the Rev. and Mrs Davies, the diocesan authorities, Antur Tanat Cain of Llangedwyn Mill, and the architect Mr Robert Heaton.

Capel Spon

A ‘Spon Chapel’ has long been part of the folk-lore of the Buckley area. Prior to recent work at the site researchers had little to go on apart from a reference by Edward Lhwyd at the end of the 17th century to ‘Kappel Spon, whereof a small part of ye wall onely is now to be seen’. Two centuries later it had totally disappeared, the location being only preserved in the name of a large field known as ‘Chapel Field’.

Capel Spon survey

Assessment of the site first began in 1989 following a consultation by British Coal Opencast who were intending to submit a planning application for opencast mining there. Unable to locate the site of the chapel by conventional ground survey, British Coal funded a geophysical survey of the site — a technique which is often a valuable means of identifying buried walls and ditches. Survey work in 1989 by Geophysical Surveys of Bradford provided positive results (see right) — the foundations of a rectangular building about 8 metres long by 12 metres wide, possibly lying within a curvilinear ditched enclosure. Trial excavation in 1991 confirmed the existence of buried stone foundations; the presence of a number of inhumation graves proved that it was the site of the missing medieval chapel.

Geophysical survey and trial excavation at the site was funded by British Coal Opencast Executive whose planning application was subsequently refused on appeal, on environmental grounds.

Collfryn corn-drying kiln

Collfryn corn drying kiln

Right: Medieval corn-drying kiln found during excavations at the Collfryn hill-slope enclosure, Llansantffraid Deuddwr, Montgomeryshire in 1982. © CPAT

15th-century field kiln used for drying wheat and possibly oats, found by chance in 1982 during the excavation of the Collfryn hill-slope enclosure, Llansantffraid Deuddwr, Montgomeryshire. The stokehole in the foreground lies in the silted-up ditch of the Iron Age and Romano-British enclosure site. The drying chamber, with an inner ring of upright stone slabs, had been cut into the earlier enclosure bank. Although corn-drying kilns (odyn grasu) are sometimes found within a farmstead or settlement, as at New Radnor, field kilns of the type found at Collfryn must once have been common in Wales up until the early 19th century, their former presence being signified by a field-name such as Cae’r Odyn (kiln field). Oral evidence suggests that the corn was dried by being raked over a floor of wooden planks and straw or cloth suspended over the drying chamber. A description of the late 19th century records that ‘it is said by the old people that the corn dried after the old fashion makes sweeter bread than that dried in the modern brick-kilns at the mill’.

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Late Medieval to early Modern

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