Caerleon Campus History Lectures 2014

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University of South Wales (Caerleon Campus)

History Public Seminar Programme Spring 2014

Wednesdays, 6pm 

A chance to share in some of the recent research from the History team at Caerleon: the lectures will be followed by informal discussion 

Wednesday,29 January 2014, 6 pm, Caerleon Campus: Boardroom 

Erica Canela

‘In the Name of God Amen: Tudor Wills in Breconshire, 1528 – 1571’


Wednesday, 5 February 2014, 6 pm, Caerleon Campus: Conference Suite, Main Building A45

Chris Gardiner

Admiring the pugilistic art? Newspaper reports on boxing in nineteenth century south Wales


Wednesday, 12 February 2014, 6pm , Caerleon Campus: Boardroom

Maddy Gray

Cross Slabs and Closet Catholics: some thoughts on seventeenth-century tombstones


Wednesday, 19 February 2014, 6 pm , Caerleon Campus: Boardroom

Paul Thomas

An Investigation of Pre-Roman Communications in South Eastern Wales: with Special Reference to Possible Surviving Iron Age Road Networks in Gwent


Wednesday, 5 March 2014, 6pm, Caerleon Campus: Conference Suite, Main Building A45

Jessica Powell

‘Breaking the Bonds’: The Rise (and Fall) of Monmouth’s Independent Burgesses


Wednesday, 12 March 2014, 6 pm, Caerleon Campus: Boardroom

David Howell and Ray Howell

Digging up the Past: Excavating Llanfihangel Tor-y-Mynydd


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Laleston to Parc Slip

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Well, we always knew this would be the tricky bit of the route. We actually started doing it backwards from Parc Slip so Steve could park there and walk round the reserve while Cara and I went on. It started well – footpath waymarked from the Bankers Hill road, and we saw 3 deer, 2 does and a young stag, in the woods (but they crashed into the undergrowth before I could get the camera out).

Then it got tricky. The route is theoretically mostly clear but VERY muddy and difficult to follow. This is roughly how it would work if you were going north:

Probably best to follow the Merthyr Mawr – Laleston route in reverse so you go through Laleston village and across the field to the Ffordd y Gyfraith. Then when the Ffordd y Gyfraith gets to Cae’r Heneglwys, turn left and walk along the lane to the Cefn Cribwr road then take the footpath to the right through the woods. This brings you out on the road at the old pound. Go straight on here, with the site of Margam’s Llangewydd Grange under the brambles to your left and two atmospheric ruined farmhouses on either side of the railway line



Eventually you go under the M4. Turn left immediately up some overgrown steps


over a stile


and across the field walking along the embankment above the motorway to another stile


(this was where we met the goat!)


Then it gets tricky – you need to bear right across the fields but they are deep in mud and there are no waymarks. Eventually you reach a roughly cleared track



a not-very-useful stile


and out on the Cefn Cribwr road.

You should go left here and there should be a path almost immediately going north but we couldn’t find it in the other direction. Instead we walked along the track down towards the old quarry. When you get to the skeleton of an old railway carriage


you are back on track. Go through the gate, turn left and through another gate.


I think the line of the footpath then goes down the fence to your right and across a little stream


(virtually impassable, this bit) – then turn left and walk north of the line of trees as best you can. Eventually you get into the trees where there seems to be the line of an old embankment


which becomes a lane (this was where we saw the deer)


and comes out on the Bankers Hill road. From here it’s a short walk across the old railway line to the entrance to Parc Slip nature reserve.

So what do we say to Bridgend CBC – well, the route they want to Llangynwyd is doable but needs quite a bit of work before you can promote it. Up to them.



Heritage trails (again)

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The road goes ever on …

The trial round Laleston and Merthyr Mawr seems pretty much sorted. Bridgend CBC are keen to have a trail going north to Llangynwyd. Since the route round Laleston is themed around the pilgrimage route to Llangynwyd this seemed a no-brainer. And yesterday was a sunny day so Cara the pilgrim dog and I set off with our sandwiches.

Following the actual Ffordd y Gyfraith won’t work  beyond Llangewydd because most of it is a busy B road. It’s difficult to find footpaths shadowing it and crossing the M4, but the very minor road north from the Laleston pound goes under the M4 and there are footpaths across the fields, then a wiggle gets you into the Parc Slip nature reserve at Cwm Ffos.

More about Parc Slip at and something about walking trails in and around the park at . The long walk around the park looked promising so we parked there and set off north. The road past the reserve crosses the main Cefn Cribwr road and becomes a pretty lane to Cwmrisca farm.



When you get to the farm, go through the gate to the right


Some of the gates need a bit of attention but in general the path is well waymarked.


You leave the fields, climb a steep slope and emerge on the ridge. Don’t take the obvious trackway to the left


but bear right to join the old Ogwr Ridgeway (now renamed the Glamorgan Ridgeway)


and turn left over this rather battered stile


Follow the ridgeway past the mast on Mynydd Baeden and down to a minor road. You are now back on the medieval Ffordd y Gyfraith. The hollow trails running parallel to the metalled road suggest how much traffic it took.


(here’s a detail with some sheep for scale)



The little dimple on the far ridge of Mynydd Ty-talwyn is a house platform, all that remains of a deserted settlement. Many of these upland settlements vanished during the early fourteenth century, when the weather got dramatically worse, there were famines and mountain land could no longer be farmed. Harsh times.

Our world now has the opposite problem, the diseases of affluence – once you get back on the road, rubbish and fly-tipping is a problem.


but the views are spectacular



You can take a diversion along the track to Cefn Ydfa, home of the famous maid of Cefn Ydfa, the beautiful Ann Thomas.


The story is that she was the daughter of a wealthy local farmer. She was in love with a young poet, Wil Hopcyn. But Wil was only a labourer and her family made her marry the son of another local landowner. She died of a broken heart. Wil wrote the famous Welsh song ‘Bugeilio’r Gwenith Gwyn’ in which he says he has watched the white wheat ripening but another man has the harvest. You can see memorials to both of them at Llangynwyd church.

I didn’t have time to explore the footpaths down into Llangynwyd – that will have to wait for another day. We walked on along the Ridgeway then down through the forest. The monks of Margam had a summer grange here called Hafod Deca. Walking here some years ago I thought I found the ruins of an old farmhouse but it is now nowhere to be seen. Did I really see it, or did I read about it and think I had seen it? Memory is a funny thing.

Below where the ruins might have been you rejoin the Glamorgan Walks route, cross a minor road and walk through the farmyard of Ffynnon Iago with its well under the trees.


But after that the route gets bogged down and totally overgrown. We had to push our way through woods and I sank up to my knees in some very wet fields. Not an alternative route, then, and no scope for a circuit. But once you reach Llangynwyd there are routes off in all directions – east to the railway station, east and west along the Glamorgan Ridgeway, following the pilgrimage route down to Margam, or north to join Andrew Dugmore’s Cultural Olympiad route.

We got back to Parc Slip in the twilight –


more fine tuning next week.


Laleston Stones Trail

Laleston and Merthyr Mawr are planning a loop off the Wales Coast Path featuring their collection of Celtic crosses, later carvings and other heritage attractions. Yesterday the sun shone and it seemed like a good day for a walk … so Cara the Pilgrim Dog and I set off from Merthyr Mawr. The village is almost chocolate-box pretty with a little wedding-cake of a Victorian church. More on the carvings at and .

We walked alongside the park wall and up the lane towards Whitney Farm. The stile here, where the footpath leaves the lane at 879 784


needs waymarking and a bit of attention!


The puddle is probably the result of recent torrential rain but a lot of the gates and stiles have puddles and we may have to think about ways of dealing with this.

Good stiles and gates across the fields


though we may need some waymarking especially here at 877 789


where the line of the right of way on the map goes through two hedges but the path obviously goes through the gap.

Emerge on the Bridgend bypass at 877 793, turn right, cross the road and through a good sturdy gate at 878 792.Image

Clear waymarking needed here at 879 796


where the path goes back to the right, then it’s straight on to the Ffordd y Gyfraith at 881 796.

The Ffordd y Gyfraith is mostly very minor roads and tracks now, but in the Middle Ages it was one of the main roads through south Wales. The name means ‘The Road of the Law’. This was how soldiers and officials got from the western Vale of Glamorgan to the area around Llangynwyd. Llangynwyd was the Helmand Province of medieval Glamorgan (with my ancestors the Welsh lords of Afan as the Taliban). By the fifteenth century it was also famous for the carving of the Crucifixion on the rood screen of the church. Unusually, this may have depicted the two thieves as well as Christ. A medieval tombstone in the church at Laleston probably shows its design.


(this is John Rodger’s drawing of it, in 1911)

The Ffordd y Gyfraith crosses the main Bridgend road at 881799, at the east end of Laleston village. Almost buried in the roadside verge is the socketed base of a medieval wayside cross.


From here the road is very quiet, little more than a track


until you reach the crossroads at Cae’rheneglwys. Here another wayside cross base is completely overgrown with brambles.


The two stones in the field


are all that remains of the medieval church and village of Llangewydd. Two carved ‘Celtic’ crosses were found here and are now in the National Museum. There are some more plain standing stones in the hedge to the left of the photo. Unfortunately there is no possibility of public access to the field, but an interpretation board on the road will show what the church and settlement might have looked like.

So what happened to the settlement – in a word, the Cistercians. This reformed religious order spread from France across Europe in the early twelfth century, reaching Wales in 1131. Part of their ethos was that they wanted to farm their own land by the sweat of their brows. They preferred to settle on unused land and bring it under cultivation themselves. But there was very little unused land in England and Wales – and when they were given land which was already being farmed, they sometimes used a combination of persuasion and moral blackmail to remove the tenants. The Cistercian monks of Margam were given the land around Llangewydd in the middle of the twelfth century and within fifty years they had removed the church and the little settlement around it.

At Cae’rheneglwys you turn left on a slightly wider country road then keep straight on past the old village pound at 872 813.


To your right are the ruins of the monks’ farm buildings, now hidden behind a new house called The Grange. There should be another interpretation board here showing what the grange might have looked like. The road bends to the left – another sign of the power of the Cistercian order. They could expect that a major road like the Ffordd y Gyfraith could be diverted to pass round one of their granges.

Go back to the pound and take the footpath to the south. This area is marked as woodland on the map but it’s mostly scrub and bracken. Some of the heaps of tumbled stone are geological, but some may be the remains of Llangewydd Castle.




You need to be careful going through the wood. The right of way heads for a stile at the far right corner but most of the paths head for a gate in the south fence. The stile gets you out on ‘Roger’s Lane’ – actually a fast and busy road to Laleston and not really suitable for walking. I thought it might be possible to take the side road west to Haregrove Farm (another of Margam’s granges) and swing back across the fields, but the walk along the road wasn’t very inspiring and the footpaths across the fields weren’t stiled or waymarked. It would need a lot of work for not much benefit.

Part of the problem with the side roads is the amount of litter. It’s a bit different from Cardiff: our lanes are full of rubbish but it’s mostly junk food rubbish. I’ve noticed when walking in the area in the past that the country round Bridgend has much more fly-tipping, builders’ rubbish and general domestic rubbish complete with black bin bags.


This lot actually had a couple of pairs of shoes that could have gone to the charity shop.

We have even on occasions been grateful for the rubbish. I remember my old friend Derek Williams making a plaited cable out of a disembowelled sofa in order to drag a car out of the mud on an unusually random field trip along the Ffordd y Gyfraith back in 1997. But generally it’s unsightly and puts visitors off.

So my instinct is that the best thing to do at the junction with Roger’s Lane is to head back along the side road to Cae’rheneglwys and down the Ffordd y Gyfraith to 878 802 and follow the footpath (well gated and waymarked) across the fields to Laleston.

Laleston has a shop, a choice of pubs for lunch, the church and several other buildings of historical interest – and the well


about which I know nothing, but I’m sure my friends in the Welsh Holy Wells societies will have some ideas.

From Well Street, take the footpath past the school and between the school grounds and the playing fields. This is clearly well walked but leads back to the bypass. This is the one really dangerous bit of the walk. The path should go straight across the road, but it’s near a blind bend and very difficult to cross. We may have to advise walkers to go along the verge to the left until they get a clear view, then walk back on the other side.

The footpath to the south is intermittently waymarked and needs some maintenance but it’s easy to follow. Cara liked this moated stile.


At 873 787 the paths divide. Bear left and go round the east corner of Coed Cwintin to rejoin the track past Whitney Farm and return the way you came. We went right and along the west edge of the wood. No stiles or waymarks but gates and an attempt to deal with the puddles


The lane goes round Candleston Farm and turns south again. Where the tracks divide, take the left fork and go steeply downhill to a stream. At the next fork you can bear left and walk over the ridge to Ton Farm or keep right to walk along the stream (literally in places)


to Candleston Castle. We need to find out whether the flooding on the road is the result of heavy rain, or if there is an alternative path.



To your right are the soaring dunes of Merthyr Mawr Warren


and to your left is Candleston Castle



– really a fortified manor house, probably built in the fifteenth century. From the castle you can continue along the coast path to Porthcawl or return along the road to Merthyr Mawr and your start point.

It was a good day’s walk – about eight miles along the best route, with plenty of interest on the way. We need to do a bit of work on stiles and waymarks, write a guide leaflet and work on the interpretation boards. Watch this space.


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It’s Diwrnod Shw’mae – Shw’mae Day, How’sthings Day, the day when we can all try to use a bit of Welsh. Even those of us who have hardly any. For us, it’s the unhealing wound at the heart of our identity: we are Welsh but we can’t use our own language with any sense of confidence or security.

It seems somehow appropriate that on Diwrnod Shwmae I’m looking at the sixteenth-century Acts of Union with my Foundations of Modern Wales class. The Acts of Union have often been blamed for consigning the Welsh language to oblivion. That’s certainly what Huw Edwards said in The Story of Wales – the poor old werin bobl, forced to defend themselves in law courts where only English could be used.

But was it ever really like that? The Acts of Union were designed to appeal to and placate the Welsh. Henry VIII and his adviser Thomas Cromwell knew they had to keep the Welsh loyal, or Wales would be vulnerable to invasion from overseas. And the Acts certainly were popular. Some historians argue that, although there was clearly no enthusiasm for religious reform in Wales, the Welsh went along with the changes of the sixteenth century because they had gained so much from the Acts of Union and they didn’t want to go back to being a colonised people ruled by outsiders.

The Acts certainly said that English was to be the official language. You could ask what language the courts were held in before the Acts – when the Marcher Lords could be bothered to hold them, that is. Law French and bad Latin, probably – so English was no worse.

But as well as appealing to the Welsh, the Acts also had to be drafted to placate the English. This was statute law so it had to get through an all-English House of Lords and House of Commons, full of people who thought the Welsh were a bunch of dangerous bandits. The idea of law courts being allowed to use Welsh would be a bit like suggesting that law courts today could use sharia law.

In fact, like so much other legislation, that section of the Acts was never really implemented. We know that the courts used interpreters, and pretty soon Welsh-speaking judges were being appointed. Even the Council in the Marches could use Welsh, as the President for much of the mid-sixteenth century was William Herbert, Earl of Pembroke, a man who was always happier in Welsh rather than English.

The Acts also led indirectly to one of the most important influences on the preservation of the Welsh language.  The religious changes of the sixteenth century meant that it was important to get the Bible translated into everyday language so that ordinary people could read it (or more likely have it read to them). Church services were also translated. As a result the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer were translated into Welsh, and this meant that for most people Welsh became the language of religious worship. This preserved the language for centuries, but now it has become a bit of a problem: Welsh is in some people’s minds associated with the old ways of doing things and with the repressive aspects of Welsh chapel culture, so there is less enthusiasm for using the language.

We also missed a trick in the translation of the Bible. One thing that a lot of Welsh learners struggle with is mutations, the way that the first letter of so many words changes in different ways according to some really complicated rules. One of the things that makes it difficult to understand is that these changes go back to the old forms of the language. As the language has developed, the mutations have become fossilised so that it’s difficult to remember them. For many native Welsh speakers, they are one of the most important and distinctive things about their language, but for learners they are a constant source of anxiety.

The most famous of the Welsh translators of the Bible was William Morgan, who produced the translation of the whole Bible in 1588. But the first person to tackle the job was William Salesbury. Like Morgan, he came from the Conwy valley in north Wales (must have been something in the water). In 1552 he translated some of the set Bible readings from the Book of Common Prayer and published them as Kynniver Llith a Ban. He went on to work with Richard Davies on the translation of the New Testament and the Book of Common Prayer, both published in 1567.

William Salesbury was a Renaissance humanist scholar. He was acutely aware that Welsh is much closer to Latin than English, and in some of his translations he used spellings that made this clear – eccles instead of eglwys for ecclesia, church, and so on. He also felt that mutations belonged in the Middle Ages and tried to get rid of them.

Then along came the traditionalist William Morgan and put them all back in – and we are still struggling with them.


Cathays Cemetery – ‘how green a place it is’

posted in: Graveyards | 0

I take my Art & Death group to Cathays every year (it’s my idea of a day off because Steve actually does the leading). Here we are listening to him (all the photos are Andrew Brown’s).


Cathays Cemetery was Wales’s first out-of-town municipal cemetery. When it was established in 1859, London had its ‘Magnificent Seven’ cemeteries on the edge of the built-up area and Glasgow had its Necropolis, but many urban burials were still taking place in graveyards like the ‘tiny churchyard, pestiferous and obscene’ in which Lady Dedlock’s late lover was buried in Dickens’s Bleak House.

Nor was Cathays Cemetery only for the dead. Laid out as an arboretum with a wide range of trees and shrubs, the graves deliberately adorned with examples of sculpture and religious symbolism, it was a place for working-class self-education as well as fresh air and exercise, part of Cardiff’s network of ‘green lungs’.

So our visit there touched on a huge number of themes: trade and industry, the development of Cardiff as a social and cultural centre, perspectives on the commemoration of women and children, migration, the Catholic community, other faiths and religious groups, commemoration of war dead, the modern environmental movement …

Here we are debating the memorial to Solomon Andrews, entrepreneur and (possibly) philanthropist.


He established Cardiff’s leading tram company and built the Central Market. In his will he left money to provide everyone who came to his funeral with a suit or a coat. Of course, they came in their thousands – and all those who wanted one got a coat. We argued long and hard whether this was generosity or showiness. My own feeling is that it’s both – and that there is a lot to be said for conspicuous consumption that also benefits others. You get the same debate with medieval wills. All that money to the poor, in return for their prayers – of course, it was geared to a simple calculation of what would get your soul out of Purgatory. But at the same time, there is something refreshing about a society that actually values the prayers of the poor and thinks they have a hotline to God, just because they are poor and a bit smelly.

A bit of selfish philanthropy might have been handy during the Irish potato famine (not really a famine – there was plenty of food in Ireland but it was being exported, mainly to landlords in England). Here we are at the memorial to the victims of the ‘famine’ (better termed the Starvation).


It’s in four languages – Irish Gaelic, the Latin of their Catholic church, English (so those who were responsible can read it) and Welsh (to commemorate the very reluctant hospitality the Welsh gave the boat people of the nineteenth century, those who fled the famine). It is set in the heart of the Catholic section of the cemetery. Cathays was originally laid out with separate areas for Catholic, Anglican and Protestant Nonconformist burials. You can still see the Anglican and Nonconformist chapel near the entrance (in the background of the first photograph). There was a Catholic chapel, rather hidden inside the cemetery (which tells you a lot of what you need to know about Welsh attitudes to the Catholic church in the nineteenth century) but it was demolished because it had become derelict. The whole area round where the chapel was is a history in stone of Cardiff’s Irish Catholic community. You can see them becoming prosperous and more confident in their beliefs (it must have helped when Cardiff’s most powerful landowner, the massively wealthy Marquess of Bute, became a Catholic) but you can also see the plot in which the nuns of Nazareth House are buried. They came to Cardiff to care for the abjectly poor (really like the nuns who worked with Mother Teresa in Calcutta) and they established hospitals, care homes and the famous Nazareth House orphanage. They were helped by a local athlete, ‘Peerless’ Jim Driscoll. You can also see his memorial in the Catholic section.

Steve is particularly interested in the war graves with their distinctive Portland stone and design – here we are looking at one.


They are scattered through the cemetery – here is one in the Catholic section – but cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.


So you could be buried with your family or community but still have your military service recognised.

Lutyens’ design for the stones is superb – clear, tasteful, identifiable but with room for things like distinctive regimental badges and all the information – but his choice of materials was a disaster (almost as bad as his choice of reinforced concrete to build New Delhi). The stones have to be replaced on a regular basis. I have always wondered what happens to the old ones. Could you just discard them?

Here we are in pensive mood – I think this is when we were listening to the story of young Louisa Evans, killed in a ballooning accident when she was only 14.


When Tiny Tim dies near the end of Dickens’s ‘A Christmas Carol’, his family arrange for him to be buried in one of the new out-of-town cemeteries. After Bob Cratchit has been to see the place, he says to his wife, ‘It would have done you good to see how green a place it is. But you’ll see it often. I promised him that I would walk there on a Sunday.’

Cathays was planned as a public open space, for education as well as exercise – and it still has something of that about it. The Friends of the Cemetery organise regular walks, exploring Cardiff’s history and encouraging people to take gentle exercise. Part of the cemetery has been set aside for biodiversity, and the grass and wild flowers are encouraged to grow.


Of course, it still has to be managed, or brambles and scrub would take over. We did have a discussion about how families would feel if they came back from far away to visit a grave and found it in what looks like a ‘neglected’ area of the cemetery. Me, I’d like the idea of my grave providing a refuge for dormice and slow-worms but there’s no accounting for tastes.

We’ll have a lot of these issues in sharper focus when we visit Thornhill cemetery and crematorium in a few week’s time.


Faith tourism, faith in tourism?

‘All these died in faith, before receiving any of the things that had been promised, but they saw them in the far distance and welcomed them, recognising that they were only strangers and pilgrims on earth’ (Hebrews 11: 13)

The irrepressible John Winton of the Churches Tourism Network Wales, having virtually invented church tourism for our nation, is launching his Faith Tourism Action Plan in St Asaph. Here are some amazing statistics. Churches are among our most popular tourist attractions – St David’s Cathedral gets 262,000 visitors a year and Brecon gets 120,000. Their motivations vary – they may be interested in old buildings, tracing their family connections or simply looking for somewhere free to get out of the rain. But on the international scene, faith tourism is big business. Pilgrimage to Compostela has a huge impact on the economy of northern Spain. Pilgrims making the hajj to Mecca contribute about $8 billion a year to the Saudi Arabian economy. It’s no wonder that VisitWales is keen to encourage John’s plans.

Part of this, of course, is the Galilee Project ( . Initially conceived as a way of providing a better display space for the early medieval carved stones at St Illtud’s Church, this is spiralling out with an ambitious plan for a pilgrimage route across south Wales, linking Llandaff, St Fagan’s (where the museum will be the new home of the collection of early medieval stones now in the National Museum in Cathays Park in Cardiff), Llancarfan (another early monastic site with some impressive late medieval wall paintings), Llanilltud itself, Merthyr Mawr and Laleston, and Margam.

Part of the aim is to get rid of the unfortunate Anglicisation of the church’s name, Llantwit (St Twit – who he?) and re-popularise the Welsh version, Llanilltud. Seriously, we have deferred for too long to the English inability to pronounce our place names – they are part of the intangible charm of our heritage and we need to stop hiding them.

So John, Gareth Kiddie (the project’s business consultant) and I sat down with the maps to think about possible routes. Like most heritage footpath plans, this one is a balancing act: we need a good walk, on open and clear footpaths, that visits key sites and pushes the buttons of the potential funders.

John seems to treat me as a sort of enquire within upon everything to do with church history. Sometimes this means that he calls me in for things that I know nothing about: but when it comes to pilgrimage and footpaths I am on home turf. The biggest problem seemed to be the start. Llandaff Cathedral is in the middle of a built-up area. Who will want to walk for miles along busy roads before reaching the countryside? But Cardiff is famous for its ‘green lungs’, corridors of woodland and open space between the housing estates; and one of the biggest of these runs along the river. We might have to go north in order to go south … but north from Llandaff is the traditional pilgrimage route to Penrhys, one I’ve walked in the past as an alternative to our usual route from Llantarnam.

So it was that I put my boots on and collected Cara the pilgrim dog, and we made our way to the Taff bridge between the cathedral and Llandaff North.



The route up river from Llandaff starts well – you walk up the river bank from the cathedral, climb to the road for a few metres past the boat club then back to the river bank as far as the bridge. Keep on the west bank of the Taff and walk along Radyr Court Road, then when the road bears up to the left take the path along the river bank. Turn left under the railway line and walk up to the path through Radyr Woods then turn left past the playing fields of Radyr Comp to emerge at the roundabout where the Radyr road meets the Llantrisant Road.

Here it gets problematic. The footpath across the fields goes through the farmyard of Maes-y-llech – never a good idea. I had a nice chat with the farmer (he knows my cousins from the Vale). He admits he doesn’t like footpaths through his farm but accepts that it’s legal – but for a promoted path it might be better to re-route it. But here’s the real problem – he eventually said that the whole farm is scheduled for building under the latest local development plan. This explained some of his bitterness – his family have farmed there for generations but as tenants so the farm will be sold and they will be out on their ears. It’s dreadful for him, but it also means there isn’t much point in putting a lot of thought into a route that’s going to go round the back lanes of a housing development.

But there is an alternative. The footpath from Maes-y-llech cuts across the line of the disused railway from Fairwater to Llantrisant. After that, the footpath is clear up to the Pentrebane road. You have about 400m. on the road then there is a footpath across the field to a green lane that gets you into the new housing in St Fagans and the back gate of the Museum. So I walked back along the railway line.


It needs a bit of attention



(fallen trees, and one bridge has been demolished: there’s an easy scramble down the embankment and back up) and it isn’t actually a right of way but it has a waymark post for a promoted route half way along


and it gets you by a very pleasant route into the southern part of Danescourt. I re-walked it with my daughter Rachel and she approved.

So the suggested route is as follows: from the cathedral up the river to the bridge. About 100 m. along Radyr Court Road, go up the steps to your left. Walk along Highfields, turn down Greenwood Road, left along the Llantrisant Road to the roundabout. Down Tangmere Drive, along Grantham Close and into the park, bear right and you are on the old railway line. Follow this for about 1/2 mile until you are out of the trees, then after the pylon turn left and follow the footpath across the fields to the Pentrebane road and down the green lane to St Fagans.

Keen pilgrims would probably want to make a bit of a loop to the north to go past Radyr Court and St John’s Church. St John’s is the old parish church of Radyr, a simple building of rough stone with a huge old yew tree.  Radyr Court is now a pub but it was in the Middle Ages the home of the Mathew family. The women of the family were famous for looking after pilgrims on their way to Penrhys. According to the elegy written by Rhisiart ap Rhys to Elspeth Mathew,

Parlwr gan vwr niferoedd
I vels draw val osdri oedd

‘her parlour was to many invalids like a hostelry’. He also said that she sent a considerable weight of candles to Penrhys, but she never seems to have gone there herself. Perhaps she considered herself to have taken informal vows at Radyr and to be running a sort of maison Dieu, a hospice for pilgrims. This would make her something like Sister Anne Larkins, who runs the retreat house at Llantarnam and sets us off on our annual pilgrimage from Llantarnam to Penrhys with a blessing of water from a medieval stoup found in the abbey ruins.

The family also claimed to be hereditary custodians of the skull of St Teilo. This famous relic was recently returned to the cathedral after some time in Australia. It is still shown occasionally to visitors and would probably be brought out for an organised group. The cathedral also has the effigy tombs of David Mathew, Sir William Mathew and his wife Jenet


with the famous ‘sleeping bedesman’.

So there are a lot of connections.


Pontypool – not quite what you expect of a Valleys town

posted in: Heritage (General) | 0

Excellent MA field trip to Pontypool, led by Steve.

For the full description, go to and click on newsletter 7.

Meanwhile, here are some photos: at the Gorsedd stones


heading intrepidly past the cows


to the Folly tower (actually a rebuild – the original was such a key landmark that it had to be demolished during WWII)


Back in the centre of town – how many listed buildings can you count?


The famous pop factory is lithology heaven, a crazy quilt of scraps of stone left over from other buildings


and the old Quaker meeting house and burial yard clearly ought to be listed (but isn’t)


all in all a pretty good day.


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Why are we so mucky in south Wales?

As Steve and I work our way round Wales looking at tomb carvings and interesting bits of building stone, we are tasked by our daughter to photograph smoking-related litter. She works for AshWales’s Filter project and they are building up a map of smoking rubbish in Wales,-3.375893&spn=0.164281,0.468636&source=embed

You will see that most of the little flags are in the Cardiff area and up the valleys. The Filter team thought that was because they are based in Cardiff, and they have been trying to record smoking litter elsewhere in Wales. But it took me a lot of hard work to find the few photos I took around St Davids in August. Visits to Brecon and the Marches produced no photos at all. Likewise a trip to the Vale of Clwyd. Not just no smoking-related litter, very little litter at all. Meanwhile, the lanes and woods around Cardiff are full of it. I do a bit of freelance litter-picking in the woods above my house but I’ve given up on the roads – you can clear a section and a week later it’s as if you hadn’t bothered.

Why? It can’t be poverty and despair because Cardiff is one of the more prosperous areas of Wales. What is really sad is that we seem to have lost our pride. We used to have a saying about not messing on your own doorstep (well, we put it a bit stronger than that but you know what I mean). So much has got better in south Wales – the harshness of the chapel culture has been liberalised, there’s less male chauvinism – but along with the bathwater of patriarchy we seem to have chucked out the baby of our self-respect.

Most of the rubbish comes from what I would call junk food. Longwood Drive, off the Coryton roundabout where the M4 meets the A470, has several outlets (better not name names) and the volunteers from the Forest Farm conservation centre pick up at least a bin bag of rubbish A DAY there.

Shouldn’t the people whose logos are emblazoned over this unsightly mess be just the least bit concerned? After all, one burger is much like another, one cheap lager is much like another. So what they are selling is an image – ‘buy our product and be like these beautiful people strolling hand in hand into the golden sunset’ … but instead what they are saying is ‘Buy our product and be like these sad little souls whose idea of sensual  gratification is a six-pack of lager and a big packet of crisps, and whose idea of really wild iconoclastic behaviour is to chuck their rubbish in the nearest hedgerow’.

We need a way of getting the polluter to pay.

But we also need a way to get our self-respect back.

If the past is a foreign country, should you get its geography right?

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Hilary Mantel says that if you want to write historical novels and you include facts you should make sure that those facts are right. Jim Crace, whose novel Harvest has made it to the Booker longlist, thinks otherwise:

‘I’m not interested in that at all. I don’t want facts, I want to make things up and to dig deep into traditional storytelling to produce a tale that illustrates the subject matter I care about.’ (from an interview in the Guardian: )

Mantel also says we should not apply modern priorities to the people of the past – something some serious historians could usefully pay attention to. But here again Crace disagrees:

‘I’m not interested in anything else but foisting those sensibilities and writing books that concern the 21st-century. None of this is a critique of what Mantel does so perfectly. It is just to illustrate that for me it is a whole different ball game.’

I haven’t read Harvest (and let’s be honest I’m unlikely to). Apparently it’s set in an unnamed English village, an indeterminate number of centuries ago, at the moment when peasant farmers were forced off the land to make room for sheep. The narrative mentions post-horses and plague is a threat. A surveyor draws maps. We seem to be in the seventeenth century.

Crace was inspired by noticing for the first time some fields around Watford Gap:  ‘I noticed that the surrounding fields were full of ridge and furrow. As a Midlander and a big walker I’d always loved ridge and furrow fields, the plough-marked land as it was when it was enclosed. It is the landscape giving you a story of lives that ended with the arrival of sheep.’

The problem is that it probably wasn’t like that at all: the whole business of depopulation and enclosure is much more complex and very few villages were removed to make room for sheep. Crace’s ridge and furrow could have survived until the eighteenth or even the early nineteenth century, when enclosure of common land took place to facilitate commercial farming. You’d have to go to the County Record Office, look at estate papers and enclosure awards … and that might spoil the whole story.

So does it matter? It’s clearly a powerful and well-written book. Crace’s other concern was the parallels between his story and the eviction of indigenous people by soya barons in south America, and he uses his historical narrative for a powerful modern critique.

But should we call it a historical novel when he clearly isn’t at all concerned with history?

These issues are trending on Twitter with the broadcasting of the final episode of The White Queen. Of course, we didn’t expect them to get the Welsh contribution to Bosworth right. Too much to hope for. But apparently they didn’t get the Stanley contribution either – and my friend Philip Beddows (of Teulu Elystan Glodrydd – tweets as @Fferllys) spotted one of Henry Tudur’s men in Richard III’s colours and carrying the badge of the white boar. Now, this could have been a radical new insight into battlefield tactics – but it’s much more likely to have been a mix-up in the wardrobe pantechnicon. Badges and colours were specifically supposed to have prevented that sort of confusion!