In a previous post, I noted the recent commemoration of the line of Offa’s Dyke as it crosses the Clywedog west of Nant Mill. At that point, a tree has been carved with a sculpture commemorating Offa and ‘his’ dyke.
Here I wish to report on another ‘modern’ feature marking Offa’s Dyke. It is probably not insignificant that it also defines the historic border between England and Wales, close to where the dyke descends from the western slopes of Selattyn Hill to cross the Morlas Brook at Craignant. It is of further significance that the monuments lines a roadside that transects the line of the early medieval linear earthwork: roadsides are the stereotypical location for many 19th-century memorials, and so the monument achieves its purpose of being seen, and marking the dyke.
The feature is a masonry tower with a plaque on the north-facing (road-facing) side inscribed ‘Offa’s Dyke’.
I would like to learn more about this feature: a monument to a monument. PRN 130440 in the Clwyd-Power Archaeological Trust’s Historic Environment Record, the ‘Craignant Tower’ is described by Jeff Spencer as follows:
A square masonry tower built into Offa’s Dyke where is it cut by the B4579, on the border between Wrexham County Borough and Shropshire. At the top of the tower, on the side facing the road, is a stone plaque inscribed ‘OFFA’S DYKE’.
The record also quotes the anonymous 1868 A Handbook for Travellers in North Wales in stating that the tower was built to mark the course of Offa’s Dyke by one ‘Mr West’.
This is evidently therefore an early/mid-19th-century folly. However, it is more than just a tower and a marker, it is a ‘fortification’. In symbolic terms at least, it evokes medieval architecture in crude terms, and thus the popular 19th-century idea of the dyke as a wall, akin to Hadrian’s.
Indeed, contrary to the HER description, this isn’t an isolated tower, but it seems to be part of a wall which looks broadly contemporary, that tops the dyke for a stretch as it navigates diagonally the steep slope up the hill to the west of the road. A further wall adjoins the tower and follows the road westeward. Therefore, from the road and approaching from the Welsh side, one encounters a tower and the early medieval dyke emphasised by this stretch of walling conjoined to it.
As a monumental building to commemorate a far greater monument, it is an unoccupied tower with a stretch of masonry walling appended to it and thus it seems to have been built to enhance the ruinous appearance of a dyke that failed to look ‘ruined’ enough for 19th-century tastes. In other words, it failed to display dilapidated stonework, and so this feature creates the sense of it.
Indeed, it might have also been intended to imply ruination by its partial character. The wall doesn’t stretch far. Moreover, as a monumental gatepost, was it intended imply a lost twin on the other side of the road?
Marking the road and the dyke, Craignant Tower is a rare example of a 19th-century monument commemorating an early medieval monument.