Wat’s Dyke is one of Britain’s most important early medieval monuments. It is also Britain’s second longest!
In a previous post, I bemoaned the lack of any walking guide or heritage boards to mark and explain Wat’s Dyke bar from a few select locations. Notably, for Wrexham borough, where the monument passes through the countryside but also through suburbs and western side of Wrexham town, only in the cemetery is the monument marked in any fashion. I called this section ‘The Cemetery Dyke’ (PRN: 22995)
Here’s what I said about it:
The ditch has gone but the bank survives as a low earthwork running south from Bersham Road to the top of the hill before the cutting created by the Ruabon Road breaks it off.
The dyke lacks a separate PRN within the cemetery grounds, where it is discernible, if covered with 19th-century graves. Indeed, this is the only place where its edges are marked by heritage lines in the two driveways in the cemetery that bisect its line. Notably, the Welsh is on the ‘Mercian’ (east) side’, the English on the ‘Welsh’ (west) side of the monument!
I was struck by the large number of early medieval-inspired graves of late 19th century date overlaying the early medieval monument! The funerary landscape incorporating such an important ancient monument is a rare thing.
While I remain positive that the denuded and grave-covered section of the Dyke marking the original western side of the 19th-century cemetery is marked out in the landscape for visitors to appreciate – unlike elsewhere in Wrexham where there is nothing – I have to add some additional points and suggest that, in heritage terms, even the cemetery is in ‘Dyke-denial’.
First, the cemetery display board does mark the line of the Dyke at the entrance, and I failed to point this out. Well done to the new redevelopment for including Wat’s Dyke on the map. Shame, however, there is no text to explain what Wat’s Dyke actually is!
Second, none of the web resources about the cemetery make mention of the fact that a monument likely to be c. 1,200 years old runs through the cemetery. The cemetery’s story begins in 1876 and not before on the Wrexham County Borough Council website, and likewise near identical information appears on the Wrexham History website. The wonderful website Wrexham Cemetery Stories links the cemetery to stories about the history and landscape of the area, but again, there is no mention of Wat’s Dyke.
Third, the WCBC has just received a massive £1.2 million grant from the Heritage Lottery fund to improve the space and appoint a part-time development officer. Yet, beyond the pre-existing markers for the Dyke and the new map at the entrance that does note its presence, it looks as if again the Dyke has been overlooked. I evidence this based on the 2018 BBC website story shows a photograph of Wat’s Dyke covered in graves but doesn’t mention it! Meanwhile, in a lovely article in The Leader by Jamie Bowman, posted only a few days ago, a detailed discussion of the history of the cemetery was published, charting its reference back to the 16th century, but without a single mention of Wat’s Dyke.
So let’s be clear: Wrexham cemetery is a great place to visit and I’m delighted they’ve received the HLF grant to improve the cemetery. The landscape here, despite being transformed into a cemetery, already has a head-start from the National Trust estate to the south, and the town to the north, in actually having Wat’s Dyke marked out on its paths and mentioned on its new map. However, despite this, Wat’s Dyke remains written out of Wrexham’s past, and this is a great shame for locals and visitors alike. Currently, anyone looking for the history of the cemetery online or on the ground is being sold short: in dyke-denial.