Category Archives: Events

Beyond the Walls: In Search of the Celts

Last month, Howard appeared on TV. Having been filmed on location at the Pillar of Eliseg and at Offa’s Dyke near Ruabon and looking across at Offa’s Dyke where it hits the River Dee at Ty Mawr Country Park in October, only a small section of the interview was aired, filmed on the dyke at Ruabon.

The documentary was produced by AlleyCats for BBC 4, entitled: Beyond the Walls: In Search of the Celts.

The programme explored the conflicts and interactions between the Romans and, subsequently, the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, with the Celtic (Brythonic)-speaking peoples of the island of Britain. It was first air at 10pm on Tuesday 4th December on BBC4: The official blurb reads:

Historian Dr Eleanor Barraclough travels through some of Britain’s most beautiful landscapes – Hadrian’s Wall, the Lake District and Offa’s Dyke – in search of new evidence to reveal the true story of the mysterious ancient British tribes often called the Celts.

According to the official history books, the Celts were defeated and pushed to the edges of Britain by waves of Roman and Anglo Saxon invaders. However, a growing body of evidence suggests this is not the full story.

To help give the Celts back their proper place in our history, Eleanor examines freshly discovered treasures, new archaeological evidence from real photographs and clues hidden in ancient poetry to reveal a fresh narrative – one that suggests the relationship between our ancient British ancestors and those who came to conquer them was much less repressive, and far more co-operative, than we have thought.

I was being filmed in order to talk about the early medieval kingdoms of Britain, focusing on the relationship between the Britons and the Anglo-Saxons. To do this, I wanted to talk about the Pillar of Eliseg and Offa’s Dyke, and how they afford contrasting perspectives, one ‘Welsh’, one ‘Saxon’, on the Christian kingdoms of the Early Middle Ages.

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me: whilst filming by Offa’s Dyke, near Ruabon

I won’t evaluate the programme, but make of it what you will.

All I can say is that I did my very best to articulate the stories of two complex monuments, and they gave me every opportunity to make my points as clear and coherent as possible. Whether I do make sense remains my responsibility, not theirs, despite being heavily edited! Certainly, this was my first time working on a TV documentary in a decade and it was a very positive experience for me to get to work with David Starkey and Alfie Turner from AlleyCats.

In doing so, I got to represent my work on Project Eliseg and my work with the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory. even though I’m very disappointed that the Pillar of Eliseg didn’t make the final cut. Still, I was delighted to be able to talk about two monuments that should be regarded as key to the study of early medieval Britain, and yet which rarely feature on television documentaries.

The choice not to discuss the Pillar of Eliseg was odd. I had discussed some ideas to appear in the forthcoming Project Eliseg monograph. I addressed the complex biography of the early ninth-century cross, including its form and text. I also considered how the monument operated in its landscape setting, and how and why the monument reused a prehistoric cairn. Most importantly, I identified how the monument was positioned in relation to, and perhaps in defiance to, the Mercian linear earthworks to its east.

 

The Pillar of Eliseg in March of 2018

Regarding Offa’s Dyke, I addressed how it was positioned in relation to the Vale of Llangollen and the River Dee. I then talked about changing views on its functions and significance as a part of the Mercian frontier, and its legacy to this day.

What I hope the programme shows, even though the Pillar and the Dyke should/could have been discussed together, is the complex and fluid relationships between the British and the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms: a ‘prehistory’ to the March of Wales as it developed following the Norman conquest of England.

It was a pity that the equally significant Wat’s Dyke couldn’t be featured, especially in relation to the Pillar of Eliseg. Still, for a 29-minute programme, I think packed in quite a lot of new and interesting research! Many have commented to me that, even for abbreviated TV shows, it seemed far too rushed.

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Cameraman/Director/Producer David Starkey, at work at Ruabon
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David, busy trying to film the Dee Valley at Ty Mawr Country Park, and attempting to avoid the llamas…
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Latest Revelations on Lancaut Peninsular & Spital Meend fort

An evening presentation and update on the latest revelations from the archaeological investigations in the Lancaut Peninsular & Spital Meend fort: Wednesday 28th November 7pm (doors open 6.30pm) Drill Hall, Chepstow, NP16 5HJ

T15Find out about the final results from the small partnership project that has conducted walkovers, geophysical surveys and targeted excavations around the medieval church yard at the Lancaut DMV and in the promontory fort at Spital Meend, Tidenham, Gloucestershire. The questions the project hoped to shed light on included whether Lancaut was a Celtic (British) / Early Christian monastic complex, how and when Spital Meend fort was occupied and used, and how these related to Offa’s Dyke. The partnership is between the Forest of Dean Building Preservation Trust, who own Lancaut Church, Historic England, Gloucestershire Archaeology, Herefordshire Archaeology, Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory, Southern Marches Archaeological Practice Ltd., Wye Valley AONB Partnership and local landowners, with funding from Heritage Lottery Fund and Gloucestershire Environmental Trust.

The free evening event is on Wednesday 28th November at the Chepstow Drill Hall, 7pm. Doors open 6.30pm, light refreshments available.

Oswestry – The Offa’s Dyke Conference – the 4th Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory Meeting

Thanks to the staff and logistics of CPAT (notably Dr Penelope Foreman) with additional financial support from the University of Chester, the fourth Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory event successfully took place at the Marches School, Oswestry, Saturday 15th September. This follows on from 3 previous events:

This fourth event aimed to bring together the convenors and members, focusing on identifying the rationale and achievements of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory, together with reports on local groups up and down the Anglo-Welsh borderlands. The event was combined with a field trip in the afternoon to see CPAT’s dig on the Chirk Castle estate.

IMG_1059The event was attended by c. 50 individuals, including some celebratory figures of Welsh and Borders archaeology – including Margaret Hill and Sian Rees.

The morning comprised of a series of talks by convenors and members. Together these presentations show how, 17 months since inception, the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory is making real progress in building momentum for new research on the linear earthworks of the Anglo-Welsh borderlands. As well as fostering new work on dykes’ design and construction, new work is afoot to explore their landscape contexts and biographies of use and reuse.

The convenors’ talks were by

  • Dave McGlade of the Offa’s Dyke Association
  • Me!
  • Dr Paul Belford – Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust
  • Andrew Blake – Wye Valley AONB

The second half of the conference comprised of talks by local groups introduced by Dr Keith Ray:

  • Alan Brown – Caer Alyn Archaeology
  • Niall Heaton – Trefonen Rural Protection Group
  • Mel Roxby-Mackey and Ian Mackey – CoSMM (Community Stewardship for Mercian Monuments)
  • Ray Bailey – Offa’s Dyke Collabatory North
  • Dick Finch – Offa’s Dyke Collabatory Gloucestershire

After lunch and a chance to chat with the audience and fellow-speakers, we re-convened in the National Trust car park at Chirk Castle for a brief sermon from the mound by Dr Paul Belford, before visiting the CPAT dig.

Before we dispersed, there was a brief opportunity to get a photo of 5/6 of the Collaboratory convenors (L-R): Dr Keith Ray, me, Dave McGlade, Dr Paul Belford, Andrew Blake.

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Offa’s Dyke Rises at Chirk!

This summer has seen headlines about fantastic archaeological discoveries from the air. Archaeological features are being found by aerial reconnaissance to an unprecedented degree, together with enhanced details and elements of already known sites and monuments.

Why? This all is the result of the 2018 heatwave and limited precipitation, meaning that cropmarks and parchmarks across the British Isles (identified using aeroplanes and drones) have shown up fresh evidence from across the full time span of human occupation of these islands, from later prehistory to the recent past. From an Archaeodeath perspective, it is exciting to see many of likely mortuary or ceremonial function alongside settlements, field systems and other traces of past human activity.

A further aspect of the 2018 summer’s lack of rain and intense heat has been the lowering of water levels for rivers, lakes and other bodies of water. This has had its own effect on the visiblility of some archaeological sites and monuments usually languishing out of site below the water.

This is broader context for what I witnessed at Chirk Castle on Saturday, when the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory visited Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust’s excavations of an unscheduled section of the dyke to the north of the castle. After the morning’s presentations in Oswestry by members of the Collaboratory, including members of local groups up and down the Anglo-Welsh border, many delegates made their own way to Chirk Castle to see the dig.

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Viewing along Offa’s Dyke towards Chirk Castle during the Collaboratory visit

As readers of this blog will know, Offa’s Dyke is an amazing and unique eighth-century linear earthwork comprising of a bank, ditch and associated quarries and counterscarp bank, constructed as part of a frontier zone asserting Mercian hegemony over its Welsh rivals. Its full extent, function, duration of use and legacy remain much disputed.

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Ian Grant and Dr Paul Belford of CPAT

Offa’s Dyke has long been known to run through the National Trust-managed grounds of Chirk Castle and in places survives as an impressive monument. Yet in other stretches, it is heavily denuded and poorly understood. Moreover, the heritage interpretation of Chirk almost completely ignores the dyke’s presence and significance and much of the dyke is on pasture land that is not accessible to visitors. 

CPAT and the National Trust have been working together to create new community archaeology excavations at Chirk, including investigating the dyke to better understand its composition and location at points where it has been badly damaged. Perhaps these endeavours will one day lead to better public appreciation of the monument at Chirk as a premier tourist attraction in the Anglo-Welsh borderlands.

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Ian explains the dig to the Collaboratory conference delegates
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One digger, lots of onlookers!

 

The dig itself is as yet inconclusive in identifying the full extent of the ditch and bank of the monument: the structure has clearly suffered from multiple stages of denudation. Still, Ian Grant of CPAT was able to show the Collaboratory delegates clear evidence of bank-material from Offa’s Dyke and at least part of the ditch.

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CPAT have opened a c. 30m-long trench to identify the dyke at this very denuded point

In addition to viewing the excavations, we got to see over the nearby lake at an eerie site. It has long been known that Offa’s Dyke at one point on the Chirk estate is submerged beneath a lake created by 18th-century landscaping. Indeed, on aerial photographs this section of dyke looks like an uncanny submarinal monster lurking beneath the depths of the lake: a watcher in the water.

The glimpse of the dyke rising to the surface of the lake!

Well, thanks to the drought, the leviathan has temporarily risen to the surface and its top is exposed from bank-to-bank across the centre of the lake. Access is private, and the lake is framed by trees, but from one tight angle from close to the CPAT dig, I got a glimpse of this beast’s huge bulk.

Ducks, geese and a heron were perched upon it, and after two-and-a-half centuries, it looks like a shingle bank with bushes growing on one section that usually pokes up above the lake.

Thanks to CPAT and the National Trust, we are learning more about Offa’s Dyke at Chirk. Yet it is a shame that access to, and visibility of, the dyke’s path through the Chirk estate cannot be more readily accessible and explained to the public. Certainly this submarinal dyke will soon be below the water once again and out of sight and mind for most visitors to Chirk.

 

Offa’s Dyke Conference, Saturday 15th September 2018

Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust and the Offa’s Dyke Collabatory invite you to a one day conference event, held at the Marches School, Oswestry, on Saturday September 15th. 

This exciting and informative symposium, organised by the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust, will feature perspectives from field archaeologists, academics, local history societies, enthusiasts, and many more. With talks on historical and archaeological aspects of these important border features, updates on recent excavation work, and discussions from conservation and heritage groups, this is a day not to be missed!

There are free tables or display spaces available for groups and societies who have interests in areas related to Offa’s and Wat’s Dyke, related medieval earthworks and sites, and areas surrounding them. Please contact Penelope Foreman, community archaeologist, to book a table.

The talks and discussions will be followed by an opportunity to have a guided tour of the excavation of a section of Offa’s Dyke at Chirk Castle, undertaken by the archaeologists of Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust. Please note delegates must have their own transport to Chirk Castle, and though access to the excavation site is free, delegates wishing to go on to visit Chirk Castle itself must pay the National Trust entrance fee.

The cost of this event is £5, free for Friends of CPAT, and free for speakers or stall holders. Tea and coffee, as well as a light buffet lunch, will be provided. Please note any dietary requirements when registering for your ticket.

Please reserve your tickets (including free ones) via Eventbrite here:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/offas-dyke-day-school-tickets-49175018805

The venue for this event – The Marches School, Morda Road, Oswestry, SY11 2AR – is accessible to all and has modern facilities, step free access, and plenty of free parking on site.

Draft Programme (TBC) 

 

09:00 – 09:35

Arrival and Registration – tea and coffee

 

09:35

Welcome and introduction from Dr Paul Belford, Director at Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust

 

09:45 – 11:15

Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory talks

 

Dave McGlade – Offa’s Dyke Association

Professor Howard Williams – University of Chester

Dr Paul Belford – Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust

Andrew Blake – Wye Valley AONB

Alan Brown – Caer Alyn Archaeology

 

11:15 -11:45

Tea and coffee break, society stalls and displays

 

11:45 – 13:00

Local societies and interest groups roundtable

 

With an introduction by Dr Keith Ray

Niall Heaton – Trefonen Rural Protection Group

Mel Roxby-Mackey and Ian Mackey – CoSMM (Community Stewardship for Mercian Monuments)

Ray Bailey – Offa’s Dyke Collabatory North

Dick Finch – Offa’s Dyke Collabatory Gloucestershire

 

13:00 – 14:00

Lunch and society stalls and displays

 

14:00

Travel onwards to Chirk Castle for a tour of the excavation

For further details, and to book free stall space for local interest groups, history societies, preservation and conservation groups and related organisations, please contact Penelope Foreman at Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust 01938 553670 or penelope.foreman@cpat.org.uk

 

Please share this email with any other individuals or groups who would be interested in this fascinating and educational day.

Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory after 1 Year

This blog post is to update everyone about what we’ve been doing over the last year. In under 13 months there has been a lot of activity by individual convenors and members, but also under the auspices of the Collaboratory itself.

The Website

First, we set up this website to outline what the Collaboratory is about. 

It also serves as a blog, and all Members have been invited to write on it about their ongoing research activities and discoveries. If anyone hasn’t received an invite to write, and still wants to write about their endeavours, do get in touch with Howard (howard.williams@chester.ac.uk). For example, in addition to blog posts by Howard, you can learn about:

In addition, there is a list of Members, the Convenors, and key resources which currently comprise 4 documents by Keith Ray:

We hope to add useful Links to other projects and websites in due course.

The Inaugural Workshop – Shrewsbury, April 2017

The Offa’s Dyke started with a day-long workshop held at the University Centre Shrewsbury and co-organised by Howard with Dr Patricia Murrieta-Flores and Dr James Pardoe.

The “Dykes through Time” Cardiff TAG Session – Cardiff, December 2017

A diverse and fascinating academic conference session provided a rich range of comparative studies investigating the relationship of Wat’s Dyke and Offa’s Dyke with European and British dykes from prehistory and the Roman period through to the Middle Ages and their perception and reception in the modern era.

Offa’s Dyke Heritage workshop – Knighton 2018

Papers focused on the management and conservation of Offa’s Dyke, but again looking at parallels and practices from elsewhere.

The Offa’s Dyke Journal

The Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory has issued a Call for Papers for a brand-new open-access academic journal to provide a context for both new research on the linear earthworks of the Anglo-Welsh borderlands and comparative studies with frontier works from other times and places.

Join the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory at any time by emailing Howard on howard.williams@chester.ac.uk if you are an active researcher on relevant themes and topics in any discipline, including history, archaeology, heritage or place-name research.