See the gateway to Snowdonia and its magnificent Medieval Castle, Town and Bridges
Borrowing my title from Daniel Defoe’s early chorography, my first circuit is from Chester to Edinburgh. Now on our second stop we are taking a virtual tour of the gateway to North Wales – the delightful town of Conwy.
For a small town Conwy has everything – an absolutely magnificent Medieval Castle, a City Wall that is still intact around the entire Circuit. Some of the great feats of bridge and tunnel engineering, and a pocket sized town containing historic buildings, nice pubs, and the ‘smallest house in Great Britain.’
It is not only picturesque but was a settlement of enormous strategic importance in the invasions by the Romans and the English. And to finish the tour we will take a small excursion into Snowdonia to see what it guarded
Julian Cope, of the Teardrop Explodes, wrote a wonderfully illustrated guide book of the megalithic sites in the UK. While you read why don’t you listen to the wonderful ‘When I dream.’
I lent the Modern Antiquarian to someone so have to use the website to share what he said about the standing stones of Bwalch-y-DDeufaen, near Conwy.
‘I’m really taken with these stones. The sense of deep time seems to hang around them, from the ageless mountains, through the monument builders, the tramp of Roman soldiers, into a hinterland of iron and wire. Rather than detracting, the pylons add to this sense that we’re standing in the midst of a palimpsest, layers of time and people still there, just below the surface. And perhaps we’re a shadowy presence in earlier and later times, too.
I’m working on a virtual tour of Conwy (Monday 7th March 7pm) and I remember a wonderful story from my several visits to Conwy pre-Covid. So, in my own words:
A Cobbler with a string of old shoes to be repaired hanging on a string around his neck, came upon a Giant carrying two huge stones in his hands. Behind him walked his wife carrying smaller stones in her apron. They were struggling over the Pass with the weight of the stones, and asked the Cobbler anxiously how far it was to the the Island of Anglesey? The Cobbler asked why they wanted to know and the Giant answered. ‘We plan to settle there and these stones are to build a bridge across the Menai Straits’.
The Cobbler came from Anglesey and was alarmed by the idea of the havoc a couple of Giants would cause. So he replied ‘ I don’t know how far it is but I have worn out all these shoes on the way.’
The Giant looked at the string of worn out shoes, looked at his wife and they decided to abandon their journey. He threw the two standing stones in the air and they landed in the ground where they have stood ever since, and his wife threw her smaller stones away too.
This is an explanation of the 2 large standing stones and two smaller ones at Bwalch-y-Ddeufane. They are either Neolithic or Bronze Age. Geoffrey of Monmouth wrote, int eh Twelfth Century, that the indigenous inhabitants of Britain were giants, descended from Poseidon, and the daughters of Albion. They were wiped out by King Brutus, the Trojan (for that tale come to my Myths and Legends of London Walks).
Bwalch means gap or pass and the track here was the prehistoric track and Roman Road that lead to Mona from Conwy and Chester. In fact they even considered it as a possible route for Euroroute 22, before deciding to continue the route along the A55 through Conwy. It was a massive construction project costing £200 million pounds and only made possible by European money as it was a strategic route to Holyhead and Ireland.
Below Bwalch-y-Ddeufane at Caerhun was the Roman Auxiliary Fortress that controlled this vital crossing of the Conwy. It is thought that this became the Civitas Capital of the Deceangli, who controlled the land from the Conwy to the Dee Estuary before and during the Roman period.
Just in case you have not heard of the recent discovery of this mosaic on the Bankside in Southwark. Below is what Salon, the online newsletter for the Society of Antiquities, said about it. Below that is the Guardian’s coverage.
This site is next to a site that was worked on in the 1970s/1980s, called Calvert Buildings. The site was developed in the early Roman period with strip buildings made of timber, which were replaced by a stone building identified as a possible ‘Mansio’ – an official Roman travel lodge. I think, although useful details are hard to find in the gush of admiration for the mosaic. that it is thought the Mosaic is part of the Mansion.
Just minutes from the Shard, Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA) have unearthed a beautiful Roman mosaic, featuring colourful flowers and geometric patterns. The mosaic, at over eight meters long, is the largest found in London for over fifty years and dates to the late second or early third century.
The main panel of the mosaic features large flowers, surrounded by twisted-rope bans, across a red tessellated floor. A smaller nearby panel, as well as the main mosaic, feature geometric elements and lotus flowers and both are remarkably well preserved. David Neal FSA, an expert in Roman mosaic, says that the design likely was created by a team of mosaicists known as the Acanthus group, who had a unique style. Indeed, there is an impressively close parallel between the smaller panel and another mosaic discovered in Trier, Germany, demonstrating that the
group travelled across Europe.
It is believed that the mosaic, which was discovered a month ago, was part of a triclinium, a dining room with couches on which people would recline to eat and drink. This was likely part of a Roman mansio, an upmarket establishment offering accommodation, stabling, and dining facilities for state couriers and officials travelling to and from London.
Perhaps appropriately, the site is being redeveloped as ‘The Liberty of Southwark’, a complex of offices, homes and shops. The mosaic will be lifted later this year to be preserved and conserved off site, and the eventual aim is for the work to be on display publicly.
Richard Coates in a ground breaking article ‘A New Explanation Of The Name Of London’ Transactions Of The Philological Society Volume 96:2 (1998) Pgs 203 – 229 suggested the original name of London was Plowonida – or settlement by the wide flowing river. He deduces its name by comparing different versions of ‘London’ in different Celtic dialects and traces them back to what he believes is the common origin. This is the root *pleu meaning fleet flowing river, and onida which means ‘settlement by the’.
So, in the 2nd Millennia BC – the Bronze Age, there was a settlement by the flowing River. He thinks the Thames was the name for the river upstream of the Pool of London, and where it widened into an estuary it was called the Pleu. Etymonline.com says of the name Thames:
Thames – River through London, Old English Temese, from Latin Tamesis (51 B.C.E.), from British Tamesa, an ancient Celtic river name perhaps meaning “the dark one.” The -h- is unetymological (see th).
So, in the Bronze Age there must have been a small settlement probably in the area of the City or on the south bank in Southwark. It’s possible we have already found it in the occasional findings of post-holes, gullies, plough marks, brushwood platforms and burial mounds (particularly in Southwark) that have been found or we may be yet to find it. Or we may never find it. And if we do, unless it is significant in some way or has a signpost on it saying (“You are entering Plowonida”) we will never know.
Of course Coates may be wrong, but he is the most distinguished linguist of recent years to put his head about a dangerous parapet. Antiquarian journals were full of suggestions for the name of London. Previous suggestions include Lake Side Town, Lud’s Castle, Londinos’s settlement. None have survived scrutiny, and very few people were willing to make a guess after the late 70s, until 1998 and Richard Coates. However they all seem to accept that the name is pre-Roman in origin.
Archaeologists since the 1970s have been completely convinced there was no City before the arrival of the Romans. So, why bother finding the original name of a place that did not exist? However, last year in an excavation underneath Amazon’s new HQ, Principle Place, just north of Liverpool Street station, was found over 400 pieces of neolithic pottery, and evidence of extensive feasting. If you put this together with the burials found in the water margins of the River Thames, and the incredible finds of prestige metal objects: helmets, shields, swords, cauldrons, etc. from the River a case is beginning to be made (by David Keys in the Independent for example) that the area of the City of London might have been an important place for gatherings. So is it possible that the origins of London are as part of a ritual landscape?
If this is taken seriously it has a lot of implications for received opinion.
Sunday I am doing a Virtual tour of Chester. Here is a podcast as an introduction.
A VIRTUAL TOUR THROUGH THE WHOLE ISLAND OF GREAT BRITAIN. NO. 1 – CHESTER
Sunday 20th February 2022 7.30pm
A Virtual Walk Through Chester from Amphitheatre to Canal
Borrowing my title from Daniel Defoe’s early chorography, my first Circuit is from Chester to Edinburgh. We begin with a virtual walk around Chester.
Chester is one of Britain’s best known historic Cities. One of those places where the history of Britain can be told in one town. It was founded as a Legionary Fortress when the Romans sought to expand their imperium into the North and West of Britain. It remained an important military town with a thriving port. It is not clear exactly what happened in the centuries following the Roman withdrawal from Britannia but it retained its importance in the Saxon and Medieval periods before being besieged by the King’s Forces in the English Civil War.
The Industrial Revolution largely by-passed Chester but helped bring on the decline of its traditional industries, and soon it was relegated to a secondary status to Liverpool and Manchester in the North West. However, this meant the City retained much of its historic character, and we will enjoy the surviving Wall circuit, the timber framed shops and houses as we walk from the Station to the Amphitheatre, through the Roman town and into the Medieval Cathedral, before leaving by the Canal.
This was first raised by Plutarch, and it concerns a crucial issue in conservation/restoration which is how to maintain authenticity in the face of replacing worn out parts of an object or structure. The idea is, perhaps, most economically discussed in ‘Any Fools and Horses’ in the scene known as Trigger’s Broom.
Now you are ready to appreciate the philosophic issue that is discussed in this short video by the Khan Academy. Click here.
The Ship of Theseus also appears in the Novel ‘S’ written by Doug Dorst and conceived by J. J. Abrams. in 2013. The book is a story within a story with an innovative ‘interactive’ thread with a novel called the Ship of Theseus which is annotated by two people and also contains press cuttings and printed ephemera in the two characters attempts to identify the mysterious author of ‘The Ship of Theseus. The Ship itself is, replaced part by part as the story develops.
THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF LONDON BRIDGE, SOUTHWARK & BANKSIDE GUIDED WALK
Sunday 6 February 2022 2.30pm Monument Underground
The walk explores the area around the Bridge and London Bridge’s history
London Bridge is not only an iconic part of London’s history but it is also the key to much of the History of London. On this walk we explore the area around the Bridge.
On the north side we explore evidence for the origins of the Bridge, and the early Roman Port of London. We then cross the Bridge discovering the many rebuilds and the wonder of the famous London Bridge with all its houses along it. On the south side we explore the Historic Borough of Southwark which, archaeology has revealed, is very much more than just the first suburb of London.
We range from the prehistoric finds in the River, to the excavation of the Theatres of Shakespeare’s London on Bankside.
This is a London Walks Guided Walk. Look at their web site for a list of other of their amazing walks. The walk needs to be booked via this London Walk link. To Book:
Podcast for the Walk
THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF LONDON BRIDGE, SOUTHWARK & BANKSIDE VIRTUAL WALK
After my Myths & Legends Walks on the 30th January I am catching up on my ‘Almanac of the Year’
January 29th was the ‘Concordia’, the birthday of Pax and Irene and so a Roman Peace Festival. I do hope the Russians are taking note.
January 30th was the anniversary of the day King Charles I was beheaded as a murderer and traitor, or, on the other hand, a martyr to the Church of England, depending upon your point of view.
Samuel Pepys observed the funeral, as did thousands of others. They crowded around the scaffold outside a window of Inigo Jones’s magnificent Banqueting Hall, in Whitehall, London. Whether Charles appreciated the irony of his last walk which was below the magnificent Reubens’ ceiling depicting the Apotheosis of his father, James I, we can’t say. But it is, perhaps, more likely he thought he was soon on his way to meet his father in heaven in glory as a Martyr to his religion. But he walked outside, wearing 2 shirts so that he would not shiver and made a short speech exonerating himself. All the Roof Tops around were lined with spectators and, as the executioner axe, fell there was a dull grown from the crowd.
This was on January 30th. Charles would have said it was in 1648 but we think of it as 1649 because this was before our conversation to the Gregorian calendar – the date changed in those days not on January 1st but on March 25th when the archangel Gabriel revealed to the Virgin Mary that she was pregnant.
On the same day, twelve years later, in 1660 Oliver Cromwell’s and his chief henchmen were dug up from their splendid Westminster Abbey tombs and their bodies abused by official command. Cromwell’s head was stuck on the top of Westminster Hall where is remained for many years.
The Royalist, John Evelyn said in his diary:
This day (oh the stupendous, and inscrutable Judgements of God) were the Carkasses of that arch-rebel Cromwel1, Bradshaw, the Judge who condemned his Majestie and Ireton, sonn in law to the usurper, dragged out of their superb Tombs (in Westminster among the Kings) to Tybourne, and hanged on the Gallows there from 9 in the morning till 6 at night, and then buried under that fatal and ignominious Monument in a deep pit. Thousands of people (who had seen them in all their pride and pompous insults) being spectators .
Samuel Pepys who served the Parliamentary side before, adroitly, swapping over to the Royalists records by contrast:
…do trouble me that a man of so great courage as he was should have that dishonour, though otherwise he might deserve it enough…
This is also the anniversary (1969) of the roof top concert in Saville Row where the Beatles played ‘Get Back’.