Well, it was good to get home after a weekend away in Anglesey and North Wales. We were so busy and saw so much I’m going to have to do separate blogs on what we saw! In part one, I’ll concentrate on the historic period of Anglesey, and not all of it – just a small area around a famous village, Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Archaeology is not confined to ancient sites or artefacts in the ground. Buildings of many ages are also of interest to archaeologists and they form the heritage of many towns and villages across the world and Llanfair PG, as it is frequently called, is no different. So, in this first blog on our trip, I’m going to focus on some of the ‘historical’ heritage of the area.
The village has other claims to fame other than it’s name. Take the Women’s Institute building for example. Nothing remarkable about this you might think. Well, in September Women’s Institute celebrates 100 years since it became established in Britain, and the first WI group was founded . . . in Llanfair PG! Although this building is the second home of the WI in the village, dating to 1921, it will be the focus of celebrations through the year. Indeed, while we were there, the hall was visited by a WI group from Westmorland! The building itself is protected and listed by CADW.
Next door to the WI building is more of the village’s heritage – the Toll House. The building was designed by Thomas Telford and built in 1826 as part of the turnpike road system in the early 19th century. This part of the turnpike – from Shrewsbury to Holyhead – and elements of it can still be seen in the form of 3 Toll Houses still upstanding on Anglesey, and of course the much more famous Menai Straits Bridge. On the upper floor of the building you can see the list of charges last made in 1895, including “For every Drove of Calves, Sheep, Lambs or Pigs, per score, the sum of . . . . 5d”.
A couple of miles south of Llanfair PG is the parish of Llanedwen and its church dedicated to St Edwen. The church itself is of relatively modern design having been rebuilt for at least the second time in 1856, but it is still a Grade II listed building. Sadly we couldn’t look inside as it was locked, but for me the really interesting things were to be seen outside in the graveyard. The graveyards of parish churches are a great way to learn about the social history of a location. You can trace families, where they lived, where they died and lots of interesting things besides how old they were when they died. St Edwen’s held a few of these stories.
Take this gravestone for example. Besides telling us that Jane Williams died on the 14th day of December 1780 aged 9 weeks there is also the curious line at the top, instructing us that this stone must not be moved again. Implicit of course is some prior event which caused the gravestone to be moved. When and by whom is not said, and we didn’t have time to look for further clues, but it is interesting I think you’ll agree!
A few hundred yards down the single track lane from the church you come to the shoreline of the Menai Straits, known for dangerous currents and strong tides. Lying in the tidal mud is another archaeological site in the shape of an un-name craft which met its end here. You can even see this one using Google Earth! Shipwrecks this close to land, as well as those out at sea are also part of our archaeological heritage, and many such sites, even out at sea, are protected by law.
Moving on a few miles, we stayed in the village of Brynsiencyn. While it is a small and some might say uninteresting place, if you take the time to look around there are snapshots of the past to be found. The first thing that strikes you is the church of St Nidan as you enter the village. Finding a church on the edge of a village usually suggests that changes to the village layout have been made in the past, and that is true here. The original church lies some 800m away and forms part of a now private house. The current church dates to the 19th century, built to replace a medieval one which was in a very poor condition.
In the centre of the village is a large Methodist chapel. This too dates to the 19th century (1883) and it too replaced an earlier building. So, as with many other villages across the country, Brynsiencyn has more than one place of worship which is testimony to the importance of religion in the past. The prominence of religion is the cultural life of 19th century Britain is often over-looked, but you only have to look at the number of churches and chapels in both rural and urban settings of that period to get some idea of its importance.
As I walked through the village I was struck by the number of houses that were ‘pebble-dashed’. One thing that does is to hide some of the history of the building. One such ‘house’ I saw had a wooden beam running across most of its frontage not covered by the pebble-dash, a sure sign that it used to be a shop. I was also stuck by the substantial character of one of its neighbours, but thought no more of it, until I walked back past it and saw, in faint paint across one window frame, the words, ‘Police Station’!
Well that concludes this brief look at some of the historical heritage of just a small area of Anglesey. I hope it has shed some light on how an archaeologist on holiday can’t help but see aspects of the past all around. If you are teaching a project on local studies, have a look at the houses and churches where you live, it is often a good starting point. Next up, some of the prehistory of the area including our main reason for visiting – the chambered tomb of Bryn Celli Ddu!