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Friday, 24 January 2014

Pembrokeshire’s Sunken Heritage

Kimberly Briscoe and Sarahjayne Clements, Community Archaeologists at the Royal Commission visiting the memorial in Moelfre Churchyard, Anglesey to the lives lost on the passenger ship The Royal Charter.

Welcome back from the Community Archaeologists, these last few weeks we’ve really hit the ground running after our Christmas break; in this case this meant finally putting all our hard work, planning and organisation for the Shipwrecks Project into action.

The Shipwrecks Project was based on the story of a violent gale, which swept over Britain in 1859, wrecking hundreds of ships along the coasts of England and Wales, culminating in horrific coastal damage and loss of life. The Royal Charter, one of the largest and most famous transatlantic wrecks of the storm, was lost just off the coast of Anglesey. It was responsible for the largest number of lives lost in the storm, so much so that the gale has often been renamed the ‘Royal Charter Gale’. The documentation of the Royal Charter wreck, and studies of items recovered from the wreck, reveal an interesting snapshot of the lives of those on board.

The memorial to the Royal Charter and the effects Great Gale 1859 at Cwm yr Eglwys, Pembrokeshire.
The Royal Commission and Cadw Shipwrecks Project was inspired by the great story of the Royal Charter. The project was designed to investigate the wider impact of the storm, this time  along the coast of Pembrokeshire, centring on the story of the lesser known transatlantic vessel, The Charles Holmes. The project involved a series of days working with Welsh Baccalaureate students from Pembrokeshire College, to engage them with the story of The Great Gale 1859, their local maritime heritage, and how resources such as archives can be great for researching the impact of past events on your local area.

Aberbach beach, Pembrokeshire. The wreck site of the transatlantic cargo ship ‘The Charles Holmes’, lost on the night of the Great Gale 1859.

The project began on Tuesday 7 January, when Sarahjayne, Deanna and I gave the students of Pembrokeshire College a brief introduction to maritime archaeology and the background of the storm. Asking questions throughout our presentations, the students seemed genuinely engaged with the story of the losses, and local areas that were severely affected by the storm also seemed to resonate strongly with the pupils. Often local shipwrecked vessels are a great starting point for exploring local history within a specific time period. Once you’ve located a wrecked vessel you can understand further the impact of the vessel on the local community, explore the wealth of an area and the variety of occupations and maritime industry in that area.
Deanna Groom, Sarahjayne and Kimberly positioning the archive tasks ready for the Pembrokeshire College Welsh Baccalaureate students.
A great way, and often the only way of exploring local lives and unpublished local shipwrecks, is to visit the first-hand sources at your local archive. Therefore, for the second week of the project, we used this as an opportunity to take students out of the classroom and allow them to conduct their own first-hand research at the local Pembrokeshire County Archives.

The unique Port of Cardigan Shipping Registry for 1850–1855, an example of the fantastic resources available for use at the Pembrokeshire County Archives.
They used the local shipping registers to trace the story of the ships (e.g. their construction, cargo and ownership).They then turned to local church burial records to research details of the crew lost in the wrecks. Finally local census records enabled them to understand the stories of the villagers who recovered the bodies from the wrecks.
Pembrokeshire College Welsh Baccalaureate students engaged in researching their sunken heritage through Pembrokeshire Archive Census and Shipping Registers.
All in all it was a great way of getting the students engaged, they were really keen on answering the questions provided and were amazed to have the opportunity to be able to actually touch some unique original documents.

By Kimberly Briscoe

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Thursday, 23 January 2014

A snapshot of Uplands Initiative work at Manod Bach, Gwynedd

Royal Commission staff members, Jon Dollery and Nikki Vousden, recently joined the Commission’s Uplands project co-ordinator, David Leighton, on a visit to Manod Bach, near Blaenau Ffestiniog. We shadowed archaeologists, Richard Hayman and Wendy Horton, who were undertaking a survey of the area as part of the Royal Commission led Uplands Initiative. The long-running project aims to survey and record archaeology on all moorland over 244m above sea level. Some 2380 square km has been surveyed to date. Each year the Royal Commission awards grants to enable teams of archaeologists to record monuments and features in some 150 square km of landscape. Before work on the ground proceeds an archaeologist within the Royal Commission examines all vertical aerial photographs held at the Commission and uses GIS software to produce maps of all archaeological features. This work is currently undertaken by Mapping Officer, Jon Dollery. The mapping guides archaeologists in the identification of features as they walk in parallel 30-50m transects across the landscape. It also helps them understand long linear features such as trackways, artificial watercourses or former field boundaries.

Manod Bach, mapped using 1940s RAF vertical aerial photographs. The red line depicts the boundary of the area under survey. Possible features are highlighted in order to guide archaeologists in the identification of features on the ground.
Conversely, archaeologists on the ground can identify small features such as stone-built cairns or prehistoric standing stones that may be too small for identification from the air.

Our field-walking resulted in the verification of numerous mapped features, including a sheep fold and an intricately built sheep wash utilising natural landscape features. It also resulted in the identification of features not visible on aerial photographs, including two mine shafts, one of which was previously unrecorded.

Archaeologists noting the detail of a sheep wash. Sheep would be held in a series of walled-in pens on the natural platform adjacent to the rock outcrop, before being released through the stream.

Water-filled mine shaft.
The fieldwork was a valuable opportunity to see how our desk-based work on air photograph interpretation aids the identification of features on the ground.

By Nikki Vousden.

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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

New Measures for the Welsh Historic Environment

On Tuesday 14 January the Minister for Culture and Sport, John Griffiths AM, announced new measures for the benefit of the historic environment in Wales, including the decision that the Royal Commission and Cadw will remain as separate organisations for the time being.

Commissioners are pleased that the Minister has made a clear decision that the Royal Commission should continue to operate as an arm’s-length body sponsored by the Welsh Government. They are committed to continue working with Cadw (their sponsor division within the Welsh Government) and other partners to deliver the best possible historic environment services for the people of Wales.

The Minister’s full statement can be accessed on the Welsh Government website.

Full responses to the ‘Future of our Past’ consultation are now available to access online.  For a full analysis of the consultation responses, please visit the Welsh Government website.

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Monday, 13 January 2014

New Social Media Function For Coflein!

Coflein, the Royal Commission’s searchable online database, has a new function allowing you to share interesting site information! The results page of a Site Search can now be shared with a wider audience via social networking sites. This makes it easy for you to share links to any Coflein site with family, friends and anyone who might be interested. Below each site description you will find social media icons which will enable you to bookmark the page on a number of social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter.

The social media icons below a description can be used to bookmark the page on social networking sites.
By: Nikki Vousden

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Friday, 10 January 2014

Subsiding Storm-hit Shelter reveals lost Marine Baths!

Bathrock Shelter was designed to give protection to promenaders. The four open sides allowed shelter from any direction of wind and rain while, together with the glazed partition walls, preserved uninterrupted views along the sweep of Cardigan Bay.

The recent high tides battering the promenade in Aberystwyth have revealed the remains of the town’s earliest custom built bath-house, as well as causing severe structural damage to the historic shelter at the northern end of Marine Terrace.

Waves reaching over 6ft caused a breach in the facing of the sea wall on Friday night, removing the infill of the promenade beneath the Bathrock Shelter (NPRN: 411501). Built at the northern end of Marine Terrace in the inter-war period, this shelter is an open-sided timber structure in a simple Neo-Georgian style and an excellent example of the street furniture typical of sea-side towns of the early twentieth century. Unfortunately, as the infill has washed away, the concrete pad on which the shelter stood has collapsed and the building has started to subside into the void below.

The washing away of promenade infill by the recent storms has undermined the shelter. Although some twisting of the structure has occurred, the building is otherwise largely intact. Plans are now being made as to how best to stabilise and move the shelter for repair works.
Within the void, a series of basement walls have been uncovered. The Marine Baths were built in 1810 by Rice Williams Esq. a medical doctor who advocated the taking of regular saline baths to  alleviate certain medical conditions.  Saltwater bathing had been claimed as curative from the late seventeenth century, and bathing huts became a common feature of many resorts by the early nineteenth century. Dr Rice’s establishment would have enabled the less adventurous visitor to partake of the delights of sea-water bathing however. Not only were bathers able to take advantage of the private rooms, each provided with a bath ‘six feet long and two and a half wide, lined with Dutch tile, which being much less porous than marble, is more effectually cleansed from all impurities to which they are liable’ but large boilers heated the water so that those of a less robust constitution could avoid the necessity of the cold plunge.

The bath-house was substantial, containing a plunge bath, shower bath and vapour bath in addition to accommodation on the first floor. However, by the late nineteenth century, competition came from a new bath-house on Newfoundland Street (now Bath Street) and the Queens Hotel whose bathrooms offered hot, cold and salt-water taps for the convenience of their guests. In 1892 the Marine Baths closed and subsequent improvements to the north promenade led to demolition of the building.

Within the bastion of the promenade wall, the remains of basement walls belonging to the Marine Baths have been revealed. Cast-iron pipes ran far out into Cardigan Bay to ensure a supply of clean and sand-free saline water. Basement boilers heated the water for those wanting baths of a less invigorating nature.
Initial photographic recording of the basement structures has been carried out by the Royal Commission, and more detailed investigation and recording will take place when safe to do so. Discussions are taking place between Ceredigion Council and Cadw as to how best Bathrock Shelter can be stabilised and repaired.

By: Susan Fielding

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