Grid Reference: ST 1483072245
The earthworks at Dinas Powys occupy what has been described as a ‘whale-backed hill’ just above the village of Dinas Powys in the Vale of Glamorgan. To be clear, as there are two sets of earthworks shown on the map, the site in question is the North-most set of earthworks, where the hill is narrowest and at its highest point (Alcock 1963, 5). The site is overlooked by hills to the West, with the valley of Cwm George separating the site from these higher hills (Alcock 1963, 3).
From the Royal Commission’s earthwork plan (reproduced in Alcock 1963), there are no visible defences to the North of the side, excepting the natural shape of the hill, but the South of the site has a series of four earth ramparts, with the Northernmost one forming a horseshoe shape curving around.
Dinas Powys was investigated as part of a training excavation run by the University of Cardiff in 1954, running between 1954-8 and published in 1963 by Leslie Alcock.
Chronology and Current Interpretation
Alcock cites finds of Iron Age pottery and flints, discovered in the layer of clay directly overlying the limestone bedrock, as evidence for Iron Age activity on the site, predating the construction of the ramparts. He discusses and rejects the possibility that the fabric is post-Roman (Alcock 1963, 16). His overall impression of the site was that it was an early medieval fortification on top of an Iron Age settlement, with further fortifications added, but added so many caveats that this is open to reinterpretation (Wiles 2008).
Leaving aside the prehistoric use of the site, the hill had been fortified in the post-Roman period (5-7th Century AD), and then a further ditch and back added in the Norman period, which was revetted using stone. Postholes suggest that the rampart also had a platform and palisade and a possible timber tower (Kenyon 2005, 26).
No wall foundations were found but evidence for two buildings in the form of eaves-drip gullies was detected (Redknap 1991, 13). Around these building were found middens containing imported pottery and craftworking debris (Piggott & Thirsk 2011, 291).
There was evidence for industry in the form of stone-lined hearths and metalworking tools and crucibles, possibly for working with bronze and gold. The imported pottery and other high-status occupation debris suggest that the site was the defended settlement of someone of high status (Redknap 1991, 13).
Cosmeston Medieval Village Reconstruction
Grid Reference: ST 1775 6893
Cosmeston deserted medieval village is today a reconstruction of what the village may have been like in the 13th and 14th Centuries. The buildings have been rebuilt on the foundations of those found during excavation (Newman 1988, 17), and filled with facsimile medieval goods and tools. A guided tour is provided by a costumed enthusiast.
Cosmeston village was discovered in 1977 by the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust as they rushed to excavate before a threat to the known ‘Cosmeston Castle’ (as the manor house was known).
After the discovery of the village, Cardiff University started a long-term research project, based on the earlier findings but also including surveying the site and conducting further excavations.
A whole range of stone-built building foundations were discovered as well as the roadway through the village itself (Cosmeston Medieval Village 2011). Some of the more interesting finds from the excavation include imported pottery, and seabirds such as the (now-extinct) Great Auk and shells from shellfish (Cosmeston Community Archaeology Project 2011). This implies the village was fairly well connected and made use of marine resources as well as farming the lord’s lands.
Chronology and Current Interpretation
The history of Cosmeston before the Norman Conquest is not known, so the earliest reference is when Robert Fitzhammon was granted the Lordship of Glamorgan at the end of the 11th Century and granted the manor containing Cosmeston to some of his followers, the de Costentins, who are the first known lords of the manor (Newman 1988, 1).
The manor had passed into the hands of the de Caversham family by 1317 and by 1550 the de Herberts held it. Cosmeston was a sub-manor of Sully, which in turn was subject to the lordship of Glamorgan but the manor house at Cosmeston (the ‘castle’) seems to have been abandoned by 1437 according to documentary evidence (Newman 1988 3). The castle need not have been heavily fortified to merit this description, but there is slight documentary evidence that there may have been a tower or corner bastion attached to the manor house (Newman 1988, 3).
One of the unusual aspects of Cosmeston is that it appears that animals and humans were housed separately, rather than the usual arrangement of medieval longhouses where the animals were kept at one end of the house (Newman 1988, 6).
It is not clear at what point the village became deserted, there are finds recorded of objects dating to modern times (Cosmeston Community Archaeology Project 2011), so it looks like more work still needs to be done to establish the reason and timing for the abandonment of the village. It’s easy to blame deserted medieval villages on the plague or change of economic situation, but hopefully some clues are still there waiting to be found!
Abandoned Communities, 2011. Cosmeston [online]. Available at: http://www.abandonedcommunities.co.uk/page88.html [Accessed May 10, 2011].
Alcock, L., 1963. Dinas Powys, Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
Cosmeston Community Archaeology Project, 2011. Archaeological finds from the Cosmeston archive [online]. Available at: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/hisar/archaeology/cosmeston/finds.html [Accessed May 15, 2011].
Cosmeston Medieval Village, 2011. Excavation 2008 [online]. Available at: http://www.cosmeston.com/#/excavation-2008/4530201705 [Accessed May 15, 2011].
Kenyon, J.R., 2005. Medieval fortifications, London: Continuum.
Newman, R., 1988. Cosmeston Medieval Village, Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust.
Piggott, S. & Thirsk, J., 2011. The Agrarian History of England and Wales: Volume 1, Prehistory to AD 1042, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Redknap, M., 1991. The Christian Celts: treasures of late Celtic Wales, National Museum of Wales.
Wiles, J., 2008. Dinas Powys Fort [online]. RCAHMW Website. Available at: http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/301314/details/ [Accessed May 5, 2011].