Thursday 17 October at 6.30pm. A Tour of the National Roman Legion Museum Caerleon with curator Dr Mark Lewis.
Dr Mark Lewis the curator of the Museum showed us the museum exhibits in such as way that the people in the inscriptions and the artefacts they used sprang to life and we were all enthralled. As you can see from the pictures below his delivery was lively and interesting. We are fortunate that the National Roman Legion Museum has such a committed and talented curator. After the tour, the manager of the Museum , Dai Price kindly allowed us to have a glass of wine while we discussed the exhibits.
Sat 13 July 2013: Day trip by coach to Montgomery with Jeremy Knight.
John L. Evans comments on the MAA excursion to Montgomery
The hottest day of the year, with temperatures soaring to 30 degrees, made us walk more slowly around this charming historic town, but that gave us an opportunity to look more closely at our surroundings and appreciate how little the town has been affected by modern developments.We were privileged to be led by our new President, Jeremy Knight, who had taken part in the excavation of Montgomery Castle in the 1970s. His detailed knowledge and his relaxed manner combined to give us a memorable tour.
In the morning we visited the parish church of St. Nicholas. Built in the late 13th century, when the new parish of Montgomery was carved out of the large minster parish of Chirbury, the church now has the atmosphere of being used and cared for. Highlights are the rood screen and a series of misericords which were removed from Chirbury Priory at the time of the Dissolution. Two tombs of recumbent knights in armour probably belong to members of the Mortimer family. A magnificent canopied Elizabethan tomb commemorates Sir Richard Herbert (d. 1596) and his wife Magdalen: their effigies lie side by side, he in armour, she in 16th century court dress. He is buried there, but she isn’t! She survived him, remarried, and did not die until 1627. She is buried in London.
Montgomery is well provided with inns and cafes, so members were able to take lunch and build up their strength before climbing the steep lane to the castle. This stands on a narrow spur, projecting northwards towards the Severn valley, with a magnificent view over the gentle Montgomeryshire landscape, with Powis Castle and Welshpool just visible in the distance. Three peregrine falcons called out as they soared high in the blue sky above.
Jeremy led our walk northwards from the outworks at the southern end of the spur, explaining the strategic importance of the site and narrating the history of the construction of a royal castle between 1223 and 1229, by Hubert de Burgh, King Henry IIIs Justiciar. After the defeat of Llywelyn the Last in1283 and the subjection of Gwynedd there was no longer need for a royal castle on this site, and ownership passed to the Mortimers, later to the Herberts. In 1620 Lord Herbert of Cherbury, (son of Sir Richard, whose tomb we had seen earlier,) built a fashionable brick house, including a magnificent library, inside the castle. During the Civil War the castle was held by him for the King and besieged by the Parliamentarians. Lord Herbert surrendered to them, on condition that the library should not be harmed. The library was removed to safety in London, but the castle and house were demolished. Detailed accounts of the cost of demolition were kept, the cost to be offset against the fine imposed on Lord Herbert for being a Royalist officer. The cost of demolition exceeded the fine!
We crossed over the Outer Ditch (excavated by hand out of the solid rock in the 13th century by miners from the Forest of Dean) to the Outer Ward, then across the Inner Ditch, (similarly excavated, as was the 180 foot deep well, by Forest of Dean miners) into the Inner Ward. There Jeremy indicated traces of the kitchen, including the base of a huge bread oven, the brewery and the well. To the north the site slopes almost vertically for 100 feet with a spectacular view over the Severn valley.
Jeremy narrated the excavations in which he had taken part in the 1970s. Artefacts found then included a tiny fragment of North African pottery, a silver coin dated precisely to the period when the castle was built, and some pieces of obsolete 16th century Dutch armour. These had been bought second- or third-hand for use by Royalist troops in Ireland. The victorious Roundheads rejected them as not worth keeping and threw them into the ditch – any usable arms and armour would have been kept for their own use.
We walked back down the lane, glad of the shade, to the charming little museum in the former Bell Inn. As well as artefacts from the castle, it contains a wide variety of other exhibits relating to the history of the town and district. As a local museum, it is a gem.
The original plan was to stop in Ludlow for an hour on our return journey, but it was decided on a show of hands to give this a miss because of the heat. (Perhaps we might go to Ludlow on another occasion?) On the journeys out and back we had a comfort stop at Queenswood Country Park, Dinmore, between Hereford and Leominster. There, two historic timber-framed buildings, rescued from a road-widening scheme in Hereford, have been re-erected and now house a cafe and a National Trust gift shop: a very welcome stopping-place, recommended to anyone travelling along the A49.
This was a memorable and most enjoyable day, despite the heat and problems with air-conditioning on the coach. We are all most grateful to the organisers and to Jeremy Knight for two such interesting and enjoyable talks.
Tues. 18 JUNE 2013: A visit to Cineworld, Newport to see ‘Pompeii Live’ a film produced by the British Museum for Cinemas.
You can visit Cineworld, Newport at 7pm to see ‘Pompeii Live’ a film about the wonders of the exhibition from the comfort of the cinema, based on the ‘Life and Death in Pompei and Herculaneum’ exhibition at the British Museum. The address of the cinema is Newport Retail Park, Spytty Road. ACTION: To book at Cineworld, tel. Newport on 08712002000. It is expensive at £12.10 for a senior ticket as compared with £15 entry to the actual exhibition.
Sat. 2 May 2013.
Eighteen members travelled to Gloucester Cathedral by coach for the Stained Glass Window Study Day. The weather was superb, but some members forgot that the inside of a cathedral can be very cold and one member was found warming her feet under the hand dryer – quite a physical feat!
After tea and coffee the lectures began and were of a very high standard. In the morning we looked at the medieval glass in the cathedral which contained more white than the contrasting brightly coloured Victorian glass which we studied in the afternoon. Lunch was in the Parliament room which allowed us to sit at circular tables, each one hosted by one of our guides.
By the time the tours were over we felt that we had learned a great deal and had also very much enjoyed each other’s company. After the study day ended, we spent an hour in the sun walking around Gloucester before leaving for home at 5pm. The information we had acquired would be useful when viewing stained glass in the future and we all agreed that the day had been most enjoyable. This was very much Keith Underwood’s day, as it was his suggestion that we took advantage of the study day and on the way home lectures continued as Keith gave us a talk about what could be seen from the bus windows. For him it was a well worn trail and we all benefited from his knowledge.
The Annual General Meeting took place on Sat 27th April at Caerleon Endowed Junior School Hall at 2pm. The 2013 journal was available for collection at the AGM. The speaker, Dr Madeleine Gray, gave a talk entitled -
‘Memory and Mortality: the Medieval Tombstones of Monmouthshire?’
Research at the University of South Wales’s Caerleon campus
Death and Commemoration in Medieval Wales
At the Society’s 2013 AGM, Dr. Maddy Gray (Reader in History at the new University of South Wales) spoke about her research into medieval Welsh tombs.
Dr Gray is currently compiling an analytical database of medieval Welsh tomb carvings. Monmouthshire has some of the UK’s most spectacular examples of medieval effigy tombs, at Abergavenny.
We also have (at Abergavenny and elsewhere) plenty of the less well known incised cross slabs. These commemorated the ‘middling sort of people’- minor landowners, craftspeople, the urban elite. Often hidden by carpet or reused as building stone, they are a fascinating field for the history detective. There is a particularly good collection at Tintern Abbey, suggesting that local people were still loyal to their monastery in the difficult years of the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. Some of the slabs have complex inscriptions – prayers, fragments of liturgy – indicating the amount of thought families put into commemoration.
Monmouthshire’s tomb stones have sometimes gone on strange journeys. An alabaster panel from a chest tomb with a carving of St Michael was found in a quarry between Caerleon and Christchurch in the 1650s with a skeleton in a lead coffin. The skeleton was lost but the carving ended up in the Ashmolean museum in Oxford – see http://britisharchaeology.ashmus.ox.ac.uk/highlights/caerleon-figure.html , and for more about the carving and its context http://www.caerleon.net/history/photo/325/index.html . Was this an attempted exhumation and rescue from a monastic site that somehow went wrong?
Maddy’s database is supposed to end at 1540 but her interest in tomb carvings has moved into the seventeenth century. Monmouthshire was a centre of recusant activity after the Reformation and some of the county’s leading Catholics were sufficiently open about their faith to display the emblem of the Jesuits on their tombs.
Fri. 6 December 2013: Social at our Secretary’s and Treasurer’s home
As usual we finished the year with a social and the members who attended not only had a pleasurable evening, but helped raise money for the association.
Saturday, 23 November: Two Free Lectures Afternoon 2pm start
Dr Peter Guest and Dr Mark Lewis two notable archaeologists will lecture on aspects of archaeological research concerning Roman Caerleon
Please note the all day History/Archaeology Day has been cancelled. In its place is an afternoon offering two free lectures to the general public. Entry is by ticket only.
Dr Peter Guest, a member of staff at the School of History and Archaeology, at Cardiff University, will lecture on the fascinating and on-going research into the finds excavated at Caerleon.
Dr Mark Lewis, Curator of National Roman Legion Museum will lecture on the portrait (below) created from the man’s skull and produced using the latest technology.
Two Free November Lectures
At: Caerleon Endowed Junior School
On: 23 November 2013
Time: 2pm – 5pm
Free tickets are available from:
National Roman Legion Museum
Send a stamped address envelope
1 Fields Park Ave
or tel: 01633 215376
ENTRY BY TICKET ONLY – ENTRY FREE
Tea and cake available in interval
Saturday 5 October: A Tour of Newport Museum with curator, Oliver Blackmore.
Keith Underwood’s comments on the visit to Newport Museum on Sat 5 October
On Saturday afternoon, October 5th, we arrived independently in John Frost Square to visit the Museum and Art Gallery. In the opposite corner of the square, fenced off, was the former passageway to Dock Street. The scene was reminiscent of Greenham Common, as the fences were festooned with photos, flowers and posters, as a demonstration was prepared against the destruction of the wonderful Chartist tiled mural, a jewel in any thinking person’s crown – but not Newport city Council’s! The demo was supported by people from all walks of life, very angry that the mural had been destroyed. John Frost and Co would not have been surprised.
Newport Museum and Art Gallery has under gone difficult times in past few years, seeing the workforce reduce by a quarter and most recently, the axing of the Temporary Exhibition programme, with the compulsory redundancy of the Visual Arts Officer. This unpopular decision also met with fierce public protest but sadly to no avail. Unfortunately, the situation is only going to worsen, with crippling local government cuts set to hit Wales in the next three years and very tough decisions to be made regarding cultural provision in Newport by the Council.
Walking around the Museum, it was difficult to understand how access to such an incomparable museum could ever be at risk, but such are the times in which we live, that nothing seems impossible! Museum Curator Oliver Blackmore took us through our history via the wonderful and often rare artefacts and geological treasures housed in the collection. Early tools, human remains (he justified the possession of these remains on the basis of proven invaluable research), the aurochs, the Barland’s Farm boat, the Caerwent mosaic, all revitalised our already intense interest. The climax came when Oliver Blackmore wheeled out a trolley on which were displayed some recent small finds from the Newport Ship, also threatened. A ‘posh’ pointed leather shoe, an archer’s leather wrist guard, a pulley block from the rigging, are but three of the items about to go on display. We extend our grateful thanks to Oliver Blackmore for giving up his time to enhance our archaeological and antiquarian interests.
About sixteen members turned up, a comfortable number. Richard Frame reminded us of the formation of the Friends of the Newport Museum and Art Gallery, which it is hoped all members of the Association will actively support, sending their names to Christabel at the earliest opportunity. The Friends will be an independent group set up to support, lobby and raise the profile of Newport Museum and Art Gallery in these challenging times. Such irreplaceable collections need our support. Some of us went upstairs to the Art Gallery to look at the Art on display yet another tip of a huge iceberg. This magnificent collection will also be the concern of the Friends of Newport Museum and Art Gallery. The newly published South Wales edition of the Public Catalogue Foundation – Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in South Wales (ISBN 978-1-909475-04-5) – registers the Newport Collection as one of the finest and most comprehensive in the country. The book is available from the Museum at the specially reduced price.
Tuesday 3 September: Day visit by coach to Malmesbury and Badminton House.
Malmesbury is a beautiful town and it was a good place to start our visit as it wasn’t too long a journey. Several places of interest were pointed out to the group whilst travelling to the town and so once we arrived people separated to follow their own inclinations. Most went to the Abbey and the Museum while some went to the Abbey Gardens which are privately owned. The Abbey dominates the town. Only a third of the abbey has survived, but in the Middle Ages the building had a spire which was higher than that of Salisbury Cathedral. Malmesbury was founded as a Benedictine monastery around 676 AD by the scholar-poet Aldhelm. In 941 AD, King Athelstan was buried in the Abbey. By the 11th century it contained the second largest library in Europe. Malmesbury is the oldest borough in England, with a charter given by Alfred the Great around 880. Today it has a wonderful welcoming feel with a cafe which allows you to sit in the nave and feel at home. Part of this is due to the large west window which lets in so much light and was inserted in 1823. The other stained glass windows come from the Burne Jones pattern book and were made in the William Morris workshop in 1901 and are well worth viewing. One window shows the flying monk Elmer who c. 1010 fashioned wings and leapt from the tower and survived with two broken legs. The illuminated manuscripts of The Book of Numbers is on display and the tomb of King Athelstan is in the north aisle. He was the grandson of King Alfred, and was a great military and political leader. One of the great delights is the amazing carvings in the Norman porch which were once painted in bright colours. It allowed pilgrims to see the bible stories pictorially as they were unable to read the Bible which was written in Latin. The carvings of the inner arch deal with the creation and the middle arch with the journey of the patriachs and kings, whilst the outer arch portrays the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Apostles of the early church look down and Christ is flanked by wonderful flying angels.
The Abbey House and Gardens are privately owned and there is a fee for entry. These Abbey Gardens are famous for their beauty, walks and history. Many of our members had visited them before, but as it was such a beautiful sunny day, they took the opportunity to see them again. The house on the site dates back to the 13th century. With the abbey as a dramatic backdrop, its five acres feature more than 10,000 plant varieties spread between formal gardens dotted with fish ponds and a wilder section that cascades into a valley cut through by a tributary of the River Avon. At The Old Bell Hotel, many of us had lunch in the sunny garden, and a superb lunch it was too. The market place with the market cross c. 1500 stands in the middle of the town and we all took time to gaze and wonder. Most of us visited the Athelstan Museum which is free. It tells the history of Malmesbury, an attractive hill top town built to a Saxon road plan on the site of a 4,500 year old hill fort. The present exhibition was the history of Hill Forts and the Iron Age people who lived in them with particular reference to Malmesbury.
The Badminton Estate lies in the heart of the Gloucestershire countryside and is home to the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort. The House dates from the 17th century and is set in a deer park which hosts the world famous Badminton Horse Trials. The game of Badminton was invented in the house in 1863. We arrived at Badminton House at 2.15 pm, the home of David Robert Somerset, 11th Duke of Beaufort (b. 1928). We were extremely fortunate to be allowed to visit, as not many group visits are allowed in a year, and we were so pleased to be met by John Harris, an architectural scholar and distinguished historian who has written many books, but has also written a short illustrated history of the house and the estate. This book is available for purchase and can be ordered from the estate via the webpage. We began our tour in front of the West wing. We had been promised a display of documents from the estate archive and we were not disappointed and a display relating particularly to Raglan Castle was provided. The Somerset connection with Monmouthshire, with Raglan Castle and Troy House, meant this was of great interest to us all. We wish to thank Elaine Milsom the archivist for her efforts. The tour began in the Old Kitchen and we were shown into the Old Hall and continued around the downstairs rooms. The paintings were of great interest especially those relating to Monmouthshire and the Somerset family. At the end of the tour we looked at the North Wing in some detail. We then went back to the old kitchen and we thank Sheilah Michael for providing an excellent tea.
The connection with Troy House, near Monmouth
Troy House was rebuilt by the third Marquess of Worcester, Henry Somerset, after the Civil War. He was also built Great Castle House in 1673 in the grounds of Monmouth Castle. In 1682 he became Duke of Beaufort and rebuilt Badminton House. Troy House became the seat of his eldest son Charles Somerset, Marquess of Worcester. John Harris, architectural historian and historian to the Duke of Beaufort states there was a long house and Elizabethan H-shaped house previously. In 1902 the eighth Duke of Beaufort sold the property and it became a convent school run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and after 1935 it became an approved school. It is regarded by John Harris as an historical building of the first importance and the second house of renown of its date in the old county of Monmouthshire.