Members’ Page 2018

Ann Benson has sent us this article she was asked to write for the Society of Architectural Historians of GB.

It is in their current magazine.  She spoke at their conference in January and then again at their workshop in April. She thinks this piece covers the more important aspects of Troy and, for anyone interested, is an introduction to Troy’s history.
To open the link below click on it and then click on open in a new window.


Herbert Chapel, St Mary’s Abergavenny Notes on the monument conservation by Joyce Compton

When visiting the Herbert Chapel, Joyce Compton kindly brought along her photographs of the conservation that took place in the mid 1990’s. We thought they were worth a wider audience so here they are.
Conservation of the monuments in the Herbert Chapel took place in the mid 1990s.  Before work proper could start, the uneven floor surface had to be addressed.  Various schemes of renovation, coupled with burials within the chapel, had led to the floor being raised by as much as half a metre over time.  Archaeologists worked alongside the contractors during lifting of the ledger slabs across the floor of the chapel and while underlying soil was removed to the correct level.  During this work, the various in-situ monuments were dismantled or repositioned by the conservators.

Ledger slabs from the floor of the Herbert Chapel lined up outside the chapel’s south wall
The work in the Herbert Chapel was carried out in stages over several years and the archaeology was dealt with, as required, by staff from the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust.  This work was monitored by Frank Olding, then curator at Abergavenny Museum and archaeological advisor to St Mary’s Priory Church, a role now undertaken by George Nash.  Archaeological work during subsequent restorations in the chancel and Lewis Chapel was carried out by other contractors.


Martin Locock recording archaeological details in 1994 whilst sitting on the chapel steps amid apparent chaos.  In the background is the Judge Andrew Powell monument, badly eroded from water dripping from a leaky roof.  Note the rollers in the foreground, used for moving heavy stonework, and the plastic sheeting keeping the dust from the main body of the church.

The Herbert Chapel had been used for later burials than those commemorated by the monuments and beneath the stone slabs there were several brick-lined vaults, along with a Victorian brick heating-duct.  In some cases rows of bricks had to be removed from the tops of these vaults so that the new floor could be laid at the correct uniform level.  At all stages of work archaeologists recorded full details and then produced reports, forwarded both to the Church Monuments Renovation Committee and the Historic Environment Record held in Swansea.  Copies of the reports also accompanied small collections of finds which were subsequently deposited in Abergavenny museum.  Finds included pieces of worked wood, window glass, human bones (which were re-interred in the chapel) parts of wall monuments destroyed during Victorian renovations, coffin furniture, and even Roman pottery.  In some cases, the plinths on which the monuments rested had been used to ‘hide’ this material (a bit like sweeping under the carpet).



Work in progress in 1994: in the foreground is the stone-lined burial chamber beneath the Richard Herbert monument.  Behind the boards can be seen the rubble raft which supported (and is now beneath) the William ap Thomas monument.  Each of the finds trays on top of the boards contains finds from separate locations (contexts).  In the background supports are being constructed for the Judge Andrew Powell and Lawrence de Hastings monuments.

Several stone burial chambers were investigated, although no actual burials were disturbed as the new floor would be laid well above the level of any interments.  In most cases there was no indication of the identity of the occupants of these chambers.  Although the raft under the William ap Thomas monument was not removed, its undisturbed condition indicated that his remains, and possibly also those of his wife, still lie beneath.
Most of the remaining burial chambers had not fared so well; they had been re-used as spaces for later burials.  In one instance, two 17th-century wooden coffins had been inserted into the small space within, causing some damage to the plinth.  It must be emphasised that no remains, other than loose disarticulated human bone (of which there was a fair amount), were either investigated or removed.  Any human bones collected during the work were handed to the church staff for reburial in the chapel.


The Lawrence de Hastings monument wedged between a pillar and the William Baker monument.  The marks left by removal of the raised floor level can be seen at the foot of each monument.


Newly-conserved monuments under wraps in 1996.  Conservator Michael Eastham and his assistant are dismantling the William Baker monument ready for conservation and repositioning.


Fragments of carved stone and iron coffin handles collected during excavations were examined by Julian Litten, curator at the Victoria and Albert museum in London.  Julian is an expert on burial customs and the author of “The English Way of Death: The Common Funeral since 1450 (1991, Robert Hale).  His expert opinion helped to date the later coffins inserted into the Richard Herbert vault and the burial identified as William Baker.


Frank Olding, Martin Lawler and Julian Litten (centre, consultant from the V&A) in conference.  In the foreground is the Richard Herbert of Ewyas monument undergoing conservation.

Julian also commented on the fragments of funerary monuments discovered in the backfill of the cellar during work prior to the building of the Priory Centre.  Fragments from at least eight wall-mounted memorial tablets were recorded, probably removed from the interior of the church during the 1828 renovations.  How they became buried in the cellar of the former Priory House, demolished in 1953, remains a mystery.


The Sir Richard Herbert of Ewyas monument undergoing conservation in 1996.  The empty window recess, waiting for the return of the monument, can be seen in the background.  A replica was made of the tiny Beadsman under Sir Richard’s foot which is now displayed next to the restored monument.

Finally, the latest monument in the chapel, that of William Baker, was investigated prior to re-siting of the conserved monument.  The remains were recorded but left undisturbed.  The style of the coffin, along with information on an adjacent brass memorial, indicates that this is likely to be the resting place of William Baker.  The conserved monument was therefore repositioned above the vault towards the centre of the arch


David Maynard recording the ledger stones beneath the William Baker and Lawrence de Hastings monuments before investigation.  Note the finely balanced stones supporting the choir stalls!

Archaeologists and conservators discussing logistics.  The presence of William Baker’s coffin chamber in the central position beneath the arch helped to decide the monument’s relocation upon completion of conservation work.



One of our valued members Frank Olding has edited a book entitled The Archaeology of Upland Gwent




Our President, Jeremy Knight, has has published a new book with Logaston Press. We have purchased a book for our MAA library.




Blaenavon was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 as ‘an outstanding and remarkably complete example of a 19th-century industrial landscape’, with blast furnaces, coal and iron ore mines, quarries, railways and the houses of workers, dating from a time when South Wales was the world’s largest producer of iron and coal. In this book, Jeremy Knight, a former Inspector of Ancient Monuments with Cadw, sets out the history of ironmaking in the area from medieval times onwards. A greatly increased demand for steel in the 18th century led to radical change in the industry. Single blast furnaces fuelled with charcoal, with the blast blown by water wheels, were replaced by batteries of coke-fired furnaces, blown by steam engines, whilst a supporting infrastructure of canals and railways was laid down. Blaenavon ironworks is a unique survivor of the first generation of this new industry. Blaenavon also played a significant role in creating the modern world when two cousins, Sidney Gilchrist Thomas and Percy Carlyle Gilchrist, by their experiments at Blaenavon created the Basic Bessemer process, opening the way for the bulk steel industries of America and Germany to develop. The society created at Blaenavon, with its benefit societies, bands and choirs, religious life, truck shop and plethora of pubs and chapels, is described, using a rich collection of source material. The struggle for fair wages and better living conditions, the role of women in society and the experiences of Blaenavon in two World Wars is not forgotten. To purchase a copy see



Our former Chairman Mark Lewis gave an interesting and well received speech  at the 2015 AGM. The MAA has been involved in actively lobbying to protect heritage in the former count of Monmouthshire and Mark’s comments are recorded below.

Chairman’s Report to the A.G.M., M.A.A., April 25th 2015

The Monmouthshire Merlin reported that on 25th July 1849 a grand bazaar was held by this Association in the gardens of the Priory in Caerleon with the intention of raising the closing balance of the funds necessary to build the Museum across the Road.  It failed, but, disregarding austerity, it did eventually open its doors to the public, in debt, in 1850.  It was reported that the Museum was to,

Save from the destroying hand of time the valuable relics of bygone days, impart a taste for liberal studies, enlighten the intellect and inspire the spirit of enquiry.’

In my view, this ‘mission statement’ has never been bettered.  It informs my work as curator and teacher today, and I would argue that its principles have resounding significance for the Museum sector in Monmouthshire now and as we move into the future.

Baroness Kay Andrews’ report to Welsh Government on Tackling Poverty through Culture states,

No-one should lose their right to experience the lifelong pleasures and interests that a love of reading, music, art and theatre brings.  Neither should they feel that the history and heritage of Wales, held in our cultural institutions, is ‘not for them’ or that the place where they have lived and brought up their children, is an unknown quantity in terms of its past, and future”.

Our present Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, AM Ken Skates’ response noted,

The report is particularly powerful for two reasons.  Firstly it argues convincingly for the benefits of participation in the arts, culture and heritage can bring – in boosting skills, confidence, self esteem and aspiration.

Equally importantly, it also argues that culture should be accessible to all as a point of principle: it is a matter of social justice.

Tackling poverty is the Welsh Government’s overriding priority… and its revised Child Poverty Strategy… recognises the vital role that cultural institutions can play in tackling poverty.  Wales’ arts, culture and heritage is a vital part of the life of our nation, and it’s fundamental to the values of this government that the most disadvantaged members of our communities should not be excluded from that life.  I am pleased to endorse Baroness Andrews’ report…

For ‘impart a taste for liberal studies’ in 1849 read tackle poverty of aspiration today.

For ‘enlighten the intellect’ in 1849, read educate; boosting skills, confidence, self esteem and aspiration so that the past is not an unknown quantity today.

For ‘saving from the destroying hand of time the valuable relics of bygone days’ in 1849, read culture accessible to all, now and in the future’.

Most of us would therefore agree that stated Welsh Government strategy and policy recognises the importance of the work that our Museums do and strongly supports it.

However, within this past year, consultation on the future of Newport Museum and Art Gallery and Monmouthshire Museums Service came to the attention of the committee of this Association. We had been anticipating this news for some time and a new and unfortunate role for the Association was identified.  We must take a lead from our 1849 ‘mission statement’ for Caerleon Museum and ensure that our membership are aware of the financial threats to our regional museums and do all we can to support them, in whatever way we can, in future years.

If, at this time reduced central and local government funding (often referred to as ‘austerity’), we fail as an Association and as individuals to support our regional museums and museums services at this difficult time, we will fail to embrace the values which were set out by our predecessors 166 years ago. This year, members of this Association lobbied Newport City Council on the future of their museum and contributed to the consultation process for Monmouthshire Museums Service.

Unfortunately, we are not out of the woods yet.  The Institute of Fiscal Studies has projected that funding for the heritage sector in Wales is likely to be significantly challenged up to 2020, especially if Health and Education budgets are maintained in real terms, or even increased! Moving forward, the role of this Association is only likely to become even more significant, not only in terms of lobbying, but in coordinating the dissemination of information and in identifying and harnessing the skills and expertise of its members which could help our Museums sector to evolve and adapt to the changes that will be forced upon it.

Again within this past year, central funding for the Council of British Archaeology’s Young Archaeologist’s Club was lost and, despite valiant, continuous, fundraising efforts, its future is uncertain.  Our regional branch, SE Wales, is the largest in Wales with thirty members and their families.  The MAA committee has been working with their leader, Rebecca Dawes, to explore ways in which we can further support their work, especially if they need to go it alone in the event of the collapse of the central Young Archaeologists’ Club.

Furthermore, MAA committee member, Stuart Wilson, has offered invaluable fieldwork opportunity to the youngsters art Trelleck.  I began my archaeological career at the age of 11 on a Monmouthshire Antiquarian Association dig at Trostrey which certainly ‘inspired my spirit of enquiry’.

In conclusion, the work of this Association is as important now and in the future as it ever has been.  Thank you all for your continued support for the work that we collectively do.  If you would like to be more heavily involved, please get stuck in.  We will only have the opportunity to ‘save from the destroying hand of time’ once!’

Mark Lewis, M.Sc., Ph.D.

Be Sociable, Share!

Leave a Reply