Ever wondered how Caerau got its name? CHP Historian Mel Julian-Jones explores some possibilities, with remarkable results…
As a Medievalist specialising in the thirteenth century, I was very excited to be asked to research the medieval life of Caerau for the CAER Heritage Project. The gaps in the documents for Caerau have long been remarked on, but this seemed a little suspicious to me. It seems that the earliest mention anyone can find is in the Iolo Manuscripts, which were largely forged or tampered with by Iolo Morgannwg, a poet, historian and resurrector of the Bards, in the nineteenth century. He is the one who claims that,
“Gweirydd, the son of Brochfael, was a wise, but unfortunate king; for diseases and rough ungenial seasons had greatly damaged the country; being the calamitous consequences of wickedness that occured in his age ; and which emanated from a prevalent recourse to depravity, illegality, and impious abominations. He built the church of Llanweirydd, which is called now, — Y Caerau [The Fortifications,] where he had a mansion, although he held his court at Cardiff”. – See, Iolo Morganwg, Iolo Manuscripts, A Selection of Ancient Welsh Manuscripts, in Prose and Verse, from the Collection Made by the Late Edward Williams, Iolo Morganwg, for the Purpose of Forming a Continuation of the Myfyrian Archaiology; and Subsequently Proposed as Materials for a New History of Wales, (Llandovery, 1848), pp. 305-6
Well, this would be a great tale, except that after this there is no reference to “Y Caerau” at all until the papal taxation of 1291, where the church is valued at £4. In today’s money, that’s over £2,000.
So what is going on in this gap between Gweirydd’s time (AD 670) and 1291, which is, incidentally, about six hundred years? Why would a place as big as Caerau just drop off the radar for six centuries and never be mentioned again? This didn’t ring true for me, so I began to wonder when ‘Caerau’ got to be called ‘Caerau’ in the first place. So I checked – and everyone is in agreement that “Caerau” was always just called “Caerau”. And what do they use as a reference? The Iolo Manuscripts, published in 1848. After some exhausting digging, I came to realise that we only have Iolo Morgganwg’s word for it. And everyone who came after him thought he was right, because they assumed the list of Glamorgan kings he provided was genuine.
The spire of Llandaff Cathedral can be clearly seen from St Mary’s (back left)
My problem was, would something like Caerau, an ancient and well established fort that towers over its surroundings and, we have discovered, was first used over 6,000 years ago by the first farmers of Britain, and seemingly constantly settled since, just have been called “The Fortifications”? Why is it plural when multiple ramparts only make up one fort? Multiple ramparts, yes, but it is technically only one fortification. The second fortification that changed the name from Caer (sg) to Caerau (pl) was surely the ringwork, set within the ramparts, the second fortification. By this logic, it could not have been called Y Gaerau or Caerau before the construction of the second fortification on that site, which means that it must have been known by another name before the twelfth century.
Looking through the records, in particular the Liber Landavensis, also known as the Book of Llandaf, made me more convinced that this was indeed the case. The book contains charters and grants made to Llandaff Cathedral, not all of them ‘real’ in the sense that they were made at the time the church acquired these lands, but all of them written for the purpose of proving what the church should have in terms of lands and ancient rights there. Some were made at a time before such grants were written down, when only verbal agreement and ritual action was required for making such a grant, and so the bishop and chapter in the later centuries were left without proof that their ancient rights to certain places should be continuously upheld. Consequently, they created charters detailing these rights, based on tradition and communal memory, in the standard form of charters made in their own day, complete with witness lists of bishops and kings long dead. These charters, while being technically ‘forgeries’, are nonetheless exceptionally useful to us as they show everything that Llandaff claimed to have, and was determined to hold onto when threatened by secular lords and the rights of other dioceses. There is no reference whatever in the Liber Landavensis (hereafter known as LL) to Caerau, or any variant spelling thereof. Considering that you can see Caerau hillfort from Llandaff cathedral, and that it was definitely a chapel of Llandaff and a prebend, this omission is more than bizarre, it’s unbelievable.
Several places in the LL are unidentified, so it is altogether possible that the Caerau’s original name is hidden among them somewhere. Two contenders revealed themselves after lengthy discussions with Dr Diane Brook and Dr Dylan Foster-Evans – the first I have dismissed, and the second seems the most likely.
Contender 1: Caer Riou
Why Caer Riou?
“Caer Riou”, which also appears as Cariou, was potentially identified in 1874 as ‘Caerau ger Caerdydd’, Caerau near Cardiff, in the article MEDDIANNAU EGLWYS LLOEGR. [See the Welsh journal, Yr Haul, Cyf. 18 Rhif. 208, (Ebrill 1874), pp. 143-144, available online through the Welsh National Library, www.llgc.org.uk]
What is said about Caer Riou?
The LL entry is as follows (p. 200 of the William J. Rees edn.):
“Athrius Rex, Fernuail filius, immolavit Cair Riou cum uncia agri, Deo, et Sanctus Dubricio, Teliauo, et Oudoceo, et in manu Catguareti Episcopi, et omnibus episcopus Landaviae, cum sua tota libertate in perpetuo; et Leubrit haereditarius accepit agrum a Catguareti Episcopo, et a Landaviae clero, daturus eis omni anno sex modios cervisiae, cum omni suo debito in pane et in carne, et cum sextario mellis, et ad voluntatum episcope quamdiu sibi placaret, et suo capitulo, quietam ab illo clamabat, et a prole sua in perpetuo”. [Followed by a witness list].
Here is a grant given by king Arthur (Latin name) or Athrwys (Welsh name) of Gwent to Llandaff cathedral, of Caer Riou, where ‘Leubrit’ (Welsh name: Lleufryd) was the hereditary officer in charge of the estate. He remained in this position despite the change of ownership, and remained answerable to king Athrwys. The renders for the land were to be six measures of ale and a sester of honey, with all that was owed in bread and in meat, each year. Collecting this and sorting out exchanges (if there was not enough ale brewed one year, a peasant on that land may request to give the equivalent in wheat instead, for example) was Lleufryd’s job.
In his new book, Prof. T. M. Charles-Edwards discusses the hereditary position of Lleufryd [Leubrit], whose responsibility it was to collect the renders of honey (mellis), bread (pane), ale (cervisiae) and meat (carne) in exchange for the perpetual grant of the estate to the bishop and chapter of Llandaff. He doesn’t suggest a location for Cair Riou, but does explore the legal aspects of the grant. See, T. M. Charles-Edwards, Wales and the Britons, 350-1064, (Oxford, 2013), pp. 312-313.
Is it Caerau?
No. Cair Riou or Caiir Riou or Cariou or even Cariow, as it is variously known, was identified as Chapel Farm near Monmouth by Ebenezer Thomas Davies in 1953. See, An Ecclesiastic History of Monmouthshire, Issue 1, p. 57. Since it was given to Llandaff by one of the kings of Gwent, it’s very unlikely to be located near Cardiff in Glamorgan. The author of MEDDIANNAU EGLWYS LLOEGR was probably led astray by the spelling of Cariou, and assumed that it was intended to be ‘Caerau’, because Iolo Morgannwg had used this name in the Iolo Manuscripts. The boundaries listed in charter 210 clearly indicate that it is somewhere between Crofft Hîr Brook and the Llymon, which is nowhere near our Caerau. Additionally, Jonathan Baron Coe in his 2001 thesis on the place names of Llandaff suggests that the elements of the name are caer + a personal name, such as the plural of Rhi, but suggests that the name ‘Cariow’ in the body of the charter leaves (marginal) room for doubt that the name comes from the caer element at all. [See, Jonathan Baron Coe, The Place-Names of the Book of Llandaf, PhD Thesis Submitted for Examination in the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, (August, 2001), p. 123].
Contender 2: Cairduicil
Cairduicil [Caerduicil], also known as Dinduicil, is a very strong contender. For a start, it is unidentified, so this gives it the room to be Caerau. Also, we know that Caerau hillfort had been used and settled for thousands of years, so the archaic ‘din’ makes a lot of sense. ‘Din’ and ‘Caer’ basically meant the same or similar thing – a hillfort, or fort/encampment. You can see it in names like Dinas Powys, for example. In South Wales around the ninth century, the word ‘caer’ was beginning to replace ‘din’, so the fact that it has an older version of the name being used interchangeably fits with the age of the fortified settlement. D. Huw Owen suggests that, “… consistency in the use of particular words to signify particular types of monuments, such as W caer or dinas, is not to be expected.” – See, D. Huw Owen, Settlement and Society in Wales, (University of Chicago Press, 1989), p. 83.
What is harder to ascertain is what ‘Cairduicil’ means. Cair = caer, but the second element is not immediately obvious, which isn’t helped by the Monasticon Anglicanum, which renders it Cair Dui Cil, as if these three elements are separate.
The ‘cil’ element can mean ‘source’ (of a river or spring) and ‘dui’ might be an archaic misspelling of ‘Duw’, so it would be the Fort of the Holy Spring, which makes sense as there is a spring near the site of the church, and a possible holy well on the site. However, in Welsh, the ‘cil’ element always comes first, not last. It is more likely to be Caer+dwygil, which would mean Fort of Two Corners, which would make sense as the archaeology suggests the western end of the three-cornered site was not settled but used for some other purpose, and we have two known entrances, which could be what the name gives reference to. This is supported by the 1874 Yr Haul article which wrongly located Cair Riou as Caerau, saying, Egistil, yn amser Nudd, a roddodd i’r Eglwys le a elwir Cairduicil (Caerdwygil, dinas dwy onglog). [Egistil in the time of Nudd, gave Cairduicil to the church – Caerdwygil, the city of two corners]. Since the author has already made a mistake in this article, corroboration is necessary to support this suggestion.
What is said about Cairduicil?
Here is the full context of that reference in the Mon. Ang. p. 1223:
“PATER et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus, tres in personis, unus in deitate et substantia inspiravit, per gratiam ipsius, et causa salutis suze creaturw, factae ad imaginem et ad si militudinem sui, cor lapideum Engestil, cujusdam divitis, jacentis in inﬁrmitate et pondere peccatorum, et conversus Engistil ad Dominum, acceptﬁ sibi remissione peccatorum de episcopo Nud, per intecessionem sanctorum Dubricii, Te liavi, et Oudocei, largitus est in elemosina castellum Din duicil, id est Caer Duicil, cum ecclesia sua, et tribus modiis terree per circuitum arcis, supra montem, et infra montem ; et cum suis omnibus ﬁnibus undique, et cum tota sud. libertate, &c“.
This is reproduced in LL on p. 216:
“Pater et Filius et Spiritus Sanctus, tres in personis, unus in deitate, et substantia, inspiravit per gratiam ipsius, et causa salutis suae creaturae factae ad imaginem et ad similitudinem sui, cor lapideum Engistil, cujusdam divitis jacentis in infirmitate, et pondere peccatorum, et conversus Engistil ad Dominum, accepta sibi remissione peccatorum de Episcopo Nud, per intercessionem Sanctorum Dubricii, Teliaui, et Oudocei, largitus est in eleemosyna castellum Dinducill, id est, Cair Duicil, cum ecclesia sua, et tribus modiis terrae per circuitum arcis supra montem, et infra montem, et cum suis omnibus finibus undique, et cum tota sua libertate, et omni communione in campo et in silvis, in aqua et in pascuis, verbo et consensu Houel Regis, filii Ris. De Clericis, testes sunt Nud Episcopus, Bleinguid, Ruid, Guinalau, Gurgarheru; de laicis vero, Houel Rex, Engist, Sauian, Birran, Auallguid. Quicunque custodierit, benedicetur; qui vero violaverit, maledicetur“.
The charter purportedly dates from c.860, which is around the time when ‘caer’ was replacing ‘din’ in common usage in South Wales. Both versions of this charter describes the area as being the castle [castellum] of Dinduicil, which is Cairduicil, with its church, and three modiis of land around the citadel/stronghold [arcis] on top of the mountain/hill [montem], and beneath the mountain/hill. This gives the impression of a fortified settlement on top of a hill, with a church, which implies the hill is perhaps a plateau large enough to grant land both on top and below it. The LL version adds fields, woods, waters and pasture to the grant, all of which could be found in the Caerau area around the hillfort.
Jonathan Baron Coe notes that the mystery Cairduicil is mentioned alongside other places which are (or may be) located near Cardiff, and some of the witnesses of the grant are also to be found as witnesses for Cardiff area grants, so he tentatively posits somewhere near Cardiff as the possible location. [See, Jonathan Baron Coe, The Place-Names of the Book of Llandaf, PhD Thesis Submitted for Examination in the University of Wales, Aberystwyth, (August, 2001), p. 120-121].
Cairduicil is later confirmed to Llandaff in a papal bull of Calixtus II in 1119. [See, Bullaire du Papa Calixte II, Vol 1, Ulysse Robert, (New York, 1979), No. 72,  p. 109].
Is it Caerau?
Very likely. It’s the most likely place, and a lot of things make sense. The topography is very like Caerau, but we need to do some more work to see where else it is mentioned and in what contexts. At least, it’s the best contender at the moment! However, even this name disappears from the records after its mention in the papal bulls of 1119. The Case of the Missing Mountain continues…Part Two coming soon!