A visit to Caerau – On Shared Ground – 16th-19th July 2014

Read on for a fantastic new blog about a project to link the sites of Caerau, Cardiff and Wincobank, Sheffield…

As Friends of Wincobank Hill we were intrigued by the On Shared Ground initiative.

We knew that very few hillforts have survived in urban areas for obvious reasons and felt a link with the similarly placed sites in Cardiff and Aberdeen and had met with some of the people from Caerau when they came to Wincobank. We hope sometime to have the opportunity to visit the hillfort on Bennachie near Aberdeen too.

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Ken is very proud to get his hands on a CAER Heritage T-Shirt!

We have long been fascinated by ancient sites, for differing reasons. The link with our long-ago ancestors and the ways they expressed and satisfied their human needs and desires and the search for knowledge and understanding about the world and their own place in it,sheds light on our own condition.

We found obvious similarities between Wincobank and Caerau. Immediately noticeable was the lack of local awareness, (no-one we asked could tell us how to get there), and the sound of a nearby busy road, ours being the M1- theirs the A4232. The physical locations of both hillforts are similar being on ‘Hog Back’ sandstone formations. Both hillforts overlook significant rivers: Caerau has the River Ely and Wincobank has the mighty Don! Both leading eventually to the sea and navigable in earlier times.

Seeing how much of a long, detailed history of settlement has become evident through the finds from the two archaeological digs at Caerau, from the neolithic age to the present day has opened our eyes to the possible long history of settlement on the wider reaches of Wincobank Hill. Evidence of this is now, sadly, probably lost through urban development and the covering up by council rubbish dumps, making   allotments and playing fields over what old maps indicated was an “ Ancient Settlement”. People have living memory of cottages and of Wincobank Hall – a meeting place for famous activists in the anti- slavery and social reform movement: as valuable a history as any other.

It was of great interest to actually witness the finding of relics from the past and to realise the significance of different layers and colours of soil through talking to the archaeology students on the dig,and to see the involvement of local schoolchildren. We were able to handle some recent finds, a piece of a pottery bowl from the neolithic period and an axe head ,and to marvel at the careful decoration on a household pot from the first century BC. Arrowheads and flint scrapers from the Neolithic and Bronze Ages are constantly turning up plus a medieval arrowhead and a lead musket ball from c.1700AD.

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Ken and Hil watch the first showing of the On Shared Ground film by artist Paul Evans

Whilst we were there a new stone- based road was uncovered that looked as though it was leading along one edge of the site towards the church or possibly a strengthening of the outer edge of the hillfort. The evidence of Caerau being an ancient sacred site include a recent find of a small lead curse roll only found in Roman temples and the medieval church, used up till the1970’s. This is typical of how people have regarded the significance of high places since the earliest of times. Although our chapel does not fulfil this criteria, not being placed on the top of the hill, it is highly likely that were we able to look for it, evidence of this kind of activity would be found. Joseph Hunter, a Sheffield   archaeologist, ‘ gave an account of round ‘tumuli’ situated close to the hillfort at Wincobank until the late 18th century. These features resembled ‘barrows ‘that Hunter had observed at other sites and comprised ‘two or three round tumuli….near the summit , and therefore near the great earthwork’. (Gatty 1869,24). (Copied from the desk-based assessment -ArcHeritage Project No.5462).

We visited Tinkinswood and St. Lythan’s chambered tombs built c.3,700BC. situated within a few miles of the Caerau site. Here, for the first time, we came across two sturdy metal devices that enclosed recorded information about the tombs that could be accessed through turning a handle This seemed an interesting and weather-proof way of communicating with visitors.

As a look-out post, a defensible space, a statement of ownership, a focal gathering place for the community and a site of liminal significance, both hillforts are superbly placed They were a supremely important for these reasons in the past and their value should be recognised giving the areas around a meaning for the the widest community that they may have been felt to lack. Friends of Wincobank Hill have joined with the On Shared Ground project in recording local people’s memories and feelings about the hill. This will be a valuable and more recent resource for conserving its long, fascinating history and perhaps helping people’s perception of these spaces to evolve constructively. Involving the local schools in the ways that we at Wincobank are doing, and what we saw at Caerau on our visit, may be a means of ensuring that there will be no further erosion of the integrity of these sites by highlighting their significance within the community and beyond.

Ken and Hilary Allen