Finding Caerau – Part One

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.

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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,]

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

Why 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, [1119] 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!

Digging Caerau – Keith’s Blog

Read on for a great blog by Keith – a volunteer adult learner on Cardiff University’s Exploring the Past Pathway…

My week at Caerau Hillfort has come to an end. As one of the volunteer students from Exploring the Past from Cardiff University I have experienced the life of an archaeologist for a few days. During the week I spent my time in trench 3 supervised by Kelly who was always there to help and advise along with other students and volunteers. Each day new features were found. As Kelly explained to me all had to be investigated and an explanation had to be found for each feature. My first few hours on the first day was to help with mattocking , shovelling and emptying wheel barrows. You can understand why Kelly insisted on the importance of wearing steel toecap boots!


Keith excavating his pit

During the dig light hearted banter between students took place. It was reported that one student was released from the bell tower each morning to work on the site and returned to the tower by night! Olly and Neil would walk around the site inspecting the progress of each trench and give guidance on how to proceed. With the help of other students we spent some time excavating a pit following a natural layer of green clay which revealed an unusual shaped pit. Possibly a quarry pit? The verdict is still out!

Luckily at the end of the day a photo was taken of the pit as that night the site had heavy rain. Inspection of the trenches the following morning revealed areas of flooding. This day was the site open day with many visitors expected. With Dave and all involved with the Caer Heritage Project the field was prepared for the activities that were to take place within the field, including regular guided tours around the site explaining to the visitors the archaeological evidence found. For the first time many of the visitors discovering the long history of their area and a chance to be involved with the project.

The students on the camera team interviewed fellow students and Neil (Prof) with the aid of a trowel! A day reported to have an amber weather warning turned out to be a glorious summer day with many visitors and an important day for the Caerau Hillfort.

Unravelling the Past (one scroll at a time) – New blog by Sara Brown


The CAER Lead Scroll before Conservation

As one of the Finds Officers on this years CAER Heritage Project excavation I am fortunate to be one of the first people to come face to face with material not otherwise seen for thousands of years. A highlight for me, so far, was the opportunity to open a possible Roman Lead Curse Tablet.

Curse tablets were left by the Romans at temple sites as tokens in return for a wish or to put a curse on an enemy; the modern day equivalent of throwing a penny in a wishing well. Curse tablets have been found at Roman sites across Britain. Some are inscribed with its bearer’s desires and some left blank. Theories suggest that blank tablets may have contained organic material such as hair or fabric that would represent the curse. Often, due to its burial environment, this material has not survived.


The CAER Lead Scroll after Conservation; also pictured are the tools used during treatment

Using a combination of soft tools and heat I have been able to carefully unroll the lead scroll found at Caerau. Unfortunately no inscription was found leaving the scrolls purpose a mystery. Could a stranger have deposited it 2000 years ago as a token of cruel intentions?

Perhaps the analysis of the finds from the excavation will tell us more…


About the Author

Sara Brown is a recent graduate from Cardiff University. She has a BSc in Conservation of Objects in Museums and Archaeology and as such is professionally trained in the conservation of archaeological material. She has been able to undertake this project having previous experience of unrolling Roman lead scrolls. For more information on her past projects please click here

CAER Heritage at Ely Festival

Last Saturday was the Ely Festival – read CHP’s Louise’s blog about what we got up to…

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to represent CAER heritage at the amazing Ely Festival alongside Dave, Mel, and Alex. Digging Caerau is not just about a bunch of archaeologists excavating a hillfort, engaging with the local community and helping them to discover the rich history on their doorstep plays a huge role and many locals come up to site to volunteer or just to see how things are coming along each day. The Ely festival gave me the opportunity to leave the site and actually spend the day right at the heart of the communityElyFest1

We arrived before the festival began and to unload the van and set up our stall, making it look as inviting and interesting as possible. We set up plenty of photographs, a colouring table for the little ones, a finds table with lots of information about the site, the heritage trails and photo booklets of Ely and Caerau in the 1980s, and an iron age pot making station where I ended up spending most of the day.

There was just enough time for Mel to give me a quick pot making lesson before the visitors started arriving, a slow trickle at first, then as the day went on, we got busier and busier. Although the CAER Heritage project has been up and running for a few years now, many of the visitors to our stall, although familiar with the hill and no idea about the historical importance of the site. Everybody was interested to hear about the excavation and how they could get involved and even more were keen to take a look at the arrowhead many had seen on BBC news a few days earlier!

While the adults and some of the younger visitors learned about exciting past of their community, most of the children were immediately drawn to our make your own Iron Age pot table! Although I expect the interest had more to do with the opportunity to get messy and make something they could take home than learning about the Iron Age…ElyFest2

Although Mel had shown me two techniques that morning in her pottery master class, as I am not a particularly creative person, and the table was usually crowded with young children all extremely eager to make their own pots, I definitely went with the easier stick your thumb in the ball of clay and pinching the edges into a pot nine times out of ten! Some of the pots made were definitely less… functional looking than others, and one adorable little boy went for a dinosaur instead despite my insistence that there were no dinosaurs in the Iron Age, but they all seemed to have fun giving it a go! And it wasn’t just the kids who got involved, one man gave the children a run for their money, shout out to you Lyle!

Making pots with dozens of excitable children (and Lyle) and engaging with the community is definitely equally as tiring as spending the day mattocking as it is all go all day, and I went home just as mucky at the end of the day, but the experience was also just as gratifying. As amazing as it is to dig and to actually discover parts of the past, hearing a child ooh and ah as they realise just how long ago the iron age was (way before TV and computers!), or seeing the interest and amazement on people’s faces as they hear about the history of the place they have lived in all their life and never known about and possibly discover a new interest in the past, is a uniquely rewarding feeling.

P.S. to all the parents I reassured that the clay would come out in the wash, I have since learned that I may have been mistaken, but at least you have a lovingly made pot to put on the mantelpiece. Sorry!

New dig at Caerau Hillfort – Getting excited yet?!

From 30th June to 25th July we’ll be digging again at Caerau Hillfort – read on to find out what we’re going to be searching for and how you can get involved!

More than 1,000 people visited the excavations in 2013 and 120 were directly involved in the digging. We opened three trenches within the interior of the hillfort (see the ‘Digging Caerau Booklet’ for a review of last year’s dig) and discovered the remains of at least five Iron Age roundhouses and the remains of a Roman settlement dating from the 1st to 3rd centuries AD. A further small trench through the inner hillfort rampart seemed to show that it had been rebuilt in the early Medieval period – more commonly known as the Dark Ages – suggesting we might even have an important settlement at Caerau during this elusive and mysterious time.


Location of this year’s trenches (Geophysics copyright GSB Ltd)

This year we’re again focusing the excavations within the interior of the hillfort. Two long and narrow trenches will explore buried ditches and features which showed up on the geophysical survey – some of these might by Iron age, others might be Roman or Medieval…if we’re really lucky, some may be much older, perhaps even Neolithic or Bronze Age (about 4000 to 800 BC) – we certainly found flint tools last year dating to this time – which could mean people were living in this place up to 6,000 years ago!

Two other trenches will explore the hillfort ramparts and ditches – one on the northern side of the hill and the other on the east, near to St Mary’s Church. If we can find animal bone or charcoal from beneath the ramparts that we can radiocarbon date, this will be able to tell us when they were first built. There might even be lots of artefacts discarded into the ditches that we can recover which will tell us more about the lives of the people who lived here in the Iron Age.

The trench I think is most exciting though is one we opened last year and are going back to again – Trench 3. If you remember, this trench contained the remains of four roundhouses, one of which was partially covered by soil building up against the back of the hillfort rampart. We didn’t have time last year to dig this roundhouse and this year we want to see how well preserved this house is. All the wooden parts of the house will have rotted away long ago, but we might have the house floor surviving beneath a layer of protective soil. If we do this could be really important and exciting – we would be excavating the floor surface that the final occupants of the house actually lived upon – we might be able to see where the hearth was, where they worked, where they ate, and even where they slept!

Hopefully we’ll have some really exciting discoveries come to light over the next few weeks – if you’d like to get involved, you can sign up for a free Live Local Learn Local course in archaeological skills (see here), you can volunteer and earn time credits for any time you give (see hereLearn to be an Archaeologist June 2014 ), or just come and visit! If you can’t make it to the hill, just keep checking here over the next month – we’ll be blogging regularly about what we discover!

Sieving Caerau’s Finds!

For the last three weeks CHP’s Olly Davis, with a lot of help from Julia Best, Paul Kemble and other CAER volunteers, has been wet sieving the soil samples taken from Caerau during the summer’s excavations. Read the latest blog to find out what they discovered…and how cold they’ve been!


Paul and Julia start sieving

All the artefacts we recover when we’re digging, such as pottery, animal bones and metalwork, can begin to tell us a story about how people in the past lived.  But some material is so small it’s not visible with the naked eye – this may include tiny plant and animal remains which can provide clues to the ancient environment – so we take samples of the soil which we sieve to find those tiny clues about prehistoric lives.

If you visited the dig during the summer you may well have noticed lots of blue bags being filled with soil by eager archaeologists. These were the samples we took – and we took a lot of them!

For three weeks we’ve been based at St Fagans Museum wet sieving all those 100s of bags!  Wet sieving is a process where we use water to wash the soil through very fine-mesh sieves. Once all the soil is washed away you end up with two residues.


Nice bit of prehistoric pottery from the coarse residue

The first is a coarse residue that gets caught in the mesh (all the stones, pottery etc).  The second is known as the ‘flot’ – this includes all the very small, light, mainly organic remains that float to the surface in the wet sieve tank and we collect in small round sieves. The flot can include small seeds and plant remains which will be able to tell us about the diets of the prehistoric occupants of Caerau Hillfort, as well as charcoal which we’ll be able to use to radiocarbon date the site.

The whole process can take quite some time, mainly depending on what the soil in the samples is like. The soil from Caerau is very clayey so it takes a long time to dissolve away – and that means it requires us archaeologists to have our hands in very cold water for a very long time!

Despite the numb fingers and toes the sieving has been really rewarding.  There’s been loads of finds from pottery and iron nails to carbonised grains of barley and wheat – the Iron Age occupants at Caerau Hillfort must have been growing these crops in fields where the houses of Caerau and Ely now sit!


Some of the grains (tiny black dots) that have floated off from the sample

We’ve also recovered lots of small fragments of burnt animal bone – the remains of meals that the prehistoric hillfort residents cooked and ate – and the shells of tiny snails that lived 2000 years ago. The snail shells might sound insignificant, but they’re not at all – in fact they’ll be extremely useful and experts will be able to inform us if they are woodland or open ground species thus telling us if the hilltop was wooded in the past.

All the residues now need to dry before we can examine them more fully, but from what I’ve seen come out of the sieve our story of Caerau Hillfort will now be much richer!


A ‘friend’ on the farm comes to see what we’re up to!

From Caerau to Wincobank – the Silures meet the Brigantes!

Remember back in July, when the weather was hot and sunny and the excavations up at Caerau Hillfort were in full swing? One Monday afternoon back then we had a visitor to the site who had driven all the way from Yorkshire to see how we were getting on.

The visitor in question was Penny, a resident of Wincobank in Sheffield who had been following the dig on our Facebook page and through our blog (read a blog of her visit here).  She was amazed about how much Caerau and Ely reminded her of where she lived – there’s even an Iron Age hillfort just outside of her front door too!  She invited us up to Sheffield to see for ourselves and to meet the Friends of Wincobank – a small, but passionate, group committed to conserving the natural environment and heritage of Wincobank Hill.  So last week an intrepid group of CAER Heritage volunteers made their way to the Steel City…


Friends of Wincobank and CAER Heritage Team

On a bright and sunny Thursday afternoon we met up with Penny and the other Friends of Wincobank amongst the houses at the bottom of the hill, ready for a walk up to the hillfort.  The first houses built around Wincobank were part of the ‘Flower Estate’, the first social housing estate built outside of London.  It was a pioneering attempt by Sheffield council to create good quality and healthy housing for its working population at the start of the 20th century.  Strong communities formed, but the collapse of Sheffield’s local industry and a massive rise in unemployment in the 1970s and 1980s led to significant social and economic challenges for the area.


Flower Estate houses


Following an ancient earthwork boundary known as the Roman Ridge, we ascended the hill, rising out of the housing estates and into beautiful woods and heathland with astonishing views across the city.  The walk and views brought that same feeling of solitude and calm you get when you climb Caerau Hill up to St Mary’s Church.

Picking up rubbish as they went (‘Wombling’ as they call it!) it’s clear that the Friends of Wincobank care passionately about their history and heritage and the place they live.  It was great to hear stories and memories too – tales of sledging down Wincobank Hill in days gone past reminded me of stories I’ve heard in Caerau about Spillers Hill and the Rec.


Views from the southern rampart


At the summit of Wincobank Hill sits the awesome Iron Age hillfort. It’s not as big as Caerau – just over 1 hectare in size – but it is surrounded by a massive rampart and ditch and provides amazing views over the surrounding areas.  The view from the southern rampart looking across the housing estates and further afield to Sheffield is so reminiscent of the view from the ringwork at Caerau.  The hillfort must have been home to an important community 2,500 years ago – perhaps a power centre of the Iron Age Brigantes tribe who lived in western Yorkshire at the same time as the Silures in Southeast Wales.

We descended the hill on its western side where the slopes are covered in an ancient coppice wood dominated by oak and birch.  Paths criss-cross the area, a bit like Plymouth Wood, and there was even the occasional sound of a quad bike!

The walk was really inspiring – hearing about and seeing the results of fantastic community projects that celebrate the amazing history and natural environment of Wincobank Hill.  We were struck by the similarity of the two areas – the communities that live in these two far-away places in England and Wales face many of the same issues and stigmas, yet they are both surrounded by fantastic history and heritage and share strong community identities and pride in place.


Community art installation celebrating the life of Queen Cartimandua of the Iron Age Brigantes tribe

With so many similarities between Caerau and Wincobank it’s clear that we can certainly learn a lot from each other – hopefully this will be the start of long and important connection between our two communities.