On a sunny and cool morning in November 2023, nine volunteers and a very enthusiastic spaniel helped PCNPA ranger Richard Vaughan and community archaeologist Tomos Jones to hack at brambles and saplings near the paths at Nevern Castle. Several came from different parts of Pembrokeshire to lend a hand, and stories were exchanged of digs and clearances on all sides. Lunch was very pleasant at the picnic tables, and we went home well exercised and, if not exactly sun-tanned, nevertheless having enjoyed time in the fresh air. Thanks once again to Angie and James at the Trewern Arms for the use of their car park.
Once again, Friends of Nevern Castle took a stand at Nevern Show, to promote knowledge of the castle and connect with visitors and local residents who might not know of it. Gaynor, Mick, Kath and Alan chatted to people who’d turned out on a very pleasant day to enjoy the competitions, crafts, and exhibitors at the lively Show. We talked to lots of people! Of the 35 conversations we made a note of: So, plenty of scope for promoting the castle and its fascinating history. Many said they’d plan to visit the castle now. Well … they would, I suppose! We handed out copies of various bits of literature: the Nevern Trail Guide; an introductory booklet about the castle; and the leaflet about Friends of Nevern Castle. Everyone was very positive and supported our aims. Teenagers were very interested, having learned about the period in school. There was quite fascination in the artefacts that had been dug up, as well as the historical events. Those who knew the site also enjoy its tranquillity today. One lady remembered the nature trail, now dilapidated, and suggested we restore it. It felt very worthwhile and interesting to speak to so many people from… Continue reading Nevern Show 2023
A devastating innovation The castle was an important tool of conquest. Initially built quickly in wood, it served as a base for the invading soldiers, a place to protect their equipment and provisions, and a place to defend from counter-attacks. Once a foothold was established, castles were strengthened by rebuilding in stone. They became living quarters for the lord and his family, as well as an administrative and military hub from which to control the surrounding territory and collect taxes from the population. Castles were a Norman innovation. The motte-and-bailey style was introduced in Normandy in the 10th century, and brought across the English Channel in 1066. South of the Preselis, the Normans were secure in the castles they built. But it was a different story further north, where the Welsh were more difficult to subjugate. In Nevern as in Cardigan and Cilgerran, the Welsh fought off the invaders and occupied their castles. And not simply occupied them, but extended and improved them as well. Both Normans and Welsh extended the stone buildings at Nevern at different times; and it was Rhys who reconstructed Cilgerran into stone, in place of the Norman wooden structure. The Welsh lords took up the… Continue reading Castles come to Wales
The first Annual General Meeting of the Friends of Nevern Castle was held at the Trewern Arms on 12th July. During the past year, we have: In the coming year, we plan to: Find the minutes here.
Dr Chris Caple, the archaeologist who led the digs at Nevern Castle for ten years, gave a popular and fascinating talk at the Trewern Arms on Wednesday 12/7/2023. Since its destruction in 1196, ploughing and weathering have obscured what remains of the castle. Only fragments remain – and the task of the archaeologist is to piece them together, to reveal the dramatic events of the time, and the life that people led. 52 archaeological trenches were dug between 2008 and 2018, revealing buildings and roads, as well as thousands of fragments that are still being analysed today at the University of Durham. Finds include fragments of weapons, tools, shoes, horseshoes, harnesses, locks, lamps, gravestones, building stones, stones for throwing at people, stones for games, grains, seeds, beads, and lots more. Ultimately, the research will be published and the pieces returned to Nevern. The plan is that delicate items will be loaned to a museum, which can preserve them safely in a dry atmosphere. More robust fragments will be displayed in the Village Hall, and in the Trewern Arms. Thanks to James and Angie, proprietors of the Trewern Arms, who provided facilities for the talk.
Tomos Jones, PCNPA Community Archaeologist, led a group on a tour of Newport Castle, St Brynach’s Church, and Nevern Castle. Early Purple Orchid seen at the Castle today
Alan represented Friends of Nevern Castle at the Pilgrimage Today conference in Enniscorthy, Co.Wexford in March 2023. The gathering celebrated the opening of the Wexford-Pembrokeshire Pilgrim Way from Ferns in SE Ireland across the sea to St Davids. The meeting, sponsored by the Ancient Connections project and British Pilgrimage Trust, was attended by about 80 people including artists, businesses and places of interest along the route, officers of Visit Pembrokeshire and Fáilte Ireland, together with academics studying tourism and pilgrimage. Alan was also there for his part as a software developer in Pererin Wyf, a project sponsored by Ancient Connections which links people of the Irish and Welsh diasporas worldwide. Some notes from the conference “Pilgrimage” for me recalls Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. But these days it’s the big trend in travel. A quick Google reveals heaps of articles, TV series, and personal accounts. Travel companies, tourist destinations and everyone that provides services along the way are talking about it. The conference in Enniscorthy was for those providing for travellers. We talked about what makes a good pilgrimage that people will enjoy, and perhaps encourage them to return. “Pilgrimage” is more than a hiking holiday, although it’s that too. There’s additionally… Continue reading Pilgrimage conference
Friends of Nevern Castle conducted a tour of the Castle for a group of 9-10 year olds from St Dogmaels Primary School on 14th November 2022. While walking around the site, we looked at mock-up pictures, talked about the characters of the time, and had great fun role-playing the coming and goings between Norman and Welsh control. And of course we talked about archaeology. The teachers said afterwards: (Photos: Miss Hughes, Ysgol Llandudoch.)
Friends of Nevern Castle showed round a group of visitors from Ireland on Sunday 23/10/2022. The visit was a first trial of a guided tour round the castle. We told the story of the main characters in its 90-year history, while explaining the visible remains and showing artists’ impressions of what it looked like at the time. While there are commercial guided tours that come to the Castle, there is scope for us to guide smaller tours and school groups, as part of our aim of promoting knowledge and awareness of the castle. The Irish group were also shown around St Brynach’s Church and the Pilgrims’ Cross. During the weekend, they also visited Dyfed Shire Horses, Tafarn Sinc, Castell Henllys, and several sites around Aberystwyth. They visited Wales as part of the CUPHAT project run by Aberystwyth University, which aims to develop types of tourism that respect culture and heritage. It focuses on West Wales and County Wexford, areas with long traditional links across the Irish Sea. Part of the project takes people involved in places of cultural and heritage interest to visit each other’s sites, to compare notes and with a view to developing some resources in common.
We had a great time at the barbecue in the castle bailey on bank holiday Monday. Good company in lovely surroundings, and delicious barbie food! £240 was collected in donations towards the work of the Friends of Nevern Castle.
Friends of Nevern Castle had a stand in the craft tent at Nevern Show on 10th August. Gaynor, Mike, Kath and Alan chatted to show goers about the castle. The aim was to raise awareness of the existence of the site and the importance of the castle in the 12th century. We told visitors how the castle’s history, with its alternation between Norman and Welsh control, encapsulated that pivotal period in the history of Wales. A surprising number of people said they’d lived in the area for many years but never visited the castle, or even known it was there. We collected a dozen new members for the Friends mailing list. We handed out this leaflet about our work.
Nevern Trail Guide leaflet was published in 2016 by Nevern Community Council and Pembrokeshire National Park Authority. It’s now due for a reprint, and so there’s an opportunity for updates and improvements. Friends of Nevern Castle recently had a meeting with other residents of Nevern to discuss changes to the leaflet. We’ve also had discussions with representatives of St Brynach’s Church, the Village Hall, and the Trewern Arms. The resulting revision has a number of improvements over the 2016 version: The draft revised leaflet can be seen here. Comments are welcome! Thanks to the Trewern Arms for hosting the meeting. Update 19/3/2023: The new leaflets have been printed and are being distributed to information points and businesses. If you’d like some to give to your guests or customers, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Apotropaic symbols scratched into the building’s stones, designed to ward off evil spirits, are rare glimpses of images made by the common people of the time.
Inaugural meeting of the Friends of Nevern Castle Enthusiasts for Nevern Castle met on Wednesday 30/3/2022, kindly hosted by the Trewern Arms. We created a formal association, with a constitution and the usual officers. We’ll be able to open a bank account, apply for grants, etc. Friends of Nevern Castle is being set up as an association with the purpose of informing visitors and local residents – particularly young ones – about the Castle and the important history and heritage it represents. The meeting included a wide representation from St Brynach’s Church, Pembrokeshire County Council, Nevern Village Hall, the Trewern Arms, Nevern Community Council, local residents, and history enthusiasts. Current and planned activities include: Refresh the display panels, website, and leaflets Organise school visits and guided tours Run events like last year’s barbecue. Help with the maintenance of the site as a place for peaceful enjoyment by all. These activities are complementary to the professional work done by Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority in maintaining the grounds and the remaining fabric of the Castle. The site is owned by Nevern Community Council – that’s you and me, if you live in Nevern or Moylgrove. Click here for a short presentation… Continue reading Friends’ Meeting – Trewern 30/3/2022
What do the physical remains of the Great Hall at Nevern Castle tell us about its appearance and use at the time of Archbishop Baldwin’s reputed visit in 1188?
Gaynor Bussell, Volunteer at Nevern Dig 2009-2018 After working over 30 years in London, in June 2008 I decided to give it all up. I was not sure what I wanted to do with the rest of my life; I was not quite 50! But I had developed hiraeth for the lands from where my family had come and where many of my relatives still lived. I had already moved to Fishguard for the last year and a bit and had been commuting backwards and forwards to London and partially working from home. An old friend, Paul Harris, told me that there was to be a dig that summer at Nevern Castle. I first discovered the Castle in my school holidays, when Paul and I used to work in the restaurant of the Trewern Arms. (Although my family lived in Cardiff, we spent every holiday in a caravan in Dinas Cross. My Dad was from farming stock there.) I remember Nigel Reed, the son of the then owners of Trewern, showing me the site of an old castle up the road on a hill. Honestly, you could not tell there had been a castle there, but there was certainly something… Continue reading My Dig Memories
The broken oaths of the Lord Rhys would have put him at risk of eternal damnation, according to the tenets of the 12th century. Dr Robert Anthony In 1191, Gerald of Wales, man of God, was outraged by the behaviour of his kinsman, the Lord Rhys: After besieging [Nevern Castle] with a force of armed men, Rhys ap Gruffudd captured [it] from his own son-in law … William FitzMartin … in direct contravention of a whole series of oaths which he had sworn in person on the most precious of relics to the effect that William should be left in peace and security in his castle. In Gerald’s eyes, the offence was made worse, and another oath broken, by Rhys handing the Castle to his own son Gruffudd, ‘a cunning, artful man’ who, Rhys had sworn, would never be permitted to hold it. Gerald makes it plain that these oaths were sworn by Rhys in person following the accession of Richard I in 1189—Henry II’s death having marked the end of an interlude of peace maintained between Rhys and the old king. The oath-taker was Rhys’s son-in-law, William FitzMartin, and it is likely that the oath was sworn at Nevern… Continue reading The Lord Rhys’ Oath
Were there really 18 burgage plots within the castle? Can we believe the claim by George Owen, 16th/17th century antiquarian and lord of Cemais, that Nevern was once a borough, with special privileges?Dr Rob Anthony explains, and examines the evidence. “The town of Nevern, being some time a borough & having a portreeve & courts belonging to it, is now decayed & become rural and the privileges discontinued. It consists of 18 burgages & takes the name of the river Nevern that passes by the town.” Even although no modern historian to date has been able to identify the manuscript on which he based his claim, George Owen of Henllys, antiquarian and lord of Cemais, in his Second Booke of the Description of Penbrokeshire (1600), seemed to be certain of his facts. In his Description of Wales (1194), Gerald of Wales was unimpressed by the Welsh practice (he claimed) of not living in towns or villages, but only in huts of wattle in the remote countryside. This may be an exaggeration but it is true that, in 12th century Wales, houses of stone were vanishingly rare: the construction, by the Lord Rhys (Rhys ap Gruffudd, Prince of Deheubarth) in the… Continue reading Was Nevern really a borough?
An object that has come up recently in the research on Nevern is the shaft of a key, a slide key for a padlock, with inlaid spiral decoration. Keys like this only turn up on 12th century sites such as York, Winchester, Castle Acre. Unnecessarily decorated and expensive, they were probably mainly owned by aristocratic ladies safeguarding things which they wanted to keep safe: perhaps documents, jewellery, clothes or shoes. This one comes from the 1195 destruction levels of the castle—so possibly it belonged to Angharad FitzMartin. It’s so very rare to find something which has the possibility of being related to a specific individual from the past. But that is the value of Nevern Castle: prominent enough in the 12th century to have recorded history, but without later 13th and 14th century contamination, so that a decade of archaeology allows us to see the physical evidence—the reality of a 12th century past. Dr Chris Caple
Delun Gibby tells the story of Rhys’ imprisonment in his own castle. (Delun was Community Archaeologist for Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority.)
Dr Robert Anthony Monday, 28 March 1188: it is not often in medieval history that an event can be dated with such precision, especially when concerning Wales, and we have Gerald of Wales (Giraldus Cambrensis), scholar, canon of St David’s and Archdeacon of Brecon, to thank for this. The event in question is described in his book: The Journey Through Wales (1191), an account, almost in diary form (although with lavish digressions), of the six week mission to south and north Wales by Baldwin Archbishop of Canterbury to preach the Cross in support of the Third Crusade. Baldwin & Gerald Archbishop Baldwin, of humble origins, was a scholarly ex-monk from Exeter. According to Gerald, he was an eloquent preacher but not an effective leader of the Church. Baldwin enjoyed the company of the tall, handsome, extrovert, self-confident Gerald – and recognised the advantage of being accompanied by a man who had been born in Manorbier Castle (1145/6) of Anglo-Norman William de Barri and Angharad, daughter of Nest and granddaughter of Rhys ap Tewdwr, Prince of south Wales. In short, Gerald knew, or was related to, everyone – Anglo-Norman or Welsh – who might be of consequence in furthering Baldwin’s efforts… Continue reading Archbishop Baldwin 1188
It is said of the bleeding yew tree in Nevern churchyard, “The Yew will bleed until a Welsh King sits upon the throne in the Castle!” The saying goes back a long way. We don’t have a Welsh king yet, but in 2008, Nevern Community Council took the first step by providing a throne. On the back of the throne, you can see the coats of arms of the two families that alternately held and extended the Castle: The red and white bars of the FitzMartins, who were the Norman colonists; and the lion of the Welsh prince Lord Rhys, who led the local resistance. The panels at the sides of the throne are views of the Castle as it might have been. One side shows it around 1136, when the buildings and fences were made of wood. The other is around 1190, when it was a much more grand place, with impressive stone walls, towers, and halls. It was burned to the ground not long after that in 1196. The throne was conceived as a piece of fun that children of all ages can enjoy, while their grown-ups contemplate the dramatic 12th century history of the Castle and enjoy… Continue reading The Throne
About 50 people attended the barbecue in the bailey in the August bank holiday 2021. We’re looking to hold more events in the future.