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Growing up with St Mary's

By Michael Cridland

As a child growing up in the Caerau area of Cardiff, I was very conscious of the history of the area that I grew up in. The long continuous history going all the way back to 600 BC. We lived at the bottom of the largest hill fort in South Wales. With its impressive ramparts, and crowned with the motte and bailey castle, and a 13th century church which may have been on the site of an older church. As a kid my parents often took myself and my sister on walks to the top of the hill. In the 1970s St Maryís church was very much intact with its graveyard. It had just been closed for the second time since 1957 because it was not being used and had a very small congregation that was too old to get to church as it was very steep.

In the early 1980s the church suffered some very severe vandalism - the church was broken into and set on fire and the graveyard was severely vandalized. It was big news in the newspaper. What was to happen with Saint Maryís? There was speculation that the church would be taken down stone by stone and rebuilt in the Welsh folk museum at st Faganís. Although they would be turned into a heritage center. None of this materialized and the vandalism just got worse, and we stopped taking walks up there.

When I was eight years old I was a pupil at Cwrt yr Ala junior school. My teacher that year was Mr. Owen John Thomas. At that time we had a student teacher, Miss Cartwright (I believe her name was), she was very enthusiastic about local history. She took us on a field trip to the hill fort, almost 40 years later I still remember it with an affection. She was very interested in the Roman aspect of the fort (a possible siege). What has puzzled me is why considering all the history why there has been no real excavation of the hill? Could it be because of its location? I think so.

That is why I was glad that after all the good work by the Friends of St Maryís, there has finally been interest in an excavation led by Dr Oliver Davis of Cardiff University, with some educational programs and a plan to turn it into a heritage trail.

I think that is good however, I would go one-step further and create a living exhibition on the same scale as the Butser Ancient Farm, I would include a reconstruction of the Ely Villa. This would be a real Celtic Cardiff, Cardiff a Celtic town.

I think this would transform the area and put it on the map.