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Friends of St Mary's Church at Caerau

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Delia and Rosemary at St. Fagans for Welsh Forum Exhibition.

Summer Update 2012

Dear Friends and Supporters

It has been an amazing couple of months! The creation of the Caerau And Ely Re-discovering(CAER) Heritage Project led by Dr. Oliver Davis, Olly, has been hugely successful, involving children and young people from local schools in surveying the Caerau Hill Fort and giving them the opportunity to learn about their interesting local history. This included identifying the ancient pathways, which their ancestors walked many centuries ago while living and farming in their ancient village community on Caerau Hill, which they called Kayre, the first known spelling of Caerau, c.1190.

The full results of the CAER survey will be published on the CAER website.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Olly and his team at Cardiff University, convinced as they were of its importance in archaeological terms to Caerau and Ely, Cardiff, and Wales as whole, invited the famous and extremely popular Time Team with Tony Robinson to investigate the site.

NO TREASURE was found (so please no metal detectors looking for gold), but what Time Team unearthed during the three ‘heady’ days of their survey is historically exciting. Time Team has confirmed evidence of occupation going back further than Iron Age, thanks to a truly astonishing finding of fragments of pottery artefacts from the Bronze Age. This means that people from three different periods in history -- Bronze, Iron, and Romans Ages -- all in their turn lived and worked on the Caerau Hillfort, probably the largest in South Wales. The archaeological importance of Time Team’s findings cannot be overestimated, and Caerau’s important place in Welsh history is thus proved beyond doubt.

Paul and Delia at the CAER survey.
One of the findings, which confirm Rosemary’s painstaking research for our book, was the much larger numbers than previously thought of ancients living on the Hill Fort and surrounds, together with their animals. This indicates an impressive and well organised Caerau community going back to the Iron Age and earlier.

500 people and more from all over Cardiff, including children from local schools, visited Caerau Hillfort to watch Time Team working on the site. This, combined with the coverage of the event in the Western Mail and Echo and the many letters from people responding to the press coverage, is testament of the high regard ordinary people have for this special place in their midst.

The Time Team’s exploration of Caerau Hill fort will be shown on television early in the New Year, and we hope to be able to announce the date on the St. Mary’s and CAER websites.

Our beloved old church, St. Mary’s was built c.1260 AD, with evidence of even earlier churches on the site from c. AD900. Its ruined structure provides a beautiful and iconic landmark, standing as it does within the Iron Age fortification.

The repair to the tower is holding up well, but some further damage has occurred, because vandals can access the only partially ‘filled-in’ wall of the tower, and some stones have been loosened or pulled away. Also, vegetation is growing in this exposed inner wall, thus weakening the structure. Maintenance repairs are required, and similar small repairs are needed to the pared down walls of the nave and chancel.

Rosemary and Delia at their stand in Oakdale Hall.
The main concern remains the Chancel Arch which needs re-rendering on both sides and replacement of a few dislodged stones. We believe that damage to the Arch is weather-related and needs to be addressed before the Arch deteriorates much further. It is particularly sad to see the graffiti still on the walls and new pink graffiti sprayed on the lovely Chancel Arch just before Time Team arrived. Wayne Thurlby from the Bereavement Department has for some time been trying to have the daubing removed, but to date no progress with this has been made.

We believe that it is only by carrying out regular maintenance, and cleaning away graffiti as it occurs, that the church’s fragile remains stand a chance of surviving into the future. Rebuilding of the tower to seal its interior against vandal access would strengthen its defences and its landmark impact. We have asked the Bereavement Dept. to consider this option, including restoration of the tower’s beautiful saddle-back roof.

However, the site is currently well cleared of litter both in the churchyard and at the bottom of the hill, and there is, at last, a ‘no fly-tipping’ sign in English and Welsh at the bottom of the lane.

Finishing on another positive note, we were pleased to be invited to this year’s History Forum for Wales Exhibition held in the Oakdale Hall at St. Fagans over the May Day bank holiday weekend. Although having very short notice to prepare, we were able to cobble together enough material and articles about St. Mary’s and the Hill Fort, including newspaper clippings (sent to me by valued supporters) of the recent CAER and Time Team events. The resulting St. Mary’s stand at the exhibition attracted a lot of interest, and a number of new ‘Friends’ signed up. Our co-Founder Rosemary Lewis, who is now back living in Wales, came with us to help set up our stand.

Finally, our grateful thanks to all who have supported us this year, particularly, Dave H and his team, Paul, Olly, Cliff & Jean and Val, Ben, Denise and St. Tims, Cath and Luc, Angela and her family, Mike, Teresa and the Young Friends, and many others including those on Facebook. Also, not forgetting the South Wales Echo for giving us a voice.

Delia & Rosemary & Tony