by Sandy Gerrard
Situated near the base of a steep sided shake hole at SN 82898 15123 near Craig-y-nos and the Welsh National Showcaves is a small circular stone built structure. The building is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, (BR256 Hut Circle west of Saith Maen) although it is actually situated to the south-west. The structure is very small with an internal diameter of 3.1m surrounded by drystone walling up to 0.6m high. A clearly defined slab-lined entrance faces west. The Royal Commission record it as a hut-circle, although David Leighton in his Western Brecon Beacons book notes only that “The building is probably of prehistoric date” (Leighton, 2012, 69) but the Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust go rather further stating that “There is something about the site which feels more akin to a shelter of a more recent date than any kind of prehistoric dwelling”. So definitely no consensus and despite the considerable uncertainties Cadw scheduled the site as a prehistoric hut circle.
This is important because when an application to schedule the Bancbryn stone alignment was submitted to Cadw they concluded that “because the evidence base is inconclusive, and there is an alternative theory of post medieval origin that would not meet the criteria for scheduling, it is not possible to schedule the site.” So why was this structure near Saith Maen scheduled? After all alternative very plausible post-medieval theories have been offered but with typical Cadw inconsistency and total disregard for their own professed procedures they pressed on regardless. The final irony is that the post-medieval explanations offered for this scheduled site remain whilst Cadw have now accepted that no specific evidence to support the post-medieval explanations for the Bancbryn stone alignment exist. A fine old mess indeed.
Despite being at the foot of a very steep slope no hillwash deposits have accumulated within the upper part of the building. This strongly suggests that the structure is relatively recent as does its fresh almost pristine appearance. Furthermore its very small size is unusual as is its position in the bottom of a shake hole. A couple of post-medieval interpretations which Cadw appear to have overlooked include a gunpowder magazine or shelter and both would seem, given the anomalies highlighted above, much more plausible than the prehistoric one favoured by Cadw. The structure stands in the midst of an industrial landscape and this context complete with the character of the remains makes a post-medieval date much more likely. The sides of the shake hole would have provided an excellent blast wall and the gunpowder could have been transferred throughout the area using the adjacent tramway. The form of the structure however suggests that it is most likely to be a shelter. Identical structures are known in the archaeological record.