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We continue Heritage Action member Sue Brooke’s story concerning Caerau Hillfort in Wales.  New readers should start at Part 1 or put Caerau in our search box to get up to date.

St. Mary’s Church, Caerau stands within a ring work on the Iron Age hilltop site. Information taken from the Friends of St. Mary’s Church webpages states:

The Friends, a small pressure group striving to protect the ancient church from further decay and destruction, has had its successes and failures. It had been a priority to save St Mary’s magnificent west tower which was still intact until the winter of 2000/2001 when severe storms finally caused its collapse. The tower had been on the brink of collapse for several years. Part of the tower still stands, and we are still trying to ensure its preservation. A future aim is for the tower to be rebuilt, as it was a saddleback tower and only a small number of towers of this type exist. The Church of St Mary’s is a Grade II* listed building. We think it disappointing that a prominent landmark such as this in Cardiff has virtually disappeared.

This organisation has campaigned tirelessly to preserve the remains of this beautiful church, with Delia Jay and Rosemary Lewis determined to ensure the memory of Father Jones, the local priest who physically rebuilt the church during the 1960’s, remains intact in the area. I applaud that, particularly as I met the man himself and could see how much of himself he had put in to this.

I became involved with this group almost by accident. Having become someone who asked many questions in the area, not only about the hillfort area but about the remains of the church I was pointed in the direction of this group. Working to engage the young people was what first led to the series of meeting that would take place around my dining table.

Someone, I forget who, told me about an organisation known at Communities First. Information from their website describes their work thus:

The Welsh Assembly Government set up ‘Communities First’ in areas in Wales that were facing the most challenges and hardship. Each ‘Communities First’ area has money from the Assembly to set up a Partnership of people who live and work in the area. The Partnership meets monthly to discuss and find solutions to some of the issues. The Partnership aims to get local people involved in improving their areas and their own prospects and we bring in funding and support to make things happen.

Well, that sounded good enough for me!

I was able to make contact with the brilliant Dave Horton, a Senior Development Worker in this organisation. He suggested that we may like to involve the local secondary school, Glyn Derw High School and the local Community Police Officer Nick. So we did. Then we sat around my dining room table, mugs of tea in hand, to discuss the issues.

From that we began to arrange more formal activities either at the church or at Glyn Derw High School. Theresa Condick at the school was welcoming of our overall aims and opened the Learning Centre for informal sessions with the young people who attend Saturday Club. And what fun we had. Theresa is person who works behind the scenes, with groups of kids in such a way that they actually voluntarily attend her sessions.

The first session involved me rocking up with an 1800’s map, a magnifying glass and some bits of pottery in hand. OK kids, I said, find your house on this map. It was rather unfortunate that these young people believed my birth certificate to be an ‘artefact’, but you do have to sometimes make sacrifices. It actually had not occurred to me, prior to this that I really was born in the last century.

Each year the Friends undertake a St. David’s Day Inspection (that is, as near as possible to March 1st) on the church site. Over the last few years this has involved some activities to engage with the local people, to promote the importance of the church and to endeavour to protect it from further harm. I have arranged activities at the church (weather permitting) with the children and young people from the area. These young people are so very interested in what you have to tell them. Costumes have been hand made to enable the kids to dress as Celts (sorry Dr Pryor, but they teach them this in school and I cannot change the curriculum), complete with longbows and arrows (with suckers, obviously), and they have been included in the St. David’s Day Inspections on-site.

In addition to this we have managed to involve other willing volunteers, dress them as medieval women and use them mercilessly in order to demonstrate such things as hand-fasting.

A big thank you to the very glamorous Amy Deans who was happy to remove her sunglasses, leave her little BMW sports car at the bottom of the hill and walk up in full medieval costume in order to help me demonstrate medieval health and beauty as well as the making of flower head-dresses before being hand-fasted on formerly consecrated church ground! You may not have thought about this but hand-fasting is a brilliant way to bring up subjects like coercion, arranged marriage, forced marriage, consent, religion and cultural differences, particularly if demonstrated by a BGT finalist!

Medieval handfast

Amy Deans, demonstrating that even glamorous young ladies don’t mind looking silly on times. Obviously we didn’t hand fast her to someone, that would have been taking things a little too far. Image reproduced with Amy’s kind permission.

Sometimes people visit the site because of its isolation rather than its historical importance. You can see the evidence of this all around. One of my most enduring memories of the events held was when I wandered off to look for the next group of visitors who were expected. I was wearing an historically accurate medieval costume, hand-made. I was veiled with a small bunch of herbs hanging from my plaited belt. As I rounded the corner there were two young men there, beer cans in hand. I gave them a cheery ‘good morning’ as I passed them, my cloak flowing behind me. I shall never forget the look on their faces.

So, from these little acorns big oaks were beginning to grow…

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