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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 see the previous installments and get up to date.

Becoming drawn into research in any area leads you to forming a bit of an attachment to it. As you work your way through pages of books or you trawl the internet for information you begin to find other info, not particularly relevant to this bit of work but interesting nonetheless as it is related in some way. You begin to find out about the houses, where they were, who lived in them and who got taxed on them. Gaps in knowledge are filled.

When you are out and about you see things with new eyes. You also see things like damage, by kids or vandals or, sometimes by organisations who really should know better. So, Mrs Angry developed as a way of highlighting damage and trying to get something done about it. Some things have gone on for so long that it’s really difficult to do anything about it. Doesn’t mean you can’t try though.

The old church of St. Mary’s has been a target since the Reformation. If you recall I myself used to use the area to get out and about with my mates, resulting in being given that uncomfortable lift back in a nice Mini with a little blue light on top. More recently there has been graffiti, litter and associated damage. Locals get to know you and point out things you may have missed. A Facebook page was one of the best early ways of doing this but I was a little dismayed when some young people sent me photos they thought I’d like, taken at midnight on Halloween! So, damage to graves or the main fabric of the church remains gets reported to the responsible authority – quickly. After a while they kind of get used to you and you form a sort of alliance.

Damage to the wall of St. Mary’s Church

Damage to the wall of St. Mary’s Church

Working with the young people meant they began to know what the area was and what it meant and they began to take responsibility for it. Their parents and carers came along and they too got interested. The church was the focus of all this so meanwhile the field with its cow poo and very bitey flies remained largely ignored. The people who sat around my dining table during our planning meetings knew from my excitable ramblings that I believed the area, from my research, to be at least an Iron Age hillfort. The professionals I had worked with in CADW had been really helpful to me, not only in supporting my work but helping me answer such questions as was it OK to have a barbecue in the church grounds (always best to ask first!).

I had met the landowner – Ralph David – he was really supportive of what we were trying to do as obviously the vandalism affected him too. It was interesting for me to meet Ralph as, during my research I had found that his family had been the longest enduring family since written records began. Meeting Ralph was also a huge step forward as he gave his blessing to me and Mr B trampling around his land picking up random bits of china and pottery.

I had met with a CADW inspector Jon Berry, at the site one very rainy day and he walked with me – pointing out the bits I had missed. He was really interested and interesting and he was even kind enough to assist me back down the rain soaked muddy hill, thus saving me from completing the journey down on my bum, in an unladylike manner. The point being we started to know each other, who we were and what part we played.

The walk up to the hillfort

The walk up to the hillfort

So, being Mrs Angry in a nice way meant I got known and, being angry in a nice way meant I got taken seriously.

The work I was doing began to become more formalised with the intention of running something I called the Caerau Local History Project. This was an idea I had in order to share the information I had found that wasn’t relevant to my on-going research but was valuable nonetheless. This written work was now at around draft nine, having taken four or five years to get to this point. So I bought a small web-site package and loaded up stuff like Hearth Tax lists, census information on families, photos, such as that of the quarryman’s wife below and generally more about how Caerau had, I believe, developed since early medieval times.

Wife of a Caerau quarryman. Image reproduced with kind permission of the family

Wife of a Caerau quarryman. Image reproduced with kind permission of the family

So I began to promote this with little cards bearing the web address (which has now expired) and also contact details so that I could answer questions or, better, update with more information if people had it and were willing to share it. I started to get requests on information relating to individuals in the area. People started to tell me stories such as the Whitsun treats in the church grounds, weddings and related information like this. I loved it. This meant anything I found on the way to discovering more about the area in Iron Age times could also be used.

Then I got a rather odd email from someone who wanted to talk about the hillfort site. They were looking at some kind of academic project and had been given my details from CADW. It was a bit of a surprise that my best kept secret (I thought) was now to be the subject of some grown-up discussion.

OK – let’s meet.

The story will continue in the next installment, coming soon…


March 2013

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