Extract from the Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain. Fourth Edition, South Sheet
Extract from the Ordnance Survey Map of Roman Britain. Fourth Edition, South Sheet

Back in June, the Wrexham Leader was among the news outlets to report that plans were afoot to merge councils across Wales to save money and centralise ‘frontline services’. For the North-East, this might involve:

  1.  merging  Denbigshire, Flintshire and Wrexham to the ‘old’ county of Clwyd (a new creation extant from only 1974 to 1996), or
  2. incorporating ‘Clwyd’ with Conwy to create a larger, as yet unnamed council responsible for the entire north-east.

Whatever happens and whatever one’s view on it might be, this is about more than economies of service, but affects centuries-deep traditions and identities that see separate counties of Flintshire and Denbighshire from neighbouring English counties as well as neighbouring Welsh counties of Montgomery, Merioneth, and Caernarfon.

Of course whatever is decided, I would point out that there is a long, tried-and-tested strategy of reinventing ancient pasts to give legitimacy to newly created political and administrative territories. Let’s propose some options which will no doubt serve to really wind people up. As a Professor of Archaeology, I expect my proposal to be a focus of light-hearted banter and mild derision, so no angry trolling please!

A Modern Hybrid

Perhaps there should be some kind of modern hybrid of the three councils: Wrexbighflint County Council? Of course this sounds ridiculous.

Back to the Middle Ages or Dark Ages

We might see a reversion to a name derived from medieval cantrefi, but which ones? Powys Fadog, Tegeingl, Dyffryn Clwyd, Rhufoniog, Penllyn, Rhos?

The early medieval kingdom of ‘Powys’ is one solution, but this excludes the coastal kingdom of Tegeingl (Flintshire) and extended far south into Montgomery and Radnor, so this solution won’t work. Powys County Council is misleading given its recent use from 1974-1996 to refer to the historic counties of Merionethshire, Montgomeryshire, Radnorshire and Breconshire.

Perhaps some kind of hyphenated mess between these could be adopted, like Tegeingl-Powys Fadog County Council. Doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue does it?

Moel Arthur Iron Age hillfort, Clwydian range

Back to the Iron Age

For me, this is the only solution. Why not go all the way back to before the Middle Ages and before the Romans and name the entity after the tribal territory of the late Iron Age peoples of north-east Wales along the coasts and valleys of the Clwyd and Dee and their tributaries? I think this is a preferred solution because:

  1. It is utterly primordial and therefore wields the greatest ‘authority’ for those who like antique names;
  2. Archaeologists and historians don’t really know the extent and borders and character of the tribal groups in question. Their relationship with the Cornovii and Ordovices is uncertain. Books on Roman Britain drop the tribal name in Flintshire, across the whole of coastal North Wales from the Conwy east to Chester, or across the Clwydian range. This reflects our uncertainty and different perceptions of whether the Iron Age tribal territory is preserved in the early medieval kingdom of Tegeingl and later Flintshire, or refers to a broader swathe of landscape. In other words, we can use it for any region ‘accurately’ as far as we know and as much as we want to!;
  3. It allows us to pick a single tribe to forge a new identity for the ethnically and linguistically mixed peoples of north-east Wales: those speaking Welsh, English or Polish or deriving from any other linguistic or cultural background.
  4. Iron Age tribal groupings were fluid, violent and confused entities in any case, and what better model for Welsh councils to adopt?

My solution is that the new council is called: Deceangli County Council.

Archaeologists  know the Deceangli and their predecessors best through the dramatic hillforts and fortified settlements of the Clwydian range such as Moel Arthur and Foel Fenlli. These proud peoples lost their freedom to the tyranny of Rome when the legions conquered Wales by the late AD 70s. Lead pigs were being extracted from their territory by the Romans by AD74. They were never given ‘civitas’ status and thus remained directly under Roman military supervision.

What better name is there to reflect on the beautiful countryside and deep traditions of north-east Wales? The name is not utilised (as far as I know) by any extremists or lunatic fringer groups. It can be seen as nothing other than a positive, inclusive geographical and archaeological term that draws attention to the many peoples and communities of the region past and present. So let’s resurrect their name and honour their memory in our new administrative territories in the 21st century!

From the Great Orme to Holt: bring back the Deceangli!