The modern town of Rhuddlan is situated on a ridge above the east bank of the River Clwyd at the most seaward ford of the river, and where the river has been historically navigable by seagoing vessels. As such, it was a strategic location on the North Wales coast in the Middle Ages. The medieval archaeology of Rhuddlan points to this being the spot chosen by Edward the Elder to build a burh in AD 921, represented by the double banked defences enclosing c. 30 ha. It was called Cledemutha – the mouth of the Clwyd.
The burh’s extent and precise fate remain obscure, but it clearly failed as a significant settlement despite remaining a location of successive significance. It became a Welsh royal seat of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn by the mid-11th century and subsequently the Norman castle, known now as Twt Hill, was constructed by Robert de Rhuddlan in the 1070s, with a borough that might have extended across the earlier burh. Finally, the Edwardian borough was established north of a newly constructed castle in the late 13th century.
I’ve discussed Rhuddlan on this blog before in relation to:
- The castle
- The dragon sculpture on a temporary visit to the castle
- The medieval effigy within the church of St Mary
- Other church monuments
In this post, I want to identify a further example of modern sculpture responding to the medieval past. While I’ve talked about those within and immediately outside castles, as at Cilgerran, and Kidwelly, here we have a sculpture that frames the entire landscape and townscape in relation to medieval origins.
Situated so as to overlook the principal road into the town from the west over the bridge crossing the Clwyd, the three soldiers sit in repose, looking out without faces at all who pass by. The work of Mike Owens, a plaque explains their ‘waiting’ role as guardians over the town. The board also explains the significance of the oak utilised – over 380 years old and from Nannerch.
The result are a trio of sentinels seated within an arch. Together they oversee those entering and leaving the town by whatever mode of transport. In addition, they provoke imaginings of previous comings and goings during and since the Middle Ages.
I think they are mildly sinister, without eyes, without expressions. Yet they are far from threatening. Still, they do evoke the contestation of the bridge and borough in the medieval period, and in that regard this is a valuable artistic addition to the modern landscape, more meaningful than many installations I’ve encountered because of its attention to context, as well as repose and prospect of the three figures.