Rhuddlan was a multi-phased strategic location on the North Wales coast, home to a succession of elite military sites. Walking around the town today, at least traces of these are visible.
The earliest known about phase is a Saxon burh of Edward the Elder established in AD 921 – Cledemutha. The archaeologcial correlate for this structure are some buildings of possibly 10th/11th-century date found in excavations ahead of the development of the primary school in the town. In terms of surviving traces, there is the ‘Town Ditch’. This double-banked monument runs to the east and south of the later Norman and Edwardian castle sites. It is thought to be equivalent to 9th/10th-century burhs reusing Iron Age and Roman fortification or else establishing new defensive lines, known from elsewhere across southern and central England. The most famous examples of the latter type including Cricklade, Wallingford and Wareham. These were instruments of defense but also of conquest.
For the first time I walked around significant stretches of the ‘town ditch’; and while it remains inconclusively dated, this may well constitute an Anglo-Saxon burh enclosing c. 35 ha. Difficult to photograph in heavy woodland, it may have once been an impressive defensive structure to protect garrisoned armies on campaign as well as a settlement that ultimately failed to develop into a town. There is a useful sign with a map showing how it relates to the other features of the later town, and an aerial photograph and Buck brothers print showing the ruins of the 13th-century Dominican friary established within its bounds.
Last summer I joined the Cambrian Archaeological Association in a walk around Rhuddlan and I talked about Twthill – (a place-name derving of the OE ‘toothill’ – lookout hill). Returning recently, I explored this monument without the ‘clutter’ of a group in it way. Utilising the steep bank of a spur projecting towards the River Clwyd as part of its defenses, making it especially defensible and impressive from the west and south, this is the 11th-century Norman castle of Robert of Rhuddlan. The line of the bailey was to the north, although it is difficult to fully appreciate its line from the earthworks remaining. It was thought to succeed an earlier llys site of which there is no archaeological trace.
I was intrigued to see that, ahead of the new tourist season, a new signboard has been raised to explain this striking monument. The text makes sense, but it uses a old illustration which I’ve also used in lectures. This is dramatic and impressive, showing the twin structures of a ‘motte’ and ‘bailey’, but does give a somewhat distorted impression of the scale of the monument I feel. Again, the lack of a location map/plan makes it difficult for the visitor to navigate between the artist’s reconstruction and what one can see on the ground…
Having previously discussed Rhuddlan from various dimensions, focusing on its Edwardian castle, church monuments, including a medieval episcopal monument, plus its modern sculptures of ‘knights’ and the peripetetic dragon, it is important to consider it as an urban Welsh case study in how a multi-phase site has also accrued multiple-phases of heritage interpretation. As elsewhere, I find the older signboards are more effective than newer ones!