The final piece of the puzzle has come together and both Welsh and English versions of the comic heritage trail for Wrexham are available for download!
The Welsh version:
The English version:
What’s Wat’s Dyke?
You may have heard of Offa’s Dyke and Hadrian’s Wall, but have you heard of Wat’s Dyke?
Wat’s Dyke holds clues to understanding the origins of both England and Wales! How, why, when and where was it built, and by whom? Where has it been destroyed and damaged, and where does it survive to be seen today?
Running for 62-64km from south of Maesbury in Shropshire to the Dee Estuary at Basingwerk in Flintshire, Wat’s Dyke is a monumental bank and ditch which was originally a formidable barrier, perhaps topped by a palisade and augmented by gateways, watch towers and beacons. Excavations of the monument have produced different scientific dates for its construction, but it is most certainly early medieval in date (5th-11th centuries AD) and most likely dates to the middle Anglo-Saxon period (late 7th-early 9th centuries AD). It is likely, therefore, that Wat’s Dyke was part of a complex frontier zone constructed by the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia to dominate its western approaches in military, political and ideological terms as well as potentially served to protect and control economic resources.
Yet Britain’s third-longest ancient monument has often been ignored and neglected. Wat’s Dyke may be far shorter than its longer neighbour Offa’s Dyke, also a frontier work built by the Mercian kingdom. Likewise, it is shorter and less understood than the Roman frontier of Hadrian’s Wall. Yet it is of similar length to the Roman-period Antonine Wall, it has a long-distance walking trail and it runs through the beautiful countryside of Flintshire, Wrexham and Shropshire, as well as through and near many modern villages and towns including Holywell, Soughton, Mynydd Isa, Hope, Ruabon, Gobowen and Oswestry.
Under the auspices of the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory, archaeological illustrator John Swogger and I are pleased to have launched the What’s Wat’s Dyke? Wrexham Comic Heritage Trail to bring this ancient monument to the attention of local people and visitors alike. This is a digital comic for folks of all ages and backgrounds comprising a location map and 10 panels supported by explanatory text. Together they tell the story of Wat’s Dyke from its construction to the present day using locations in the environs of North Wales’ largest town – Wrexham.
The comic shows where you can visit surviving stretches of this enigmatic linear earthwork in very different situations – in fields, parkland, housing estates, beside a railway station and even in a cemetery! It takes you back to the time to when Wat’s Dyke was built and shows how it may have looked and how it could have been used. We also show how Wat’s Dyke was incorporated into a Norman Castle in the late 11th/early 12th centuries, how it was destroyed in sections during the reaction of Erddig Hall and Gardens and where it was incorporated into a Victorian cemetery. The comic also shows Wat’s Dyke today in Wrexham town, in suburbs and incorporated into field boundaries. It explains what we know about Wat’s Dyke but also what we still don’t know!
John Swogger is an accomplished archaeologist and illustrator and we worked together on the design of each image, the map and the text. Indeed, we published a rationale and context for the comic in the recent open-access book Public Archaeologies of Frontiers and Borderlands.
Despite being delayed by the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are delighted it is now available. John and I launched the comic heritage trail on launched Monday 19 July 2021 as part of the CBA’s Festival of Archaeology: watch the video!
What’s Wat’s Dyke? Wrexham Comic Heritage Trail is now published on the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory website, where you can navigate between panels via the map or simply browse. You can also find Welsh and English versions of the comic for download as a pdf (see above).
Recently, we have also uploaded a copy of the comic to the open-access academic journal edited by myself and University of Chester doctoral researcher Liam Delaney: the Offa’s Dyke Journal volume 3. This is accompanied by a detailed review and reflection on the practice and process of creating the comic.
Finally, received funding to print out 400 copies and already over half of these have been shared with local history groups and the general public.
So, having published two academic pieces exploring the comic and made it available in two languages online and downloadable as well as in an academic journal, what next?
Once the pandemic is over, we hope to share the comic at local heritage sites and museums, as well as a range of events, to promote the story of a monument whose story has rarely been told.
The project has been generously funded by the University of Chester and the Offa’s Dyke Association and it is part of my ongoing commitment to the Offa’s Dyke Collaboratory: a research network exploring the linear monuments of the Anglo-Welsh borderlands.
Finally, we are very grateful to Dave Andrews for his Welsh translation of the comic!