Aberdulais Tinworks and Waterfall Post-excavation project

What is Aberdulais TInworks and Waterfall?

Aberdulais Tinworks and Waterfall – An Industrial revolution, powered by water since 1584.

In the early 1580’s Queen Elizabeth forged an Anglo German Partnership to foster the Copper Industry. This process, which would help to re-shape the world started at Aberdulais “Far from the prying eyes of its competitors.” Just as water continues to cascade through the centuries industry continued through time and Aberdulais established its place as an industrial centre.

1631 Fulling and Tucking Mill

1667 Iron Forge

1765 Corn Mill (JWM Turner painted the Corn Mill in 1796.)

1837 Tinplate Works

As Britain’s oldest surviving example of a pre-mechanisation tinplate works Aberdulais is protected as a Scheduled Ancient Monument, able to tell its story alongside that of modern day industry which continues to harness the power of water in the National Trust’s first Hydro-electricity scheme.

What is happening today?

Work has begun today at Aberdulais Tinworks and Waterfall to unpick the archaeological history of the site. Following a pilot project last summer, and as a result of the continued efforts by Aberdulais’ regular conservation volunteer team, we have been able to begin at last the assessment and scoping stage of the Aberdulais Post-excavation project!

Over the next three weeks Dutch archaeology graduate Tim, will be working alongside our archaeologist to get to grips with the finer detail of the sites stratigraphy. Claudine and Tim have begun working today to produce a  Harris Matrix…in theory this matrix should help us understand the order in which the different bits of the site were developed. For example the matrix should help us answer questions like; was this building constructed before the one next to it, and what was going on inside both of them?

First draft...

First draft…


How did we get to here?

A programme of conservation was begun in August 1982 in conjunction with the Manpower Services Commission. The archaeological brief was to document the surface and underground features and structures, and to draw up conservation specifications. It was not intended to gain maximum archaeological information, as excavation was not undertaken where it would have destroyed an existing ground feature.

Since then the site has undergone numerous programmes of excavation and consolidation work, as a result a substantial archive was amassed. An interim report on this work was published in 1986 in the Industrial Archaeological Review journal however no final report on the completed work was published. The National Trust recognise the need to carryout urgent work to;

  • Analyse existing and accessible records to understand the history of archaeological and conservation work on the site.

  • Review their cataloguing with a view to making further recommendations for an integrated cataloguing system to achieve national data standards for the management of the archive and collection.

  • Develop proposals for further documentary research as necessary.

  • Consider the internal environment in terms of the curation and conservation of the collections.

By it’s nature the archaeological and conservation/consolidation work previously undertaken on site has been a destructive process, and the archival records relating to this work represent the only record of the the site prior to any change. As such the loss of this material would result in a complete loss of knowledge and understanding regarding the form, function and development of the tin industry at Aberdulais, which is its essential to it’s worth as a visitor attraction.

Hopefully work over the next few weeks will lead to some interesting discoveries, and help us enrich our understanding of this complex and mysterious site. Fingers crossed!

The drafting continues...

The drafting continues…

Stackpole, designed landscapes, field boundaries and Iron Age Camps.

Alex and Greig take a walk around the lakes

Alex and Greig take a walk around the lakes

Last week I took a trip out to Stackpole with my colleague Greig Parker. Grieg is another archaeologist who has been on a brief secondment with us at the National Trust in South Wales as part of his IfA funded role at the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust.

Stackpole is both a listed designed landscape and an internationally important nature reserve. There are hundreds of archaeological sites littered across the Stackpole estate, ranging from prehistoric standing stones to an 18th century designed landscape. Footpaths radiate from the site of Stackpole Court, a grand mansion demolished before the National Trust owned this area. Exotic plantings in Lodge Park give way to mixed woodland further upstream.

Bosherston Lakes were created 200 years ago to provide a backdrop to Stackpole Court, the lakes would once have been connected to sea and would have linked Fishponds Iron Age Camp to a busy sea trading network. The lakes have evolved into a wildlife habitat famous for its otters, water birds and dragonflies.

Greig and I went to visit Stackpole to meet with one of the properties Rangers, Alex Shilling. Alex wanted to share his ideas for work to enhance the specimen tree planting along the lakeside and to show us some unidentified archaeological features in Kingsmill Wood. We also got the opportunity to go up to Fishponds Iron Age Camp to see the work the team have been doing to manage the vegetation on the earthworks there.

We thought Alex’s plans were great, and after a bit of investigation came to the conclusion that the unidentified archaeological features in Kingsmill Wood were in fact historic field boundaries. And I was really pleased to see some of the earthwork remains of Fishponds Iron Age Camp being visible in landscape again.

A great days work and wonderful place to visit!

Alex and Greig at Fishponds Iron Age Camp looking at the banks and ditches which are being revealed.

Alex and Greig at Fishponds Iron Age Camp looking at the banks and ditches which are being revealed.

A walk across the lake.

A walk across the lake.

Return of the Princes

Earlier this week I attended the official launch of the Princes of Gwynedd project, hosted by the National Trust at Craflwyn Hall near Dinas Emrys. As promised in the post of September 5th, here is where you can find out more about the wider project.


Meanwhile new footpath work is now completed for visits to Dinas Emrys, and the interpretation hub is being created. The arrival of this interpretive sculpture by Andrew Frost caused huge excitement.

New sculpture for the Princes of Gwynedd Dinas Emrys interpretation hub.

New sculpture for the Princes of Gwynedd Dinas Emrys interpretation hub by Andrew Frost.

Andrew is now completing the sculpture in situ. In this view a dragon is starting to emerge and over to the right is a representation of an amphora (Biv form), a two handled storage jar of fifth or sixth century AD date. Fragments of these were found during excavations on Dinas Emrys in the 1950’s. This suggests that either oil or wine was being brought to Nantgwynant from the eastern Mediterranean in the early medieval period.



Archaeological Volunteering – Not Just Getting Dirty

Volunteer Steve Gilligan working on the Sites and Monuments Record

Volunteer Steve Gilligan working on the
Sites and Monuments Record

To help us manage our archaeological sites we maintain a Sites and Monuments Record. This is a database containing basic information about the location, type, status and, most importantly, the condition of the monuments in our care. Keeping it up to date is a painstaking task. I am fortunate enough to have a willing volunteer to help. With past experience in both archaeology and computing Steve has, with a little help, become proficient in working the database and is ploughing his way through the backlog of information to be added. Every now and then he also helps out by going out onto the hills to carry out a field check of monuments where we are missing information.

 More on volunteering for the National Trust can be found at: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/get-involved/volunteer/

Walking and Talking in the Rain

I spend a couple of damp hours last week contributing to an audio guide being put together for Dinas Emrys and the Nantgwynant Valley as part of the Princes of Gwynedd Project (see post on the 5th September). Once completed this will be available to download on your mobile devices to accompany a walk to the site or just listen to at home. The guide will tell the story of Vortigern and Ambrosius (Merlin) associated with Dinas Emrys, explain the archaeological features to be seen on site and in the wider landscape as well as giving details along the route.

I can’t wait to hear the result. I am new to this sort of thing and was particularly amused by the need to record the sound of the rain drops falling.

Joking aside, there might be concerns that increased awareness of this special place might lead to damage to the archaeological site. I will be taking care to monitor additional foot fall, erosion to footpaths and to archaeological features, and taking action as appropriate.

It was too wet for photographs!

Volunteers lead on survey work at Aberdulais

This week at Aberdulais Tinworks and Waterfall a group of regular volunteers have put their professional skills to good use. Experienced surveyor Simon Booth, archaeologist Steve Sell and volunteer Keith Davies have teamed up to conduct a resurvey of the tinworks.

The team set up a baseline to work from and are using a remotely operated total station to create an up-to-date digital plan of the site, which will be tied in to ordnance survey. The survey will take a couple of weeks, not because of the challenging conditions on site although these are not insignificant, but because we are only borrowing the equipment and are carrying out the work on a part time basis. We are lucky enough to have been loaned the total station by John Vincent Surveys Ltd, where Simon has recently semi retired from.

The survey will result in the production of a full site plan, which we intend to use to help us get to grips with the interpretation and phasing of the site. We are hoping that we can use this plan to help us work out what’s next for the archaeology of Aberdulais and to understand the archaeology we already have!

Simon, Keith and Steve in action.

Simon, Keith and Steve in action.

Simon and Steve surveying on site.

Simon and Steve surveying on site.

Sara Brown and Susan Sandford – Conservation Interns at Aberdulais

Sara noting the condition of metal objects on display.

Sara noting the condition of metal objects on display.

We are conservation interns working with the National Trust at Aberdulais Tinworks and Waterfall and we have been working since May 2013 to accession and preserve the archaeological finds from the site. The internship was highlighted to us by our lecturer at Cardiff University where we are studying for a BSc in Conservation of Objects in Museums and Archaeology.

On a typical day with the National Trust you can find us filling out condition reports, accessioning, labelling and implementing long term storage solutions for the archaeological collection. To date we have condition checked 122 small iron finds from around the site and there are many more to go. The collection also consists of Tin, Bronze, Leather and assorted building materials that are part of the history of the site.

By the time the project is complete we are hoping to have provided a stable environment for the finds to extend their life; and thus ensure the future of the collection for generations to come.

We would like to thank the National Trust and the team at Aberdulais for the opportunity to work with this varied and challenging collection.


Susie assessing condition of metal objects

Susie assessing condition of metal objects.