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Adolf, his footmen and Torfaen’s heritage strategy

July 1, 2011

It has been a funny old week you know. Since I last wrote, quite a few things have happened and I am not to sure where to start explaining things.

I fly today, I am off to (hopefully) sunnier climes as I have had a gutsful of the British summer, or should I say the lack of it. I need sunshine, it is a fix, a drug if you like, and in this country I am not getting enough of it to cure and satisfy my needs. I am a sunshine person, I need it as a bolster.

But lets start with death. A person died  a few weeks back – it will probably happen to us all – and the daughter of the deceased gentleman had entered her dads attic to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Rubbish was thrown out, personal stuff was kept, but what could have been of a general interest to the general public was donated to the Museum Trust where I work. There were books, a lot of them. Mainly children’s books from the early 50’s onwards, they held a lot of interest as they were earmarked to enter the handling collection for our current little lot to see and understand how literature was delivered in times past. That’s great stuff but as I stood there witnessing what had been brought in a small plastic bag drew my attention. I took a peek and immediately ran off to find myself a pair of cotton gloves so that I could handle the donation.

It was a leather belt adorned with regimental badges from around the country. I laid it out to take a photograph.

One has to wonder where the badges came from; where they collected in the field, sought after at collectors markets or even exchanged during reunions? Whatever, the belt was duly accessioned into the museums collection for future generations to ponder over.

As I placed the belt back into its bag something else caught my eye. Shiny, small and tight. It was a WWII infantry mans cutlery set. Nobody else had noticed it was there, I was the only one wearing gloves at the time, it was mine to examine first. These things are incredibly tightly packaged. They have to be. Used daily, they have to be hard wearing, practicable and easily accessible.

As I disassembled it something caught my eye, it was part of the engineering process that I had never really thought about before. I am a non-military man, I never felt the need, my Granddad did, although he had no choice (more of that in a later blog). You may notice that the end of the handle of the knife there is a small recess engineered into its construction.

I had not realised that the last thing you need, when at war, was the end of a fork digging into your hip or other parts of your anatomy for that matter. I think it would have been  an unwelcome distraction. It is precision engineering of the highest quality. Then, as I turned the cutlery set over, something else, a surprise, clouted my eye balls.

The stamp of the Third Reich.

You have to hand it to Adolf, for all of the bloody carnage and misery he brought to the world at least he cared for his footmen. Aw bless.

As interesting as it is, enough of that nonsense. When in work I enjoy myself. I do as I am told as quickly and efficiently as possible. Time is money and money matters. I never scowl, get bored or have major issues with the curator, there is just no point. Enjoy your work, enjoy your life. And I do. It works.

I was asked to comment on Torfaens heritage strategy this week. I rather large bundle of historical blurb drawn up by some consultant or another. It made me angry in work so I brought it home. It was riddled with historical mistakes. Actually it was jam packed with historical mistakes and the night before  last I started drawing up a draft to to Torfaens Heritage officer on what was what. I finished it yesterday morning, two thousand words of common sense has been delivered by Electronic Mail.

James Bond is the most brilliant monastic landscape historian. An unfortunate name, perhaps, but nonetheless he knows his onions on that particular subject. In his introduction he mentions something that I can relate to. Mention monastic landscapes to some historians and you can immediately see their interest wane, they almost start to fall asleep in front of your eyes. Not me though, my eyes widen with interest and my brain cell switches to on mode. That is down to Llantarnam Abbey, my study there, and its granges.

I had the pleasure of taking two of my tutors around the grounds of Llantarnam on Monday of this week. I have been worried about the amount of research I have collated over the last two years and what was to be left out of my dissertation. After a four hour tour they have thankfully pointed me in the right direction while giving me focus for my study. The pressure is off. The dissertation will now be delivered on Medieval water management in and around Cwmbran.

That means I will not deliver my research on Llantarnam’s granges, well not all of it anyway. This is what I said about some of them in my E-Mail to the heritage officer.

While we are on the subject of Llantarnam abbey I would like to bring up its granges and their potential importance to tourism. 
Llanderfel is mentioned later on in the report as a SAM but not in the key site list. Yes we know it was a chapel, the detail that is missing is that it was a grange chapel for those working the land – the lay brothers. The grange farm house is still there and the geophysical survey has thrown up the possibility of a large barn next to the chapel. Place name evidence indicates that it was a farm dedicated to the production of oats and that the field where the kiln was situated to dry those oats can be located from old maps. Further, 150 acres of Llanderfel’s land was assarted and the evidence for this can still be viewed within the landscape through existing field boundaries.
Pentre Bach grange is not listed. This is one of the key sites attributed to Llantarnam. It probably has the earliest use of brick in Gwent and demands further investigation. It probably had an earlier use as part of a multiple estate. These were post Roman in date and really pushes Torfaen’s historical record on quite a bit. The evidence for these is rare but Pentre Bach has probably mutated from Pen Tref – Head of the estate. The Llys is nearby (Henllys) with its church and royal seat of power, the Mayors land is named as is the bishops land. This area of history requires quite a lot of research, I am going to offer it to a fellow student of mine for his master degree. We can only hope he takes up the offer.
The Dorallt grange is still sat in the landscape above the public house of the same name. On the subject of the public house, an argument could be constructed to say that is probably located on medieval buildings belonging to the grange. The Dorallt grange was dedicated to sheep rearing and it has the remains of two fulling mills nearby. The fulling mills were for the preparation of the wool prior to spinning, not sale as is commonly thought. The abbey had a lot of sheep.
That was just of the top of my head, I could expand even more across the mynydd.
Now for those that are interested in Monastic landscape that sort of detail would pull them in. I realise that it is not everybody’s cup of tea but there is a whole swathe of people and organised societies dedicated to visiting them across Britain and Europe. Its an area that is ripe to be exploited.

Will they listen? I doubt it.

Right then, I hope you all have a good week, I am off to Corfu and some Greek archaeology. I can assure you, it will be a blast.


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  1. Welshblood permalink

    Thanks you MD, really fascinating stuff!

  2. I’ll try! I wish I had left myself some time for proof reading the damn thing though. It has been edited now.

  3. Brian permalink

    Good stuff.

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