Micro Residency, Artist Researcher, Archaeology Team, Erddig House & Gardens, Nr. Wrexham, Wales

Erddig House, West Front © Denise Startin

I have returned from the Yale Hostel at Erddig (which dates back to the 17th Century) where I  completed a 6 week Micro Residency as Artist Researcher (Interpretation) for the Archaeology Team. I will be posting the results of my time spent at Erddig and extrapolating links between art and archaeology in a series of blogs. I am currently processing the research of which there is a significant amount relating to A] Deep Mapping: Stories in the Landscape, B] The Map & The Territory, C] Documenting the Process and D] Visualising and Representing the Data. This process meant conducting research on and off site utilising the Erddig collection online, the collection in the house itself, field research in the landscape and the Erddig Archives in nearby Flintshire. In the meantime here is a brief overview of the landscape at Erddig, its archaeological monuments and the Archaeological Historic Landscape Survey.

The Landscape
The grounds at Erddig (pronounced Erthig) contain numerous features of Archaeological significance dating back to Early Medieval (5th-10thC) & Medieval times (up to 15thC). The earliest recorded man-made feature within the parkland is Wat’s Dyke which is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. It is currently dated circa 8th Century, although several articles I have consulted cannot seem to corroborate this. Wat’s Dyke is a linear earthwork consisting of a bank & ditch designed to erect a boundary around the land for the purpose of enclosure and defence. It is likely that natural features of the landscape were incorporated into the design of the Dyke allowing a high bank with a ditch to run along the length of a territorial boundary between Wales & England. Wat’s Dyke, approx. 64 kilometres in length, runs through the Erddig estate and along the remaining site of a Motte & Bailey Castle (circa 12th Century). The Motte & Bailey (also a Scheduled Ancient Monument) overlooks the Dyke to the north of Erddig House. The Motte, which is a raised earthwork would have consisted of a strategically placed wooden building perhaps 2 storeys high and the associated Bailey, on a different site nearby, would have served an administrative function i.e stables, outbuildings, forges etc.

Also of Archaeological significance are the Cup and Saucer Waterfall, by landscape  designer William Emes (1774). This cylindrical manmade vertical waterfall and Grade II* Listed Structure is the inflow to John Blake’s patented (1890) Hydraulic Ram Pump nearby (also a Grade II listed structure) which pumps water up to the house and gardens. Other key archaeological features include the Ridge & Furrow (signs of past agricultural use in the parkland) The Kings Mill & Mills Leats (water-mills with their “associated wiers and sluices 18th Century”) [1]. The Designed Parkland (or Pleasure Gardens), at Erddig is a Cadw “Grade I listed Parkland of international importance”. This means that the Erddig landscape is highly significant historically as well as archaeologically, Cadw state there are only approximately 10% of these sites with a Grade I listing*. The Designed Garden, is one of the finest examples (albeit an accurately and carefully reconstructed interpretation of the original design) of a formal 18th Century garden in the ‘Dutch’ style with later Victorian additions. The Archaeological Survey also includes features that have been lost from the designed landscape such as the The Dairy or China House and smaller outbuildings which were demolished due to their state of disrepair. [1]

Archaeology without Walls
The purpose of the Archaeological Historic Landscape Survey is to monitor the condition of the monuments at Erddig, documenting them and any additional elements in the landscape that are of archaeological significance. This is conducted through practical fieldwork, which equates to spending a considerable amount of time in the landscape and covering extensive distances on foot taking photographic documentation, measurements (with a 1m archaeological ranging pole) note-taking and drawing. Archaeological terminology generally provides a brief, literal description of a monument i.e Cistern in Cistern Wood, Bank in Big Wood, Curving Ditch in Big Wood. The information gathered is used to assess the condition of the monuments and any issues that have arisen over time i.e. subsidence, erosion, the intrusion of vegetation & undergrowth or if they are being affected by the weather or human traffic and in some cases misuse i.e graffiti on ancient trees & statues, littering and the setting of fires. Whilst I was there for instance we experienced high winds which bought a large tree down along with a substantial amount of earth to the right of the Motte. An unexplained and sizeable subsidence has also presented itself on the associated Bailey, described in Archaeological terms as ‘Depression on the Bailey’. Any of these issues can considerably affect the preservation of these Ancient Monuments and this also includes the design of the Parkland itself. The Designed Landscape or Pleasure Grounds, which incorporated the site of the Motte & Bailey, into its design has over time overwhelmed the site of the Motte which is now covered in foliage and trees. Initially this point would have provided an uninterrupted panoramic view of the border and the surrounding landscape.

The result of this archaeological fieldwork means that recommendations can be made regarding the best practice, management and maintenance of archaeological features in the landscape to ensure their longevity i.e the monitoring, cutting back or removal of intrusive vegetation or other impediments. All of this information, including monument typology, location and condition is then collated and uploaded onto the Historical Buildings Sites and Monuments Record which is essentially a digital database of the archaeological monuments in the historic parkland. The HBSMR features various topographic and aerial views of the landscape covering the entire site however they are generally cartographic in nature. Each monument has an associated database entry documenting the results of the survey that can also be appended with images. To give some context to the scope of the process of the survey at Erddig there are approximately 170 recorded Archaeological Monuments (mostly features of the extant landscape i.e bank, ditch, earthworks, ridge & furrow and scarp) at present on the HBSMR in this area.

This opportunity was generously facilitated by Kathryn Laws, Archaeologist at Ymddiriedolaeth Genedlaethol/ National Trust, Betws y Coed, Conwy.

1] Landscape summary & details extracted from A Brief History of the Landscape by Kathy Laws, Archaeologist at the National Trust
*Statistics from http://cadw.wales.gov.uk/historicenvironment/protection/historiclandscapes/histparkgrdns/?lang=en  (Cadw are the Welsh equivalent of English Heritage)
2] The Chronicles of Erthig on the Dyke Vol.1, Albinia Lucy Cust, London: John Lane, The Bodley Head, 1914:pp.37