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Tomen y Rhodwydd and Tomen y Faerdre

The Castles of Iâl.

Iain Grant, 15 January 2020.

Senior Archaeologist, Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust.

There are four medieval 'castle' sites in the former Cwmwd (Commote) of Iâl - Rhodwydd and Faerdre in the locality of Ruthin, Erddig and Marford further afield.

In 2014-4  the North East Wales Archaeology Project was established, with the aim of combining serious study with community and student involvement.

The chosen focus were the two motte and bailey sites at Tomen y Rhodwydd, near Llandegla, and Tomen y Faerdre in Llanarmon yn Iâl .

There is sketchy  documentary evidence on both sites, some of which is ambiguous. One is known to have been founded by Owain ap Gruffydd ap Cynan in 1149 as part of the incursion of the Princes of Gwynedd into the lands of Powys. One was  besieged and burned or destroyed in 1157 by the brother of the Prince of Powys as part of Henry II's campaign to control this expansion -   the same year as the Battle of Ewloe. Building materials for one are referred to in the 1212 Pipe Rolls - but in each case which of the two fortifications is intended is unknown.

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Tomen y Rhodwydd.

This is not associated with any township but appears to have had a purely military function, guarding the approach to the upper Vale of Clwyd from the East. It was a classic Motte and Bailey, revealed by vegetation clearance as part of the aforementioned project. It occupies grazing land on a private farm.

One part of the earthwork which could be mistaken for the entrance is not the original, but probably a fifteenth-century safe access for cattle as the site was then a cattle compound. Some back-filling of ditches may have occurred for the same reason.

The Geophysical surveys in the project have revealed several post-holes on the Motte, 1.5 metres in diameter, suggesting a strongly-built keep. There are also signs of a substantial bridge having been constructed from the Bailey to the Keep. Future trench excavation at the foot of the motte on the bailey side might reveal more.

It is probable that a route through Nant y Garth did not exist at that time, and a hedgerow line might indicate the route of a former track.

Few artefacts have been found - so far - at the site.

Some enhancement of the site - fences, hedgerows and access - has been carried out under the AONB designation.

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Tomen y Faerdre

Sited adjacent to the Afon Alyn, the keep here would have commanded extensive views along the four valleys which join here.

Similar site clearance has revealed a clear view of the Motte from the road into Llanarmon. There is no surface evidence of a Bailey but it is possible that the adjacent level field might have been the Bailey, and is to be investigated.

Aerial views of the village reveal a square 'compound' which might relate to the ancient pre-Norman Maerdref, and the site of the motte could be much older than that at Tomen y Rhodwy. Because of the possible association with the Maerdref, it is conjectured that the keep might have served as a residence for the Gwynedd nobility, as the surface area of the mound is four times greater than that of Rhodwydd.

As the project continues it will hopefully reveal enough information to provide more definitive conclusions about these two historic sites.

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