Posts Tagged ‘CADVAS’

Corwen & Oswestry – Week 26 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Heritage binds together places as well as people. Oswestry does not sit in a little historical bubble – it is linked through people and events to places near and far. Corwen, sitting on the other side of the Berwyns, down the River Dee, seems a long way away from Oswestry – and yet, the heritage of the two towns is linked.

I’ve been working with the Corwen & Dee Valley Archaeology Society (CADVAS) as part of the public outreach we’re doing as part of the Oswestry Heritage Comics project. The Society – an active and enthusiastic group – is keen to raise awareness about the heritage of their town, and undertake new archaeological work that could shed further light on its prehistoric and historic past.

Most of us around Oswestry will know Corwen as a town you pass through on your way out of Llangollen if you’re heading towards Bala or Betws-y-Coed. Indeed, Corwen was a well-known stop on Telford’s London-Holyhead road during the eighteenth century, and luminaries such as the artist Turner are known to have stopped in the town – Turner in 1808 to sketch and eventually paint the view across the Dee at Corwen. The Romans, too, may well have passed through Corwen, en route perhaps to Anglesey, where in AD 60 or AD 77. If so, they may well have marched from a temporary staging post at the Rhyn Park camp, just outside Oswestry (excavated by the Oswestry and Borders History and Archaeology Group in 1977, and featured in the Oswestry Heritage Comics earlier this summer). A roman roof tile of the XXth legion – based at what is now Chester – was found in the town in 1977, and the remains of a building uncovered in the centre of town in 1909 were said to be Roman (although this identification is by no means certain, and this is something CADVAS may try and investigate further).

But Corwen’s most dramatic connection with Oswestry comes during the English-Welsh wars of the 1400s. Owain Glyndwr proclaimed himself King of the Welsh in 1400 at Corwen, and gathered his troops together under the ancient fortifications of Caer Drwyn, the iron age hillfort just outside the town. Meanwhile, the English King Henry II gathered his troops together at Oswestry. For the next fourteen years, Oswestry and Corwen sat on opposite sides of a bitter border war. But that border may not always have meant conflict. Back in prehistory, in the iron age, the communities at Corwen and Oswestry built great hillforts. These were centres for festivals and trade, where ideas and crafts were traded, and people made alliances and marriages – linking Corwen and Oswestry together as neighbours, rather than as enemies. In the Christian era, the worship of early saints – St. Oswald in Oswestry, and St. Mael and St. Sulien at the church in Corwen – would have brought pilgrim travellers to both places.

Canals and railways, warfare and roads, invasion and rebellion, tourism and trade, heritage and religion – all these things link Oswestry to Corwen. Corwen is one of those places – like Prees Heath, which has also featured in the comics – whose local history fills in the gaps of the story of Oswestry. It’s a great reminder that the past binds us all together – that sometimes we share more than we realise, and are connected in ways that we might have forgotten.

Intrigued by Corwen’s history and heritage? Want to know more about the anarchist welsh poet, John Cowper Powys, who lived there in the 1930s and ’40s? Or the drovers who travelled through the town? Or it’s workhouse? Or the old 1919 Eisteddfod pavillion – sadly torn down only recently? Or Corwen’s role in bringing Welsh-language rock music to public attention? Then get in touch with CADVAS – they run a full series of guest lecture, talks and presentations on Corwen’s history, archaeology and heritage. They’re always looking for new members and volunteers to participate in their annual archaeological excavations and ongoing research: CADVAS on Facebook.

The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Adverizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Prees Heath Common – Week Nine of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

Over the past month, I have been fortunate enough to get to know the site of Prees Heath Common, just on the outskirts of Whitchurch. It’s a piece of common land whose history and archaeology goes back through its use as a World War II airfield, a World War I internment camp, a Civil War and mediaeval muster ground, all the way back to the Bronze Age. It’s also now a butterfly reserve, and provides some of the last remaining habitat for the Silver Studded Blue butterfly in Shropshire. But, even more importantly, it’s valued by the commoners and the local community as an important part of their local heritage.

But lots of people don’t know the story of Prees Heath Common – a lot of people outside of Whitchurch have never heard of the place. So I was asked to come along and demonstrate in a workshop how comics could be used to help raise awareness of the archaeology, history and ecology of the common. So I came along to see the archaeological test-pits being dug on a new portion of the site by the Prees Heath volunteers, and then a week or so later, ran the workshop.

What was really interesting about the workshop was that, yes, people wanted to talk about the archaeology, history and ecology of the site – but they also wanted to talk about things that weren’t part of the “official” narrative of the site: the social history of the common, the archaeology and the butterfly reserve, as told through individual recollections and biographies. I had not anticipated these oral histories to be quite so rich, quite so detailed, nor quite so diverse.

I did also not anticipate these histories to be quite so “alternative” to the official, mainstream narrative of the common, the reserve or the archaeology. It seemed as if there was a slightly different local perspective on almost every important or significant element of the common’s story – not contradictory, but complementary; not conflicting, but certainly competing. These oral histories definitely brought an extra layer to the site’s narrative, making it more detailed, richer, more diverse – and, as far as the Prees Heath volunteers were concerned – more meaningful.

The volunteers are now using the experience of the workshop to design their own comics about the common – comics which tell the story of their interactions with the land and those who have used and occupied it over the years; comics which tell the story of families, individuals and communities who have called the common “home” for over sixty years; comics which link their present with the archaeology, history and ecology of the site and make them part and parcel of their community heritage. We’ll also be using comics to raise awareness of the site in a more general sense, and these comics will be featured during this year’s Shropshire Wildlife Trust/Meres & Mosses Merefest celebrations this September.

It would be nice to see this model of comics-focused community engagement repeated with other groups during the course of the Oswestry Heritage Comics project – I’ve already done similar workshops with the Corwen and Dee Valley Archaeology Group (CADVAS). I feel like these workshops open the door to a what could be really interesting ways of connecting different kinds of place-based heritage narratives.

The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Adverizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.


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