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Posts Tagged ‘Rhyn Park marching camp’

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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Week Five: Oswestry and the Roman Army

Oswestry’s spectacular Roman marching camp is yet another piece of local heritage we don’t celebrate enough. The excavations in 1977 unearthed the remains of a spectacularly well-preserved Roman military site, with evidence that the camp was used and reused throughout the Roman occupation of Britain. Features such as the ovens built into the early phases of one ditch, and the large wooden gateway – one side of which was blocked off – make the Rhyn Park marching camp both notable and worth making something of. There is some material from the excavation in the Oswestry Town Museum, and the excavation report is available online – but the original excitement of those 1977 excavations has long passed, and Rhyn Park’s archaeological past seems in danger of being forgotten.

There’s no pressing need to do more excavation at the site, so more archaeology perhaps isn’t the answer. But what about more heritage? What about a timber gateway (rather like the one at The Lunt Roman Fort) down at Park Hall? A Rhyn Park reconstruction there would make the connection between Oswestry’s ancient military heritage and its historical military heritage. It could become the focus for a whole range of educational and economic opportunities that would connect Oswestry with the rest of Roman Britain, tapping into the visitors that at the moment bypass Oswestry in favour of Wroxeter or Chester. A Rhyn Park replica could even become the home of a re-enactment Legio Oswestria!

Roman Britain is an important part of our history and archaeology, and it’s a shame that Oswestry doesn’t benefit more from its links with this period. There are few market towns in the country with such a wealth and diversity of heritage monuments and science; it’s one of the things that makes Oswestry unique. Their contribution to the educational, economic and cultural life of the town could be immense – but it’s local interest and enthusiasm that is the catalyst.

What would it take to bring Rhyn Park back into the limelight?


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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