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Archaeology Cymru – The Vale cottage within an ancient manor

THIS week we take a stroll down to Porthkerry.

Today we find ourselves using Nightingale cottage, Porthkerry as a backdrop image (photograph taken by Richard Enos) to our examination of the location’s history.

Nightingale cottage was very likely original built in the place of a previous structure in the early 1850s.

It was built by the very powerful land owning Romilly family with an estate of some 2,000 acres. It was originally two cottages, for workman maintaining the vast semi-rural estate. It remained in the use of those looking after the estate, even after 1929 when the estate was brought first into the control of Barry Urban District Council. Nightingale cottage remained as a home for those looking after the estate. It is opposite to the ruinous building of Cliffwood cottage, the house of the reputed 1700s witch Ann Jenkins, the mother of William mentioned in last week’s piece.

Deeper into the importance of Nightingale cottage, it sees itself as one of two remaining pre 1900s occupied buildings south of the viaduct that remains in use; the other structure that of ‘Porthkerry House’ (also built by the Romilly family).

The Romilly family were responsible for funding the building of a number of dwellings for workers across the estate, many alas no longer survive. And those buildings that had once been occupied before the Romilly family moved into the area, also no longer survive.

Of unusual note, further we see the Porthkerry valley used extensively to train troops in advance of the D-Day landing of June 6th 1944. It seemed a perfect locality for the allied forces, to safely practice the art of war, as it held similarities to some parts of the Normandy coast line. Very many artificial defences were constructed for the ‘Allied’ army to practice ‘the forthcoming land, air and sea assault on Normandy’. Occasionally you can come across a ditch, chunk of concrete, and even barbed wire, that harp back to this time within living memory. After 1944, the valley was quiet again, and more familiar to the pristine landscape it is held as today.

It is important to note that the countryside was occupied by many more people before the early 1900s than it is today, there are so many buildings out there that remain to be rediscovered.

As society changes, the chance of living within the rural landscape is becoming more and more attractive, ‘history repeating itself’.

Karl-James Langford FSAScot, MLitt

Archaeologist

Archaeology Cymru

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