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History: Exploring earthworks in Porthkerry

Each week we visit so many Victorian and early 1900s sites in Barry and District.

“But, what about medieval buildings that are still standing, Mr. Karl-James Langford?” Well, there are a few churches in the Barry and District and a few domestic buildings, but what about early sites? Roman? Or even earlier? This week we visit the earthworks at Porthkerry.

Porthkerry sees a rich history, underneath woodlands and sods of earth, or more visible such as The Bulwarks. The Bulwarks is what’s referred to as an Iron Age hill-fort, or as I am an archaeologist I may call it a ‘bank and ditched enclosure’.

This is exactly what you find at The Bulwarks: a number of banks and ditches. This arrangement of earthworks is east of Porthkerry church, overlooking the Cwm of Porthkerry Park. Accessible from the park or Porthkerry caravan park.

I first became fascinated with The Bulwarks at a very young age, playing among the banks and ditches of such an amazing prehistoric site was electrifying – a link with our past. The Bulwarks is dominated in among the banks and ditches with many old Yew trees. The area in between the banks and ditches is now dominated by a fairly flat in places grassy green, but this wasn’t always the case.

The Bulwarks once housed a number of storage buildings for grain, and housed cattle and sheep for the winter months. There would have been a few roundhouses for habitation; which can still be traced as round circles in the grass in the summer months, for those that looked after the grain and supplies of a community, that lived within the district around The Bulwarks on farmsteads; and we have found some of them. The area enclosed by the banks and ditches is around 10 acres, and this represents two thirds of the original area of the site; as up to 5 acres have been left to sea erosion on the South side.

The image this week shows the overgrown remains of the ‘V’ shaped ditches. The reason for building the ditches was to protect the grain and vulnerable young animals from being attacked by foxes, wolves and bears, and not really against attack from other people.

On the western side of the bank and ditched enclosure at Porthkerry there are three sets of ditches and accompanying banks. The remains are still very impressive after over 2,000 years. It is likely there would have been stakes on the tops of the banks, but alas these have rotted away and are no longer present. The western side is where the entrance was, as it leads to fairly flat farmland. For on the eastern side the landscape undulates sharply to the Porthkerry cwm below; the site of an ancient harbour.

Alas, after the Roman era began, The Bulwarks, was abandoned for a short time some time in around 70 ce, with new agricultural practices being adopted by the local population. However, the once 15 acre platform within the banks and ditches, was big enough for a small family to farm, and evidently artefacts have been dated at the site from the 100’s ce, providing the site being occupied.

But, some time before the Normans brutally invaded South Wales, The Bulwarks was finally abandoned.

If you visit this wonderful prehistoric site within our Barry and District, you find part of it occupied by light for the airport. More from our beautiful community next week.

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