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© Copyright ~ 2022

Amongst the trees of Coed Moel-dda are the curious remains of what is thought to be an Iron Age enclosure. Its original purpose is something of a mystery, but it was, as likely as not, originally raised to contain livestock.

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Amongst the trees of Coed Moel-dda is the curious enclosure known as Bwrdd y Rhyfel - War Table, its origins unknown.

It will not come as a surprise to discover that our earliest written record of the site comes from Edward Lhuyd’s Parochialia, written at the end of the 17th century, in which a correspondent of the learned man, thought to be one Josiah Babington, writes,

 

‘Camden is not now at hand; but, as I remember, Clawdd Offa is there suppos’d to end in the sea near Holliwell: but there are several remains of a like work n & about Tegangle mountain, which severall old Inhabitants say they ever heard call’d by the name of Clawdd Offa. In one place it runs by an old Camp.’

 

The camp that Babington is referring to, is thought to be the enclosure we know today as Bwrdd y Rhyfel, its close proximity to what was once thought to be Offa’s Dyke, now possibly Whitford Dyke, bisected by the much later Holywell racecourse the deciding factor, along with its location on Tegangle mountain. Nothing else is said of the place, no reference to its past or its original purpose. In fact, Babington’s description of it simply as a camp, suggests a vagueness that has lingered about the site ever since.

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The rampart is still clear enough amongst the scrub and trees

Thomas Pennant, writing in 1796, a native to Flintshire, a near neighbour to the camp, gives us a little more.

 

‘On the slope of the west part of the race-ground is an entrenchment of a circular form, about a hundred and sixty-three feet in diameter, surrounded with a low bank, and on the outside of that with a ditch; in one part very shallow, in the other more deep. The circle could not have been designed as a fort, or a place of retreat from an enemy. Its entrenchment is weak, and it might easily be commanded from above by rising-ground. Possibly it might have been for some religious purpose, or for a place of council, or for haranguing the people, who might assemble round the outside, and readily hear what was delivered to them.’

Thomas Pennant, ‘The History of the Parishes of Whitewell and Holywell’ (1796)

 

Pennant’s physical description of the camp is spot on, as is his belief that the camp was not a fortification. There is nothing about the site which suggests that it would have made any serious stand against a determined foe, and as Pennant makes clear, it is overlooked by higher ground to the east and north east. His speculation as to its purpose is just that. There is no evidence that it had a religious purpose, as exciting as this would be, or that it was a place for council or announcements. But then again, there isn’t actually much evidence for anything here, and Pennant can be absolutely forgiven for a punt in the dark.

 

Samuel Lewis, writing in 1834, in his Topographical Dictionary, assumes the camp is Roman, for which there is no reasonable evidence, and can be safely dismissed. But it does rather show just how little we know of the site, how little has come down to us.

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At some point between Lewis and the publication of the OS 6 inch map of 1878 (surveyed 1870-71), the site gained its current name, Bwrdd y Rhyfel, rendering into English as ‘War Table’ - a terribly exciting name, but one which would seem to be fairly modern and have its basis in little but speculation. Babington, Pennant and Lewis describe it only as a camp, and so it would seem to be a name of fairly modern providence.

 

The Royal Commission name it as Bwrdd y Rhyfel in 1910, though they take issue with the name, since they suggested that,

 

‘The interior is by no means flat, so that the word, ‘bwrdd,’ ‘a table,’ inaccurately describes it.’

The Royal Commission, ‘An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Flintshire’ (1912)

 

While the Royal Commission's forehead frowning umbrage might seem a little pedantic, it does rather suggest that the name had its origins in the community of the mid 19th century, rather than anything more distant past. But the Commission's description of the site of 1910, could well pass for a description of the place in 2022.

 

‘A roughly oval area in Coed moel dda, protected by two banks of earth and stones, with an intervening ditch which becomes shallow towards the east. The only entrance is on the south-west. At the entrance to the enclosure the top of the inner bank upon the right is about 4 feet from the ditch bottom, and the outer bank from 5 to 6 feet above the same. On the left the outer bank is conspicuous. Walking northwards, as the whole enclosure is situated on a slope the inner bank rises from 5 to 6 feet above the level area outside the entrance, and the height of the bank also increases to 6 feet from the ditch bottom. The area thus enclosed is about three-quarters of an acre; it is covered with wood.’

The Royal Commission, ‘An Inventory of the Ancient Monuments, Flintshire’ (1912)

 

By the time of Ellis Davies’ last visit in 1941, discussed in Prehistoric and Roman Remains of Flintshire (1949), everything had become a little more worn, a little more smoothed, though many of the trees that grew in the enclosure had been cut down. The Clwyd Archaeology Service visited in 1979, its assessment largely agreeing with that of Pennant and Davies in asserting that the camp was not built as a fortification, its position making an effective defence unlikely. Interestingly, the 1979 report describes the outer bank in the north east corner as missing - a mystery. There is also the suggestion that other earthworks within have been noted, although further information is lacking.

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In all the work and study of the last 300 years, no one seems to have been particularly eager to suggest an age for the site. And quite right too. At best, I think we can narrow it down as being pre-Roman, and thus into the realms of the Iron Age - late Bronze Age at its most ancient. As for its original purpose, a carefully weighted suggestion would be that it was built as an enclosure for livestock, but again we just cannot be certain. And that, as has been said before, is really quite wonderful.