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The Pool Park Ogham Stone

Sometime in the early 19th century, possibly around 1810, workmen in the employ of William Bagot, the 2nd Baron Bagot of Pool Park House, removed one of perhaps three standing stones from the mysterious ring cairn of Bedd Emlyn, the remains of which are now hidden away in the Clocaenog Forest. Such acts were thought to be fraught with danger - apt to bring misfortune, fearful dreams and despair. And it would seem the removal of what became known as the Pool Park Ogham Stone, an ancient inscribed pillar, was not without its difficulties. It is said that it took three separate attempts to remove the inscribed stone, before the workmen were able to successfully cart it to Pool Park House.

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The Pool Park Ogham Stone - a replica of the original, installed, probably, by Clarke's of Llandaff in 1936.

The early history of the stone and Bedd Emlyn are thus entwined. The site and the stone were said to have been the site of a terrible ancient battle, in which ‘strangers’ invading the lands about Ruthin were finally brought to ground and slaughtered. The stone was raised by the victorious ‘natives’ as a memorial. Despite the name of the site being now popularly known as Bedd Emlyn, it may well be the case that this is a corruption of an earlier name, perhaps Maen y Beddau, or Bryn Beddau - both of which would make more sense, given its legendary reputation.

 

The fame of the Pool Park Ogham Stone is largely due to the inscription it carries, and the astonishing shadow of ogham upon its flanks. In a letter dated to Oct 1693, Edward Lhuyd gives us our first certain written record of the stone, in which he discusses the latin inscription, and states,

 

‘As for ye stroaks on ye edges I met with them on other tombstones, and I make not ye least question but this also is a tombstone.’

E. Lhuyd, Letters of E. Lhwyd, Archaeologia Cambrensis, (1848), p. 310

Here then we have an extremely rare example of an ogham stone - rarer still for being sited in North East Wales. Ogham stones are virtually unheard of in north Wales, numbering perhaps five in total, and the Pool Park example is the only one in north east Wales. The early Latin inscription has been a matter of debate, and subject to a fairly heated exchange within the pages of Archaeologia Cambrensis in the second half of the 19th century between the eminent historians John Rhys and Westwood. Their debate has led to us today enjoying a consensus of its form and meaning. It would seem to come down to the matter of the first character of the upper word, which for a flaw in the stone caused much confusion. Suffice to say, that as things stand, the Latin inscription reads,

 

SIMILINUS

TOVISACUS

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The Latin insciption - a matter of heated debate at the end of the 19th century.

A rendering into Welsh suggests Similinus was a prince - but of who and where is entirely unknown. A suggestion that the stone commemorates a leader of the Deisi, expelled from Ireland in the early medieval would seem on the face of things to be somewhat far-fetched, despite the ogham markings, if only for the fact that the Deisi, shrouded in a dense obscurity of myth, are largely thought to have been identified with south west Wales - mirroring their activities in the south of Ireland.

Strangely, the ogham seems to have been missed in subsequent viewings, until recognised once again sometime around 1873. Why this would be the case, is unclear. Though weathered and worn as it must have been, the ogham is still visible on both the replica, which currently stands on the knoll before the derelict remains of Pool Park House, and the original, now in the National Museum in Cardiff. It may be a case that the Latin translation caused a peripheral blindness, it may be the case that the argument as to the translation of the Latin inscription hid the ogham from the view of academics and antiquarians. It could of course be that ogham is so rare in these parts that it was dismissed out of hand. Still, it does seem odd, to say the least.

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Fisher's translation of the ogham script, Archaeologia Cambrensis (1921)

The ogham is thought to translate exactly as the Latin script, referencing the mysterious prince, Similinus. Somewhere in our past, Similinus lived and breathed and was regarded highly enough to be remembered by his contemporaries in Latin and ogham - but forgotten now in all but in an inscribed stone. Does it seem strange to you, to think that he is out there somewhere - perhaps beneath the bracken of Bedd Emlyn, perhaps somewhere else beneath the soil of the Clocaenog Forest?

 

From 1810 to 1936, the Stone remained at Pool Park House, on a knoll to the north east of the main building - a decorative feature. Bagot, a cultured man with an interest in archaeology, was said to have removed the Stone to his home to protect it, and this is entirely possible. After all, Edward Pugh, writing of his 1804 visit to the in situ stone tells us that,

 

‘Lately a farmer’s son, a block-head, in the neighbourhood, to prove the mettle of his horses, attached a chain to this stone, dislodged it, and now it remains at its length. It was reported he intended to break it up for building, perhaps a pig-stye.’

E. Pugh, Cambria Depicta: A Tour through North Wales, 1816, p. 399

 

It would seem then, that Bagot felt that to leave the stone at Bedd Emlyn would eventually result in its complete destruction, or lead to the ignominity of Similinus remembered in a pig-sty. It remained at Pool Park House for over a hundred and twenty years before being removed to Cardiff. The Bagots had seemingly moved out of Pool Park by the second half of the 19th century, and the House was tenanted out to a variety of worthies. A letter to Archaeologia Cambrensis in 1883 suggests that the House was for sale and expressed concern for the fate of the Stone, that it would be,

 

‘exposed to the chances of a sale, and therewith to the whims and idiosyncrasies of a purchaser who may show much less regard and care for them than has been done by the late and present Lord Bagot.’

Alumnus Ruthinensis, Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1883, p. 251

 

Still, the Stone still stood outside of the House in 1921. Canon Fisher, writing in 1921, was as concerned for its preservation as earlier correspondents.

 

‘The question of protecting the stone was raised, as it was becoming badly corroded by the weather and lichen. It was suggested that a recommendation be made that it be put under cover.’

Canon Fisher, Archaeologia Cambrensis 75, (1921), p. 377

 

It would seem that the Stone was eventually removed to the National Museum in Cardiff sometime between the late April or early May of 1936, where it remained on loan until donated to the Museum in 2001. Ifor Williams and Nash-Williams refer to the stone as being at the National Museum in 1937 where it remains to this day, placed in their permanent gallery. The replica, gratifyingly worn and weathered remains at the equally worn and weathered, slumbering to ruin Pool Park House - the faux ogham is curiously clearer than the Latin, but you need to squint a bit. It was fashioned in concrete, probably by Clarke’s of Llandaff and installed on the knoll on 28th July 1936.

 

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*Grateful thanks go to Evan Chapman, Senior Curator: Archaeology at Amgueddfa Cymru, whose correspondence shone a bright light on the circumstances surrounding the removal of the Stone and its replica replacement in 1936*

 

 

Further Reading

 

 

 

Fisher, Canon, Latin-Ogam Inscribed Stone, Archaeologia Cambrensis series 75, (1921)

 

Gentleman’s Magazine (1803)

 

Letters of E. Lhwyd No. II, Archaeologia Cambrensis, (October 1848)

 

R. O. Jones, The Pool Park Inscribed Stone, Archaeologia Cambrensis, (Oct. 1898)

 

R. A. S. Macalister, Corpus Inscriptionum Insularum Celticarum Vol. I, Dublin (1945)

 

V. E. Nash-Williams, An inventory of the early Christian stone monuments of Wales, with a bibliography of the principal notices, Bulletin of the Board of Celtic Studies 8, (1936)

 

V. E. Nash-Williams and I. Williams, Some Welsh Pre-Norman stones, Archaeologia Cambrensis, (1937)

 

E. Pugh, Cambria Depicta: A Tour through North Wales, London (1816)

 

J. O. Westwood, Lapidarium Walliae The Early Inscribed and Sculptured Stones of Wales, Oxford, (1876-1879)

 

J. O. Westwood, The Sepulchral Stone of Emlyn, Archaeologia Cambrensis (April 1855)

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