The RCAHMW have been photographing the remains of the Roman fort annually since the 1970s, and I was pleased to be able to feature four of their exciting images, these date from 1989-96, they are very
instructive in placing the fort in its environment and they are as follows.
July 11th 1989 - This stunning photograph views the fort looking north, the low shadows indicate it is early evening as the sun is generally always south of the fort during morning and afternoon. During winter, the sun always drops west below a shoulder of the Carneddau mountains so a photograph from this angle is slightly unusual. The earthwork of the fort is indicated in a spectacular manner (low sun) and the well preserved east and south ramparts are particularly evident. Below the fort, bottom right is the now defunct drainage dike. Top left is Caerhun Hall. South of the fort, the annex is just discernible, while the south road is clear. Various other linear features, which are either old field boundaries or trackways, can also be viewed, and these compare to features viewed on the Geophysics survey.
August 5th 1990 - This photograph obviously taken from a much greater height,
which is looking north east and practically vertical, shows the majority of the Kanovium settlement, the features are as follows. The fort square is bottom, it is crossed by the church lane which emerges from the fort to
continue on to the 'gamekeepers cottage’ now a holiday cottage, top right. This track was only built in the 1970’s previously the track followed the Roman line down to the field boundary/brook. The parch mark of the
old line is very clear (and broad) if this is the Roman work showing or later re-use it is not possible to be sure without excavation. The fort is revealed as its usual informative system of parch marks, most of the fort
buildings are visible, as are all access roads, including possibly even the narrow grassy track down to the fort bath-house, opposite St Mary’s Church. Top right is a portion of the River Conwy, beneath are the clear and
well preserved remains of the quay, possibly Roman, opinion is divided. Beneath the quay is a series of dikes, the boldest section, bottom right, was removed in 1995. Top right, is Coed yr Arw wood, the Roman road
entering this is just discernible, as is the course continuing on from the small brook, just above mid centre. The field beneath Coed yr Arw shows two roads, both probably Roman, one taking an easier gradient.
July 27th 1996 - A view looking west. The fort again exhibiting the phenomenon
of parch marking. Very clear are barracks in the retentura of the fort (top right section of) and something of the central range. Caerhun Hall is above the fort, surrounded by trees, and above, divided by the modern
Conwy to Llanrwst road, is Caerhun Farm and campsite. Bottom right of fort square is St Mary’s Church, occupying most of half of the pretentura of the fort, above this is the church carpark. The rampart was very
burnt this year and shows up as a round angled enclosure very clearly. Between the fort and the hall is a field with several interesting linear features, while they are discussed below in regard to the black and white
images to follow, they are not necessarily the same.
August 5th 1990 -
Looking west, we again just see the River Conwy, the series of dikes between this and the fort are very clear, some old some modern. Beneath the fort can be seen the area the bath-house used to stand, now only visible as
footings within a man made terrace. Again parch marks indicate the inner fort buildings, this time the fort granary, right, above car park is very clear, and this time there are barracks to be seen in the pretentura, the
principia is clear too, and as before roads are to be seen emerging from the fort gates.
These images kindly provided by Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, show twin images of the Roman fort, taken in summer. The first image shows the typical square shape of the auxiliary fort. Though mostly focusing on the actual castellum, areas of vici are also to be seen, the
baths right, seen as a group of boulders, and the beginnings of the north, south, and west settlement areas. The direction of the photograph which is looking NE is not amazingly different from the angle used in the reconstruction seen in this website ; it is sobering to look at what there once was here and what remains now. We can clearly see the church lane obliquely bisecting the fort, entering at the S-W corner, severely damaging it in the process, to terminate in the form of a tarmac area for church visitors to park their cars, on this day one car was present. The ancient church occupies about one quarter of the fort, it can be seen with its large collection of ancient yew trees, the graveyard is densely packed with lines of graves, some of them very old, burials finally ended during the 1960’s when a new burial ground for Caerhun was set up several hundred metres south of the fort on the road to Llanrwst. The graveyard meeting maximum capacity is significant, it had become a problem by the turn of the 20th century and a plan was hatched to extend it into the next meadow, centre, which would have meant further encroachment of the archaeological remains. A committee was formed, an excavation planned, which by 1929 had removed all top soils of the fort except the church area, but no extension ever happened, which we can be thankful for.. We can also see the five oak trees which sit directly on top of the commandants house, headquarters building and two barracks, a condition of excavation back in 1926 by the owner Mrs Gough, was, there must be no damage to the trees.
Viewers should note the curving trackway bottom of image, it seems to enter the fort at the south gate, it curves west to join the lane, this is simply damage done by 4x4 and tractor wheels, agricultural vehicles still
use this break in the rampart to enter the fields here and are a theme of all air shots at Caerhun, presumably a time of very hot weather the thin soil above the praetorium is easily removed. Other areas of soil erosion
are usually because an animal feed trough has been placed directly on the rampart, seen on the N-W and W ramparts. In the main what this image shows to perfection is the amount of ploughing Kanovium has suffered, the area
of west settlement is as flat as a Snooker table, sadly it’s denuded archaeological features may be beyond reach today as it is now a miniature golf course. This west rampart suffered the most damage, most possibly, in
Medieval times, but the north rampart is also weak, its ditch long since obliterated. What seems to be the east ditch (right) is possibly discernable, though the alignment with the rampart is not now visible. The
area of dike, top right, was removed in 1995. Top of image can be seen the track to Caerhun Cottage see Geophysics, issuing from roughly the same
site as the Roman north gate, it runs straight before heading right, down the field, while the Roman road continued straight on, and was only constructed in the 1970s.
The image also contains at least two sets of features
not recorded on Baillie Reynolds’ excavation plan, firstly G.A.T’s David Hopewell informs me that the shelf between the bath-house and fort wall contains another possible Roman building. This building, which runs, roughly
N-S is bigger than the bath-house and larger than any fort building except a barrack block type, but looks considerably broader, it is seen to run beyond a modern field boundary into the field NE of the fort. Indeed
footings and building rubble is indeed a feature here, it is surprising it went unnoticed by Baillie Reynolds. What appears to possibly be a spoil heap abutting the north end of this can be seen, so it is possible that
some digging has occurred here in the past but has gone unrecorded. The second feature is to be seen in the NW area of fort, taking the form of a series of circle and oval shapes. Seen to the left of the carpark,
they sit in the area which should house the granaries and the principia, now this author has seen these buildings during the drought of 1995, even down to the level of being able to count the number of buttresses on the south
wall of the south granary, these features were certainly not visible then. What do they represent? it would be tempting to consider them a survival of some of Reynolds’ trenches? but even in the 1920’s surely trenches
would have been of a more orderly nature? Also used was a type of diagonal trench (these hope to find features not detectable in a straight line) they don’t appear to be these, One oval stands alone, and it is
matched by two more which actually appear to run beneath the carpark, another oval seen in the NW corner, which is smaller can easily be seen on the ground in any light. Do these represent robber trenches or are they
possible medieval structures? Baillie Reynolds records his report of the ground here with no mention of these, they could be natural..
Also to be seen are faint indications of buried Roman buildings, clearest of all is a
section of barrack block 1. this is the building which would have stood beneath the bottom right of the graveyard wall and would have extended all the way to the S-E corner. A short mid section is visible, complete with
central subdivision complete with around four small rooms either side, this did not appear on the fort plan but you are going to have to know your Roman forts to spot these.
Image two shows a much larger amount of the settlement, the fort is centre of the image, Caerhun
Hall and gardens are seen top left, again the church lane sweeps across the image, agricultural damage is again evident at the area of the praetorium, which at this point is getting fairly extensive, and a considerable pile of
cow dung can be seen at the area the modern track parts company with it’s Roman counterpart.
By far the most exciting feature of this image is the parch mark of an enclosure seen between Caerhun Hall’s gardens and a
group of about twelve trees which line the church lane as it enters the image left. Consisting of a straight sided enclosure with a rounded corner, two sides of which are visible, it neatly fits into the field west of the
fort proper, the west side even appears to have a rampart and ditch, this looks to be either a small Roman fort, camp, or possibly a ‘parade ground’. It appears to have midway on the same west rampart to have a
gate. The gateway would always be midway along a rampart in a Roman fort so this indicates the size of the enclosure. Ploughing has blurred this section, if indeed it ever was present, more about this ploughing
Is this a small camp? its size which when taking into account predictable Roman military building practice would be roughly half the size of Kanovium proper, about 80 metres square, possibly enclosing around two
acres inside its banks. When the Flavian Roman army arrived at Caerhun one day back in the late 70’s A.D. a smaller fort would have been constructed to safely house the troops engaged in building the new fort. It
would have been in this area, equally above at Caerhun Hall the ground is flat and suitable for a ‘labour camp’ by labour camp we do not refer to an establishment of a ‘penal nature’ but simply the temporary camp used by the
soldiers building Kanovium. Also present would have been a timber yard, the first fort, built from squared timbers for towers and rampart and buildings, would have required tons of timber, and a large well equipped
facility would have been required, though a Roman fort was known to be ‘flat packed’ that is timbers from dismantled forts would be used, this timber yard along with camps and stores would most definitely have been
present. The early activity at Kanovium may even have equaled the amount of ground used in the vici, this area would be most suitable, and it is possible we are looking at a Roman structure here. Why do I
consider it Roman? yes it could equally be a Medieval enclosure, which are also known to be fitted with rounded corners, indeed the Medieval farmstead near Llyn Brenig, Hen Dynbych (with such corners) was long believed to be a
small Roman camp. But look at the corner here, it is very neat, and the rampart or ditch lines are very clearly straighter than a Medieval period building ever would be, it is quite possibly Roman in date. It could of
course be simply modern field boundaries.
What is a parade ground? the Roman army had a pedantic love for the drill ground, though we unfortunately have no surviving records of such drills, we know that the army,
particularly the cavalry, engaged in much elaborate training maneuovers, which were reproduced both in actual combat and also in elaborate displays known as the ‘Hypica Gymnasia’ an area of the ground surrounding the fort was
levelled and embanked and here display, ritual, training, and punishment was undertaken. We also know from a surviving parade ground at Tomen y Mur fort that they like the fort rampart had rounded corners. Also
famously attested at the dramatic upland fort of Hardknott, Eskdale (once believed to be very similar to Kanovium in both design and date) they were a necessary part of the Roman military deployment. I mention ritual at
these drill squares, as mentioned numerously in this website, ritual played a big part in the day of the Roman soldier, both officially and privately, gods had to be appeased at all times, even to enter a room, three gods had
to be thanked, the gods of the threshold, the door itself and even the door hinges. The army units are each thought to operate almost in the manner of a community of monks, even as a sect, that is we cannot think of them
as being like ourselves (The Roman Invasion of Britain, J Manley 2001) their lives were ruled by hokus pokus, centred on the principia, it was also manifested at the parade ground. Religious ceremonies usually happened
two or three times a year, usually on official pay days, or the Emperor’s birthday. The parade ground had a series of altars which stood around the drill area, each year these were buried nearby and a new set ordained, a
fort with a seventy year occupation is likely to have a large amount of buried altars, largelly attributed to Iovi Optimus Maximus, I.O.M, Jupiter best and greatest. This probable piece of Roman ground work is now beneath
the modern golf course.
The parade ground theory is given further credence by comparing what is here to what has been noticed at Tomen y Mur, 25 metres N-E of the fort wall is a rectangular enclosure. It measures
26x55 metres, approximately, the fort rampart has sides of 100x50 metres in the original Flavian design, on this ratio it is then just slightly half the size of the fort. The fort is later reduced by an additional rampart
which leaves the fort roughly the same size as this enclosure. The theory is this levelled area is the parade ground, it is slightly embanked, has rounded corners, two of which survive, a third on the supposedly
unfinished N-W corner also exhibits evidence of being rounded. Just north of the enclosure is a low mount, thought to be the ‘tribunal’ which was a podium for the commander of the regiment to stand upon while addressing
his troops (this is the opinion of M.G Jarrett, R.F.W page 113). A gateway similar to the one I can perceive at Caerhun is present in the narrower section of embanking. Kanovium has ramparts of 140 metres in length
on all sides, the enclosure here is roughly (if one attempts to calculate the amount of level ground available up to the west ditch) 80 metres square, and this gives a similarity of size the the supposed parade ground at Tomen
y Mur. The east corner of this enclosure, if this calculation is correct, would be less than 20 metres from the west ditch. But other evidence for parade grounds being located immediately beyond rampart and ditches
can be compared from three other Welsh sources, Chester, Caerleon and Gelligaer. The actual size of the ground used at Chester is unknown, but it was located immediately outside the east rampart of the fortress. The
example at Caerleon lay just outside the S-W rampart, its further most extent, which was fitted with a low wall was 160 metres from the rampart. The auxiliary fort of Gelligaer had a paved area just out side the N-E
rampart, of rough work it has been interpreted as a parade ground. Tomen y Mur incidentally, is the only example which actually records a tribunal. Interestingly, Ian Richmond considered the example at Tomen y Mur
unfinished, and doubtful, but surely the extent of ground work would only be necessary to terrace and level the ground on a sloping area?
Ploughing is a big feature around the fort and nowhere more so than the field
containing the possible enclosure, all possible 3rd and 4th century levels had been removed by it, and it no doubt is likely this is how the large number of later coin finds had been made from the fort. The style is
typically Medieval period, and is known as ‘Rigg and Furrow’ the plough ridges can not only be seen to overlay the enclosure, but they also sweep over the west rampart into Kanovium itself, equally spaced it is possible to view
about twelve of these plough ridges sweeping across what was probably the parade ground. The oft quoted account of Baillie Reynolds’ attempt to find the illusive west road (a trench right across this enclosure failed to
locate any road, or enclosure for that matter) and is undoubtedly because of this extensive plough work, or the fact that the parade ground was located here. Air photographs have shown that there was indeed a west road
(not visible on this image) it was bending away to the north and may have been avoiding this enclosure, though there hardly seems to be room enough for both. The area north of the north east rampart also contains remains
of this ploughing, this area also seems to have a boundary, a dark line appears to run E-W at the point the modern track and Roman road part company, maybe this could be another water pipe? as one runs closer to the fort wall,
Other features visible in image two is Caerhun Hall and gardens, now a college, its history has been connected closely with the Roman fort, indeed Willoughby Gardner in his introduction to the Excavation Report,
attributes the good survival of the Roman remains to protection of previous owners and the fact it lay within the park land of the hall. The image shows it now lies beyond, and is farmed. Visible at the S-E fort
corner is a field boundary and this cuts across the area of the fort annex, it appears to be shown on the 1929 report, it limited the southward excavation and has now vanished. Also clearly visible is a dyke, running N-S
between the river and bath-house, though the section bottom was removed in 1995. I am unsure to the date of this dike as they are fairly common features on the Conwy River, but in 1995 it was seen to comprise of hard grey
clay which contained ash, charcoal and profuse amounts of Roman pottery, the dike runs several hundred metres down river were it appears to be associated with the Roman and later period dock. The field boundary outside
the N-W fort rampart (top left) records the original footpath to St Mary’s church from Caerhun village, which was also used by Caerhun Hall. Prior to the construction of the church lane this was the only access to the
church, and this was route taken by all funerals from Caerhun.
Special thanks to Gwynedd Archaeological Trust and Nina Steele, Assistant Sites and Monuments
Record Archaeologist for allowing the use of the two monochrome images.
Thanks to RCAHMW Aberystwyth for their help in providing the top four colour images