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Morgannwg

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Vol. 35 1991

Archaaeological Notes. Hen Gastell, Briton Ferry, West Glamorgan (SS 7315 9403)

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HEN GASTELL, BRITON FERRY, WEST GLAMORGAN (SS 7315 9403)
Documentary sources primarily the now lost Register of Neath Abbey
suggest that a castle, referred to as Hen Gastell, was built by Morgan ap Caradog
ab lestyn on a steep hill in Cadoxton-juxta-Neath, close to the Briton Ferry
crossing of the Nedd. Morgan was the Welsh Lord of Afan in the second half
of the twelfth century. The probable location of the castle was identified in
1980 by Mr C.J. Spurgeon (RCAHM: Wales), on a small hill of Pennant
sandstone, which had traces of a defensive ditch and scarping around its summit,
immediately to the west of the ferry crossing.
The Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust conducted a study of the site
as part of an assessment of the archaeological implications of construction of
the Baglan to Lonlas section of the M4 motorway. Additional defensive
earthworks were noted in the vicinity of those identified by Mr Spurgeon, as
well as others to the north of a quarry which has removed most of the central
portion of the hill. Since the construction of the new road would destroy the
hill's summit and the defences which enclose it, the Trust undertook the
clearance of vegetation, surveying and trial excavation of the site. On the basis
of the results of this work, full excavation of the site commenced in early August
1991, funded by the Welsh Office Highways Directorate on the advice ofCadw:
Welsh Historic Monuments.
The summit of the hill was defended on its southern and western sides by
a rock-cut ditch with a bank along its outer rim. The northern and eastern sides
of the summit have been removed by recent quarrying. The summit, which
measures some 21 m north-south by 28 m east-west, appears to have been
deliberately levelled. This area contains evidence of postholes, flagged surfaces,
and stone filled features which are under excavation at the time of writing.
Initial analysis of the finds shows a range of pottery of twelfth-century date.
There has also been a range of finds of early medieval date. Pottery sherds have
been identified as 'D' and 'E' ware and fragments of glass indicate the presence
of decorated vessels including conical beakers. Glass and amber beads have
also been found, along with whetstones, a 'motif-stone', and a Fowler Class
G penannular brooch. Taken together, these indicate use of the site in the early
post-Roman period. At the time of writing no firm date can be assigned to the
construction of the defences, but the possibility of the re-use of a pre-Roman
site cannot be discounted.
Trial excavations are also being undertaken on the banks and other surface
features along the western foot of the hill and on an adjacent knoll. The features
found to the north of the quarry are also being investigated. This work is being
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