Caerleon Net

Robert Woollett, 1878  The Full Text



The Venerable and only remaining relic of the Old Castle of Caerleon, the Mound on which formerly stood the Giants Tower of the early British writers that Tower which we are told stood without the Palace and into which Prince Arthur after his Coronation withdrew with his Knights to discuss an answer to a demand from Rome for the customary tribute which appears to have been withheld the Tower which Tennyson also tells us was "Filled with eyes to behold the jousts held in the flat field by the shore of Usk" has always been an object of special interest to Archeologists and at once awakens a desire to know the period of its construction whether it could have been formed in the early British Roman or Post Roman times and anything that can throw light upon its age trifling as it may be can not fail to be of interest to the Caerleon Antiquarian Association. At present clothed with luxuriant trees it presents a very different appearance to what it did even within living memory for Mr. John James described it as only covered with the green sward and presenting the appearance of a Gigantic Plum Pudding surrounded by a Moat which was in existence so late as 1839. If you will imagine upon its summit the Tower from the top of which Tradition tells us that the British Channel might be seen over the Christchurch Hill you can easily understand why the early writers called what was left of it in their days a Prodigious Tower and how well it fitted in with legends of King Arthurs time and how even the little that destroying time has left is a charming Link which connects us with historic and poetic periods long since passed away. Circumstances having led me to drive a Tunnel some distance through its structure I have much pleasure in yielding to the wish of one of Honorary Secretaries of this Association and describe to you the result of the boring. I should explain in the first place why the opening was made where it is about 6 feet 6 Inches higher than the surrounding ground and not at the very base. An old man assured me that nearly Sixty years ago when quite a lad he lived with Mr. Waters the Proprietor at that time of the grounds and when riding round the Mound early one morning he noticed that a position of the earth had slipped down and revealed an Iron Door from which several steps led down and that his Master requested him to cut some Turf and cover it all up again. This he most solemnly averred he did and entered into all the details of cutting the Turf getting a ladder and finding wooden pegs to make it all secure. Here in the very Man I thought who if he failed to find this mysterious entrance would at all events explode those wonderful Tales that are told about every Old Castle and in this case from its connexion with the former Roman occupancy and from its holding a prominent place in the Arthurian Legends very strange things were rife the most absurd and extraordinary myths had got afloat and were held fast by the Village Gossips with great tenacity. After many fruitless attempts to find anything like an iron door he fixed upon a spot in the neighbourhood of which he believed it to be. For the first few feet he came upon nothing of any interest the earth was not very compact and gave the idea that it was comparatively recent but soon after it was found to contain a few pieces of broken Pottery and a bit of Samian ware and as onward progress was made when at about sixteen feet and from this point to 26 feet there was more broken Pottery and several portions of broken bricks and tiles some of them having the "Leg II - Aug" impressed upon them one of them with the impression reversed one with the impress of the point of a shoe well covered with nails like the one described by our talented associate Mr. Lee, and depicted by him in his Isca Silurum all these impressed bricks and the broken pottery as well as a bone pin a pair of small tusks evidently Boar Tusks and some teeth were found in the Earth before the wall was reached but which we did not get at until we had bored through 27 feet. From this point the wall extended as far as we reached (50 feet) and probably much beyond, it was a dilapidated and tumble down kind of wall some of the stones were still lying horizontally but most of them had evidently been disturbed from their position and some were still adhered to the Mortar and amongst them was one large brick without any impression upon it. The conclusion I have come to as the result of this boring is that the outer coating in very recent for there was a modern piece of Pottery not likely to have been purposefully buried found there. That as we gradually advanced we came upon unmistakable Roman Pottery and Bricks manufactured by the 2nd Augustan Legion a Roman Pin and Boar Tusks probably from a Boar hunted in the Old Forest of Wentwood. These must have been placed there in Post Roman Times and then as we advanced still further we seemed to get out of this secondary formation and arrive at the debris of a Wall which beyond a solitary brick without any impression upon it gave no evidence of Roman remains. I think there can be no doubt that the greater portion has been heaped up in the Post Roman period possibly over some older structure but what that might have been it would be idle to speculate upon. Imagination suggests amongst other things that possibly it marked the spot where Gurguint Brabtuc was buried a most interesting person the Son of Belinus after whom Billingsgate was named and Nephew of the Brennus who invaded Rome and had it not been for the cackling of the Geese as we are told he would have taken the Capital.

August 15th 1878
Robt. F. Woollett

Caerleon Net
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