Laser scanning brings a new dimension to the vanishing slate industry, rediscovering medieval coastal fish traps, and the architect who developed a North Wales style.
The Commission is experimenting with new survey techniques to record the extensive remains of Welsh slate quarrying before evidence for this key industry disappears.
Vivian Slate Quarry is on the east shore of Llyn Padarn in Snowdonia and is part of the extensive Dinorwic quarrying complex. Work began in 1869 and the site operated through to the 1960s. A typical hillside quarry worked on the gallery system, the seven levels are now heavily wooded, and while accessible by public footpaths it is a site where the archaeology is difficult for the public to appreciate.
The Vivian Quarry survey was initiated as a result of two projects within the Royal Commission – the People’s Collection, showcasing how technology can be used to bring archaeology to the public, and the Commission’s slate quarries project, recording the vanishing heritage of the slate industry.
The quarry was an ideal candidate to pilot the use of Remote Sensing Technology, with detailed recording of the terraces and their structures undertaken by ground-based laser scanning. To achieve this the Commission worked in partnership with the Robotics Group of the Computer Science department at Aberystwyth University who were looking for a suitable project to test out a land-ranger robot they had built to carry out remote sensing projects. Able to cross rough terrain, the robot had a laser scanner on loan from Leica mounted on top, enabling quick and efficient data capture on a scale impossible with more traditional techniques.
The resulting laser scan ‘point-cloud’ data provides a highly accurate three-dimensional image of the quarry and its structures. Such images allow virtual tours of the site (see the virtual tour of Vivian Slate Quarry produced for the Commission by See3D), but they can also be used to produce plans, elevations and reconstructions to aid understanding and interpretation of the site.
Toby Driver and Deanna Groom investigate two ancient stone fish traps in Fishguard Harbour, Pembrokeshire, with Dr Ziggy Otto. One has been known about for many centuries. The other was only recently discovered during Royal Commission aerial reconnaissance.
The fishtraps of Fishguard Harbour, Goodwick
Fishguard has a Scandanavian name fiskigardr (‘enclosure for catching or keeping fish’). The commercial port of Fishguard at Goodwick was largely constructed towards the end of the nineteenth century and the start of the twentieth. Two stone-built fish traps flank its north and south sides. Today, both are submerged for most or all of the year, which indicates that it might be many centuries since they were first built and regularly used by local inhabitants.
The fish trap to the north-west of Fishguard harbour (NPRN 407699) lies just below the entrance road to the ferry terminal and is always submerged. It is first shown on the early maritime charts of Lewis Morris dating from 1748, and is depicted on the first edition Ordnance Survey 25-inch map of 1889 as a V-shaped stone wall adjoining coastal rocks north of the village of Goodwick at its west end. It extends for approximately 100 metres to the east into Fishguard harbour and turns to the south for approximately 120m. The east-west section was destroyed by construction of the railway between 1901 and 1906. Today the trap, along with additional submerged walls to its south-west, is clearly visible from the air.
The south-east fishtrap (NPRN 401338), filmed for Hidden Histories in 2009, is a V-shaped fishtrap, springing from coastal rocks on its south side. It measures approximately 34m from base to apex, with equally-spaced arms measuring 40m long and up to 9m broad. It is built from large boulders, now partly dispersed, with a few smaller stones visible in the matrix. The trap is only exposed at the lowest tides, of 0.5m and under. It is likely that a build-up of sand behind the trap may have obscured further parts, and that it was considerably larger. Because of the present sea-level it would be difficult to regularly use and make repairs to this fish trap, and this might indicate a construction date in the Middle Ages or earlier. This trap is not mapped on any sea-charts or historic maps, unlike its counterpart on the north-west side of the harbour (NPRN 407699). The site was discovered and photographed through shallow water during Royal Commission aerial reconnaissance, and many other examples have been spotted by the Commission all around the Welsh coast.
Link to the Maritime Archaeology pages on the Royal Commission website:
Link to the Coflein records for the two Fishguard Harbour fishtraps:
Herbert Luck North was an important architect working in Wales from 1900 to 1940. He was also an enthusiast for the traditional architecture of Snowdonia, writing some of the earliest ever books on the subject. One of today’s generation of North Wales architects, Adam Voelcker, is fascinated by North and is working with the Royal Commission to write a book about him.
North worked from his practice in Llanfairfechan and most of his finished buildings are in north-west Wales. He worked briefly in the office his exact contemporary Sir Edwin Lutyens and was identified with the late Arts and Crafts style. His surviving buildings are highly attractive and much loved and his garden village at Llanfairfechan is a remarkable contribution to the built heritage of Wales. His interest in the qualities of local buildings influenced his ideas and made him one of the first architects to try to create a distinctive architecture for Wales.
Northcot in Llanfairfechan, of 1899, may be the first house to be built to North’s designs. Unlike his other houses as the stonework is exposed, the windows are sliding sashes and there are timber barge-boards. Bolnhurst, built shortly after it, is also related to English country house design with features North dropped from later buildings, but it has the roughcast wall finishes and the small roof slates that became part of his personal style. Wern Isaf was the home he built for himself and his new wife, to move into when they left London around 1901. It followed a reverse butterfly plan to allow views to Anglesey, and it was open plan, with three main rooms able to connect or separate. The Llanfairfechan Church Institute and the Church Hostel chapel at Bangor (1912 and 1933) are two of North’s major surviving buildings. The Royal Commission’s archives include a large collection of North’s drawings as well as photographs of some of his best buildings.
Information about the Herbert North collection on the Royal Commission website:
Link to early twentieth-century Wales on the Royal Commission website