St Dyfnog’s Well is a place of mystery and in 2019 volunteers assisted in the first known excavations to take place on the site.
As part of the restoration project, we have been able to carry out archaeological work on the site for the first time. This was an exciting opportunity for us to try and understand the site in more detail with the help of volunteers.
In February 2019 a topographical survey of the area of the well and the surrounding area was carried out with the help of volunteers. This involved using a total station (a device that sends a laser to a lens on top of a pole that measures height, distance, etc) to survey the lumps and bumps around the well to create a plan of the site. From this we were able to plan an excavation of various locations at the well.
In September 2019 35 volunteers took part in excavating three trenches contributing over 650 hours. These trenches were located by the bridge next to the well basin, the leat, and the flat area above St. Dyfnog’s spring. Throughout the three-week excavation lots of interesting finds were discovered, from the entrance to the well to a Neolithic quarry.
As part of the restoration work we had an archaeologist on site carrying out a watching brief and recording things that were found as the work progressed. What was found was written down in a report.
Here is a short summary taken from the interim report of what was found.
Summary of the St Dyfnog’s Well Report
Three small trenches were dug, one at the eastern end of the pool, near to the bridge (Tr 1); one across the earthen leat (Tr 2) and the third on the platform, approximately 4 m above the western end of the pool (Tr 3).
Tr 1 was located at the eastern end of the pool and was designed to investigate whether there were steps down to the pool. Prior to the excavation, there were a few stones protruding from the ground suggesting the possibility of a structure, probably steps, at this end of the pool. Thus, the trench was positioned over these protruding stones, but its size was limited by the need to allow access to the footbridge at this end of the pool.
Tr 1 revealed a rough wall which would have been part of the outer enclosure recorded by antiquarians.
The excavation showed that this area was an original access point to the pool which had clearly been blocked at a later date. One stone used had a clear worn dimple in its top surface, the kind that happens where the pivot bar for a gate rubs on a stone. Unfortunately, the stone was not in situ, having been re-used to fill a gap in the wall, but presumably, it has not been moved very far and may suggest a gated enclosure, around the pool at some time in the past.
Between where we believe the steps to have been and the pool we found a rough cobbled surface.
In the northeastern corner of what we presume was an enclosure, we found an arc of stone blocks. What this was for is hard to know but one possibility is that it was a platform for a decorative feature possibly for one of the statues that were mentioned in the historic writings.
All of the finds from this trench were of post-medieval date, leaving some doubt as to the medieval use of the site. Indeed, no medieval material was found in any of the trenches.
Tr 2 was positioned across the leat leading to Llanrhaeadr Hall. Here the leat was not as well defined as it is in the east, where it becomes a rock-cut channel. Nothing of great note was found.
Finds from the trench are all of the post-medieval date with a rare sherd of post-medieval pottery, a single stem fragment from a clay pipe and a single horse/cattle tooth.
Tr 3 was designed to investigate the flat area above the pool. This is the only relatively flat area close the pool and so if there were buildings or structures associated with the spring this would be the most likely spot.
On clearing the vegetation it became clear that there was a mound of fairly modern rubble in the middle of the trench. What this was is unclear but it possibly shows the clearing of the area at some point.
Once this was removed the trench appeared to be made up two parts. The western end of the trench had objects such as a complete glass gin bottle and hand-made brick fragments. These possibly show that a building was close by however no evidence of any walls in situ were found.
The eastern end of the trench proved to be completely different. Here a steep face had been cut through the rock. Areas on the steep face had pink staining possibly showing these areas had been heated. At the bottom of the steep face, a line of chert nodules or voids where nodules had been extracted were evident.
At the bottom of this 479 knapped fragments of chert were found along with three waterworn cobbles with impact damage on at least one side indicating they were used as hammers and four chert tools, including a crude transverse arrowhead and an awl (a small pointed tool used for piercing holes). It would appear that this is the remains of a previously unknown and rare Neolithic or Early Bronze age quarry.