Friday, 4 November 2016

Westward Corner Barrow

The west end of Barry and its pleasant garden suburb area is home to numerous buildings of antiquarian interest, including Barry's most well known historical landmark Barry castle, the former seat of the Norman de Barry family from whence the original village of Barry and consequently the town, takes its name.   Also extant and perhaps equally as well known is the Roman building at the Knap.  This building dates to around the late Third Century AD and is thought to have been connected with the Roman military owing to a lack of creature comforts which the Romans were so fond of such as a hypocaust system and mosaic floors which were Conspicuous by their absence.

The Romans and Normans however were not the first people to inhabit this area.   A far older historical landmark also exists at west Barry, and that is Westward Corner round barrow.  This barrow, which dates to the Bronze Age C 2300-800 AD, is located on the promontory overlooking Porthkerry Bay and is surrounded on four sides by modern housing, which probably helps to explain why it is not as well know as other buildings and features of historical interest within the locality.

The mound itself is quite well preserved and rises to a height of 1.8 m with a diameter of 9 m and was noted during an inspection in the year 1976 to be surrounded by a ditch of irregular depth with the east and north sides measuring  4.6 m wide.  The ditch however, although a contemporary feature, is thought to have been disturbed fairly recently by modern quarrying with the west and south sides in particular being affected.  Both of the east and north ditches had apparently been filled in by 1982 leaving only the ditch on the west side extant which is around 1 m deep and 2 m wide extending and abruptly terminating to the south. 

(Westward Corner barrow seen from the east)

Similar examples of this type of round barrow, or tumulus, are to be found scattered throughout Barry.  Two examples once existed at the Knap, but have both unfortunately been destroyed by erosion, although archaeologists were able to investigate what remained of the barrows during the middle of the Twentieth Century.  No less than three confirmed Bronze Age round barrows are to be found on Friars Point.  These barrows were subject to various excavations during the Nineteenth Century by archaeologists Allen Romily and John Storrie.  Another round Barrow is to be found at Atlantic Trading Estate.  Unfortunately no systematic excavation of this barrow has been carried out to date. 

Limited excavations have taken place at the Westward Corner barrow.  These excavations have shown the mound to be composed of limestone rubble and earth, although to our understanding, these excavations did not probe deep beyond the mounds surface.  Barrows from the Bronze Age however quite often contain single burials with earlier burials tending to be inhumation types, and later burials being cremation types.

The excavation of the barrows on Friars Point revealed evidence for cremation burial in the shape of a clay-baked urn found in one of the tumuli.  Similarly, when investigated in 1958 and again in 1967, what was left of the two barrows at the Knap yielded fragments of a cinerary urn.   It is possible that the barrow at Westward Corner could be contemporary with those scattered around the near vicinity, which if it is, is likely to contain a cremation burial and thus date to the middle/ late Bronze Age. 

Archaeologists however are not satisfied that these ancient and curious prehistoric lumps that proliferate the landscape of Britain were simply places to bury the deceased and nothing more.  Current archaeological theory propagates that these mounds, far from being simply a burial place, acted as territorial markers and boundaries within the landscape and served to venerate those buried within.  It is also thought that due to the amount of effort required to construct these tombs, their relative disparity to an assumed large population, and the rich assemblage of finds contained within many Bronze Age barrows, such as bronze weapons and gold found in some earlier barrows, that these tumuli were generally reserved for an elite.  Therefore the Westward Corner barrow was most likely a tomb for a forgotten and obscure elite with probable links to the wider community.

Westward Corner barrow is easy to find, simply drive or walk the length of Westward Rise to find it or alternatively walk the length of the green opposite Marine Drive then take a sharp right at last house before you reach the woods.  Despite the fact that the barrow is well presented it is still a sad sight to behold as its immediate environs have been destroyed, which include a large section of the enclosure that once surrounded the barrow, and as with any building of historical interest, the immediate environs and setting are considered by many to be just as important as the feature itself. 
Still, it is enough to see that this feature is still extant and more or less intact, to be preserved for future generations to appreciate, understand and enjoy.  

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