On a cold and dark evening on 21st October 2021, 38 members of the History of Deganwy Group were treated to a talk on Hidden Deganwy. Following Covid-19 rules we were seated in our historic home of Peniel Chapel, in alternate rows, spaced by 2 metres to hear Simon Simcox take us back to the Ice Age. This period was largely responsible for creating the geographic structure of Deganwy and the location of moraine left behind by the retreating ice as the planet slowly warmed up. He explained some of the features we see today as hills and gentle contours that were created and have subsequently been eroded over the millennia to produce landscape we all know and love today.
Moraine is the accumulation of debris that occurs around former glacial regions, which has been carried forward by the advancing glacier (ice sheet) on its journey over the land. It contains boulders, gravel, sand and rich soils scraped from the valley floor and deposited where the glacier ended, or at the sides of glaciers, better known as lateral moraines.
Some of these moraines or hills, were used by subsequent rulers upon which to build their fortifications to oversee their kingdoms. The Vardre in Deganwy is one such example of a glacial moraine where a castle was built. This castle served a dual purpose as it also protected the trade route from the Copper Mines at the Great Orme to the rest of the world. The copper was also combined with tin from the Cornish tin mines to create bronze, a much stronger material. Where there is trade, there is the capacity to raise taxes, so the location at Deganwy was a very lucrative one indeed for the occupier.
The Great Orme was not the only local area mined for its resources. The Vardre is littered with evidence of mining, producing today’s ragged outline when viewed from the shore line. When you walk across the Vardre you can see the remains of open cast mines and the numerous slag heaps which were cast aside in search of the mineral deposits. Most of these are hard to identify today having been overgrown with vegetation, but Simon showed us numerous photographs detailing the geographic evidence.
Several members of the audience were surprised to hear that the Romans used soil in their buildings and other constructions. It was used to bond the stones together. Indeed this is one of the ways to determine if a construction was built by Romans or Saxons in ancient Britain. The Saxons tended to use lime as a mortar to bond the stone material together. This can cause confusion since sometimes a lime mortar was used to repair ancient Roman constructions, covering the original soil within. Once a building was weather proofed against the elements, the soil provided an excellent bonding material for the stones.
Simon showed us several postcards of the various steam ferries that took tourists from Deganwy to Trefriw. The landing stage at Deganwy seemed to be better constructed than the jetty at Conwy which had to survive stronger currents on the West bank of the river. Also its proximity to the railway station enabled Deganwy to attract more visitors than Conwy, and hence the subsequent development of businesses in Deganwy.
Simon’s career as a surveyor has led him to discover many interesting buildings around North Wales and beyond. Indeed his own home shows a mixture of construction materials, as illustrated by several photos, showing neat stone blocks alongside roughly constructed sections of wall.
Simon currently has an illustrated book titled; “Hidden Houses of Gwynedd 1100-1800” and is currently writing books on; ‘Hidden Caernarfon’, and ‘Hidden Llanrwst’, which follow a similar investigation of interesting buildings in North Wales.
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