It is a surprising fact that one of Flintshire’s most important historic finds, the Caergwrle Bowl, has received virtually no recognition or commemoration either within the locality or within the County itself. We have to thank whoever named the Abermorddu Council-built housing estate ‘Maes Cibyn’, the ‘Field of the Cup’, for the only hint of recognition which this artefact has so far received within Flintshire.
The Bowl itself takes pride of place in the ‘Origins: in search of early Wales’ gallery of National Museum, Cardiff, where it is considered to be a star treasure. It is invaluable because of the insight which it gives us to the thinking of our ancestors. The inlaid gold and associated carvings almost certainly represent a boat, decorated by shields, powered by oars which take the craft across carefully carved waves. The fact that the bowl seems to have been deliberately placed in water is a reminder of the ancient association of ideas of spirits, healing and water. Clearly carved eyes or ‘oculi’, which have parallels in finds made elsewhere, reveal a belief in the need to ward off some form of evil and have led to suggestions that the Bowl itself contained, what was believed to have been, a deity. It is a votive object, placed or thrown into water, as part of a spiritual ritual. It is almost certainly associated with a religious ceremony that was important in the customs of some of the area’s early inhabitants.
Thanks to the Bowl we now know that Bronze Age craftsmen used dies to carefully stamp the concentric circular ‘shields’ onto the gold foil, with smaller dies being used for the markings inside the ‘boat’ and larger ones being used for the outside. Some additional insight has also been gained with regard to the techniques employed in the construction of the gold and tin infill used as decoration. The Bowl has therefore added a new dimension to our understanding of craftsmanship of Bronze Age people.
The Bowl was discovered in 1823 but the exact location of the find is uncertain. In one of the earliest references to the find (1875) E. L. Barnswell said that it was found “In a field to the south-west [of a steep hill on which the ruins of Caergwrle stand] which was occasionally flooded, and during some draining operations, the cup was discovered.” Other locations have been suggested from time to time, and those who conceived the name of ‘Maes Cibyn’ rightly, or wrongly, felt that the new development was somewhere in the general vicinity of the find.
Discussions now centre on the need to give some recognition of this find within the local area. The find was made somewhere to the south of Caergwrle Castle and it does appear that Abermorddu’s Crossways Play Area, which is adjacent to the Maes Cibyn housing estate, would appear to be the most promising location for a plaque or commemorative feature. Indeed, local knowledge of the heritage of Abermorddu itself is fast disappearing and such a feature could also be accompanied by another interpretation panel which highlights aspects of the history of that community.
Some months ago I asked Michael Roberts if he would provide a sketch of the Bowl as a possible piece of play art which could be accommodated at the Crossways Play Area to serve both as a commemorative feature but also as a unique addition to the play equipment of that area.I am indebted to Michael for this initial sketch for what is being called the Abermorddu Cibyn Project – a project designed to commemorate the Bowl but also add additional play facilities to the rather meagre provision that currently exists on Crossways Play Area.
Michael’s drawing is merely for illustrative purposes to stimulate discussion. He has show the feature being accessed by a ramp but a climbing net and slide could easily be included. Discussions at a County level suggest that the mast, crow’s nest and higher climbing nets would not be acceptable on grounds of health and safety. Michael has also drawn a labyrinth to represent to water into which the Bowl was thrown. This is a design which was known to Bronze Age people of the time. A labyrinth could include a means of approaching the feature by sunken logs, enabling children to jump from one to another. Other ideas include the idea of the ‘deck’ serving as a stage for performances by older children and seating to be included in the area of the labyrinth. Ideally the community itself would be closely involved in the Project and, whilst it may not be possible for young people to actually construct the feature, they may be able to paint it and develop a sense of ownership over it.
The Play Area did benefit from £10K funding from Hope Community Council and an additional £5K from Flintshire County Council two years ago. However most of this was spent on levelling the field to allow for football and it was always recognised that a Phase 2 development would be needed in order to provide for further equipment.
Hope Community Council has now allocated a further £10K to this site and we await to see to what extent the County will be able to match fund this allocation. However, this has to be spent this financial year and will not be used to fund whatever may be agreed as a commemorative play feature or plaque.
At this stage the proposal is merely an unfunded aspiration which would hinge of funding being provided by other grants or by a sponsor. The author would welcome communication from anyone who is willing to play a part in the development of this project or in the commemoration of the heritage of Abermorddu.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the policy of Flintshire County Council. Readers are welcome to contact the author with any news or views on the local heritage at DHealey204@aol.com or by telephoning 01978 761 523.