Uncovering Cardiff’s Hidden Hillfort

28 June 2017

Women gathered around map
© Paul Evans

The remarkable history of a hidden prehistoric hillfort in one of south Wales’ most vibrant yet economically challenged suburbs is to be revealed as part of a major new community project.

CAER Heritage Project, an innovative partnership between community development organisation ACE - Action in Caerau and Ely, Cardiff University, local schools and residents has been awarded a one-year Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) development phase grant of £156,900 to progress plans for the CAER Hidden Hillfort project.

The project aims to provide the community with deeper insight into their heritage and the area’s fascinating past, while giving local people the chance to gain new skills, and build confidence and community cohesion.

A remarkable heritage

Caerau hillfort, one of the most significant and oldest monuments in Cardiff, is situated on the western edges of the city, nestling within the housing estates of Caerau and Ely. The site boasts a remarkable heritage with a ruined medieval church and castle ringwork encompassed by massive Iron Age ditch and bank defences that once enclosed a densely populated settlement over 2,000 years ago.

Man and two children dropping pins on map
© Paul Evans

Until recently very little was known about the site. But a series of community excavations co-ordinated by CAER Heritage have seen local residents and school pupils working with archaeologists and historians from Cardiff University's School of History Archaeology and Religion to uncover exciting discoveries.

These include previously unknown evidence for Roman and Dark-age occupation, as well as extensive archaeological deposits revealing what life was like in the Cardiff region during the Iron Age. In 2014, the remarkable remains of a rare causewayed enclosure was also discovered dating the site back 6,000 years to the early Neolithic or Stone Age, much earlier than archaeologists had previously thought.

Community run heritage centre

With support from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the CAER Heritage team will build on these achievements with a range of proposals. Plans include turning a disused gospel hall into a local community run heritage centre, improving access to the hillfort and designing and installing new signage and information, enabling local people and visitors to learn about the area’s incredible history.

Elderly people sat around table
© Paul Evans

If successful, the development phase will lead to further funding from the HLF for a two-year project running between 2018-2020.

Dave Horton, Development Manager at ACE - Action in Caerau and Ely said: “We are so thrilled that the Heritage Lottery Fund have given us this opportunity. The Hidden Hillfort project is the culmination of five years of community-based archaeological and historical research and close partnerships between the community, education and heritage sectors including Cardiff Council, local schools, the Cardiff Story Museum, Glamorgan Archives, the National Museum of Wales and Cardiff University - all under the umbrella of CAER Heritage.

“If successful, the full project proposes an inspiring programme of community based research, monument presentation and infrastructural development that will harness the untapped potential of this amazing heritage site, channelling local talent into shaping the way in which the heritage of Caerau hillfort is understood and appreciated.”

Aerial view of ordnance survey map
© Paul Evans

“A lasting difference”

Mr Horton added: “We hope that this will attract new visitors to the area for enjoyment and learning while enhancing individual life-chances for local people and making a lasting difference to both the local environment and community well-being in synergy with the Welsh Government's Well Being and Tackling Poverty through Culture initiatives.”

Richard Bellamy, Head of HLF in Wales, said: “The Hidden Hillfort Project shows clearly how local heritage can be a catalyst for lots of different activities and bring people together behind a common purpose. HLF is pleased to support ACE in its plans to recruit volunteers and participants of all ages, offer skills training and, thanks to National Lottery players, enable people to enjoy the history on their own doorstep.”

Mark Drakeford, AM for Caerau and Ely, said: “This award from the Heritage Lottery Fund is testament to the hard work of ACE, Cardiff University, local Caerau councillors, Cardiff Council, and the people of Caerau and Ely...”

Mark Drakeford AM

“It is my sincere hope that the exciting plans that were pitched to the HLF in this funding bid can now be made a reality, bringing the fascinating, unique history of this part of Cardiff to a wider audience.”

Mark Drakeford, AM for Caerau and Ely

CAER Project co-director Dr Dave Wyatt of Cardiff University said: “Community excavations have revealed Caerau to be the oldest monument in Cardiff. It is a heritage site of national, if not international significance, yet it remains poorly understood and largely unknown. This is partly due to the site being located within communities facing serious social and economic challenges...”

Dave Wyatt

“CAER Heritage project has always been about harnessing the power of heritage to enhance individual life-chances for local people, fostering a strong connection between people, heritage and place.”

Dr David Wyatt, Senior Lecturer in Early Medieval History, Community and Engagement

“I am particularly excited about the prospects which the project opens up for local young people. The Hidden Hillfort project builds on well established partnerships with local schools. Pupils have previously been involved in whole range of activities including archaeological and historical research, heritage themed art and film making. But the Hidden Hillfort project offers an opportunity to write these strategies large; embedding a community wide heritage regeneration project into the school curriculum.”

Martin Hulland, headmaster at nearby new Cardiff West Community High School said: “We are proud to be working in partnership with ACE, Cardiff University and CAER Heritage on this fabulous community-based heritage project. The pupils at the current school have benefitted hugely from this work so far and this project will help the new school connect past, present and future as we move to our new building in the heart of this proud and creative local community.”

For more information visit the School webpages.