Lesser Garth Cave


The Remains in the Lesser Garth
The following is the Society's report on the outcome of our efforts in aiding research into the human remains that were discovered in the Lesser Garth Cave in North Cardiff. More information on this can be found in Archaeology in Wales, Volume 48, page 75

The Lesser Garth is a hill forming the west side of the Taff Gorge.  The entrance to the Lesser Garth Cave is at the top of a steep slope facing Cardiff and leads to an extensive cave system.

Excavations within the cave were first carried out just before the First World War, with further work done in 1920, 1963 and 1964.  These excavations revealed material from the Bronze Age and the Romano-British, Early Medieval, Medieval and Post-medieval periods.  The material included human remains, but conditions in the cave meant it was not possible to relate them directly to the other material, which also meant they were of unknown date.  Accordingly, whilst the importance of the cave as an archaeological site was known, the human remains themselves provided no value in understanding the significance of the site; particularly as it had to be possible that the human remains did not even relate to the dated material found in the cave. All the material from the cave is now in the National Museum of Wales (NMW). 


In 2007 Cardiff Archaeological Society (CAS) agreed to set up a project to fund examination and dating of the human remains provided the NMW was agreeable.  In the event the Museum could not have been more co-operative and a three-part plan was agreed.  The plan was to first to examine the skeletal remains, then select some for radiocarbon dating and finally publish a public report on the results of the work.


Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University was asked by CAS to carry out an examination of the remains. This showed that the material was very fragmentary, only three individuals being represented by more than three skeletal elements; accordingly it was impossible to say exactly how many humans the material represented.  However, Richard concluded that there was probably a minimum of seven individuals. Except for one young child, all were adults.


In discussions between Adam Gwilt of the NMW, Brian Davies and Monica Cox of CAS, and Richard Madgwick it was agreed that five of the seven individuals, including the child, should be radiocarbon dated and Adam arranged for this to be done.Radiocarbon dating revealed that:


1.     The child is estimated to have died between AD 1629 and 1667


2.      Two individuals were Early Medieval, being dated between AD 425 to 544 and AD 572 to 655 respectively


3.     Two individuals were Medieval, being dated between AD 1251 to 1297 and AD 1261 to 1288 respectively.


The results were unexpected and unusual.  Mark Redknap of the NMW is unaware of any other medieval cave burials in Wales and only one Early Medieval burial, and that is in Denbighshire. The late date for the child, sadly, suggests some tragic event.


CAS funding has allowed the human remains to be related in time to other material from this cave, a major step forward in our understanding of this important site. However like so much research in archaeology it also raises further questions. An obvious one being why were burials being made in a cave in the Christian period?

roath mill

The ground resistivity survey carried out on 17 March 2012 at the site of Roath Mill showed a debris field where the known mill buildings had stood. A magnetic gradiometry survey was not carried out as there was interference from nearby cars, street furniture and probably buried services north of the stream. The Abstract below from the extensive technical report shows that the results were not conclusive but may just have shown earlier waterways and perhaps buildings. The most certain result is that the last mill building was very thoroughly demolished.

roath mill c1890 AK Hamilton photo-1.jpg

An image of the Mill from 1890

Geophysical survey of Roath Mill, Cardiff [ST197779]

Dr T.P. Young


Ground resistivity surveys were undertaken on the site of Roath Mill. A single 20m grid square was surveyed at high resolution (0.5m x 0.5m spacing) with 0.5m-spaced mobile electrodes. A larger area was surveyed using 1.0m-spaced electrodes at a 0.5m x 1.0m spacing.

The surveys show an area of elevated ground resistivity broadly, but not precisely, corresponding to the location of the mill building as determined by map regression. The high-resistivity zone is bounded abruptly to the NW by a NNE-SSW boundary roughly parallel to the expected line of the NW side of the mill buildings, but 5-10m further NW. The area is also abruptly bounded to the SW by a narrow elongate zone of low resistivity running slightly oblique to the modern park boundary. The zone of high resistivity grades eastwards more gradually, suggesting a progressive spread of demolition debris, although the presence of former tracks or hard standing to the front of the mill may also contribute.

To the north of the stream some strong featuring was also observed within the resistivity data. Some of these features showed some degree of association with the locations of a footpath and field boundary on the 19th century OS mapping. Two other features of the resistivity data did not correspond to 19th century mapped features. Firstly, a distinct lineation in the resistivity data on a NNE-SSW direction shows a marked resistivity drop to the west of a narrow zone of elevated resistivity. This lineation lies on the same line as that bounding the higher resistivity area to the south of the stream. The second is an abrupt resistivity change across a NW-SE line in the SE corner of the surveyed grid. This high resistivity area may impinge on area within which the park was initially landscaped with a more gentle dip to the stream and with an area of artificial ‘rock outcrops’ shown on old photographs.

Interpretation of the data is not straightforward. The mill buildings, as mapped in the 1880s, are not delineated in the data. This probably indicates that walls/footings are not preserved (or are not sufficiently differentiated from adjacent materials) at the depths examined (down to 1.5m below surface). This may indicate either that the footings were not substantial, or that the demolition process was fairly thorough. Lineations within the area of high resistivity might be due either to patterns of destruction/demolition or might, just possibly, reflect an earlier layout of buildings/features than those of the 1880s.The strong resistivity low to the south of the survey might equally just possibly be interpretable as an earlier watercourse.

Further map research shows that the millstream through Roath was only straightened as far as the bridge, now at Penylan Road, in 1789, as shown on a map of Roath parish of that date (National Library of Wales, Tredegar 233 139/8/14). Accounts show there was a major refurbishment of the mill in 1801 (National Library of Wales, Ruperra Accounts 1801 AGR 1-20 (Bocs 456)) so the millstream may have been extended at that time.

Roath Mill Project

Geophysical Survey, 17th March 2012

Cardiff Archaeology Society and GeoArch


An Outline

Roath Mill Gardens 
The Mill Gardens were formally opened on the 23rd October, 1912 so this year is the centenary. The new park then included a paddling pool – the opening included the launch of a toy torpedo-boat by a Councillor's son. Some stonework of the mill and its water system remain in the sides of the stream.

The Survey
There is very little left of the buildings of early Roath, as the mill, the major farmhouses such as Great House (Ty Mawr), Dean's Farm,  and cottages such asTy Draw and Ty-y-cyw were all demolished in the late nineteenth or twentieth centuries to make way for
the suburban development we have today. 

The survey looked for any remains below ground of the known mill buildings and for any signs of the earlier buildings which might indicate the site of the medieval mill. Two types of ground-penetrating survey were used, magnetometry and ground resistivity.



Roath Mill survey proposal plan cropped.

The survey area outlined in red squares

A History of Roath Mill
The mill appears in the first references to Roath when it was donated to Tewkesbury Abbey in 1102.This may be the mill that was regranted to Keynsham Abbey by 1275. After the Dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, the lands were eventually bought by the Morgan's of Tredegar and  Lanrumney. The mill is mentioned in 1650 and in a detailed survey of 1702 - 'a Corn Grist Mill, called Roath Mill, which said mill the said Jurors do likewise present to be the Lord's mill, and situate within this Lordship.' George Howels was the tenant.

In the nineteenth century there are references to the landowners,tenants, millers and mill workers as well as a tenants of the cottage attached to the mill. The Evans family of Dean's Farm are listed as millers and farmers in directories through most of the nineteenth century. The census shows James Rowe from Cornwall, then Maurice Griffiths from Pembrokeshire as millers – they were probably doing the actual milling. Edward Phillips, sexton and parish clerk, lived 'By Roath Mill' with his large family from at least 1855 to 1871.
He was buried at St. Margaret's, Roath, in 1895.

A map of the Mill area in 1880 (Reproduced from the 1880 Ordnance Survey Map)

Roath Mill 1880 OS 25 inch extract Sheet

The mill and its attached cottages stood in what is now Roath Mill Gardens. A mill required a straightened stream, the digging of a millpond and the building of sluices and weirs. The recut stream through Roath and the millpond are shown as early as the 1840 Tithe Plan.

Roath Mill 1920 OS 25 inch extract Sheet

A map of the area in 1920 with the former site of the Mill shown. (Reproduced from the 1920 Ordnance Survey Map)

The building stood until it 1897 when it was demolished during the redevelopment of the area. 


caerau hillfort

Cardiff Archaeology Society, in co-operation with the CAER Heritage Project and Cardiff University, are exploring the hill fort site at Caerau, seen below. You can learn more about their work here


llantrithyd - a ringwork in the vale of glamorgan

Cardiff Archaeological Society spent almost ten years, between 1960-69, excavating at the ringwork in the village of Llantrithyd in the Vale of Glamorgan, work which was one of the most significant projects in our history.


The first phase of occupation of the site would seem to be that of an earthen ‘castle’, surrounded by a ditch, at some time during the initial period of the Norman conquest of South Wales, when Llantrithyd came into the ownership of the de Cardiff family.

Later stone buildings and fortifications were erected with the site becoming more a fortified manor or hunting lodge than a castle. The large numbers of bones of birds of prey found, including goshawks and sparrowhawks, seem to confirm this. The stone buildings were succeeded by a further phase of timber buildings with occupation of the site ceasing by the end of the 12th century.

The numbers of arrowheads also seem to indicate that the site was attacked during the period of unrest in South Wales. This is further supported by the major find on the site; the hoard of eight silver pennies found in the north west corner of Building 3.  These would have been hidden, possibly in the eaves of the building, sometime between 1122-1124.

One of the coins, all from the reign of Henry I, is a rare Type V giving the moneyer’s name as Walterus and Cardiff as the mint, with the cut halfpenny being the earliest coin of the Cardiff mint to have survived.  Our discovery of a coin from the reign of Henry I minted locally provided that there was a Royal Mint in Cardiff during the medieval period.

Vast amounts of mostly medieval course pottery were excavated as were oyster shells and a wide range of animal bones. The inhabitants certainly ate well.

Among the variety of objects also found were a ring, book clasp, gilt purse clasp, padlock and keys, hones, a knife handle, bone combs, needles  and pins. 

Other finds included a roman coin and some samian pottery, Neolithic arrow heads and scraper and a small amount of pottery from the Neolithic to Bronze Ages. A fine jade archer’s wrist guard that was uncovered, possibly from a beaker burial and originating from Switzerland is currently being examined as part of a National Museum of Wales project.

In 1977 the Society produced a printed report on our findings which is now out of print. We have digitised this document to preserve it and it can be viewed in PDF format by clicking on the icon below: