Lligwy – 3 Ages in Stone

There are not many places where you can find evidence of more than 5000 years of continual human activity in such a small area. But on the eastern coast of Angelsey there just such a place. 5000 years set out in stone and human endeavour, both spiritual and pragmatic. Today Lligwy, hidden up a narrow single track road that only adds to the sense of isolation, is a group of buildings that include a Neolithic burial chamber, an Iron Age village and an old abandoned church. 

Neolithic megalithic tomb chamber, comprising eight stones of differing shapes, all supporting a massive capstone, 5.9m by 5.2m and 1.1m thick. The capstone is estimated to weight 25 tons. The tome constructed over a natural fissure in the rock so that the chamber had a height of about 2.0m. The shear size of the capstone and the fact that it is built over the fissure gives the tomb a squat appearance. There is no trace of the original cairn, although over the centuries soil has crept up around the stones. The chamber was excavated in 1909, when two layers of deposits were recorded, separated by a layer of paving. The deposits contained unburnt bone, human and animal, pot sherds and some flints and the upper deposit was covered by a layer of limpet shells. Between fifteen and thirty individuals were represented in the tomb chamber. Some of the pottery appears to be Bronze Age and at least one of the layers may represent the re-use of the tomb (1). 

Lligwy Burial Chamber.

About 400m away, hidden in a small woodland is another amazing find. The secret here is a small settlement with the foundations of the round huts, and perimeter wall still visible. Huge upright slabs of stone create the entrances to each building. When this was occupied is still not absolutely clear. Din Lligwy is a later Prehistoric type walled settlement set on the summit of a limestone plateau close to its precipitous northern edge. The internal buildings were cleared from 1905 onwards when significant quanties of Roman material were recovered, mostly of the late third-fourth century (2). 

Looking along the edge of the perimet wall which includes one of the rectangular bulidlings. Taken from the North Eastern corner of the settlement

There are two circular buildings within the walls. Excavations within the hut areas revealed coins, pottery, glass and a small silver ingot (3). The other rectangular buildings may have been workshops or animal shelters. 

The foundations and lower walls from the circular hut in the North Western part of the aettlement.

The perimeter wall cannot be considered defensive and the settlement probably belonged to a farming community. That said the clearly defined outlines of the huts and other buildings can, with a little imagination, give a picture of how people lived so long ago. In fact the place feels much older than the 4th Century, and may well be as shards of flint have a been found on site. This is hardly surprising considering the proximity of the burial chamber.

A aerial view adapted from an Apple Maps satellite picture from the iPad. I do use products other than Apple honest!

As you walk from the road to Din Lligwy you pass Lligwy Chapel in the field to your right. This is now a ruin, but in its setting it is difficult to ignore as it over looks Lligwy Bay to the north. It’s close proximity to bothe burial chamber and Iron Age settlement adds it its gravitas. Little is known about it’s origins and dedication as the written history is very sparse. The oldest parts of the chapel date from the first half of the 12th century, and it is mainly built of rubble stone, with very little dressed so tone visible in its walls.  

Following years of Viking raids many churches on Anglesey in north-west Wales were built in stone and the Norman influence also dictated more permanent buildings as they sought to gain control of the island. It has been suggested that the chapel may originally have been a memorial chapel, or connected to a royal court nearby (4). Though after the Normans gave up trying to secure the island Gruffudd ap Cynan (d 1137) and his successor Owain Gwynedd (d. 1170) built many churches on the island, and Capel Lligwy fits in with this time frame (2). Equally it may have been built to serve an expanding population in medieval times (5). Despite this, it seems to have remained as a chapel of ease rather than become a parish church in its own right. There may be something in this theory as there are no burials around the church.

That said the 19th-century antiquarian Angharad Llwyd claims that a fox had once taken shelter in the ruins, and when it was dug out, a vault was discovered, “containing several human skeletons, which crumbled into dust, when exposed to the air”. She added that further exploration of the vault then revealed “a large mass of human bones, several feet in depth” (6).  Whatever the history, it is just that now – history. Despite the fact that we live in a world of access to instant fact and disinformation, there are still mysteries that Amy never be fully explained. Now where is my time machine?

  1. Coflein. http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/95532/details/lligwy-burial-chamber-near-moelfre. 
  2. Williams, D.M. (2001) Angelsey: A guide to ancient monuments of the isle of Angelsey. CADW. 
  3. CADW. http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/dinlligwyhutgroup/?lang=
  4. Jones, G. I. L. (2006). Anglesey Churches. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch. 
  5. Yates, M. J.; Longley, David (2001). Anglesey: A guide to ancient monuments on the Isle of Anglesey.
  6. Llwyd, A.  (2007) [1833]. A History of the Island of Mona. Llansadwrn, Anglesey: Llyfrau Magma.

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