There have been inhabited settlements in and around Porthkerry since before the time of the Roman invasion. The best know of these is the site at The Bulwark (access via the caravan park) which is believed to have been occupied between 2000BC and 75AD. It is a large site with spectacular views across the Bristol Channel which give away its strategic importance. And the vast earthworks and ditches which surrounded it, though now over grown with woods, are still pretty much in tact and rather impressive.
This site, though the biggest and most famous, was not isolated. Dr Edith Evans shared at a recent Rhoose & District History Society meeting, photos of archeological digs and Geo-physical suveys of other settlements found in the area; one in a field opposite Glebe Farm and another behind Model Farm. Both were quite small, circular in shape, and would have been surrounded by wooden fencing and would have consited of two or three round, wooden huts. Similar in appearance to the "Celtic Village" display at the St Fagan's Museum of Welsh Life.
The reason for this comparatively dense settling is believed to be that the area around Porthkerry provided a lighter, loamy soil that was better for cultivating corn and other hardy crops when most surrounding areas had much more heavy clay in the soil. After the Roman invasion of course, the abundants of good lime stone for building made the area of particular interest and industry. Especially when the geology of the area makes our limestone especially good for making mortars and cements (an industry still very much alive in nearby East Aberthaw). It is from this period of the Roman invasion that we get one legend as to how the village got it's name.
Caractacus (also known as Caradog) was the great Welsh tribal chief who managed to hold off the Roamn invasion for over a decade. When he was fianlly defeated and captured he was sentenced to death by the Emperor Claudius. But he gave a fantastic speech which changed the emperor's heart. That bit is well documented. It is also documented that he had a nephew called "Ceri" (know as Ceri ap Caid, King of the Essyllwg). His nobility and perceived obidience to Rome was recognised by the invaders and they appointed him governor of one of the tribes of South Wales. It is also known that at the time, the valley in which Porthkerry Park is now located was already a port. So not a massive leap to see why it might have been called "Port Ceri". It is suggested (and this is where legend kicks in) that Ceri made it a particulalry significant port as he is believed to have assembled a significant maritime trading fleet, to enable himself to grow rich on the trading opportunites with Rome and her empire. It sounds plausible, but there is more robust evidence to suggest that the port did not become a significant one until a chap called "Carausis" berthed 100 ships there to make it part of the "Classis Britannica" - the first ever British fleet - in the year 286. Obviously back then the waterways and channels in the valley were wider and more accessible than they are now, and the access at the beach end of the valley would have been clear. Today it is damned up by a wall of limestone pebbles.
The reason why the beach end access to the valley has been destroyed to the point where you need to exrecise a fair amount of imagination to picture it as ever having been capable of being a port, dates back to a natural event on 31st January 1607 when a tsunami swept up the Bristol channel with such devastating force that it deposited vast boulders from miles out into the Atlantic Ocean on beaches from Southerndown to Barry and flooded vast areas of the Gwent and Somerset levels as well. It is also documneted that the force with which it hit was enough to break "Castle Rock" away from the mainland (as it would have formed part of the cliff face by the Bulwark in Porthkerry) and deposited it in the sea.
As for the narrowing of the channels to little more than streams now, that is largely just a result of silting over the best part of 2000 years. But there is no doubt that Porthkerry continued as a viable port for over 1000 years after the Romans. Once again, I admit we are once again delving into the realms of legend, but it is believed that
Caractacus; Chief Welsh Tribesman
A wood carving depicting the Tsunami of 1607 and the great flood that it caused on both sides of the channel.
Porthkerry was the site where Robert Fitzhamon and his twelve knights landed in 1093 to ally themselves with Jestyn ap Gwrgant, king of Glamorgan, in order to help him in his struggle against his rival Rhys ap Tewdwr, king of Deheubarth. A treacherous tale of conquest and betrayal that ended with Fitzhamon keeping the land he came to liberate for himself and his knights and he ended up living in near by Cardiff Castle. May be it was he who built our mystical castle that no one is really sure ever existed. There is documantary evidence that it did. Pieter Van Den Keere noted a castle on a map of the area dated 1599 and it also appeared on one by John Speed in 1610. But what happened to it is unclear. The fact that "Castle Rock" was ripped so violently from the headland and dumped in the sea in 1607 could give us the answer. But who knows?
For the majority of "recent" history the village has been little more than a small hamlets of farms. In fact John Maurius Wilson in 1870-72 described it thus...
"PORTHKERRY, or Porth-Ceri, a parish in Cardiff district, Glamorgan; on the coast, 7 miles S of Peterston r. station and 10 S W of Cardiff. Post-town, Cowbridge. Acres, 1, 131; of which 215 are water. Real property, £1,060. Pop., 168. Houses, 32. The property is divided among a few. The manor belonged formerly to the St. Johns of Bletsoe; and, with P. House, belongs now to the Romilly family. The living is a rectory, united with the rectory of Barry, in the diocese of Llan-daff. Value, £289.* Patrons, the Heirs of the late Sir S. Romilly. The church is good."
The Baron Sir Edward Romilly
19th April 1804 - 12th October 1870
The son of the politician Sir Samual Romilly who had been Solicitor General, and a great reformer of criminal law, Sir Edward also went into politics and was the Whig MP for Ludlow. He was also a first class cricketer, both at university at Cambridge and for Marylebone CC. His official residence was Porthkerry and it was he who left the park to the people of the Vale.
He is buried in a grand, marble tomb at the southern edge of the older part of our church yard in St Curig's Church Porthkerry
We, the congregation of St Curig's know all too well that we are merely custodians of this lovely old church. Here to do our bit to preserve it for future generations to enjoy. But as with all buildings of this age, the work of renovating, repairing, restoring, maintaining and protecting is a never ending cycle of works and bills. Already this year we have started work on the rebuilding of our organ (click here to chart our progress and learn more about our organ) which was in urgent need of attention. We will shortly begin work on reroofing The Lychgate, which is an historic monument in its own right, and like the organ was built as a memorial to the local men who lost their lives in World War I. And further ahead of that we have already scheduled repairs to leaky windows and a new coat of lime wash on the outer walls.
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This page was researched and written by
People's Warden at St Curig's Porthkerry
Tel: 01446 623309
Other web pages that may be of interest:
Also, please read: "Romans In The Vale of Glamorgan" by Karl-James Langford.
Want to know more about the fascinating history of St Curig's church? John Wesley's connection? Click here to find out more...
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The True Service Tree - Porthkerry's unique botanical discovery. Click for more.