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Looking at some early maps of Caernarfon (John Wood, 1834 & Hugh Humphreys, 1848) I see that there is a crossing of the Seiont marked as "Helen's Causeway."
I am curious as to the reason why the causeway was placed in the position it was. It makes sense that being upriver, at low tide the water level would have been low enough to walk across, but was there something located in the big field on the Coed Helen side which drew the townspeople, or was it simply random and was merely a place for them to cross the river without having to pay for the ferry?
A most interesting question and I believe the answer lies in the definition of Causeway in the dictionary "raised path or road across water or marshland". Indeed there is reference to this method even in the Bible and in the 23rd psalm. "The Lord is my shepherd....Thy rod and thy staff". In those days the shepherd would lead the way using two sticks, one to move forward to the next stepping stone and the other pointing to where the leader of the sheep should tread when following him. In Welsh we would call this path RHYD which translates as FORD.
Now I believe your assumption to be correct regarding low tide and as for a strategic point the river is narrower at that point thus making it ideal for animals to cross to a field on the other side.This would be the commonest form of crossing rivers at the time of the Romans, hence the name Helen.
I believe also that the best place for you to make inquiries about the Causway would be the Harbour Office at the Slate Quay to see whether they have documentary information in their files.
T Meirion Hughes
Thank you very much for a most comprehensive and informative reply. It really is much appreciated.
Whilst looking for other material I spotted the following in the North Wales Chronicle of 26/2/1915 in a (regular) column called 19th Century Reminiscences and made a note of it with this query from Gwilym in mind. It may be the same location?
As some workmen in the year 1817 were employed in forming a small quay near Carnarvon they discovered "the remains of an immense wooden bridge, buried several feet in the sand, and extending over te river Seiont" Some fragment of it were taken and proved to be of oak in a high state of preservation, one beam measuring upward of 50 feet in length.A contemporary accounts states that
" the bridge appears to have formed a communication between Segontium and Coed Helen summer-house which was in all probability a roman watch-tower, one end of the bridge being contiguous to the old wall of Hengaer Cyseint where there were remains of steps leading to it within the memory of man. The existence of a bridge of such magnitude was not traditionally known."
From what I can see the Chronicle didn't start till 1827 ish so the 'contemporary account' referred to may be the one in The Times of Nov 13 1817 which is more or less word for word but it adds that the entire bridge extended 400 yards. That's one hell of a bridge. Was it the Seiont or the Mississippi! :-)
I suppose there will be loads on a bridge this size in the archives/segontium museum.
Any ideas which papers they'll be filed under?
Many thanks for a most interesting contribution to the discussion on river crossings in olden times. I must admit that this is the first I have heard of a wooden bridge spanning the Seiont in Roman times although it was known that there was a wooden fort on both sides of the Seiont and I should think that the one on the other side of the Seiont would have been closer to the shore that the summer house or folly.
Furthermore, I join in your surprise regarding the length of the bridge and would imagine that this was a printing error and should read 40 yards rather than 400 yards. Regarding the folly on the mound in Coed Helen I have always been under the impression since my elememtary school days that the folly was "a 19th century addition built by the then squire".
I wonder whether the Segontium Museum can throw light on the matter.
Maybe Gwilym will tell us if the location he spotted for the causeway is 'contiguous with the old walls ...'
Bearing in mind that the maps are post 1817 is there a small quay in that area? My only access at the moment is the old maps site which doesn't show much on first look.
Undoubtedly what is being referred to there as Hengaer Cyseint is:
3rd-Century Fortlet / 4th-Century Castellum
There is a small Roman fortlet 150 yards west of Segontium at Hen Waliau (SH482624). This stone-walled enclosure possibly started in use during the third-century as a storage depot for the fort itself. Another suggestion voiced is that the Hen Waliau site was built as a means of protecting the harbour from a height, possibly as a level platform on which to place ballistae, onagri and other Roman artillery pieces."
Extracted from this site
where I can see no mention of a bridge.
Last year, when I was in the Archives, Reg Chambers Jones was gathering material regarding bridges for a book. He's not on the net I don't think. Do you or maybe Keith or Ger see him in the Archives or have some sort of contact with him? I haven't plans on visiting anytime soon. Not until the winter draws in.
That was one fine piece of wood they found. Wonder if it was then used in any local building in 1817. Come to think of it if the whole bridge was oak maybe there's a good chance bits may be somewhere in Longshanks' castle. We'll have to dismantle his castle so that carbon dating/ tree ring examination can be carried out. Purely in the interest of research you understand. :-)
Thank you for your reply Hywyn.
One thing that crosses my mind regarding Helen's Causway is that it is marked (but ever so unclear)on both the c.1800 and the 1834 maps and is just beyond a right angle bend on the Seiont near to Lord Newborough's Quay which is adjacent to a Lime Kiln. After passing these two landmarks the river narrows there and is directly opposite to where the beginning of St. Helen's Terrace is today and some distance away from the Fortica or Hen Walia that you mention and almost directly in front of Bryn Helen, where Sir William Preece (1834 - 1913) was born the son of R.M.Preece, Banker and former mayor of Caernarfon.
Hope this helps,
I have emailed GAT. I see on their site that they conducted an excavation on the river fort some years ago when there was a underground petrol tank about to be inserted for a garage (premuably the Texaco one?)
I see on the maps available to me that this is roughly above where the Lime Kilns you mention are situated. I'll pay a visit to the archives next week to have a dig through the Glynllifon papers and see if I can get hold of Reg in case he has covered this.
Just a few words to let you know that I have sent you an email to your home address informing you of the actual whereabouts of Helen's Causeway together with a photo of one of Caernarfon's most well known schooners of the 19th century anchored at Lord Newborough's Quay c. 1900. It is way distant from where you believe to be Fortica which is the site where Ysgol Jones Bach is situated at the top of Love Lane and where a Petrol tank was fitted for the Texaco Garage some few years ago. I should be pleased if you could inform me whether you have received this email, otherwise I will have to resend and on the website this time to make sure you will able to receive it.
Diolch Meirion. The email was there for me when I switched on earlier together with the one notifying me of your lastpost here. I take your point that the causeway that's marked on the map is further up river. Thanks for the info. I'll have a root in the Glynllifon papers (and others) this week for material relating to the time when that Quay was built.
Fantastic discussion- especially as I am researching Helen's Causeway as part of research at Durham University. Did you have any luck with archives? Would it be possible to see that photograph?
Look forward to hearing back