Trostrey

EXCAVATIONS AT TROSTREY

Trostrey church stands all alone on a ridge overlooking the River Usk midway between Usk and Bettws Newydd. To stand there today, it seems still a lonely and natural place of grassland, bushes and trees. The only difference standing there twenty years ago would be the addition of a brick barn and a raised tump indicating a possible castle or ringwork. Geoffrey Mein, a retired lawyer, local historian and amateur archaeologist of lifelong experience, took an interest in the site and started a short exploration that turned out to be a twenty year excavation. Over the years many people from the surrounding areas were trained by Geoff and some went on to explore their own historical sites. In 2006 the site at Trostrey was finally closed after a spectacular series of discoveries taking the history of a deserted village from the 19th century back to the Neolithic (or New Stone Age). First the top of the tump (castle mound) was cleared and excavated to expose the last building, a base of a stone farmhouse. The next building exposed was a small medieval stone built castle with thick well-built walls and some signs of internal features. The castle was basically a square building with a drawbridge entrance and a garderobe (toilet) tower at the rear.

Norman ringwork and bailey with village c1100

Norman ringwork and bailey with village c1100

It was surrounded by a deep rock-cut dry moat. The castle had been constructed by building up with rock rubble over the top of the Norman ringwork. All this depth of rock (some 2m) had to be removed. At the bottom were the Norman earth ramparts with palisade post holes and the thrown down remains of burnt giant timbers from the entrance gatehouse. Minor earthworks were located suggesting that the whole area of the top of the ridge was enclosed protecting what was then the newly built church and village dwellings (there was little evidence of houses, but it was almost certain that they existed either side of the road that ran out of the castle entrance.

Removing sections of the Norman defences revealed an earlier Roman settlement. Probably military by the well-preserved stables and palisade on a turf rampart (the turfs were evident for all to see). There were finds of Roman coins and a cavalry phalera (an award of honour and worn on the horse’s harness). It was possibly a horse changing point for the imperial post alongside the Roman road that ran along the valley.

The inside of the settlement area on the ridge was excavated in sections and revealed – mostly fragmentary, as the turf was less than a foot deep on top of the ridge – Iron Age round houses, Bronze Age round houses, pottery and Neolithic pits, fires and post holes. A beautiful flint spear head and leaf-shaped arrow-head were amongst the artefacts recovered. A series of post holes were sunk into the rock to take a wooden palisade which most probably ran all around the site. The various periods were confirmed by carbon dating.

The medieval castle as it may have looked from evidence recovered c1300

The medieval castle as it may have looked from evidence recovered c1300

During work surrounding the site. It was discovered that the area had been the site of a small Roman marching camp from the first century. Air photos taken in a drought year clearly showed on one side the bank a double ditch with a round turn.

The field below the church had been subject to intensive and deep ploughing in recent times. The bank of the marching camp can still be seen where it was preserved by the church boundary to the left of the church gate.

 John Sorrell