The Firedog of Capel Garmon – 1852

Below is an article from our library about a local archaeological discovery in 1852; interestingly enough there was also a  story about the same 2000 year old Firedog in the local BBC news recently – when it was used to pay a tax bill – read the story!

The Firedog of Capel Garmon – 1852

Firedog found near Capel GarmonThere are several objects of interest to the antiquary in the neighbourhood.  In close proximity is Carreg y lleon, (Rock of the legion,) suggestive of Roman domination.  A mile to the south is Dinas, commanding the junction of the Dolwyddelan and Penmachno vales.  At the foot of this rock was discovered an ancient firedog, in [1852].  Two miles to the north-east is Garneddwen, which, within living memory, was an immense heap of stones, under which, about the year [1803], several cistvaens were discovered and broken up.  Near this is the fragment of a maenhir, called Maenpebyll, (stone of tents or tabernacles,) which was wantonly blasted and thrown down in [1850].  To these may be added the Trebeddau graves, where the Brochmael inscription was found, Gaerfawr, and Yr hen foel, (which gave its name to the mansion and parish of Voelas,) with the inscribed pillar which has baffled palaeologists from Camden down to this day.

The relic of which a representation is appended was discovered in [May, 1852], by a man cutting a ditch through a turbary on the farm of Carreg Goedog, near Capel Garmon, Llanrwst.  It lay on the clay subsoil, flat upon its side, with a large stone at each end, and at a considerable depth.  The spot is quite unfrequented, nor are there any remains of ancient buildings.  It is all of iron, and the execution indicates considerable taste and skill.  It is in some parts much corroded, and exposure to the air decomposed the metal considerably.

The knobs on the crest and sides are, apparently, of cast iron, with rivets through.  The lower row of round marks on the crest are perforations.  Should a remote age be suggested, corroborative memorials are not wanting; such as the dinas, or fort, close to which it was found; Carreg y lleon, rock of the legion;  and the neighbouring Roman road through Dolwyddelan to Conovium – not to mention the cromlech.

Those who would maintain a mediaeval, or still more recent, date, might find a warrant for that supposition, in the circumstance of this neighbourhood having been the scene of many warlike conflicts, incursions and depredations.

The characteristics set forth in the following account of a Roman firedog, tally so well with those of the article above mentioned, that there appears good reason to believe it to be of Roman workmanship:-

“Mr. Roach Smith has given an engraving, in the second volume of his Collections, of a pair of andirons, or firedogs, of iron, discovered in [1839], in a sepulchral vault near Colchester.  Each consisted of a frame, the two upright sides of which were crowned with heads of oxen, with a brass knob on the tip of each horn.  Two very similar implements, also of iron, had been found near Shefford, in Bedfordshire, in [1832], and an engraving of them has also been given by Mr. Roach Smith.

Articles of the same character, but smaller, have been found at Pompeii, and in a tomb at Paestum.  The Italian antiquaries seem to consider that they were used, not like the mediaeval firedogs, to support the fuel, but that they were cooking utensils, intended to support iron bars to serve as a gridiron.  The two firedogs found near Shefford terminated in stags heads.  Even in these homely utensils, the imitations of nature are of the boldest order; the graceful turn of the stag’s neck, and the outline of the head, which form the ornamental part of each end, are singularly effective” – Celt, Roman and Saxon, by Thomas Wright, Esq., p. 335.

On the other hand, one of our members, Mr. O. Jewitt, observes as follows:

“I would suggest that this instrument is intended to hold the spits for roasting fowls, game, or other small animals, such as we see in mediaeval MSS.  The loops on the side are evidently intended for that purpose, and it is probable that the horns of the two heads are intended for supporting a larger one.  We see in the Bayeux Tapestry, and in MSS. of the fourteenth century, these spits continually used, and that boys were employed to turn them.  In the Bayeux Tapestry the small animals are always brought up to the table on the spits”  – J. EVANS. January, [1856].

Excerpt from Archaeologia Cambrensis Volume 2 by Thomas Rowland Powel & Donald Moore – 1856

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Further Reading and External Links

Tax bill paid with 2,000-year-old Iron Age fire guard – BBC News 19 December 2011

Other Firedog discoveries – Hertfordshire