Cardiff (G-B): Rare historical artefacts found in Bute Park unveiled

The excavation, part of the Bute Park Restoration Project, finds key artefacts  near the castle

Simon Gaskell

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Pottery with an ornate crest

They had lain undiscovered for centuries in a city park, hiding a life long since forgotten.

But now a series of artefacts discovered in Cardiff’s Bute  Park this summer – thought to date from the 16th and 17th century – may have revealed a  window into the lives of aristocrats that once lived there.


Archaeologists had discovered the important treasures while excavating Mill Leat – a historical water body located on the outer western edge of Cardiff Castle which has been drained since the 1970s.

The excavation, part of the Bute Park Restoration Project, took place over six to eight  weeks from July and stumbled  across finds including animal  bones, engraved leather, a sword  sheath, imported Venetian glass,  a pewter spoon and clay tobacco  pipe fragments.


Material found was a mixture  of upper class items thought to  belong to former aristocratic  residents of Cardiff Castle and   pieces reflecting working class  life – all thought to have been  discarded and washed away.

Thanks to a maker’s mark on  one of the tobacco pipes discovered, the finds have been dated back to the 16th and 17th century, when the wealthy Herbert  family would have been living at  Cardiff Castle.

Julia Sas,  project manager of  the Bute Park Restoration Project, said: “In among the bones,  there’s red deer – venison – and a very high status meat.

There’s evidence these very  high status bits come from a family at the castle. As well as  that, there’s working class industrial finds coming from outside the other side of the water.  You are getting a snapshot of  two different classes of the  time.

We have a tobacco pipe,  which is quite small, as tobacco was really expensive. There’s  one with a maker’s stamp of John Ross, who was making  pipes between 1580 and 1620.”

Bute Park is undergoing a  £5.6m restoration as part of the project, supported by a £3.1m  grant from the Heritage Lottery  Fund (HLF).

It is seeing important historic features restored to help tell the  story of the park.

The reintroduction of water  to the old castle moat running  alongside the original 12th century mill stream is one of the key tasks being undertaken.Amelia Pannett, project manager for Archaeology Wales,  said: “As part of the HLF funded  restoration project, one of the  main objectives was to refill it,  so to do that we had to excavate  it to put a liner in so, when we do  fill it, water won’t wash away.

It was just where we excavated. No-one expected to  find this type of collection.

When we took the silt down,  there was a line of wooden posts  and timbers in the top of the silt,  at which point we thought ‘oh’.  We were surprised definitely.

In the upper surface there was lots of stuff like bottles, cans – all sorts of modern rubbish. Deeper down we got to what was older rubbish.”

In total more than 3,000 individual pieces have been recovered. The artefacts were  sifted through and washed over the course of yesterday and  Thursday with the help of volunteers among the student  body in the archaeology department at Cardiff University.

And ornate imported copper- glazed cups and cooking pottery  were among the items being  pieced together yesterday.

Meanwhile fragments of bellarmine jars imported from Germany showed a court scene on  one and a coat of arms on  another.

The pieces will require further, more detailed analysis to  explore their significance, but the early signs are they shed  new light on a period in the  history of the capital city.

Ms Pannett added: “Without  this, we would really be in the  dark about what was happening at the time. It shows a level of  trade, international trade with a  number of different countries.”

It is hoped many of the pieces  will end up at the National Museum Wales in Cathays Park or the Cardiff Story Museum on  Trinity Street, or both.