Abandoned Communities ..... Kenfig

Another issue raised by the experience of the people of Kenfig is the degree to which those who are forced to leave their community succeed in integrating with others in the surrounding area. People from Kenfig were re-settled on land to the east and south east. Some of them moved to Pyle, a village that seems to have been created around the time that the town of Kenfig was abandoned. Pyle may indeed have been established largely to provide housing for people from Kenfig, but it appears that others also moved to live there.


One topic that gave rise to disagreement was the designation of the new parish church in Pyle, built in 1471. The church was dedicated to St James, as the church that had existed in Kenfig had been. Indeed stone was transferred from the old church to the new one. If you look at the south wall of the church in Pyle you can see that smaller stones were used at the base and larger stones at a higher level, clearly representing the order in which they would have arrived. Some of the residents of Pyle proposed that the parish should be called Pyle and Kenfig, but others, presumably those from Kenfig, wanted it to be simply Kenfig. In 1485 the Bishop of Llandaff decided that it would indeed be called the parish of Pyle and Kenfig. Even then one side persisted in calling the parish “the parish of Pyle”, the other side the parish of Kenfig.

You may be wondering what there is to see if you visit the site of Kenfig today. You will come across a small hillock of sand surmounted by some unimpressive masonry that once formed part of the upper section of the castle. Apart from that there is nothing to see but dunes, and, depending upon the season of the year, a diversity of birdlife and flowering plants.

The Ordnance Survey reference number of Kenfig is SS801826.

Walk just under half a mile to the south and you will reach a large freshwater lake known as Kenfig Pool. The whole area was declared a site of Special Scientific Interest in 1954 and has been a National Nature Reserve since 1989. The Information Centre is well worth a visit.

The introduction to Thomas Gray's book was written by Walter de Gray Birch in prose that can only be described as purple. He referred to "a wild and lonely solitude of sand". Even in 1909 that was not strictly true as the mainline railway from Swansea to London ran less than a quarter of a mile north east of the site of Kenfig. Today you will also be aware of the M4 motorway, and if you look north west across an area of waste land that has not found another use since it was a railway marshalling yard you will see the steelworks and oil refineries of Port Talbot. If, however, you keep your gaze to the south and west then de Gray Birch's description is not far wrong.

The memory of the lost town is kept alive by the
Kenfig Society, a group of enthusiastic, friendly, and intellectually adventurous amateur historians. They have produced an excellent series of publications.

Soon after the formation of the society in 1989 a special group was set up to take responsibility for archaeological investigation of the town and castle. It is likely that the most productive method of investigation would be the use of ground penetrating radar, but GPR is far beyond the modest financial resources available to the society. In its absence the special group has resorted to digging, but in this respect too they have been subjected to severe limitations as Cadw, the guardians of Welsh heritage, have been well aware of their amateur status and have not allowed them to excavate within the vicinity of the castle.

The main discoveries of the special group have been ridge and furrow patterns in the ground and an isolated building, apparently not used for residential purposes. After animated discussion of alternative theories the group recognised the ridge and furrow patterns as evidence of medieval ploughing. The building remains a puzzle. A summary of work to date was written by Terry Robbins and published in 2002.

Terry Robbins, Digging Up Kenfig, Kenfig Society Monograph No. 22, 2002.

This booklet is illustrated with maps and diagrams, with photographs of excavated areas and artefacts, and with photographs of members of the special group. In the latter you can see the first spade-full being removed from the surface of the ground, members of the group holding plastic cups and celebrating the end of the first year's digging, and excavators taking shelter from the elements on a rainy day.




Aerial view of Kenfig castle and the surrounding area

The castle at Kenfig ... and there isn’t much more of it
The church of St James, Pyle