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Caerhun Roman Fort (Canovium) & St Mary’s Church


Caerhun Roman Fort (Canovium) & St Mary’s Church

Canovium was an auxiliary fort, one of a network between Deva (Chester) and Segontium (Caernarfon), established in the mid 70s AD, probably by Agricola (son-in-law of the historian Tacitus) in what can be seen as Rome's final conquest of North Wales, allowing it to turn its full attention to Northern England and Scotland. 


Extensive excavation by PK Baillie Reynolds during 1926-9 examined the square earthwork of 140m x 140m. The objects recovered are now housed in the Llandudno Museum, 17-19 Gloddaeth Street. Tel 01492 876517. 


The defences, initially earth and timber, were made permanent by the addition of a stone rampart and guard towers in the early 2nd century. At the same time stone internal buildings were constructed. The fort was partially abandoned around 139-42, but some activity continued into the late 4th century. 


In the field beyond the lane, north of the fort, stood a vicus or civilian settlement, consisting of wooden buildings from different periods, with evidence of hearths, furnaces, and light industry. It may have been occupied by Roman immigrants and not local people. South of the fort was an annexe with evidence of smelting. 


About 120m from the lychgate the lane crosses the south west corner of the fort between the first two oak trees. The ramparts can be seen on either side. They survive almost to original height at the south east corner, and are also prominent along the east and south sides. The churchyard wall stands upon the north east corner. 

The site of a bath house is today a prominent cutting on the slope between the churchyard and river. Roman roads can be traced north and south from the fort, and an earthwork dock to the north could have Roman origins. 


The Church


The church which dates from the 13th century was probably founded by the Cistercians of Maenan. It is thought that the present  nave formed the original building. 


A porch and chancel were added in the 15th century. It is believed that the east window was moved from the end of the original building to its present position above the altar. In the 19th century the porch was converted into a vestry therefore the original south entrance is now the vestry door. 


In the 16th century the wall containing the present entrance was rebuilt. The entrance door is 18th century studded plank and the lych gate is of the same period. Above the door there is a weathered medieval stone panel of a crucifix. 


The bell-cote is unusual as it is double. There is no evidence of it ever having contained more than one bell. 


The south transept or chapel was added in the sixteenth century. A weathered stone on the outside of the chapel is dated 1591 and inscribed with the initials E W and G W as well as the Gwydir arms. Inside the church, a board, inscribed in Latin, indicates that the chapel was built in 1591 by Edward Williams of Maes Castel' who was High Sheriff of Caernarfon in 1570. 


In both the 19th and 20th centuries renovations were carried out. In 1972 a medieval Holy Water stoup and some bones were found in the north wall near the entrance. One theory is that they were hidden by supporters of the "Old Faith" during the Reformation. The stoup is now sited to the right of the door inside the church. 


The sandstone blocks in the walls probably came from Cheshire having been part of the Roman fort. 



North Wales