The History of the ProjectThe Project began in 1999 as a research and teaching programme of the Department of Archaeology in the then University of Wales Lampeter. It has now developed to become a major project run by the Strata Florida Trust. The Project in its current form has two primary aspects: the Strata Florida Research Project; and the Strata Florida Centre Project.
The Strata Florida Research Project is directed by Professor Emeritus David Austin. In Phase 1, which was run by staff from the University of Wales Trinity St David, Quentin Drew and Dr Jemma Bezant were Co-Directors. Phase 2 will begin in 2019 under the auspices of the Strata Florida Trust and it will have a new set of objectives and a full research design.
After two preliminary seasons in 1999 and 2000, the field elements of the Research Project went into abeyance during the Foot and Mouth outbreak of 2001-2 and were only resumed in 2004. Since then there has been continuous work with the central aspect being undergraduate training excavations each summer. The first phase of the Strata Florida Research Project was completed in 2015, having achieved its two main aims:
1. The determination of the full extent of the Abbey precincts and its historic landscapes
2. The examination of the quality and extent of the survival of archaeological remains.
With these objectives in mind a number of detailed surveys and small trial excavations were undertaken both in the precincts and the surrounding landscape. By 2008 Quentin Drew, one of the co-directors of the Research Project, was conducting a more extensive dig on the principal gatehouse between the Inner and Outer Precincts. This became the main focus of our attempts to determine the stratigraphic quality of survival which we found to be unexpectedly excellent. Since 2015 we have been working on preparing our results for publication.
The Strata Florida Centre Project began in 2002 when it became possible to begin considering the idea of a centre based on the redundant farm builidngs of Mynachlog Fawr and a short feasibilty study was undertaken. In 2006 the Strata Florida Trust was formed to pursue the idea of creating a 'Gateway to the history and landscapes of Strata Florida and the Cambrian Mountains'. Essentially a Buildings Preservation Trust it is a Charity and a Limited Company.
In 2005 and 2006, workng in co-operation with the local community of Pontrhydfendigaid and a partner community in Kells Co. Kilkenny in the Republic of Ireland, the Project was involved in major sculpture exhibitions held both at Strata Florida during the excavations and at Kells on the site of a unique, fortified, Augustinian Priory. The exhibitions were funded by the Inter-regional programme (InterReg) of the EU and involved exchange visits between the communities. The artists engaged in the exhibition were drawn from among the top sculptors of Wales and Ireland and several have shown in the Venice Biennale.
In 2006 another InterReg-funded heritage project run by Ceredigion County Council, the Spirit of the Miners, also provided a grant to help with raising the profile of our work on the Abbey lead mine just to the north of the precinct at Bron y Berllan. The Spirit of the Miners project has led on to a continuing programme presenting the history and conserving the archaeological remains of the very important heavy metal extractive industries of the Cambrian Mountains. One PhD study by David Sables of UWTSD has resulted from the Project's interest in the landscapes of mining.
Various aspects of the work undertaken on the Strata Florida Project in 2007-8, including the creation of the original web-site, were supported by a grant from the Welsh Assembly Government’s Knowledge Exploitation Fund (HE-08-FSP-1001) with the aim of pursuing the research and development capability in the Heritage Environment and Historic Landscape Sector.
In this same period the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies provided the funds for a research assistantship to enable the mapping of the lands held by Strata Florida, drawing in large part on the extensive surveys of the great estates which had acquired the former Abbey holdings soon after the Dissolution. This work was undertaken by Dr Jemma Bezant, one of the Research Project's then co-directors.
In 2009, supported by grants from Ceredigion County Council and the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Trust received a first Options Appraisal report undertaken by Acanthus Holden architects. This was in conjunction with an offer of partnership from a private enterprise company. This, however, failed at the end of that year during the banking crisis. It then proved difficult to find a way forward, but eventually, following interest and support by the Prince of Wales' trusts and the re-modelling of the university, another, modified scheme, entirely in the voluntary sector, has emerged.
In 2011-13 the University of Wales Trinity Saint David received a grant of £177,136 to support the Strata Florida Heritage Landscape Tourism Project. The grant came from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development under the funding stream Axis 3: Improving rural life and economy, measure 323 Conservation and upgrading of the rural heritage. The funding employed a project manager, Martin Locock, to work with communities and businesses to build on the research programme and supported the expansion of the excavation programme to become the Wales National Dig. It has enhanced tourism and heritage assets through interpretation and marketing.
In August 2016 the Trust, with the generous help of a private donor, purchased the Mynachlog Fawr complex of buildings and a field to the south which contains the earthworks of a 17th century garden which themselves overlie the remains of major monastic buildings. In 2017 the Trust completed emergency works to halt further decay of the buildings and we are now in pursuit of funds to carry out their full restoration and conversion as the Strata Florida Centre.
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