View up Monnow Valley towards Black Mountains (Photo: Roger Pattenden)

The river Monnow valley (see photo) has always been important by providing passage through the hills between the east and the west and there is evidence that this route was used as far back as the Stone Age (up to 2300BC). In the 1980s pupils of Garway Primary School walked a ploughed field alongside the River Monnow and their finds included flints from all three Stone Ages. Some of them were waste fragments that had fallen from the tool or weapon that was being fashioned and some were burnt, both facts suggesting time spent in the area. As flint is not found naturally in Herefordshire any flint implements found here would have been brought in by people of the Stone Age in their never-ending search for food.

Main Iron Age Enclosure

As time passed, metals were discovered in the earth. At first copper and tin replaced stone in the making of weapons and tools but a method of making bronze, an alloy of tin and copper and stronger than either of them, was discovered and it replaced them. A piece of pottery from the Bronze Age (2300-700BC) was found during the archaeological excavation on Garway Hill Common in 2006.

The process of iron making was discovered in 1,300BC by the Hittites of modern-day Turkey, who managed to keep it secret while using weapons which were far stronger than those of their enemies. Once the secret was out the method quickly spread and the Iron Age arrived in Britain around 700BC. By this time the people were living in or close to settlements which were fortified with ramparts, ditches and gatehouses.

Typical Roman Auxiliary Fort

The archaeological dig on Garway Hill Common in 2006 revealed a similar rectangular settlement on the south east flank of the Common (see aerial photo opposite) and a further smaller and previously unknown smaller enclosure in the south west of the Common both of which were probably iron age. (See the Archaeological Investigations page of the Garway Hill Common section of this website for more detail of this investigation and what it found.)

1986 Excavation of Roman Fort on Lower SW Slopes of Garway Hill (Photo: Joan Fleming-Yates)

The Roman Army arrived in Britain early in the First Century AD. Their military tactics included the building of forts a day's march apart to control important routes, river crossings and native settlements. When they reached the Welsh borders they too discovered the natural passage through the hills which the Monnow provided. Not surprisingly they built a fort that was strategically placed to hold and guard the route between Roman held territory to the east and the Celtic Silures in the west. In 1986 Monmouth Archaeological Society were given permission to carry out a dig alongside the River Monnow just west of Garway where they discovered evidence of this First Century AD Auxiliary Roman Fort (see illustration). The photo opposite shows archaeological investigations in progress at this site on the lower south western slopes of Garway Hill. Such a Fort would have had earth and timber defences and could probably have accommodated up to 500 Roman soldiers. Their archaeological finds indicated two phases of occupation and included pottery shards and coins from the time of three Roman Emperors, Caligula, Nero and Vespasian. Graham Webster author of The Imperial Roman Army had understood the importance of the Monnow valley route and had always expected a fort to be found in this area, probably at Grosmont. He was thrilled when he visited the dig and realised how close the newly discovered fort was to his original estimate.