Medievalist looks for crowd funding to help support his PhD

Spencer Gavin Smith
Spencer Gavin Smith

Spencer Gavin Smith is calling upon fellow history-lovers to support his efforts at earning a PhD and completing his research on medieval parks and gardens. He has set up a gofundme account to help him raise £2,000.

Spencer, who lives in northern Wales, is focusing his research on the parks and gardens that were part of castles such as Caernarfon and Conwy. He hopes his research will show how these designed landscapes were used by the castle owners to show off to their friends and to their enemies, how they were used to order society, and how these landscapes changed the world that the ordinary person lived in.

Recently accepted to Manchester Metropolitan University, the £2000 will be used to pay the PhD course fees, and also fund some fieldwork costs.

We interviewed Spencer by email to ask him about his research interests:

Why are you interested in researching the topic of gardens and parks as they relate to medieval castles?

I am interested in researching the topic of gardens and parks as they relate to medieval castles because of work I began for my undergraduate dissertation in 1997 and which I’ve subsequently developed into a PhD topic.

I originally looked at a medieval castle called Sycharth in Wales, which is on the Wales / England border not far from Oswestry in Shropshire. The castle, (technically by this time a ‘llys’ or medieval Welsh estate centre built on top of and around a former motte and bailey castle earthwork) was described in a ‘cywydd’ (a form of medieval Welsh poem) c.1390, which also praised its owner, Owain Glyn Dŵr.

Essentially, the poem described a high-status landscape which was familiar in England and continental Europe from estate accounts and illustrations, but which was not expected to be found in Wales. I subsequently was able to direct an archaeological excavation on the site in 2003 which found evidence for a medieval garden (described in the poem as ‘vineyard’).

The previous year a geophysical survey at Whittington Castle, Shropshire (only 8 miles north-east) had found evidence for a medieval garden also dated to the 14th century. I thought this was too much of a coincidence, so I widened my research to cover the whole of North Wales (the old counties of Anglesey, Caernarvonshire, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Merionethshire) and include the north-west part of the English County of Shropshire.

The genre of praise poetry to houses has a long tradition in Wales, mainly dating from c.1350 to c.1650, and a series of articles written in the 1970s examined the historical background to the poetry, and a long-term project by the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies at the University of Wales is editing and publishing all the poetry from this period, including the praise poetry to houses.

Are there certain castles you want to concentrate on?

I originally began my PhD part-time in 2004 at the University of East Anglia, Norwich and concentrated initially on castles and llysoedd constructed by Welsh Princes and ‘Uchelwyr’ (the gentry class who ‘replaced’ the deposed or killed Welsh Princes in the 14th century following the Edwardian Conquest of Wales) and their Shropshire neighbours.

However, my tutor, Dr Rob Liddiard indicated that I need to look at the Edwardian Castles as well, including the castles he financed in addition to the English Lordship Castles constructed during the change from a Welsh over lordship to an English one.

Some of the castles being studied are Caernarfon, Conwy, Flint, Rhuddlan, Dolbadarn, Wem, Whittington, Shotwick, Overton and llys and manor sites include Sycharth, Rhosyr, Belgrave, Maes Mynan and Llys Edwin. This is not an exhaustive list, and there are also parks which are not in the immediate proximity of castles.

You can learn more about Spencer and his research from blog he writes to: Medieval Parks, Gardens and Designed Spaces

You can donate to his fund raising efforts at:


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