Tinkinswood and St Lythans burial chambers in the Vale of Glamorgan were once part of John Cory’s estate at Dyffryn House and Gardens, which is now part of St. Nicholas village.
Cory bought the estate in 1891, which was then over 2000 acres. His family’s wealth came from the South Wales coalmines, shipping coal around the world. John Cory hired a local architect to renovate the existing Dyffryn House built by Thomas Pryce, into the grand grade II listed building we see today. John Cory also hired Thomas Mawson, a landscape architect, to design and build a grand set of gardens befitting his new house. After John Cory’s death in 1910, his third son Reginald continued working alongside Thomas Mawson, plant-hunting and filling the gardens with an array of unusual plant life.
The estate was left in the trust of Florence Cory, Reginald Cory’s sister, whilst he was pursuing his passion for horticulture and plant-hunting away from the Dyffryn Estate. Miss Cory is mentioned several times in John Ward’s excavation report, published in 1915 in Archaeologia Cambrensis. Without her generous funding, the excavation of Tinkinswood may never have taken place.
This link with the Cory family may shed some light on some of the artefacts we found as part of the excavation at St Lythans burial chamber in 2012. Just behind the upstanding remains at St Lythans, we discovered a large quantity of post-medieval pottery and glass. This included the base of an ornate onion bottle and a George III coin, both of which hint at the later, late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century reuse of the monument. Could these finds point to the site’s reuse by the Cory family, picnicking within the wider landscape of their estate?
More work needs to be done to answer this question properly, but the Cory family did do something particularly interesting 1918, four years after John Ward’s excavations at Tinkinswood. At what was once the home of John Howell, the founder of Howell’s Department Store in Cardiff, the Prince of Wales Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers was opened 1918 – and to mark the occasion, a stone folly was built in the front garden. Donated by Miss Cory of Dyffryn House, the stone folly is none other than a miniature of St Lythans!
The plaque in front of the house reads:
James Howell’s House and Folly
This house was built as the home of James Howell, the founder of Howell’s Department Store. It was sold in 1896 to the Cardiff Borough Council for use as both a Mansion House and a Judges’ Lodgings. James Howell then built a new private residence, which after his death was sold in 1913 to Cardiff Borough Council for use as the present Mansion House (author’s note: you can see the present Mansion House in the background).
In 1918 this house became the Prince of Wales Hospital for Limbless Sailors and Soldiers, and to mark its opening the stone folly in the front garden was donated by Miss Cory of Duffryn House. The folly is made of Radyrstone and is a replica of a Megalithic Burial Chamber contained within the Maes-y-Felin Cromlech (or Chambered Long Barrow) near St Lythans, South Glamorgan, which dates from the Neolithic period (C. 3000 B.C.)
After standing empty for a number of years, the house was purchased in 1977 by the Family Housing Association and converted into flats.
I wonder if there is more to learn about Miss Cory and her involvement in John Ward’s excavations at Tinkinswood? Whether the family picnicked at St Lythans is open for question, but it does provide a glimpse into the lives of the Cory family and their estate, and especially provides an avenue to explore the reuse of St Lythans, and perhaps Tinkinswood as well, during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries.
Ward, J. 1915. Tinkinswood burial chamber, Vale of Glamorgan. Archaeologia Cambrensis. Vol. XV, 6th series, 253.
Ward, J. 1916. The St. Nicholas chambered tumulus, Glamorgan. Archaeologia Cambrensis, 6th series, 16, 239–67.