EDITORIAL: INTRODUCTION TO PENCAMBRIA NUMBER 37 Spring 2018
Well, it is early 2018 and we are already in “interesting times” with nerve agent poisoning, suffocation by plastic and the ever more intricate Brexit manoeuvres, to name but three current crises on the table. Oh for the days when bombs and famine were all we had to worry about.
When I started this introduction it was a beautiful warm spring day outside, although we were promised rain and a drop of 8 degrees in temperature. Finishing it now, we are snowed in for the third time in six weeks with another deep drift blocking our driveway. Since no-one can get in or out this has delayed deliveries including the paper and covers for this magazine. So if it is a bit later than expected, this is the reason and I hope you will forgive me.
We start this year with news and, in the Dragon’s Crypt, some verses of a 19th century poet from Dolanog, rediscovered by Val Church, whom she affectionately describes as Montgomeryshire’s McGonagall. I find him more wry, more tongue-in-cheek, intentionally more humorous than William McGonagall. Indeed, I have quite fallen in love with his verses and hope you do too. For a seemingly out-of-the-way place like Tylwch there were a remarkable number of railway accidents in the days when the line went through. Those and other incidents caused this hamlet to be mentioned relatively frequently in the local newspapers. Andrew Dakin has come to Tylwch in the course of researching his family history and he tells us all about them in the first of his Tales From the Footplate.
Brian Poole, meanwhile, continues his journeys by bus, this time taking us from Newtown to Shrewsbury in the 1950s. Our intrepid Lawrence Johnson goes trekking on foot across Trannon Moor in search of the site of an ancient battlefield.
So many people have come to Wales in the past and still do for all sorts of reasons; many pass through en route to other places; many others come to stay, mixing with the local community or forming their own. A recent book by Cai Parry-Jones looking at the history of the Jews in Wales was published last year and Chris Barrett reviews this book. She also refers to it in her own article on this fascinating subject.
Are you missing the tales of the retired lady and gentleman from Llawryglyn? I know I am. However, they have just been published under the title of Iolo’s Revenge, of which we get a sneak preview from Diana Ashworth. Another book which came her way is a novel by Brecon writer Jan Newton which is the first in a detective series about D.S. Kite, who comes to Radnorshire from Manchester and will no doubt later find mid Wales steeped in murder, rape, arson and all the other perversions found in Midsomer. Sounds like a real treat. Diana also tells us about the Chicken Whisperer of Trefeglwys.
Even in the towns and village we can all still get close to nature if we wish and Julia R. Francis muses on the Red Legged Partridges that come into her garden in Llandinam. The simple childhood thrill of wearing a hat came to Bruce Mawdesley’s mind for this issue.
Somewhat emboldened by my interview with Michael Apichela last year, and as Diana Brown is unable to carry on with her series on the laws of Hywel Dda at the moment, I had some space to fill, so I thought you might like to know how I ended up in Llanidloes. The RCAHMW have two new projects in the go. The one on places names sounds particularly interesting – and there is plenty to get your creative talents going at Mid Wales Arts Centre. Are you a retired or semi-retired engineer? If so, you may be interested in a job opportunity that has arisen on the Montgomery Canal Project, which you can also read all about in this issue.
The Dragon’s Crypt is full of poetry and prose this month with lines by Paul Hodgon to stir the solitary soul, verses by Reverend G.R.G Pughe to make you smile, an homage to Edward Thomas and the railway station at Tylwch by yours truly, a special bus timetable by Dennis Bedford and a new sighting of the Fairy Horseman by Norma Allen
Lost in Translation – Reverend G.R.G Pughe of Dolanog Val Church
High Rise Chickens? Diana Ashworth
Tales from the Footplate: Tylwch Andrew Dakin
And a Partridge beneath an Oak Tree Julia R. Francis
A Bus To Shrewsbury Brian Poole
Book Review – The Jews of Wales Reviewer Dr Chris Barrett
Picton of Picton Street Reginald Massey
Want a Fight? Lawrence Johnson
A Tenacious People: The History of the Jews in North Wales. Dr Chris Barrett
Yale University and the Indo-Welsh Connection Reginald Massey
How I Came To Llanidloes Gay Roberts
The Hat Bruce Mawdesley
IN The Dragons Crypt
Solitary Paul Hodgon
Megan and the Horseman Norma Allen
Three Poems Reverend G.R.G Pughe, submitted by Val Church
Not Adlestrop But Tylwch Homage to Edward Thomas by Gay Roberts
A New Bus Timetable 1.4.2018 Dennis Bedford
PICTON OF PICTON STREET by Reginald Massey
A short and narrow one-way alley in Llanidloes connects the Church car park with Short Bridge Street. Interestingly it passes under an arch just before it meets Short Bridge Street. It is named after Sir Thomas Picton who was born in Haverfordwest on August 24, 1758.
His father was a country gentleman and his uncle was General Sir William Picton under whom Thomas Picton started his illustrious army career. Military records reveal that he was the highest ranking British officer who died in the battle of Waterloo. He was also an MP at the time. In fact he was dancing at the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball in Brussels when an aide-de-camp riding at full gallop delivered a message. Napoleon was almost at the door, less than ten miles away. The ball was unceremoniously abandoned and the generals rushed off to their command posts. Wellington however stayed on to finish his dinner.The Duke’s sang-froid was legendary. This must have irritated Napoleon no end as he considered his opponent to be a mere ‘sepoy general’, a term which alluded to Wellington’s years in India.
There are many conflicting versions of how Picton was killed but there is no doubt that he led his division, known as the Fifth, in a bayonet charge against Marshal d’Erlon’s corps with extreme valour. It also emerged that he had been shot in the hip but rather than handing over to his second-in-command and being carried off in a stretcher he bandaged the wound himself and confronted the enemy. There is also a rumour that Picton led the bayonet charge wearing a top hat.
Wellington for some reason did not like Picton very much though he recognized Picton’s worth as a field commander. The Duke described Picton in the following words: “a rough foul-mouthed devil as ever lived”. The historian Alessandro Barbero wrote that the Welsh general was “respected for his courage and feared for his irascible temperament”. Picton never sought popularity and often proclaimed that it mattered little if he was hated so long as he was feared. In a despatch to Earl Bathurst, the Minister of War, Wellington wrote, “In Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Picton His Majesty has sustained the loss of an officer who has frequently distinguished himself in his service; and he fell, gloriously leading his division to a charge with bayonets, by which one of the most serious attacks made by the enemy on our position was defeated”. His body was sent to London where it was buried in St. George’s Church in London’s Hanover Square. Later it was re-interred and buried next to Wellington’s grave in St. Paul’s Cathedral. A monument in Carmarthen was erected in his memory and there are memorials to him in Canada and Australia.
Picton started his army career in Gibraltar and then, from 1807 – 1814, served under Wellington with distinction during the Peninsular War. He expected a peerage but was passed over possibly because of a serious error he committed when he was Governor of Trinidad (1797 – 1803). The island had been a Spanish colony and had only recently been acquired by Britain. Picton ruled the islanders with an iron hand. He authorised the torture of a mixed race young woman named Luisa Calderon who, as it happened, was not a slave. The news reached Britain and Picton was summoned to London and put on trial. The winsome Luisa Calderon also came to London and described to the court how she was tortured. The case was widely reported and both the public and the press started baying for Picton’s blood. During cross examination by the brilliant lawyer William Garrow, who detested slavery, it emerged that Picton had been involved in the buying and selling of slaves through his mixed race mistress Rosetta Smith. Picton was sentenced. However, with the help of wealthy plantation owners Picton immediately appealed. A case was made out that the inhabitants of Trinidad were used to Spanish law under which torture was permitted and that Picton was merely applying the law that people were used to. It was a rough and ready system of justice and the Trinidadians understood it. In other words, argued Picton’s lawyers, the blacks and mulattos were not yet ready for the niceties and nuances of English law.
Picton got away by the skin of his teeth. However, the stain on his character haunted him for the rest of his life. Perhaps on the very last day of his life (Sunday, June 18, 1815) he redeemed himself to some extent. So much so that the town of Llanidloes named a street after him.