What was in PenCambria: Issue 32 Summer 2016


Dear PenCambrians,

Well, what a turn round for us all during these last few weeks – leaders resigning, underlings scrabbling for power and, despite everything thrown at him, only one prepared to stand his ground, all credit to him. As I write this introduction a new leader for Conservative Party has just been announced. In the meantime, Diana Brown gives us a very entertaining glimpse into the murky world of 18th and 19th century politics with a look at the Watkins Wynn brothers of Montgomeryshire. Plus ça change indeed.

This year we have been commemorating the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, to that date the worst battle ever experienced on European soil. The only people who can possibly know what it must have been like are men who are or have been soldiers themselves. From Brian Lawrence’s remarkable month by month record of the First World War as experienced in Rhayader and the surrounding villages, in this issue we find out what was happening to the men themselves, some in France but many elsewhere in places such as in Turkey and Egypt. We also have news of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Living Memory Project devoted to the Battle of the Somme.

In the last issue as part of an article observing the changes in transport during the 19th-20th centuries Brian Poole included an interview with Evan Mills, published in the Montgomeryshire Express in 1940. Following this I was delighted to hear from his great-granddaughter Elizabeth Day, who has corrected three mistakes in the original interview and also provided a lovely, fuller piece on both Evan (giving me chance to correct three mistakes which have gone unremarked for the past 70 years) and his daughter Chloris, also mentioned by Brian, and Elizabeth’s great aunt. Chloris was quite an extra woman – a suffragette, a writer and poet, a teacher and a potential headmistress who could not however, stay away from her beloved mid Wales – well, we all know how that feels. Some of her work will appear in future editions of PenCambria. Brian Poole himself has found a corner of mid Wales just outside Newtown, containing three houses – Glan Hafren, Middle Scafell and Red House – that have been the inspiration for three published writers of quite different fields.

In this 90th birthday year of Her Majesty the Queen, Chris Barrett has been looking at the various progresses of Elizabeth II throughout Wales since she became Princess Elizabeth, heir to the British throne. Meanwhile, Roger the First refers not to a monarch but to the first person in Wales recorded as having the surname Jones this being one of Lawrence Johnson’s most entertaining articles. The Dakin Brothers of Llanidloes were hugely influential in the wool trade in this part of mid Wales and in Merthyr Tydfil in the 19th century and their rise and demise as recorded by their descendants, Andrew and Keith Dakin as part of their research into their family history gives us yet another glimpse into the complex world of mid Wales before the First World War.

C.S. Lewis is the subject of a lively pen portrait by Michael Apichela, who used to live in his house in Oxford. As well as pictures of his residency, Michael can be seen wielding C.S. Lewis’s walking stick, which was left in the house when he moved in. In chapter 5 of E. Ronald Morris’s book on Chartism in Llanidloes the instigators of the riot have been caught and are brought to trial. In Llawryglyn our retired lady’s lambs are determined to evade capture.Finally in our non fiction section, a lively look at the Carnival and Fancy Dress in Llanidloes with thanks to Robert Parker Munn for memories recorded at Llanidloes Day Centre as part of his oral history archive and published in The Llani Weaver in 2003.

The Dragon’s Crypt in this issue is full of wonderful writing to get your imaginations going. Bruce Mawdesley is struck by Moonlight, while Martha Fosberry is struck by her childhood memories of Nant-y-sgiliwch, the house where Bruce and Glenys lived in Llawryglyn. Bringing us down to earth Norma Allen imagines what it might have been like being involved in the building of the new War Memorial Hospital.



Our Boys from Radnorshire Brian Lawrence

Evan and Chloris Mills Elizabeth Day 

The Queen in Wales Chris Barrett

Roger the First Lawrence Johnson

The Dakin Brothers of Llanidloes and the Mid Wales Wool Trade Andrew Dakin

C.S. Lewis and Wales  Michael Apichela

Chartism in Llanidloes: Chapter 5 E. Ronald Morris

The Parish Corners with Three Authors Brian Poole

Van Institute Exhibition of Photographs, Postcards and Paper Collection

Put Out to Grass: part 19: Colditz Hero Diana Ashworth

Bubble and Squeak Diana Brown

The Battle of the Somme – Commonwealth War Graves Commission Living Memory Project

Good Times in Llani Gay Roberts

Mid Wales Arts Centre

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales

  The Dragons Crypt

Nant-y-sgiliwch  Martha Fosberry

The New Hospital 1962  Norma Allen

Moonlight Bruce Mawdesley


GOOD TIMES IN LLANI: Carnival and the Fancy Dress from Llanidloes past.

Gay Roberts

Llani has always known how to have a good tine and if we can raise money for a good cause, so much the better. We had two great regular collective events in which everyone can take part  – the Carnival, which was originally organised in 1932 to raise money for the War Memorial Hospital, and the Fancy Dress, when almost the whole town dressed up, which was started in 1969 to raise money to fund the Community Centre.

Llanidloes Carnival

Dressing up is something most of us love to do from childhood and many of us carry on doing it in one way or another into a ripe old age. Carnival is one of those occasions and it is a tradition which goes way back to time immemorial in all societies, including Llanidloes, although from 1932 onwards, its main purpose has been to raise money for the hospital. The syllable ‘carn’ in Carnival means meat, implying that meat was an essential part of this occasion and, as anyone who watches Time Team will know, archaeology has shown us just how important and frequent were festive occasions when huge quantities of meat were consumed. These days while the barbecue and the hog roast are a vital part of the provisions, it is the dressing up, the parade all through the town, led by the Llanidloes Silver Band, down to the football field on Victoria Avenue, and the games that we all enjoy that is important, the Carnival Queen taking pride of place.

In 1932, when the current Llanidloes Carnival began after a break at the end of the First World War, the Queen was the Rose Queen and they were known as the Rose Queen Carnivals. They were held specifically to raise money for the hospital, which, before the National Health Service began in 1948, was paid for by subscription, donation, sponsorship and general fund raising. The General Organiser and Chairman of the Executive Committee that revived the Rose Queen Carnival in 1932 was Mr. W.E. Dakin who can be seen on page 16 as a small boy and one of the weavers in the High Street Factory. He was a very enthusiastic and energetic fundraiser for the War Memorial Hospital, and in the eight years prior to the outbreak of World War Two the Rose Queen Carnivals raised on average over £200 a year, totalling £1,716 altogether, a very satisfactory sum for the time. His wife was a vice president in 1954 and although I have no details to hand I believe she was just as enthusiastic in this cause as was her husband.

The pre-war Rose Queens were Dorothy Benbow (1932), Iris Wood (1933), Dorothy Worthington (1934), Annie Ashton (1935), Margaret Ingram (1936), Beryl Phillips (1937), Morfydd Ingram (1938) and Florence Evans (1939). To be 18 years of age and single are still the usual qualifications to be a Carnival Queen, who is chosen by the public at a special dance; and on Carnival day, rather like her wedding day, it is the one day when she gets to be beautifully dressed and treated like a queen before real life sets in.

Left: Dorothy Benbow, The first Rose Queen in 1932.

Right: Marie Jones, whom many of us remember as Marie Ingram, crowned as Rose Queen in 1954,

The Rose Queen Carnivals carried on after the end of the war in 1945 and the picture below, very kindly given by Gaynor Waters shows the crowd in Great Oak Street cheering the parade in 1953.

Left front are Ann Evans and Margaret Jenkins.

Centre grouping are Mrs Lithgow and her daughter Stephanie, Elsie and Betty Hughes, Olwen Edwards, Phil and Rita Owen (neé Edwards) and their daughter Julie (in the pram).

On the right are Peter Jones with his nephew Brynmor, standing at the back, and Gaynor herself in the front. Do let me know if any of you recognise anyone else in this picture, and I will pass it on to Gaynor.

Fun is the essence of Carnival and the late Carroll Davies told me of the time he and a friend decided to dress up as German officers. They couldn’t get hold of real uniforms so they dressed up in what would pass for such at a glance, including the peaked caps. They took a jeep down to Llangurig and burst into the Black Lion, thinking everyone would laugh. The place went dead quiet as everyone looked at them as if in a time warp, and Carroll wondered just for a moment whether they had done the right thing. Then, everyone started to laugh and said, “It’s alright. It’s only Carroll!” and to the profound relief of everybody, drinks were had all round.Finally, passing the residents of Maesywennol, who had been brought out to Smithfield Street to see the parade this year, as they passed them the Llanidloes Silver Band played ‘Hello Dolly’ as a special tribute to them and the general enjoyment of all.

Llanidloes Fancy Dress

When I first came to Llanidloes in 1972 it seemed to me that the Fancy Dress was an opportunity for everyone – male and female – dress up in drag, especially as good-time girls. Great Oak Street was closed to traffic and filled to bursting – you could hardly move from place to place for fishnet tights and shiny bras let alone get to a bar to get a drink. There must have been as much beer spilling out of the pubs as there were bodies, and the scent of more exotic stimulants also filled the air. The Dance at the Community Centre started at 10pm and finished around about 2am. But one or two revellers could still be found staggering around town at 9am the next morning. And everything was cleaned up by then too, which was a great credit to the organisation. It wasn’t a competitive event, not for the adults, anyway. It was just a great street party. Children’s competitions were introduced a few years later but they didn’t really seem to reflect the spirit of the Fancy Dress, which was just to dress up and have a good time. And there was no trouble.

In the 1980s as word got round, more and more visitors began to make a point of coming to Llani for the Fancy Dress and soon busloads of party goers were coming in from places as far afield as Telford, Birmingham and even London. It began to be known the Llani Mardi Gras, after the similar festivities in New Orleans in the USA. Unfortunately, as the years went by, many of the revellers would be well oiled with drink before they arrived and inevitably there was trouble. In the early days the need for policing was minimal, probably just to redirect the traffic. By the 1990s it was a major operation. In 2004 5,000 people filled the streets. Inevitably it became too expensive to police and in 2005 it was temporarily suspended over concerns for public safety; in 2012 it was cancelled altogether. But you can’t keep a good Llani girl, male or female, down and, while it is no longer held as a festival, that particular Friday is still Fancy Dress night when we can climb into our fishnets, take to the streets and have a good time. 

The second part of this article gives voice to the people in the town sharing their memories with Robert Parker Munn in FANCY THAT! Published in The Llani Weaver of Summer of 2003 and gives a wonderfully vivid picture of the fun and enjoyment that Idloesians have at the Carnival and the Fancy Dress

Margaret said Victor Davies was an ex police sergeant who was the “Mr. Fancy Dress”. He was the one who used to organise it. Ivor said it was a Mr. Roberts who started it all. He was a solicitor’s clerk with Milwyn Jenkins. Ivor was a treasurer for the Fancy Dress once.

Margaret said the early fancy dress must have been in the 1960s but Doug said he remembers it in 1955 when he was in digs in Picton Street. He went as King Arthur. Everyone said it’s all for the alcohol now and not so much for getting friends together like it used to be.

Margaret said people don’t realise the Fancy Dress has always been organised by the Fancy Dress Committee and not the Council. Peggy remembered the fancy dress was a dance night in the community hall. After the carnival they would be dancing in their costumes. The carnivals went back to the 1930s at least. Beryl recalled a “Tramps Dance” too, there was something on every night in carnival week.

Ceridwen said the procession used to start from the old station. There was lots of space before, no industrial estate. There would be a figure of eight march through town to the football ground. Billy or Beryl Vaughan would lead it all on a piebald horse. Then there was Monty Morgan’s homemade penny-farthing bicycle. The Vaughans supplied the horses. When Billy died it was Berty Bull (Berty Slawson) who walked up front. Berty used to be a drummer in Llani Silver Town Band.

Beryl said Ernie D.T. and Nelly Griffiths used to do an act. Nellie was short and he would push her upon a horse and she’d fall off. You’d laugh at Harry Crisp as a Zulu too. Denzil Crisp and his brothers had motorbikes with planks across them.

Ynys said carnivals were brilliant affairs. 20 to 30 good dance troupes from all over performed. There were comic football matches with people dressing up as anything. The floats were fantastic. “I always remember a man on stilts catching money in his box hat.”

Beryl said there was the crowning of the Queen and competitions. Carnival always ended up with a confetti battle in Great Oak Street outside the town hall.

Peggy said that in the carnival there was a prize for the best dray pulled by stallion horses.

Carys said that everyone used to make their own clothes. Ivor said he was the treasurer for the Carnival in Llanidloes for 5 years. The carnival fell out for a few years in the 1940’s.There was a jazz band that often played there. “The Cambrian Jazz Band” Len Davis (Merle Davis’s brother) played for it. He was coming from the Cambrian leather factory. They dressed up as Spaniards and Dick Evans the Angel was in it. Carys remembered them marching to the sound of “The Isle of Capri.” There were often Morris Dancers. There was Llanidloes Football Team for Ladies for fun in the 1940s. They’d turn up on Carnival Day in the evening. The men would have a tug of war. There were other jazz bands too.

Peggy said, “We went as Llani football team. It was after 1941 sometime. We were a married group. We were walking. We were all ladies. We won the first prize. The second year we went as bunny girls. We won a prize then too. And we went as Black and White minstrels. Another time we dressed as babies with dummies. A woman was dressed up having 8 or 9 ‘babies’. We all had dummies and wore nappies. We won another prize like that. We went once as the Land Army girls. Another one was as the Salvation Army. I still have the photos. We had lots of fun preparing for it. We made it all ourselves. We went for the fun of it. We never had such fun after. It was very odd really that our husbands were letting us go in for it.

Eileen Meredith. I was from Llangurig. In 1932 I was a Scotch girl on a lorry in the carnival.

Doreen was 13 when she was the first carnival queen at Rhayader, in 1930. She wore a special dress to keep. They went round the schools to choose; about 7 of them. They would pick the ones to go on the lorry. Peggy said you had to pay for all the bits and pieces. Peggy said Llani Carnival Queen was called a Rose Queen.



– The History of the War Memorial Hospital Llanidloes 1920 – 1948 Brian Owen published by the League of

Friends Llanidloes Hospital 1998  

– 1954 Rose Queen Carnival Programme and Timetable

– The Llani Weaver Summer 2003

– https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Llanidloes






Llanidloes carnival?

davidpoolelllanicarnvial“This Photo of a Llani carnival is from the early 1950’s ( I think) , do you recognise anyone? I found it in my mothers old collection of photo’s from when we lived near Llanidloes”. Posted by David Poole on another FB page. The setting has now been identified as Vaenor Park, Llanidloes. Anyone know the people?

Interestingly Vaenor Park is currently for sale.

What was in PenCambria: Issue 31 Spring 2016?


Welcome to the eleventh year of Pencambria, and I hope will find its contents as interesting/absorbing/ entertaining and/or thought-provoking as you have in previous years. While writing this introduction, I am on my best literary behaviour, determined that my efforts do not come to the attention of Professor Pedanticus in the puzzles section of the Saturday edition of the Guardian. How mortifying to have my grammatical gaffs spread out for all Guardianistas to tut and gloat over.

The closure of John Mills Foundry in Llanidloes was a great loss to the economy of Mid Wales. Douglas Hurd worked there for thirty years and he remembers some of the extraordinary machines that were made there. In the meantime, as he strides the hills once more, Lawrence Johnson looks for traces of that legendary Welsh bard, Taliesin, in the landscape. In contrast Brian Poole has taken to the river as he finds traces of timber being floated downstream to its destination, a mode of transport, long gone since the coming of the railways and the long-distance lorry.

If there is one object that can be said to be iconic as regards the heritage of Wales it has to be the harp. Wales has given birth to many truly great harpists and none more so than the Roberts family of Montgomeryshire. The most famous of this family was John Roberts the bicentenary of whose birth is being celebrated this year in several places in Wales, most notably here in mid Wales in Montgomery, where there will be a series of workshops held by Amanda Munday and one of the great contemporary virtuosos of the Welsh triple harp, Robin Huw Bowen, culminating in a concert in Montgomery town hall in May. Chris Barrett tells us all about John Roberts himself in the second part of Life On The Road, her lively account of the gypsies in Mid Wales and this article is published below as a tribute to this great Welsh harpist who, when he finally settled down, made Newtown his home.

On 1st June 1889 the town of Johnstown in Pennsylvania was wiped out by a flood when a reservoir above it collapsed after one of the most violent storms ever experienced in that area and in total some 5,000 people lost their lives. Johnstown was the home of a large number of migrants from mid Wales, especially from Newtown and Llanidloes. Several people managed to send letters describing the disaster, back to their friends and families in Wales and the newspaper reports give a particularly vivid account of the flood and its aftermath. Two of these letters plus the account transmitted in a Reuters telegram published in the Montgomeryshire Express are printed in this edition.

Having looked at the history of the Liberal Party in Montgomeryshire, Diana Brown goes for political balance by examining the influence of the Conservatives in this very politically  independent area of Wales and finds families entrenching their positions in a struggle for political supremacy that is, assassinations aside, comparable to the military manoeuvrings of the medieval period that preceded them.

Meanwhile, in Chapter 4 of Chartism in Llanidloes 1839-40 E. Ronald Morris covers the political struggles of those much lower down the social scale: the Chartists riot for which the town is famous or notorious depending on which side you were on.

Using household account books of the period, Val Church shows us just how different were lives of the rich and the poor in Montgomeryshire in the nineteenth century.

Our retired lady from Llawryglyn discovers the joys and pitfalls of attempting to become a Welsh speaker. Let us hope she does not come across Henry, the Welsh learner whose fate is described by Val Church in a tale in the Dragon’s Crypt. There we also find A Strange Encounter as related by Gaynor Jones, the apprehensions on Leaving Home reflected on by Norma Allen, a child’s Hope of seeing her daddy again when he goes away to war expressed in a poem by Amber Louise Robinson, and Bruce Mawdesley’s inimitable variation on the immortal Song of the Weather as previously observed by those masters of wordplay, Michael Flanders and Donald Swann.

Pasg hapus i chi – a Happy Easter to you all.


The Foundry, Llanidloes  Douglas Hurd

A Welsh Hero  Reginald Massey

“I was a Salmon, I was a Dog”  Lawrence Johnson

A Harp for Rhiew Bechan School

Whigs vs Tories :Montgomeryshire politics prior to the 19th century Diana Brown

Chartism in Llanidloes: Chapter 4 E. Ronald Morris

The Johnstown Flood Gay Roberts

Gregynog Festival : Eire

Put Out to Grass: part 18: Reflections on Language Diana Ashworth

A Celebration of Welsh Gypsy Harping

The Lost Welsh Kingdom John Hughes

Two Lifestyles and What was in the Soup at Dolanog Val Church

Life on the Road: Part 2: The Roberts Family Chris Barrett

Mid Wales Arts Centre

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales

  The Dragons Crypt

The Seasons Bruce Mawdesley

A Strange Encounter  Gaynor Jones

Leaving Home : 1962  Norma Allen

Hope  Amber Louise Robinson

Death of a Learner Val Church


LIFE ON THE ROAD by Chris Barrett 

Part 2: The Roberts Family

There are three things a man ought to have in his home:  a virtuous wife, his cushion in his chair and his harp in tune.”

Welsh Triad (Stephens, 1901, p203)

The history of gypsies in Wales from the 16th century to modern day was presented in Part 1 of this article (PenCambria, No 30). Part 2 focuses on the talented harpists and violinists of the Roberts family of Newtown, descendants of Abram Wood – the great gypsy patriarch whose presence in north and mid-Wales is documented from about 1750. Abram Wood married Sarah and it is through their son, William, that the Roberts branch of the Wood’s family tree developed. Many of the Roberts family members became renowned as musicians. The most famous of this talented Teleu was John Roberts, born 1816, this year marks the two-hundredth anniversary of his birth.  He was known as Telynor Cymru, the Harpist of Wales. A book about John’s life and his family, “With Harp, Fiddle and Folktale”, was first published in 1978 in Welsh. A considerably revised English edition by E. Ernest Roberts, John’s great-grandson, was published in autumn 1981. Unfortunately, Ernest died in June 1981 and did not live to see his published work. Roberts (1981 p27) praised Abram’s astuteness and foresight in adopting the Welsh triple-string harp, in which his Teulu was to excel.  Some brief explanatory notes may be useful before exploring the Roberts’ family story.

The Triple Harp is known to have been used during the reign of Charles I, around 1630, and was very well known in Britain by the beginning of the 17th century (Roberts, 2000).  It is believed that the first Welsh triple harp was made, towards the end of the same century, by Elis Sion Siamas of Llanfachreth near Dolgellau (www.clera.org/saesneg/harp.php)An early description of the Welsh harp is provided by the harpist John Parry (Bardd Alaw) (1776–1851) in the preface to the second volume of his collection; The Welsh Harper (London 1839). Genetic studies have shown that the Romanies/gypsies originated in India (Kalaydjieva et al, 2005) and, therefore, may have brought the “Welsh” harp to Britain in the 16th-17th centuries as they travelled across Europe. There are reports of similar style harps being played in Europe, especially in Italy, before its arrival in Britain.  Davies (1901), in an appendix to Stephens’ book “Welshmen”, describes the Welsh Triple harp thus; there are no pedals on the Welsh harp, it is held on the left shoulder and produces a different sound to the English or pedal harp – notes which are clear, sonorous and rich, a household or family instrument. Davies considered it possessed three “enormous advantages of cheapness, simplicity of design and a rich tone” (p243) and, most importantly for travelling players, it was lighter and more portable than the pedal harp. Davies suggests possible improvements to the harp, stating that it had not been structurally modified in the past 200 years! In his opinion the contemporary decoration, on English and American harps, were more pleasing and Welsh harp makers were continuing to reproduce bad features such as being “troublesome to maintain in tune due to the great number of strings” and “manipulation owing to the closeness of the strings”. However, Sebastian Erard is known to have improved the Triple harp in the 1790s, producing a double action mechanism) which he later patented (http://www.ceredigion.gov.uk). 

The violin may also be called a fiddle and to all intents and purpose they are similar. The term fiddle is often applied when the music played is folk-song, celtic or gypsy. (Abram Wood played the violin, rather than the harp).

Penillion singing, cerdd dant, is an old Welsh form of poetry in which a harpist plays and sings or is accompanied by other singers. The harp player always opens the performance with the main melody (alaw/cainc) but both player and singer(s) then add a counter melody (cyfalaw), harmonies and rhythms before finishing their presentation together. The website cerdd-dant.org traces the history of penillion from its beginnings to present day. The earliest recording of this type of singing was in the 12th century. In 1885 Idris Fychan published the first known penillion guidelines and listed 64 penillion singers of the day. Trevelyan (1893), in describing Welsh singing, states that penillion ranges from “grave to gay, from quick movements to slow and from sprightly tunes to melancholy wailing” (pp106-107). In John Roberts’ time the harpist traditionally played the Welsh harp airs and the vocal counter melody was improvised. In old collections the “song” is the lyrics and the “air” is the tune. Modern penillion singing has become more structured.

Welsh Harpists are known to have been employed by Royal families in England, at court and in battle, since the reign of King Henry VII (1457-1509). They played single and double row harps and had adopted the triple harp by the 1660s (Roberts, 2000).

Enough of technicalities, let’s move on to the Roberts musicians themselves! John Roberts Alaw Elwy (1816-1894) was the eldest son of John Robert Lewis and Sarah Wood. His father was a Welshman, from Pentrefoelas, a parish and village in North Wales. His mother, Sarah, was the grand-daughter of Abram Wood. John was born at Rhiwlas Isaf, Llanrhaeadr, Denbighshire. His nomadic gypsy childhood, often within a small family group, was challenging. Roberts (1981) provides evidence that John experienced poverty and hunger and when the family desperately needed money he would be sent back to work on a relative’s farm near Llanhaeadr. In 1830, aged just fourteen, John decided to join the army. He reasoned that (p38) during a “wilful cold winter” in Breconshire he enjoyed seeing the soldiers on parade. Also, John knew his own father had been in the army and reportedly fought at Waterloo. After enlisting at Brecon Barracks, John spent about nine years as a drummer in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers (23rd Battalion). However, he deserted twice, firstly in 1839 when he was captured in Swansea. He absconded again four months later and stayed on the run for four more years during which time he earned enough money performing to purchase his service discharge in 1844. John was obviously a very resourceful person, as illustrated by his ability to survive for five years as a deserter during which he moved around the UK (Roberts, 1981 pp38-40).

Because of the strong family ties in the gypsy community John would have known many other harpists, too numerous to discuss in a short article, for example; Richard Roberts (1796-1855), from Caernarvon, who was blind from the age of 8 yrs and a well-known and accomplished harpist, penillion singer and teacher. The Dictionary of Welsh Biography, available on the National Library of Wales website (wbo.llgc.org.uk/en/s-WOOD-sip-1500html), lists many of the Woods/Roberts Teulu who were talented harpists and fiddlers. They were welcomed by Welsh gentry to entertain their guests and some individuals were employed long-term by the nobility as their resident musician. But John’s talent was exceptional and by 1886 he was widely known as Teylnor Cymru, rather than Alaw Elwy, following his investiture in a bardic gorsedd near Llyn Geirionydd. In addition to his extraordinary musical talent his resourcefulness, imagination and ability to write and to tell a good story seems to have contributed to a “larger than life” persona. Literacy was not common in his social class at that time. John’s correspondence to Frances Hindes Groome, written in 1887-9, are in Romani and English and are an entertaining mixture of affection for his “nephew”, storytelling, and descriptions of gypsy music and lifestyle.

John had played the harp since boyhood and was steeped in the traditions of gypsy music, poetry and song. During his military life as a drummer he learned about many other musical instruments and improved as a harpist. He played the harp for various members of Royalty including Princess Victoria (in Portsmouth in 1834 and Winchester in 1835), the Grand Duke Constantine of Russia (in Aberystwyth in 1847) and Prince Leopold 1, later the first King of Belgium (in Swansea in 1848).  In his letters to Francis Hindes Groome he identified many notable families of Welsh gentry he had entertained on request. He had married his first cousin Eleanor Wood Jones (Perpinia), in 1839.  Her father was a well-known musician, Jeremiah Wood Jones, who worked as a harpist at Gogerddan (the home of the Pryse family since the 14th century). Once John and Eleanor were married, and during the time he was an army deserter, they entertained people in many different venues from inns and hostelries to fine country homes. But John’s reputation grew when he won Eisteddfod medals and prizes for his playing and singing (at Abergavenny in 1842, and 1848 and at Cardiff in 1850.)

John Roberts, picture reproduced from flyer and archived in the National Library of Wales

In 1850 John and Eleanor settled in Newtown, mid-Wales, a place which was to remain his home until he died some forty-four years later. They brought up a family of thirteen children who were born between 1840-1865. And it is here that the focus of the Roberts family moves from John to his many talented offspring. Apart from Abraham, Sarah and Ann, his remaining ten children were instrumentalists, singers and performers (see Table 1).

When John and his nine sons performed together they were known as The Cambrian Minstrels. They practiced at home in Newtown to become a “trained and disciplined orchestra…that toured a circuit that included Aberystwyth, Machynlleth, Tywyn, Dolgellau, Corwen and Bala” (Roberts 1981 p76). Table 1 illustrates each individual’s competence to play different instruments but only suggests the co-operation that must have been required to achieve cohesion of the group members. John appears to have acted as agent/manager of the Minstrels, confirming events and travel and touring arrangements as well as deciding the programme from their vast repertoire.

The Minstrels’ reputation was bolstered in their home town by local performances including balls held in the Pryce Jones Warehouse. When Queen Victoria visited Wales in 1889 she stayed with Sir Henry Robertson, of railroad building fame, in the beautiful mansion overlooking the River Dee, Pale Hall. The Cambrian Minstrels solely provided the evening entertainment for the royal visitor. Roberts (1981) describes in detail the family’s preparations for their performance and their journey to Llangollen and onward by a special train to Llandderfel station. Interestingly, the current website of the Pale Hall Hotel describes the occasion as; the Queen was “serenaded by a local Welsh choir”!  Following a year of declining health John had a stroke in 1893 and sent his triple harp to his friend, Mr Nicholas Bennett. The family turned down a trip, all expenses paid, to the World Fair in Chicago. John died in 1894 and was buried in Newtown, in the parish churchyard of St David’s church.

Table 1: Musical ability of the family of John Roberts 

Date of Birth  Name Place of Birth Area of recognised competence Other comments
1840-1869? Mary Ann Neath Welsh Harp, Violin, singing Eisteddfod prizes, 1850 & 1858
1844-? Lloyd Wynn Llanuwchllyn Welsh, English Harp Eisteddfod prize, 1865Harpist to Lady Londonderry
1850-1852 Abraham Brecon Died aged 2yrs
1852-? Madoc Brecon Mainly English Harp, and Welsh Harp Eisteddfod prizes, at least 9
1852-1919 Sarah Welshpool
1853-? John Newtown Welsh and English Harp, Singing Eisteddfod prizes, at least 10Played for the Empress of Austria
1855-? James England Holywell Flute, Flageolet Twin: Reuben
1855-1949 Reuben France Holywell Welsh Harp, English Harp, Violon-Cello, Double Bass, Piccolo. Mandolin Twin: JamesHis eldest son was Ernest France, the father of Eldra (1917-2001) and taught her to play the harp. Eldra taught gypsy tunes to Robin Huw Bowen
1858-? Albert Kington Welsh Harp Eisteddfod prizes, at least 19.Bardic title and Chief Harpist.“The ablest musician of the family” *

Played for the Empress of Austria

1860-1897 Ann Newtown —–
1862-1962 Ernest Aberystwyth English Harp, Violin, Double Bass, Singing
1865-? Charles (Charley) Aberystwyth Cello and Harp Twin: William
1865-? William Aberystwyth Mainly Violin, English Harp Twin: CharlesPlayed at London Palladium and Phoenix Theatre

 *(Roberts, 1981 p67)

It is important to place the achievements of the Roberts family in context. Musicality is recognisably part of Welsh history, culture and folklore. In the 12th century Gruffydd ab Cynan held an Eisteddfod at Caerwys, Flintshire, “for the purpose of regulating minstrels, whither travelled all the musicians of Wales” (Stephens 1901, p200). He is credited also with increasing the popularity of the bagpipe in Wales, where it was often regarded with contempt (pp200-202). At this time “the harp ruled supreme” and “strangers were entertained with conversation of young women and the music of the harp, for…almost every house was provided with both” and in “every family, or in every tribe they esteemed skill in playing on the harp beyond any kind of learning” (p203). Karen McCauley has studied the Celtic Bards in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Her descriptions of wandering minstrels and mournful harps are available on several websites, including a chronology of Welsh Songbooks 1794-1927 and many examples of Welsh harp airs, songs and penillion arrangements. (crowdsourcingbard.pbworks.com).

Despite present day recognition of the Roberts family’s abilities, wandering minstrels and Gypsy/Romany musicians may often have been on the fringe of the music scene in Wales –  as they were in much of society generally. In many European cultures Romani music was only partially assimilated into national culture. Gypsies and their way of life stimulated fascination and fear.  For instance, in Hungary gypsy costumes and music were emblematic, national symbols. However, gypsies themselves and their folk music were later to be discriminated against and ostracised. In the UK in the 18900s Trevelyan wrote “Glimpses of Welsh Life and Character”. In Chapter 7, which was devoted to “Welsh singing and song”, she declares this activity to be “as natural to the Welsh as to the birds” (p105). She reproduces the words and music to many songs which “are to be heard from house to house in Wales, and perhaps never to better advantage than in the open air” (pp110-113). This could be assumed to be a reference to gypsy singers but the rest of her writings make no mention of travelling or Romany musicians. Her descriptions are of farming folk in rural areas, milkmaids and workers. Marie Roberts’ book The Harpmakers of Wales (2000) does include a description of the “folk harpers” (p26-28) who travelled the Welsh countryside carrying their harps on their back.  Also, she lists 58 makers and repairers of harps and includes John Roberts. John and his sons would have been skilled at maintaining and repairing their harps. Marie describes their ability to renovate old instruments (p127). Indeed, Roberts (1981) includes a letter from John to Mr Morley of Morleys harp makers in London. It discussed the technical aspects of the Welsh harp and the desirable quality of a pure Welsh harpist as “one who has love for his country … and a Tear in his eye” (pp94-9).

Today the harp, like the gypsies, is still a part of life in Wales. To mark the two hundredth anniversary of John Robert’s birth there has been a celebration of Welsh Gypsy Harping(telynor.cymru/en/hanes.php). A series of harp workshops and concerts has been held throughout Powys. Robin Hugh Bowen has played the harp airs in the traditional Welsh manner- resting the harp on his left shoulder. He has many talents and is a harpist, folk group member and publisher. Other contemporary Welsh harpists have achieved international fame, including Elinor Bennett and Catrin Jones. In the 19th century Wales gained a reputation as the Land of Song and in Welsh the harpist doesn’t play but sings the harp – Canu’r telyn! Throughout Wales, Welsh love spoons, silver and wooden, are found with a heart and harp entwined. It is often said that music is heard by the ears but the harp touches the heart and in Ireland the harp is said to reflect immortality of the soul. It seems fitting to end this article on Welsh gypsies and the talented Roberts’ family with the opening words from Chapter 9 in the book written by EE Roberts about his great-grandfather; Telynor Cymru:

“John had a deep and abiding love for the Welsh harp.”


Davies (1901) Appendix on the Welsh Harp In Stephens (1901) Welshmen 2nd Ed Western Mail Ltd. Cardiff.

Jarman, E & AOH (1991) The Welsh Gypsies: Children of Abram Wood, University of Wales Press.

Roberts EE (1981) With Harp, Fiddle and Folktale, Gee & Son, Clwyd.

Roberts M (2000) The Harpmakers of Wales. Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Wales.

Short R S Rev (1885) The Roberts family of Welsh Harpists Aberystwyth Gazette July 18th 1885.

Stephens T (1901) Welshmen 2nd Ed Western Mail Ltd. Cardiff.

Trevelyan M (1893) Glimpses of Welsh Life and Character. John Hogg, London.

McCauley K https://www.academia.edu/1511674/Crowdsourcing_the_Celtic_Bard_Wandering_Minstrels_and_Mournful_Harps and crowdsourcingbard.pbworks.co.uk.

Letter from John Roberts http://www.morleyharps.co.uk/general-articles/historical-documents-from-the-clive-morley-collection/

2016 Anniversary Workshops: telynor.cymru/en/hanes.php



What was in PenCambria: Issue 30 Winter 2015?

Issue 30 Introduction and Contents at a glance


With this issue we complete 10 years of publication and my thanks go to all of you, writers and readers, for your support during this time. Don’t worry, this is not a resignation piece, just an expression of my profound thanks appreciation of all of you who help to make PenCambria what it is today. When I look back over the years I am pleased to say that, apart from the brief instruction that we cover local history, heritage and creative writing, there is no set pattern that we follow, and, apart from being “legal,decent, honest and truthful”, no rigid guidelines about the material published as far as I am aware. Because it is all about us and our interests here in mid Wales nothing you have ever sent me has been totally rejected as irrelevant although I may have occasionally suggested modifying the approach to suit the general theme.

Every issue is different from the previous one and I always hope that in each issue all you readers will find something of interest.

We have been so fortunate in our regular writers: Brian Poole with his indefatigable thirst for discovering our industrial past – something sadly neglected by so many historians; Lawrence Johnson who walks the hills tirelessly and uncovers so many quirky things about the countryside; Diana Ashworth and Chris Barrett with their passion for oral history and to whom we owe such a debt for reviving our presence on the internet;Diana Brown who has become a fund of local knowledge about Llanidloes; Norma Allen whose modest appearance belies the vivid literary imagination that can always fill a corner in the Dragon’s Crypt; similarly Bruce Mawdesley who told me once that PenCambria has got him writing again after a long period of stagnation. We are indebted to Reginald Massey, who is a professional writer but who has been so taken with PenCambria since its inception that he never fails to make a contribution if he can and publicises it whenever he feels it is appropriate.

In this issue I am very pleased to print articles from two of our very first writers and without whose encouragement PenCambria would not have got off the ground. Since his arrival here in 2004 Dr. David Stephenson has become the recognised authority on medieval mid Wales. A formidable intellect and a compelling speaker – in his mind he lives in the 11th century but comes back to the 21st to eat and sleep – David very generously wrote something for each of the first 15 issues, giving them an authoritative substance that enabled me to build a network of expert writers who would be willing to contribute either regularly or occasionally. He is an incredibly busy man these days but is still willing to write for us when he has time. E. Ronald Morris, leading light of the Arwystli Society for many years, also encouraged me from the very beginning with contributions from his invaluable archive. We have been so lucky to have been able to draw on such a talented pool of writers with such varied interests. Unfortunately space prevents me from listing everyone here so please forgive if I don’t mention you or your favourite writer but I would like to highlight a few just for the variety: Nick Venti’s interest is in the Napoleonic period and in the early issues he introduced us to several soldiers from mid Wales of that period; the Reverend Malcolm Tudor provided us with a few pen portraits of some interesting local characters; Richard Meredith and his family that has played such an important part in providing the bricks and mortar of mid Wales, Brian Lawrence who is a mine of information about Rhayader and similarly R.M.Williams of St. Harmon; David Jandrell took us all around the outskirts of Montgomeryshire on his Hafren Circuit. The Abermule Train Crash was David Burkhill-Howarth’s introductory article and from there he took us all the way to Patagonia. Michael Brown was one of most our most entertaining writers first with his account of the  installation of the China Street chapel organ in Llanidloes, then in his stories for the Dragon’s Crypt. Further afield, Tyler Keevil, also a writer from issue number 1 and now an award winning novelist,introduced us to gangland Chicago with his tour de force on the extraordinary Murray the Hump, Al Capone’s second-in-command, whose family were from Carno. Mid Wales Art Centre and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales keep us up-to-date with the cultural and historical events that they host.

One of the things I am most pleased about is that PenCambria seems to give many people something to do in their retirement. However, retirement usually means getting older and sadly some of them are no longer with us. Jonathan Sleigh, one of those great could-have-beens, passed on the year after we began; Reverend Malcolm Tudor, David Burkhill Howarth and Michael Brown are all great losses to our pages. As I said earlier, I should also like to thank all you readers, especially those of you whom have subscribed from the beginning and without whose support PenCambria would not still be in print. Whether we shall be having another such appreciation in ten years’ time only Providence can tell, but in the meantime I do hope this issue gives you as much pleasure as much as the previous one.

Gay Roberts


Introduction – The First Ten Years

An End and a Beginning: VJ Day in Mid Wales Diana Ashworth

The Demise of the Stagecoach and the Advent of the Railway Brian Poole

Girls in Green Diana Brown

“We Have All Done Our Bit” Lawrence Johnson 11

Chartism in Llanidloes 1839-40: chapter 4 E. Ronald Morris

The Royal Courts of Mid Wales Dr. David Stephenson

A Local Gladstone vs Disraeli Diana Brown

The Perennial Traffic Problems in Rhayader Brian Lawrence

BLAST! Bishops Castle Story Telling Group

Life on the Road in Wales: part 1 Chris Barrett

Oriel Davies Open Writing Competition

Put Out To Grass : part 17: Prejudice and the Eternal Conundrum Diana Ashworth

The Not So Humble Mince Pie Bruce Mawdesley

Christmasses Past: Memories from Local People collected and edited by Gay Roberts

The Lost Arc Glenda and Paul Carter

Mid Wales Arts Centre

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales

Mid Wales Events Horizon

The Dragons Crypt

A Different Child Gaynor Jones

The Winter Garden Amber Louise Robinson

Mimosa Journal – a sequel Norma Allen

Existentiale Reginald Massey


The next issue will be out at the end of MARCH 2016


CHRISTMASES PAST – memories from local people collected and edited by Gay Roberts.

This article was first published in December 1994 in The Llani Gazette, the Community Newspaper of Llanidloes & District

Christmas is a very special time of year for all sorts of reasons. Historically it is the winter solstice, when people of all cultures in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the Sun’s return on the day after the longest night of the year. Lights and warmth were the most important feature of this coldest of seasons so it was a time for candles, bonfires and feasting; and, in gratitude for having survived the rigours of winter, it was a time for giving and receiving presents. This is the aspect that dominates our culture today. It was the time of the Roman Saturnalia and the time when Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. Christmas also has different meanings according to the various stages of our lives. We get the most enjoyment from it as children, or when children play a major part in our lives, particularly as parent and grandparents. When children are no longer around, for many people Christmas loses much of its magic and meaning.

In this article people from all walks of life living in Llani have given their thoughts on what Christmas means to them and a few have described Christmas times they remember. Llanidloes has a quite cosmopolitan population, so as well as from Wales, contributors have added their memories from England, Germany and Australia.

Karen remembers childhood Christmases in Germany. The season began on 6th December when all the children put their shoes out for St. Nicholas to fill with sweets., Excitement builds up to the big day, which is Christmas Eve, when the tree and all the decorations go up. Presents and sweets are given and Christmas dinner is eaten that evening. Christmas day itself is quiet. Her overwhelming memories are of lights, marzipan and smell of spice. It is a very special family occasion and “What I can’t get used to here”, she says “are all the parties”.

Bill Davis remembers Christmas on the farm at Cwm Belan. The animals still had to be fed and tended so Christmas Day was a day much like any other except that no ploughing was done. One blessing of the chapel was that the Bible said that six days shalt thou labour and the seventh shall be a day of rest. Otherwise, the farmers would have had them working all the hours they could get out of them every day of the year all for only six shillings (30p) a week.

When told about Father Christmas, Margaret remembers being absolutely terrified at the thought of a strange man coming into the house. Her sister felt exactly the same. Her mother reluctantly reassured her when she was four and a half years old why she had no reason to fear his presence.

Mike misses going from shop to shop in China Street for a convivial drink on Christmas Eve after 5.30 pm closing time. The hyper commercialisation upsets him too. Although it is his busiest time of year, “it can be depressing when people come into buy presents and, when they see the prices these days, they just cannot afford them. What I really look forward to now is shutting the shop on Christmas Eve and going straight across to the church where anything goes. Anyone can come in and take part. All the children are given a bit of costume – as a shepherd or an angel or something – and a candle and we all have a really good time” ‘ Carol spent some childhood Christmases with his grandparents on the farm in Pant-y-dwr, where particularly after the war, there was no money and nothing to buy. They were not religious and they lived too far from the chapel to walk there. So it was much like any other day. Grandmother baked bread in the oven beside the open fire. Nearly all the food – poultry, eggs, butter, fruit and vegetables – were produced on the farm; and nearly every day people would call for supper. The battery radio was a great thing in the house. But most important of all, people talked and talked. For entertainment on Christmas Eve in town, he remembers going out from the Trewythen Arms after closing time to watch the fights.

Another farmer, with most of his family having flown the nest, is glad to dispense with the competitive spending of Christmas time. His greatest pleasure now comes with the simple home-made gifts from the travellers that pass his way. G. remembers Christmas in Sydney, Australia in 1966 in a temperature of 100º F (38ºC) in the shade. Despite this, traditional European decorations prevailed – artificial fir trees, cotton wool snow, Santa sweltering in red suit, white wig and beard and black wellies. “In the department store where I worked, Christmas coincided that year with an Italian theme week. Their prize exhibit was a full-sized fully endowed plaster replica of Michelangelo’s 16 foot (5 metres) statue of David, planted firmly in the middle of the perfume counter, much to the interest of the local Sydney feminae. I spent most of Christmas Day dutifully with my family exchanging presents and noshing roast turkey and Christmas pud. but, as soon as I decently could, I hi-tailed it back to the city as, this particular year, the US, Canadian, Australian and Royal Navies were exercising in the Coral Sea and all 16,000 sailors were roaming the streets of Sydney looking for a good time. No single girl worth her mini skirt could let that go by without partaking. To cut a long story short, two days later in the company of a ship’s doctor, who looked more like a Greek God than the David, I received my most memorable Christmas present. But taste and decency require that I draw a veil over the details.

Anon, remembers his earliest Christmas, 1944. “London, you may have heard, was receiving sundry nasties from our European chums; and a piece of German hi-tech, that had fallen on our street sometime before, had removed the roof, windows and most of our doors along with 24 lives. The roof was now artfully draped with a tarpaulin and the window glass was replaced with a kind of cardboard. Although most of the doors were back in place, the blast had removed nearly all the lamp shades and most of the curtains. The Christmas tree was a broom handle with twigs tied to it, stuck in a bucket of rubble, which was the only thing in plentiful supply. A doll was tied to the top for a fairy and the decorations were those pre-war ones that had survived the bombing and others made by us children from whatever we could find lying around at the time. The cake I was told later, was made mainly from the contents of a U.S. food parcel (God bless America!). It had no icing, but was adorned with one candle – the 6″ type we took to bed – and a sprig of holly from who knows where. I do not remember what presents were given, except for one. Money was even scarcer then, so my uncle Les, ever the comedian, gave everyone a festively wrapped toilet roll – very apt, remembering what had been falling on us out of the sky for the past five years. Despite the gloomy setting, we kids had a thoroughly jolly time that only youthful optimism can deliver. How sad we have to grow up.

Finally, Dorothy remembers at 9 years old her mother still evading the crucial question. Determined to find out, she conceived a fiendish task. She had two dolls – a boy doll and a girl doll. In her letter to him on Christmas Eve she asked Santa to send a set of pink clothing for each of her dolls. When she woke on Christmas day, she knew in her heart the clothes would not be there. But there, on the end of her bed, glowing pink in the pale light of dawn, were a suit for boy doll and a dress for girl doll.

Merry Christmas!

THE WINTER GARDEN by Amber Louise Robinson

The sugar-dusted petals

are blushing in the winter air,

cold and silent

yet so beautiful,

like snow crowning

a marble statue.

They are tired now,

wilting slightly

but standing strong.

‘A weaker winter.’

the flower scoffs,

but perhaps it is,


A stronger flower

What was in PenCambria: Issue 29 Summer 2015?

Issue 29 Introduction and Contents at a glance


Well, what profusion of centenary commemorations we have this month! Continuing with our tributes to the war time generation, this issue remembers both world wars. Brian Lawrence has documented month by month Rhayader’s involvement in and reaction to World War I and this time we hear something about life from January to July 1915. Brian Poole has been investigating the contribution of the men of the Cambrian Railway, specifically three men from Caersws, to the war effort and Diana Ashworth has been looking through back numbers of the Montgomeryshire Express to find how VE day was celebrated in 1945in mid Wales.

Lawrence Johnson considers the bloody history of a pile of bones found in the church of St Llwchaiarn at Llanmerewig in 1892.

Richard Meredith treats us to another aspect of his extraordinary family history – the builders, and their lasting legacies of edifices of all kinds from houses to chapels to bridges and a reservoir are still part of our everyday environment.

Another centenary is celebrated this year at Bryn Tail Cottage which has housed an Outdoor Summer School for Central Secondary School in Birmingham since 1915. Richard Fryer tells us all about it. While researching the life of the late Emlyn Hooson Diana Brown found out so much about the Liberal Party and its links with Montgomeryshire that she decided to write about it for this edition and cover Emlyn’s life in a later issue.

Jo Florin was one of those souls that come to mid Wales after a very much out-of-the-ordinary life elsewhere and find a haven here to settle down and develop a life away from the stresses of modernity and to end their days, which indeed Jo did last year. Andy Scrase knew her well and has written an appreciation of her which will chime with all those who knew her. In Llawryglyn our retired couple hope they can give their dog benefit of the doubt regarding the wound on their dog’s leg, which they hope has come from an heroic stand taken to defend a sheep against an intruder hound.

A crop of interesting books has been brought to our notice this month. Newtown History Group has published two very different books – A Brief Survey of Public Houses, Inns and Taverns of Newtown and Llanllwchaiarn, and Letters from the Front 1914-1918, a collection of letters sent home to Newtown and Llanllwchaiarn by some of the men involved.   The Dolanog Booklet Group has brought out a  booklet all about Dolanog. Meanwhile this month Gwen Prince reviews a recently published book about climate change by George Marshall; and the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales have published two new books: one about the history of the slate industry in north Wales and the other about their discoveries of Roman life from their excavations of the Roman villa at Abermagwr, near Aberystwyth. For those of you eager to read the next instalment of E.Ronald Morris’s account of the Chartists’ uprising in Llanidloes, lack of space prevented its appearance in this issue, so it will continue in the next edition out at the end of October.

In the Dragon’s Crypt Gaynor Jones paints a beautifully sensitive picture of a mother taking her child to be admitted to school for the first time; Norma Allen completes her tale of the Welsh migrants’ journey to Patagonia; Reginald Massey expresses his love of Wales in some wonderfully heartfelt verse (SEE BELOW); Bruce Mawdesley remembers summers of childhood brought to life by John Selly’s illustration, and Amber Louise Robinson asks us what happens when we silence the world – a profound question from a 17 year old.


ROD Brian Poole 

Victory in Europe –  VE Day in Mid Wales Diana Ashworth

Blood and Fire Lawrence Johnson

A Legacy in Stone, Bricks & Mortar Richard Meredith

Don’t Even Think About It : Why Our Brains are Wired to Ignore Climate Change :

George Marshall book review Gwen Prince

Bryn Tail Cottage Richard Fryer

A Local Gladstone vs Disraeli Diana Brown

World War One in Rhayader : January to July 1915  Brian Lawrence

The Story of Jo Andy Scrase

Put Out To Grass : part 16: Dog Days Diana Ashworth

Roman Life in Abermagwr: Villa Finds Go On Display In Ceredigion Museum RCAHMW

New Publications reviewed:

Dolanog – Village on the Vyrnwy

From the Newtown Local History Group

–  A Brief Survey of Public Houses, Inns and Taverns in Newtown and Llanllwchaiarn :

–  Letters from the Front 1914-1918 Newtown & Llanllwchaiarn

From the RCAHMW:

Welsh Slate: Archaeology and History of an Industry

  The Dragons Crypt

School Admission Gaynor Jones – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -43

Mimosa Journal  Norma Allen – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  44

Lines from Llani Reginald Massey – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  51

“All on a Summer’s Day” Bruce Mawdesley, illustration John Selly– – – – – – – – – – – 52

A Song in Silence  Amber Louise Robinson  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 53


I now proclaim my immense wealth.
I live in Wales, the Land of Bards.
I know it rains and winds are cold;
But grass is green and sheep are hard.

I am not Welsh by blood nor birth
But they have taken me to heart.
And hence I thank the Welsh nation;
They are indeed a world apart.

My London friends still think I’m mad
That I deserted them for Wales.
But I never made a better choice;
I love the oaks, I love the gales.

The Mid-Walians possess warm hearts
And have a sense of decency.
They are the salt of God’s good earth;
I love them all and they love me.

Reginald Massey



What was in PenCambria: Issue 28 Spring 2015?

Issue 28 Introduction and Contents at a glance 


Dear PenCambrians

This issue is dedicated to the memory of Michael Brown, one of our great contributors and staunchest supporters who passed away in February this year after a long illness. Michael brightened our pages for many issues from 2006 starting with “Are You Church Or Chapel?”, his witty account of the installation of the organ in the Calvinist Methodist Chapel in Llanidloes in numbers 4-6. He then went into creative writing and produced some fine stories:  Midge Bellingham (number 11), about a woman who unwittingly falls foul of the Race Relations Act; Margaret Collier (number 13), a woman who has to make a decision to help out an old friend; and The Princess Who Was Vain (numbers 9 and 10), a wonderfully Gothic tale about the search for a suitable suitor for a princess who was a martyr to her own vanity.

In 2008 Michael was poised to take on a major editorial role with PenCambria when he had a massive stroke which severely curtailed his verbal communication both in speech and writing and so that never happened. Instead we have been so lucky that his wife Diana has put her own not inconsiderable talent at the disposal of the magazine and she has written regularly for us since then, and to some of those articles Michael was able to make a contribution.

When I first asked him if he would like to take over the editorial side of PenCambria, working with David Burkhill-Howarth, I suggested that he might like to become the Richard Ingrams of mid Wales, as I saw PenCambria as somewhat in mould of The Oldie. He laughed and agreed to it. Diana told me that it was a few days later when he was wondering if he should take it on that he had his stroke, and she commented “Well, you didn’t need to go that far to get out of it.” He will be much missed. An appreciation Reginald Massey follows this introduction.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War and Our Roll of Honour commemorates Private David Bennett Jones of Llanwnog, who sacrificed his life as a Chindit in that often forgotten campaign in Burma. We are profoundly grateful to his niece, Linda Evans for introducing him to us.

Sacrifices of a different sort continue the theme this month as Lawrence Johnson and Brian Lawrence remind us of those communities that lost their lands to, among other things the great reservoirs of mid Wales created to supply the water and electricity needs of west Wales and the City of Birmingham. Lawrence reminds us of so many places that Wales has lost by inundation. Meanwhile Brian cordially  invites us, courtesy of the City of Birmingham Water Department, to the King Edward VII’s visit to Rhayader on 21st July 1904 on the occasion of His Majesty’s Inauguration of the New Water Supply in the Elan Valley.

Trefeglwys celebrates the 100th Anniversary of its Eisteddfod this year and Margaret Jones traces this history of this remarkable cultural event along with a short history of this once pivotally important community.

When the going gets tough the girls go shopping and Val Church provides a bit of retail and entertainment therapy Victorian style.

This year is the 175th Anniversary of the Chartist Riot in Llanidloes and in the 2nd chapter of his booklet, Chartism in Llanidloes 1839-40 Ronald Morris describes the situation leading up to this event. Llanidloes was politically charged at this time and the ruling classes were very uneasy.

Michael Apichela takes us much further afield, to Pennsylvania, where there is a large and fiercely enthusiastic Welsh immigrant community.

Our retired gentleman at Llawryglyn buys a second hand digger and the culvert burst its banks into the field after a particularly heavy downpour – thank heavens for the digger – if he can get it to work!

Spring is here and the activity centres are opening their doors. So there are lots of things happening to satisfy the needs of the mind and the body.

In The Dragon’s Crypt, taking inspiration from various sources of the voyage of the Mimosa, the ship that took so many immigrants from Wales Patagonia 150 years ago to start a new life, Norma Allen has created a fictional diary that brings home so poignantly what those voyagers must have experienced. Part 1 is in this edition. Amber Louise Robinson sings a song in silence. Finally Bruce Mawdesley presents a paean to the Trannon Valley, illustrated once again by Jane Keay whose beautiful drawings I am so pleased to be able publish once again

Gay Roberts, Editor



Michael Mackenzie Brown – an appreciation Reginald Massey

Roll of Honour: Private 14639680 David Bennett Jones – Chindit Linda Evans

Drowned Worlds Lawrence Johnson

Making Waves – Events along the Montgomery Canal

Trefeglwys: the 100th Eisteddfod (2015) Margaret Jones

Bryn Tail Cottage Invitation Richard Fryer

Clywedog Bus Services Brian Poole

Shopping & Entertainment for Young Ladies in the 19th Century Val Church

Boo Boo Mawdesley-Bevis Requiescat in pace Tom Lines, illustration John Selly

Chartism in Llanidloes 1839-40, Chapter 1 E. Ronald Morris

A Very Special Day Brian Lawrence

The Welsh in Pennsylvania Michael Apichela

The School Bus Run from Y Fan to Staylittle Brian Poole

Put Out To Grass : part 15: The Big Freeze Diana Ashworth.

Stretching the Mind & Body

–        Gregynog Festival

–        Mid Wales Arts Centre

–        Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales

–        Mid Wales Events Horizon


  The Dragons Crypt

Mimosa Journal  Norma Allen

A Song in Silence  Amber Luise Robinson

Trannon Bruce Mawdesley, illustration Jane Keay

Article submission

For each issue we select one article to be published on the website. The following is the first part of a riveting piece of creative writing, based on historical fact, by Norma (one of our regular contributors and a member of the editorial team).  

MIMOSA JOURNAL Part 1  by Norma Allen 

In May 2015, it will be one hundred and fifty years since the Mimosa; a Clipper[1] converted to a Barque, set sail from Liverpool to Patagonia. The ship carried around one hundred and sixty people from all over Wales who were seeking a new life in Argentina, South America. These included Abraham Matthews, a Minister, born in Llanidloes in 1832, along with his wife Gwenllian from Aberdare and their daughter Mary Annie, born in 1865 in Merthyr Tydfil.

The story of what led to this journey as well as what happened when they arrived in Patagonia, some seven thousand miles and two months later, has been well documented.  Pencambria published a very informative and interesting article in two parts written by the late David Burkhill-Howarth in 2009 on both the journey and the start of the colony in Patagonia. There is a wealth of material online and further reading in Susan Wilkinson’s two books. I have drawn heavily upon her book, ‘Mimosa –The life and times of the ship that sailed to Patagonia’ for much of the factual detail which enabled me to construct the fictional journal (see details below).

Several of the travellers kept diaries or journals giving some account of life on board. Although the journal that follows is based on facts known about the voyage, together with mention of the names of some of the passengers and crew, you will not find any Edith Pryce or her brother Elwyn on the passenger list for the Mimosa, as they are fictional characters.


Burkill-Howarth, David, The Welsh People in Patagonia – Article: Parts 1 and 2, 2009.

Pencambria, Issues 10 and 11.

Wilkinson, Susan, 2007. Mimosa – The life & times of the ship that sailed to Patagonia

Y Lolfa, Ceredigion ISBN: 9 78086243 952 3

Wilkinson, Susan, 2007. Mimosa’s Voyages –Official Logs, Crew Lists and Masters.

Y Lolfa, Ceredigion ISBN -13: 9 780 86243 983 5

www. glaniad.com/ The voyage of the Mimosa, 1865

Edith Pryce’s Journal 

Thursday May 25th 1865 At last we have been let on board the Mimosa and will sail out of Liverpool as soon as the tides are right. I fear our journey will not be a pleasant one for our quarters are cramped and barely adequate for all the people travelling. The sleeping quarters for single men, and for women and their families, are separate. We are on the main deck with our own communal washing area; the men are on a lower deck and kept away from us by iron bars and separate hatches to the upper deck, so I am parted from my brother Elwyn at night. We each have a narrow bunk with communal washing area. There is no privacy and only four privies to serve us all. We have brought our bundles of blankets and pots with us but any other possessions must be stored in the hold. It will have to be endured though and surely cannot be worse than the hardships we have borne in our lives already.

Elwyn is barely seventeen and a sickly lad. I pray he will make the journey without any further illness. We lost our parents and two younger sisters to the fever and I was barely able to scrape a living for us both as a servant. As soon as I heard about this trip to Patagonia through our chapel, I was determined we should go. We did not have enough to buy the tickets for it was twelve pounds for each of us, but our chapel helped us out and we will repay it when we can.  The rest of our savings was used up in Liverpool where we have had to wait four long weeks before the ship was ready. It is only through the kindness and generosity of others waiting to travel that we managed to remain. Some families had to give up and return home as they had no more money or any means of getting any.

We are promised one hundred acres of land for each family and even though Elwyn isn’t strong, I am in good health and only in my early twenties. I believe he will thrive in a better climate and will rise to the challenge. It has been hard to leave our relatives and friends, knowing we may never see them or the land of our birth again. Yet, we are told it is the chance for a new start where we Welsh will make a land for ourselves and will not have to obey the English parliament, who some say, want to stamp out our language and culture.

Sunday May 28th 1865 This morning the Red Dragon of Wales was raised and we all sang an anthem in welsh to the tune of God Save the Queen. Mimosa was attached to a steam tug, the anchor was raised and with the help of a pilot who knew these waters well, we were steered safely out of the estuary into the ocean.

Elwyn and I, along with many others, watched the Perch Rock Lighthouse recede with a mixture of excitement and fear. Like most of the other passengers, neither of us had been much beyond our village in Wales, near Bala, before we travelled to Liverpool and it was difficult not to wish for a return to everything that was familiar to us. I have had little rest for the last two nights for there is so much noise and restlessness in our sleeping quarters. Several of the families have babies and young children and it seems as soon as one child stops bawling, another begins.

Captain Pepperell conducted a short, Anglican service this morning. Sunday School was arranged for the children this afternoon and this evening we are to have a non-conformist service. But the water has been rough all day, the ship plunges and rises constantly and we passengers who are unused to sailing are suffering from bouts of seasickness. Some are more afflicted than others. I cannot decide whether to go on the deck to get air and grow nauseous as I see the movement of the waves or to lie on my bunk below with others who are constantly vomiting.  Elwyn is struggling but I hope we will soon become accustomed to the movement.

Monday May 29th  At four this morning, those of us who had fallen into a fitful slumber were awakened by a great storm –– the wind roared, the rain was torrential and the ship was buffeted like a matchbox by the waves. Nearly everyone was sick and lay clinging to his or her bunk –– the infants wailing and the younger children sobbing with terror.  Most of us were frightened for our lives as the timbers creaked and groaned around us.  I worried about my brother on the lower deck. I cannot find out how he is doing while we are all in our own quarters. We did not know if the Mimosa would withstand the onslaught. We were only just off the Anglesey coast and heard a life-boat had put out to take us back to shore but Captain Pepperell refused the help and we struggled on. All I wish at this moment is we were back home. Our roof may have been leaking and there were draughts through the windows but at least the floor remained still. We are told by the crew who are well accustomed to such storms, that we will soon get our sea-legs.

Tuesday May 30th  The storm had abated by morning light and the Mimosa is now in full sail. We passed the Scilly Isles, Cornwall and the Irish coast under clear skies. Everyone is feeling better and there is a cheerier atmosphere, even though the women have had a day of it clearing up after yesterday’s sickness. This is no easy task as we are allowed to wash clothes and bedding on only two days a week, fortunately this was one of them. We have to put everything in large tubs of sea-water on deck. The washing comes out cleaner but dries as stiff as boards and our hands are already chapped and raw. I feel for the babies in their stiffened diapers and the infants with their tender skin. Elwyn managed to come out onto the communal deck this afternoon. I was much relieved to see him with a little colour in his cheeks. He complains little but I know he’s having a hard time. He is one of the younger ones and unused to the rough language and ways of some of the other men.

Friday June 2nd  The ship is sailing well now and we are off the Bay of Biscay. We have had some celebration today for Lewis Humphreys, one of the three ministers on board, married William Hughes and Ann Lewis, both from Abergynolwyn. They are not young, both in their thirties, I believe and Ann is with child. They could have wed earlier but perhaps decided they would like to do it on board the Mimosa, as they sailed out to a new life together. Elwyn is feeling more settled now the sea is calmer and is no longer vomiting. His health is benefitting from the sea air too and he talks excitedly of how it will be when we get to Patagonia.

Thursday June 8th In the last day or two we have all been anxious about little Catherine, the two- year-old daughter of Robert and Mary Thomas from Bangor, who is suffering from a bad dose of croup. The doctor, Thomas Greene, has moved the child to the sick cabin and applies warm fomentations to her throat to try to alleviate the spasms. One or both parents are in attendance at all times but it is pitiful to hear the child’s hoarse, croaking cries. We all pray for her.

Friday June 9th   All our praying and the best efforts of the doctor could not save the child. Little Catherine died today. My heart goes out to her grief-stricken parents.

Saturday June 10th  At ten o’clock this morning the child was buried at sea. She was placed in a special box weighted with stones at one end and cast overboard. Captain Pepperell read the prayer book service for the burial of the dead. Catherine’s parents could scarce contain themselves as the coffin slipped into the ocean. Her mother clung to the hand of the child’s five-year-old sister as if nothing would ever part them.  All passengers and crew were in attendance and there were many tear-streaked faces and all in sombre mood.

If that was not enough to bear, worse came late this evening when we heard that James, the two-year-old son of Aaron and Rachel Jenkins, had also died. The child was suffering from some hideous disease that causes gangrenous inflammation of the face and sometimes afflicts young children. It may have been a merciful release for the child, since I’ve heard the cheeks redden and swell as the insides of the mouth slough away. Certainly, we have all noticed the foul odour emanating from the child. His mother is heavy with another pregnancy and we pray the shock will not have caused any harm to her unborn child.

Sunday June 11th This morning, Mary Jones from Mountain Ash went into labour. The doctor moved her to the cabin serving as a hospital but we were all able to hear her screams and howls as the birth progressed. It put some of the other women in mind of their birthing pains and we had also to endure their gory descriptions of blood loss, still births, babies strangled by the birthing cord and so on. I went up on deck when I could endure it no longer. There was nothing to view but the vast expanse of ocean with a few sea birds flying high above but the day was clear and the air felt fresh. I went back below to hear the welcome sound of the infant’s first cries.  It is a boy and he is to be called Morgan. We were all greatly cheered by the news after yesterday’s tragedies.

Tuesday June 13th We are now in the Tropics and have just passed the island of Madeira. It is as if we have entered another world. The heat is overwhelming and the ocean is a sparkling expanse below the blue sky. There was a wondrous sunset last night. It is hard to describe the glowing colours in the sky as the sun slipped below the horizon. Although we were a few miles away we could see the island through the crystal clear air  –– whitewashed houses with palm-frond roofs and other hovels which seemed to be made of gorse. The sand is bleached white and we can see terraced plantations laid out across the hillsides. We have all been out on deck despite the heat but there are reddened faces and forearms now and many of the children are whimpering as their tender skin peels, many parents having paid no heed to the doctor’s advice to keep the youngsters covered and out of the sun.

Thursday June 15th Today we saw the Canary Islands and the mountain of Tenerife in the distance. I am thankful to our father, who was a scholar and a schoolmaster before he became sick and we fell on hard times, who made sure to give all his children an education. It means I do have some knowledge of where we are in the world and how far we have travelled. We make progress but I know we have many more weeks on board the ship before we reach our destination. Also, I am able to write this journal, which provides a record of our journey as well as an outlet for my thoughts. Many of the passengers are quite illiterate, especially the women and are curious about what I write. Sometimes they ask me to write letters for them, which will be sent at some stage of the journey. I am happy to do it. The heat has become unbearable, especially in our quarters below deck. The aroma rising from our hot, sweaty bodies, along with the stench from the privies, is now a great deal worse. Tempers are becoming short in the heat and quarrels break out between families.

Friday June 16th This has been a most upsetting day. Captain Pepperell discovered that some of the passengers have head lice. He said that the women’s hair should be cut and their heads washed with soap and water. I was on the quarter deck when young Jane Huws, was advanced upon by one of the crew who was brandishing a pair of shears, intent on obeying the captain’s orders. Her screams of terror soon brought many other passengers onto the deck, including her father, Rhydderch Huws. He and Hugh Hughes confronted, the captain, demanding the girl be let go.  Captain Pepperell grew very angry and there was a loud exchange of words as we all looked on. The men would not back down and the captain drew his revolver and pointed it at Hugh Hughes’ chest. We were all silent, fearing what would happen. Still the men stood their ground whereupon the captain raised his revolver and fired –– into the sea. Rhydderch kept on pleading for his daughter to be let go so Captain Pepperell ordered John Downes, the mate, to manacle him. Downes is not an agreeable man and plainly enjoyed approaching Rhydderch, jangling the irons and sneering at him. Before he did so however, the Captain, aware of the mounting antagonism arising from the other passengers, changed his mind and finally a compromise was reached. It was decided that he and the doctor, Thomas Greene, would examine all heads for the presence of lice. Fortunately, both Elwyn and I are free from infestation. We are told that in order to prevent the spread of infection, passengers are not allowed access to the quarterdeck. This leaves us with even less space for fresh air and exercise.

Wednesday June 21st Today we saw many sharks in the waters near our ship. Fish were leaping high out of the sea, one landed on deck and was seized.  It was a wonderful to see such creatures. Despite the danger from the sharks, some of the bolder young men plunged into the ocean and allowed themselves to be towed along on a rope tied to the bowsprit. We all applauded as the waves rose and fell, lifting then submerging the men. Still, I felt fearful for their safety and was glad when they were all back on board. They strode about the deck, drying off, telling us what an exhilarating experience it had been. Elwyn was envious but he would never have had the strength for such an adventure and for that I was thankful. There will be plenty more new experiences when we start our life in Patagonia.

Sunday June 25th The wind has picked up in the last few days and today we sailed into a tropical storm. Once again the ship heaved and creaked leading to the return of sickness to some. Above the sound of the wind and waves we once again heard the howls of a woman in labour. The doctor has little to alleviate the pain so it must be borne. The child, a girl to be called Rachel, was a daughter for Rachel and Aaron Jenkins, who lost their son James just a fortnight ago.

Tuesday June 27th We have crossed the equator and passed into the southern hemisphere. There was a celebration to mark ‘Crossing the Line’. The young male passengers were chased by the crew and had water thrown over them, while we women looked on, enjoying the spectacle. It was all taken in good part. I saw Elwyn getting soaked a time or two but the heat of the sun soon dried off the victims. Later Captain Pepperell invited some of the passengers for drinks in his cabin. There were reports of drunkenness by those unused to such an amount of liquor but no lasting harm, I suppose.

Wednesday June 28th During the early hours of this morning, John Davies, the eleven-month-old son of Robert and Catherine Davies from Llandrillo, died as a result of complications caused by ‘water on the brain’. We had all observed the poor infant’s unnaturally large head and his struggles as his little body wasted away. We stood on deck at eight this morning, with great sadness, as the Chaplain performed the funeral rites and committed the infant’s body to the ocean. My heart goes out to his parents but it is a blessing that the baby will suffer no more.















What was in PenCambria: Issue 27 Winter 2014?

Issue 27 Introduction and Contents at a glance

Following on from the summer edition in which we were able to mention just a few of the many men who fought and died in the First World War, where appropriate, starting with this edition, we will begin a Roll of Honour, a series of mini-biographies of the men and women of mid Wales who fell in this ghastly conflict and who deserve to be more widely known than they may be at present. Peter Watson and Nia Griffiths are doing valuable research in this cause and between them they have provided details of eight more men from mid Wales. Nia has also given us details of a most interesting part of the project in which she is involved – the contribution of Llanidloes Schools to the War Effort.This war could not have been conducted without the contribution of the railways and while it may not have been directly involved, Dolwen Station provided a vital link for life in the Severn Valley, as Brian Poole shows. Lawrence Johnson takes us much further back in time, to medieval mid Wales and the influence of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem – the Knights Hospitaller – especially the memory they have left in Carno.Richard Meredith entertains with another episode of his family history as he goes looking for his roots.Newtown Local History Group are rightly proud to announce that in recognition of their contribution towards the study of local history, they have received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to produce a book containing letters written from the Front during the First World War.

If you go down to the woods tonight you may see more than just the ghosts of trees. Norma Allen has been talking to Rory Evans, who will take you on a ‘Ghost Walk’ around Caersws and will chill your blood with all the spooky happenings that are known to occur –  Whoo-oo-er! Just the thing for a dark November evening!Winter in Llawryglyn and the sheep must fed by our intrepid retired couple, who are enchanted by the sight of a back fox and its cub.R.M. Williams provides us with another glimpse of mid-20th century St Harmon, this time his own life, which was hard but fulfilling. Hard, too, was life in the 19th century and, following Diana Ashworth’s excellent comprehensive account in PC25 of the Chartist uprising in Llanidloes in 1839, E. Ronald Morris has given me permission to serialise his own booklet, which was first published in 1989 on the 150th anniversary of the uprising. Here, in chapter one, he sets out the historical background. Following his delightful book based on the tradition of Owain Glyndwr’s daughter living in the Pantydwr area, in what would at that time have been Gwrtheyrnion, John Hughes, with the help of Dr David Stephenson, now turns his novelist eyes to Llywelyn ab Gruffudd, the last Welsh Prince of Wales, who was assassinated near Builth Wells and whose body was buried in Abbey Cwm Hir.The Chapel has a very special place in the hearts and culture of Wales and as part of their digital history project, in conjunction with Adoldai Cymru, RCAHMW are in the process providing digital images of the chapels in Wales. So, via your screen, you can now pay the chapels a virtual visit although any singing will have to be your head – for now. In Concrete Across the Clywedog Brian Poole charts the history of the Clywedog Dam including the importance of concrete as its construction material and his book, published by the Powysland Club is reviewed by Reginald Massey.

So many Welsh men and women crossed the Atlantic Ocean to find fame and fortune in the New World and Chris Barrett looks at some of their lives through  the book 150 Famous Welsh Americans by W. Arvon Roberts. A famous Welshman who stayed at home was Emlyn Hooson QC, who died, sadly, in 2012. Derec Llwyd Morgan has written a portrait of him through his essays and reminiscences, which Diana Brown has reviewed briefly here with the view to writing a fuller account of his life next year.

In the Dragon’s Crypt

  • Gaynor Jones tells us a haunting story of Welsh migrants;
  • Michael Apichela is inspired to write a poem about his stay at Mid Wales Arts Centre;
  • the war is over for Selina and she must try and bring some peace to shell-shocked George in this concluding part of Norma Allen’s trilogy In Time of War;
  • finally try as he might, despite John Selly’s charming illustration, Bruce Mawdesley fails to experience even a frisson of fairy fingers in his poem Mything Out.

 CONTENTS Issue 27

Introduction  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  1

Roll of Honour Peter Watson  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –   2

The Contribution of Llanidloes School to the First World War Nia Griffiths – – – – – – –  – – – 5

A Welcome in the Vale? Lawrence Johnson  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — –  8

Dolwen Station Brian Poole – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  12

My Roots : Part 6:  Who Do You Think You Are? Richard Meredith – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -16

Newtown Local History Group and The Heritage Lottery Fund – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  21

Post Card from Newtown   – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  21

‘Spooked in Caersws’ Ghostly tales from Rory Evans as told to Norma Allen – – – – – – – – -22

Emlyn Hooson: Essays and Reminiscences book review by DianaBrown – – – – – – – – – – –  26

Put Out To Grass : part 15: The Big Freeze Diana Ashworth. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 27

My Life in St Harmon R.M. Williams. – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  29

King Edward VII in the Elan Valley postcard from Sterling Mullins – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –30

Chartism in Llanidloes 1839-40, Chapter 1 E. Ronald Morris – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –   31

Llywelyn John Hughes  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – 39

Virtual Chapels in Wales RCAHMW . – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — 41

Saga of the Clywedog Dam book review by Reginald Massey – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  42

150 Welsh Americans book review by Chris Barrett – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –   43



  The Dragons Crypt

A Welsh Ghost Story Gaynor Jones  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  47

Cathy’s House or an Ode to the Mid Wales Art Centre  Michael Apichela – – – – – – – – – – – 49

In Time of War: part three: an End and a Beginning Selina’s Birthday Norma Allen   – – – -50

Mything Out Bruce Mawdesley, illustrated by John Selly – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –  53

The next issue will be out at the end of MARCH  2015



Sample article from PenCambria number 28

150 FAMOUS WELSH AMERICANS  W. Arvon Roberts (2008)

Llygad Gwalch, Ysgubor Plas, Llwyndryrys, Pwllheli, Gwnedd LL53 6NG  ISBN 1-84524-077-4 Paperback 208 pages.

Reviewer: Chris Barrett

This is a review of a 1st Edition (2008) copy of this book which is available from Powys Libraries. Llygad Gwalch is the brand name of Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, originally a Welsh language publisher, which now brings out books in many more languages. The press takes its name from Carreg-y-gwalch (falcon rock) which is reported to hide a cave which was the C15th sanctuary of local rebels after the Owain Glyndwr War of Independence. W. Arvon Roberts is a Welsh American historian and writer who currently resides in Pwllheli, Gwynedd. He has published in American and Welsh journals and newspapers. The bibliographic notes that informed the writing of this book are held in the National Museum of Wales, Aberystwyth.

The author states that he enjoyed researching and writing this book. The 150 Americans he selected are a personal choice from the many individuals who left Wales for new lives and opportunities in America. Thus, the selection is eclectic, including the famous, infamous and less well known characters. The content is arranged alphabetically and searching for ancestors, when the family name or person’s occupation is known, is an easy task. The focus of the book is purely to catalogue these famous people, not to explore the social and political reasons for immigration. (For detailed background information about the significant immigration waves from Wales to America see: http://www.everyculture.com/multi/Sr-Z/Welsh-Americans.html).

Approximately two thirds of the profiled 150 individuals are prominent orators, statesmen and politicians (36), poets, academics and writers (29) and musicians, singers, composers and artists (16) and clergymen, missionaries and theologians (12). Since the Welsh have long been recognised as passionate communicators, entertainers and hymn writers, talents in these fields will come as no surprise. Some individuals acquired fame through their professional ability in medicine (5), in law (6), in military activity (9) and in business, investment, engineering and industry (15). The remaining 22 entries reflect the environment these individuals found across the Atlantic, which was probably markedly different from their native land. The pioneers, ranchers, trappers, map makers and abolitionists are all represented and the colourful and intriguing wild-west characters who became rodeo champions, Red Indian scouts, gangsters and desperados. The inclusion of an antique collector (Daniel L. Jones) may seem tame in comparison but he has another claim to fame in that he persuaded the US Government to include a commemoration to Wales in the Washington Monument in 1885. The words engraved on the stone, which was imported from Swansea, are:

Fy Iaith, Fy Ngwlad, Fy Nghenedl, Wales, Cymru Am Byth!

Researchers of Welsh Americans seeking specific information may regret there is no cross referencing facility that connects, for example, the ancestor Edward Evans of Mold, Flintshire to his famous grandson Edward Herbert Rees, a US Congressman born in Kansas in 1886. For that type of search, Dear Reader, you will need to read the whole book as I did!

There is also no means of cross referencing for place of birth in Wales within this otherwise useful and informative book. For many entries the author has been able to identify the town, village or even the house in which the individual originated as in Samuel Milton Jones (p124), a millionaire, inventor and politician, who was born in Ty Mawr, Nantmor, near Beddgelert, Caernarfonshire. Sometimes there is a tenuous link to Welsh ancestry, rather than evidence. Earl W. Bascom (p17), an artist and rodeo champion and Thomas Bibb (p20), the 2nd Governor of Alabama are both stated simply to be direct descendents of Welsh settlers. Where there is a dispute about place of origin this is carefully explained, as with Roger Williams (p198), Founder of Rhode Island who is reported to have originated variously from London, Glamorganshire or Carmarthenshire. The famous Americans listed below may be of particular interest to PenCambria readers as their Welsh ancestors are identified to have lived locally.

A theme which emerges from the book, if read as a whole, is best expressed by the uniquely Welsh word hiraethus; missing the homeland or longing for something. Welsh-American immigrants maintained strong ties with Wales, and “Welshness” was promoted in America, where many still spoke Welsh after fifty years in the USA. The pioneers established Welsh Colleges, edited and published Welsh-American newspapers and books and developed the Eisteddfod and Welsh Societies and translated hymns, bibles, textbooks and novels into Welsh. The newspapers included Y Drych and Baner America and notable publications included Hanes Cymry America and the first Welsh book to be published in the USA; Annerch i’r Cymry. Given the realities of travel during the1880s and onwards the willingness of these pioneers to return to Wales, sometimes several times, is striking. Their journeys were in relation to research and academic work, forging links with the church/chapel and missionary work. It is clear that visits linked with music and art were important and particularly participation in the Eisteddfod. Personal reasons are often cited such as visiting family, and notably, to seek another Welsh wife after bereavement.

Stated place of origin in Wales Famous Welsh-American Page in2008 Ed.
Llanbrynmair, Montgomeryshire William Bebb 17
Darowen and Cemaes, Montgomeryshire Llewellyn Breese 23
Bala, Merionethshire Benjamin Childlaw 33
Llandygwydd, Cenarth, Newcastle EmlynTeifi Valley Prof. Phillips G. Davies 39
Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire William Henry Harrison 79
Llanbrynmair, Montgomeryshire Ezekiel Hughes 87
Y Castell, Carno, Montgomeryshire Llewelyn Morris Humphreys 96
Llanwyddelan, Montgomeryshire George Jones 112
(Unknown) Montgomeryshire John Edward Jones 117
Machynlleth, Montgomeryshire Edward Morgan Lewis 135
Berriew, Montgomeryshire orBala, Merionethshire Thomas Morris 150
Meifod, Montgomeryshire William W. Vaughan 195

Only nine women are included within the 150 entries. Eight of these achieved fame as respectively as singer (3), evangelist (1), author (2), Hollywood actress (1), and US President’s wife (1). The ninth female entry is Betsy Ross who made the first United States flag. She lived 84 years, spanning seven President’s terms of office and saw the number of stars on the flag increased from 13 to 26 and her fame is ensured by the establishment of the Betsy Ross society. But what of the many other women who supported all these Famous Welsh-American men? Very little is written about the aspirations and dreams of these women, of their strength and courage and about their success in creating homes and societies in a new land. There are some notable Welsh-American women whose careers are well documented and could have been included the book such as Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Her Great-grandmother came from Llanddewi Brefi.

Simply “dipping-into” this book will reveal a range of human stories on every page. One such tale is of the famous statesmen, William Henry Harrison, 9th President of the United States, born 1773, whose great-grandfather was a poor smallholder in Llanfyllin, Montgomeryshire. He was the first US President to die in office but, regrettably, not the last! Then there is Mari Jones Judson, one of the few female profiled in the book. She was born in 1918 in Ystradgynlais, Breconshire and found fame as a singer, conductor and musician performing on television, film soundtracks and at many prestigious venues in the Western States. In contrast, the oldest Welsh-American recorded, Thomas Morris, lived a very quiet life as a butcher, shoemaker and farmer. He is known to have been born in Wales in 1794, either in Bala or Berriw and was still alive in 1916 but the date of his death is unknown. Some individuals defy categorisation. Thomas Jones is simply referred to as a Wild West Character whose exploits are thought to have included cattle stealing and who was hanged with his twin sister in 1885. Likewise, the three Hughes brothers, Jesse, Thomas and Elias were Scouts and Indian fighters and they had many adventures, worthy of a Wild West Hollywood film, from the late 1700s to 1840s. Many Welsh immigrants had background knowledge of mining and farming and took leading roles in America’s industrial development including Samuel Milton Jones in the petroleum industry, David Thomas in iron manufacture and Hugh W. Thomas in slate production. The latter, left his impoverished background in Nasareth, Caernarfonshire in 1857, aged 21, and become very rich within ten years and famous as the Slate King of America!

This small book (200 pages) would be of interest to many readers including researchers, ancestry seekers or it may be read simply for pleasure. A 2014 version, re-issued by Llygad Gwalch, is available in paperback and on-line (£12.00)

What was in PenCambria: Issue 26 Summer 2014?

Introduction and Contents at a glance

This year, indeed almost to the day this edition comes out, is the centenary of the out break of the First World War – the Great War, the War to end all wars, as it was called after the event, until twenty five years later. In order to mark the occasion this edition of PenCambria is devoted to all things related to this epoch-changing event.

The Great War brought down the crumbling edifices of the European monarchies and finally brought about the social changes for which the people had been agitating for over one hundred years, since well before the end of the Napoleonic wars. The experience of the millions of men on the battlefield belongs to them, very few of them talked about it afterwards – they could not do so except to other soldiers, an experience common to all men who have served in conflict – and in this edition there is relatively little that relates directly to their service. However, one of the defining features of World War One was that it was the first time in history that the whole country took part.

Five million men were recruited in Britain and the British Empire for battlefields and the Royal and Merchant Navies, these latter often forgotten in the carnage of Flanders. But they all needed to be fed, clothed and armed, cared for when injured, the country still had to function while they were away from their civilian jobs and much of this work was taken up by the women. They worked in ammunition factories, on the land and in the hospitals and in a whole range of other essential services.  Working class women were used to working in factories, shops, offices and other establishments; upper class and aristocratic women were used to organising charitable activities, but this was the first time that middle class women had joined the work force en masse rather than wait for a suitable marriage partner to be presented to them. Even children and animals were commandeered.

In fact after the war girls at school were told that due to deaths of so many men, one in ten of them would not find a husband and so they should prepare to spend their lives doing something other than running a hone and raising a family. It is also an interesting fact that women over thirty years of age were given the vote in February 1918, a few months before the end of the war, as if the government recognised that  many women would soon be fending for themselves and they did not want to have to deal with suffragette activity on top of everything else that would beset them.

In this commemorative edition with Lawrence Johnson and Brian Lawrence we discover how the outbreak of war was reported in Montgomeryshire in the County Times and, with the Declaration made by the King George V, how Rhayader mustered in support.

Nia Griffiths has embarked on a remarkable project to bring to light the stories of the men whose names appear on the cenotaph and the memorial tablets in the Llanidloes, some of whom appear in this edition.

War makes poets of us all and none better than those two great, war poets, profiled here by Reginald Massey: Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen, a native of Oswestry.

Gilbert Phillips, a Newtown man, was a prisoner of war in Germany and his daughters very kindly talked about him to Brian Poole.

Jack Morten served in Europe and the Far East and his mother kept all his letters in a shoe box. Norma Allen reviews a book written by his daughter-in-law who typed up all the letters and researched his Battalion.

Mary Oldham meanwhile looks at the Davies Sisters of Llandinam, who provided canteens for the Frenchmen at the Front.

Florence Haynes was recruited into the Women’s Land Army and Gwenda Trow was very kind to tell me all about this feisty lady. In addition, she gave me Florence’s Land Army Handbook, which I have reproduced for you all to see just how seriously these women were taken, how important their service was and what was expected of them.

Countless numbers of animals are used in the pursuit of war, none of whom have any choice but to give their lives when the time comes. Diana Brown sheds light on this sacrifice.

Gardening is an unlikely pastime pursued behind the lines of both armies and Diana Ashworth has been digging around to find out more.

The nursing profession as we know it today grew from the need to nurse the soldiers who had, in so many cases, suffered such terrible injuries. Chris Barrett has researched this history and pays tribute to all the nurses who were killed in France but whose names do not appear on any role of honour.

In the Dragons Crypt Norma Allen continues the story of Selina, and Bruce Mawdesley tells of a narrow childhood escape.

The true feelings of the men at the Front are revealed in the songs they sang to keep themselves sane and the words of some of these – those that are printable! – are interspersed in this edition, gleaned from The Wipers Times and Trench Songs from The First World War Poetry Digital Archive.    Toodle pip!    Good-byee!

Gay Roberts, Editor


World War 1 – Rhayader 1914 Brian Lawrence

Remembering the Great War RCAHMW

The War Cloud Lawrence Johnson

Remembering the First World War – A Llanidloes Trail Nia Griffiths

Sassoon and Owen – Great War Poets Reginald Massey

The Conquering Conkers Gay Roberts

The Great War and a Newtown Man as Prisoner of War in Germany  Brian Poole

Post Card in Newtown on 14th August 1914 submitted by Sterling Mullins

Book Review: “I remain, Your Son Jack”  Norma Allen

Preparing for the Front RCAHMW

The Davies Sisters at the Front in World War One Mary Oldham

Florence Haynes  as told to Gay Roberts by Gwenda Trow

The Women’s Land Army L.A.A.S. Handbook

“They Had No Choice” Diana Brown

Kitty Gay Roberts

War and Gardening: Gardening in the Trenches in World War 1 Diana Ashworth

Finding their Voices Nurses and Midwives in Wales 1910-1940 Chris Barrett



The Dragon’s Crypt

In Time of War: part two : Gathering Shadows Norma Allen

Guardian Angel Bruce Mawdesley

In Their Own Words : Songs and Snippets The Soldiers of World War One