Dear Pencambrians, Just to update you on the progress of our Editor, Gay Roberts, She is healing well, and is up and about and on her way to a full recovery. However, it is with regret that she has asked me to inform you that PenCambria will not be produced in 2020 in view of the Corona shutdown. 2020 subscriptions will be carried over to 2021. If you would prefer an immediate refund please ring Gay on 01686 440630. Thank you.
Unfortunately the PenCambria Founder and Editor; Gay Roberts, had a fall before Christmas resulting in hospitalisation and surgery. She is recovering well. However, at present, she is unable to resume her role.
She has made the decision that a Spring edition of the journal will NOT be published.
We wish her a speedy recovery and look forward to supporting her in producing the Summer 2020 edition.(PenCambria editorial team)
EDITORIAL: INTRODUCTION TO PENCAMBRIA NUMBER 42 Winter 2019
Welcome to the final edition for 2019 and I am pleased to say that not only are there no more farewells to be said at present but on the contrary I am delighted to welcome a few more new writers to our fold.
Roy Hayter retired as the landlord of Lloyds Hotel in Llanidloes a few years ago and he provides a delightful eye opener into the pleasures and perils of running a small hotel. With the gems of local history drawn from all over mid Wales that he has in his archive and that he is now sharing so generously with us, David Peate has to be the Cartier of PenCambria. This issue begins with his observations on Plygain, that wonderful Welsh tradition of Christmas singing, and for Hallowe’en he tells all about the phantom horsemen that roam the countryside of mid Wales.
I,for one, love hearing about childhood in Wales. While I am sure many that were and are not magical, today when only the worst experiences are considered to be authentic, it is a delight to be reminded that not every adult is a monster for children to fear, that in rural areas certainly, we did feel safe to roam the countryside at will – and the sun always shone! In the late 19th century, Mary Janetta Buxton spent her childhood in Kerry. She recalled it in a memoire transcribed by her daughter Jessica Hawes who has very kindly allowed us to serialise it in PenCambria.
Fifty years ago mid Wales was buzzing furiously with the prospect of yet another valley being flooded to provide water to England. In the last issue Gareth Morgan introduced us to the background of the Dulas Valley project and in this issue he takes us right to the heart of the Inquiry set up to justify the authority’s actions in doing so.
Austin Gwesyn Lewis, who lives in Llanidloes, is a lively intelligent, independent centenarian whom Gaynor Waters discovered from an article in the County Times. Meanwhile Richard Meredith uncovers more of an extraordinary branch of his family, the Manuels of Trefeglwys.
Who would have thought that sleepy Dylife on the mountain road from Llanidloes to Machynlleth was once a thriving mining community of at least 1,000 people? A post card seen in a local exhibition this summer set Chris Barrett off on a quest to found out more about this remote village set in the wasteland of abandoned lead mines high in the Plynlimon range. After leaving Parliament in 1929 David Davies 1st Lord Davies continued with his efforts to bring about world peace although events were building up a momentum which would culminate in the outbreak of the 2nd World War in 1939. His health began to pay the price and Peter Lewis charts his final years in Part 5 of his biographical sketch.There are a great many saints in Wales. Almost every llan has one attached to it. Lawrence Johnson has hung up his boots this month and gone on an indoor trek looking at three of these saints – Gwynnog, Gildas and Cattwg – and comes up with all sorts of interesting information that give us food for thought.
For thousands of years, until the 18th-19th centuries, the grain that formed our staple diet was harvested by hand. The introduction of machinery, from the simple threshing drum to the modern combine harvester, changed a whole way of life almost within living memory. Brian Poole is collecting memories of these changes in rural practices and in this issue he looks at the threshing drum.
Christmas is another institution that has changed so much in our lifetimes from being a communal event to being a more private home-based, one might almost say sofa-based celebration today. Therese Smout has been looking at Christmas as it was reported in the newspapers 100 years ago, the year after the end of the Great War and it is quite sobering to see how those years were still dominating all aspects of life in our country.
Diana Ashworth goes batty with bats in her blog. Michael Limbrey charts a very successful year with the Montgomery Canal. We have two books from the RCAHMW to read during the dark winter hours. Richard Suggett’s Welsh Witches: Narratives of Witchcraft from Sixteenth- and Seventeenth-century Wales was published in 2018; and Wales and the Sea 10,000 years of Welsh Maritime History, an epic study of Wales’ maritime history, published in English and in Welsh, was launched earlie this month on 24th October.
The Dragon’s Crypt houses its usual treasure of prose and poetry. Bruce Mawdesley awakens your imagination with another of his exquisite tales based on his countryside childhood, John Mauel roams down the memory lanes of Llanidloes and the Old Mrket Hall; Julia R. Francis looks into the Void before the Beginning; and we leave you this moth with Norma Allen’s encounter with a werwolf.
Blwyddyn newydd da I pob. Gay Roberts
Plygain David Peate
An Innkeepers Reflections Roy Hayter
Dam Tylwch and Flood the Dulas Valley: part 2 Gareth Morgan
My Childhood in Wales: part 1 Mary Janette Buxton
Postcard from Dylife Chris Barrett
Coming Home Gaynor Waters
First Lord Davies of Llandinam: part V Peter Lewis
Who were the Manuels Richard Meredith
The Tenth Order Lawrence Johnson
The Hum of the Threshing Drum Brian Poole
The Phantom Horseman David Peate
A View From the Hills: Long-Eared Brown Bat Zöe Spencer
Christmas and New Year in Montgomeryshire 100 Years Ago Therese Smout
Bats Diana Ashworth
The Dragons Crypt
The Awakening Bruce Mawdesley
In Celebration of Llanidloes and the Old Market Hall John Manuel
Before the Beginning Julia R. Francis
Encounter with a Werewolf Norma Allen
The Editor selects one article from each Issue of PenCambria to be posted on this website. Below is her choice, which is very seasonal.
CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR IN MONTGOMERYSHIRE 100 YEARS AGO
The discussion of events this past year, concerning the centenary of the end of the Great War, made me wonder what had been going on in the locality over Christmas 1918 and into the new year of 1919. There was a lot of information in the newspapers relating to post war issues, such as from The Montgomeryshire War Pensions Committee. They communicated the news that discharged and disabled soldiers or sailors, who were unfit to carry on with their pre war occupation, could join a training course such as the ones in Forestry at Llanidloes or Basket Making at Newtown. There were also adverts for metal miners, machine men and labourers to work in the Van lead mine.
The weekly casualty list, produced by the War Office and Air Ministry, was still mentioning local men in December 1918. Edward Adolphus Matthews (Royal Welsh Fusiliers) from Llanidloes, was listed as “missing” and F. Davies (Welsh Guards), also from Llanidloes, was listed as “wounded”. Mr and Mrs Hopper of Station View, Llanidloes, had received the sad news that their son, Sgt. Albert Henry Hopper, had died at Minden camp in Germany on 26th October from pulmonary phthisis. He had been buried in the cemetery for prisoners of war in the presence of his comrades. He had been reported missing, but then his parents were overjoyed to receive 3 letters from him, telling them he was well and unwounded but begging them to send food. They had already lost another son, George Hobday Hopper, who went down with the mine-sweeper Mignonette in 1917.
It was sad to see the reports of a soldier’s death after the war had ended. Pte. J. Rowlands from Freestone Lock, Newtown died in a London hospital, Pte. Edward Stephen Jones from Maes Cottage, Llangurig, died in France and Pte. E. Jones from Severn Porte, Llanidloes died in hospital in Alexandria, all passing away in December from pneumonia.
The Police Gazette dated 31st December, listed William Alfred John Wood (The Welsh Regiment) a woollen worker of Llanidloes in the “Deserters and Absentees” list. He was 18 years old, 5’5” with brown hair and blue eyes and had been missing from Lowestoft since 19th December.
Released prisoners of war from Germany, were arriving back in England, including W. M. Lloyd of Llanidloes.Pte. Evan Hartwell Jehu returned to Llanfair Caereinion and received a warm welcome home “from the clutches of the Hun”. The following piece from the newspaper explains what happened to him. “Pte. Jehu was captured in the big offensive in March and was one of those unfortunate men who were compelled to work behind the German trenches in France. There he suffered all the brutality which the average German took a fiendish delight in inflicting upon British prisoners-heavy work, brutal treatment, insufficient nourishment, filthy accommodation-in every respect a contrast to the “kid gloves” method of treatment metered out to German prisoners by the English”.
The Montgomeryshire Quarter Sessions sentenced Hugo Suck, a German prisoner stationed at Welshpool, to 9 months hard labour for stealing a sheep. He was working at Forden for a farmer called Mr Rogers and admitted to killing and cutting up a sheep from a neighbouring farm. He explained that he had killed it because he had not received the customary parcels from home and was hungry.
It was noted in an Army Council Instruction, that non-commissioned officers and soldiers, when in mourning, could now wear a black band around their left arm, above the elbow. Previously only officers and warrant officers had been permitted. The Merioneth and Montgomeryshire District Wages Committee adopted a resolution, urging the desirability of establishing village clubs as a memorial to the men who had fallen in the war, in those rural localities where no such facilities were provided. At a public meeting in the village hall in Caersws, there was a discussion on the form their memorial should take for Llanwnog parish. Mr Richard Jones, Chairman of the parish council, wrote a letter stating that he was convinced more than ever that the most fitting memorial would be a monument with the names of the deceased men inscribed thereon, to be erected near the Cross in Caersws.
Forden Rural District Council received offers of free gifts of land for the erection of houses to be used as homes for ex-soldiers from the parish. Those giving the land expected the council to erect well-built cottages with not less than 3 good bedrooms, a pig sty in the garden and have at least one sixth of an acre of land attached to them.
“The Comrades of The Great War” was a worldwide association whose chief object was the welfare of discharged and disabled soldiers and the dependants of those who had fallen. In Montgomeryshire, it was reported, they had dealt with 560 cases and secured increased pensions and grants to start men in business or stock a farm.
Cambrian railways announced their train arrangements for Christmas 1918, with various alterations, but on Christmas Day there were no trains at all between Llanfair Caereinion and Welshpool. Further particulars, however, were given on handbills to be obtained at stations. The Cambrian Railways first and second prizes for the best kept horse, harness etc. were awarded to Carters John Jones and T. J. Probert, both of Newtown. Moat Lane (West) and Newtown both got prizes for the high standard of cleanliness and neatness of their signal cabins.
The Border Counties Advertiser published a letter in their Christmas Eve edition. It was “My Christmas message to women workers” by Mrs Lloyd George. It was thanking them for their efforts, but contained this passage
“Away back in those far-away days before the war, when thousands of our womenfolk were content to spend comparatively useless lives and to whom the great gift of time was often itself a burden, I held a firm conviction that in times of emergency these same women would not fail to exhibit the noblest qualities of our sex and race”.
Private Nicholas Bennett from Cilhaul, Llawryglyn, wrote from Egypt to the secretary of the War Contributions Committee. He confirmed the safe arrival of his last parcel and was most pleased with the contents. He thanked them for all the useful articles which had been sent out and commented that the cigarettes had often been a regular God-send. He fancied that most of the committee would be as pleased as they were that the war was over at last and trusted that they might spend a very happy Christmas.
St. Mary’s church at Llanfair Caereinion held 4 services on Christmas day. Holy Communion at 8am, 10am, 11am and Evensong and carol singing in the evening. The services were well attended throughout the day. Miss Maggie Jehu sang the solo parts of the carols and the collections were given to the Waifs and Strays society. A band of choristers also paraded the town singing carols in aid of St. Dunstan’s Home for the blind. “A large number of the boys were home on leave, looking very fit and enjoyed their peaceful Christmas to the full”.
Christmas was quietly celebrated in Welshpool, but on Christmas Eve the streets were crowded and the shops were besieged with purchasers. There were 3 celebrations of Communion at St Mary’s church and a shortened service in the evening.
Miss Matilda Hamer, aged 15, was buried in Beulah churchyard on Christmas day, after being in a nursing home in Baschurch for 18 months and having her leg amputated the week before.
Oakley Park Literary Society held a successful entertainment on Christmas night, and the schoolroom was filled. The first part was by the school children and the second an operetta entitled “Inspector for an hour”. Special mention was made of Mr Gwilym Morgan, whose acting of the bogus Inspector “brought the house down”. In the third part, letters were read out from the boys serving with the forces, thanking the society for the parcels etc. received.
John Kinsey Jones of Llanidloes died on 29th December after a long illness. He was a Chemist on Long Bridge St, a Town Councillor and Mayor of Llanidloes from 1897 to 1899. There was a vote of congratulation at the monthly council meeting in Llanidloes, on the return of the Mayor’s son, Sgt. Davies, who had been a prisoner of the Turks.
There was a discussion on the question of obtaining German prisoners to work on the roads, with the Clerk confirming that they would have to pay local rates and if a prisoner was killed they would be responsible, if the War Office later decided to pay compensation. A rummage sale was held in the National school, organised by Mrs Jones of The Vicarage and the Church sewing class. They raised £27 for the church war fund.
There was a special sale of army horses and mules (due to demobilisation) on every Saturday in January 1919 at the Raven Repository in Shrewsbury and a sale had been proposed in Newtown. However, this caused great concern to the Montgomeryshire War Agricultural Executive Committee, who had passed a resolution asking that no horses (with the exception of Food Production Dept horses already working here) should be sold there, as it was a horse breeding county. They were worried that by bringing in cheap horses it would reduce the quality, the reputation and prices of Montgomeryshire horses. The committee also had a lengthy debate on the “plough quota” for the 1919 harvest. Although the official view was that the food position was as serious as ever, they felt that owing to the cessation of hostilities, orders to plough should not be insisted on where it would be necessary to plough up valuable grasslands in order to comply. The quota of “pivotal” men (those who created work for others, such as blacksmiths and wheelwrights) had been increased so that the Montgomeryshire quota was now 90. There were also 480 soldier workers. The distribution of coal in the county was uneven. The only coal merchant in Llanfair “hadn’t a ton yesterday” and the Caersws and Tregynon threshing machine was held up because they couldn’t get any to work it”.
In an advert for Rinso washing powder it claimed: “For your country’s sake you must save coal. For your own sake you can’t afford to use coal to boil clothes-it means less coal for cooking and warming purposes. Rinso washes in cold water. Sold in packets everywhere by all Grocers, Stores, Oilmen, chandlers etc”.
The Montgomeryshire Butchers Association, chaired by Edward Hamer of Llanidloes, met at the beginning of January to discuss “the frozen meat question”. The Ministry of Food was trying to send frozen meat from abroad to be sold in shops and the local butchers were not happy. Mr Sayce (Welshpool), William Jones (Trefeglwys), William Jones (Caersws) and Martin Harris (Newtown) said they had canvassed their customers and not had one favourable reply. After much discussion they decided to try the experiment and small orders were lodged. However, a letter writer to the County Times who had obviously not been asked their opinion, wrote “Had I been approached on the matter I would have unhesitatingly said, “Give me anything that a steel knife can cut and you can keep the fibrous material over which I have wasted cash, coupons, teeth and knives for 2 years”.
Poultry keepers were not happy about the price of eggs being controlled. Feed was expensive and difficult to obtain and it did not pay to keep hens. A similar situation had previously occurred with butter. Controlling the cost of butter to below the cost of production had caused producers to stop making it and a shortage to ensue.
At Llanidloes sessions, with Mr S.P. Davies as chairman, the following case was heard. Mr William Savage of Emporium, Trefeglwys, was charged by the food inspector, of selling currants to 2 customers above the maximum price. He had charged 1s 3d per pound, when the controlled price was 1s 2d. At the Police Court, Mrs Mary Morris, Greengrocer of Short Bridge Street, Llanidloes, was charged with selling apples to 2 customers at above the maximum price.
Meanwhile, Welshpool Food Control Committee was complaining that they were getting inferior margarine to Oswestry and the Postmaster of Oswestry was being approached by Llanfyllin Town Council, to try to get an earlier delivery of letters.
Miss Beatrice Beresford Wood, of Llwyn-on, Newtown, had returned from Russia where she had been staying with Princess Radzwill throughout the war. She afterwards went to Minsk, where she witnessed and heard of instances of the frightfulness of the Bolshevik, but was not subjected to any annoyances herself.
On Thursday the 2nd January, a football match had taken place between the wounded soldiers and the Newtown county school boys, which resulted in a 4-2 win for the soldiers. At a Newtown Urban Council meeting, the medical officer warned that all precautions should be taken against the influenza epidemic, but unfortunately this had not been done. The unfortunate result was that there were several fresh outbreaks, particularly in the country districts. He earnestly advised those contemplating getting up entertainments of any sort to postpone doing so for the present. It was hoped that all would take notice of the Doctor’s remarks and stop, if possible, the spread of the epidemic. An account of the inquest into the death of a Llanwddelan woman who died after an attack of influenza, stated that owing to the prevalence of the epidemic, the doctors were too busy to attend her. A doctor who gave evidence said that even if he had had time to attend, he could have done nothing. She died from wasting paralysis.
Llanidloes County Intermediate School was advertising itself, claiming it had every facility for boys and girls, from 11 to 19, under a staff of specially trained teachers. They had a science lab for the teaching of chemistry, physics and agriculture, a library and typewriting room, a workshop, a kitchen for cookery and laundry teaching and cottage rooms for instruction in housewifery. Meanwhile the proportion of women electors in Montgomeryshire, was reported as being about 3 to 5 men.
A Cow belonging to Mr Joseph Grice of Salop Road, Montgomery, had given birth to 3 Heifer calves and all were alive and doing well. Mr Grice, aged 68, was a general labourer on a farm. Early lambs were reported from a ewe belonging to Mrs Evans of Caethro, Welshpool, which had been born on 19th December.
The “lost and found” section is invariably interesting. A 2 yr old Hereford bullock had been lost from Welshpool Smithfield. Any information was to be rewarded, but there was also the warning that anyone found detaining the bullock after this date would be prosecuted. A 5s reward was offered for the return of a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles lost on 23rd December in Newtown Railway Station. Also, very specifically, “Lost from a field close to Welshpool about a week ago, 3 sheep. Information to Police, Welshpool”.
The “Wanted” section is also an interesting read. Along with 2 respectable farm labourers able to milk, a farmer wanted “a strong boy, to run milk and make himself useful”. A “good chap” was wanted to work in light timber haulage at Glasbwll, Machynlleth.
In the “Sales by Private Treaty” section, a piano was being sold from Oswestry, for £24 or so, because the owner had been disabled through the war.
The Lloyd-Verney family of Clochfaen Hall in Llangurig showed seasonal kindness as usual. They gave gifts of coal, tea and rice to the aged and indigent of the parish. The “Tommies and Jacks” native to the parish were also remembered with gifts of tobacco, stationary, books and domino sets.
- Harold Thomas of Welshpool Motor Garages, was advertising 1919 cars. They were the sole district agent for the new modal 20 h.p. Austin. It had a self-starter, concealed hood and detachable wheels for £400. A 20 h.p. Ford cost £250.
Apart from the war references, not so very different subjects from the ones that concern us today, I decided.
EDITORIAL: INTRODUCTION TO PENCAMBRIA NUMBER 41 Summer 2019
Well, after wondering if our unusually hot, dry spring was a sign of global warming, our summer seems to have settled into its usual unpredictable state albeit on the fine and dry side as I write this introduction. Summers were always fine in our childhood memories and Gaynor Waters evokes some wonderful memories of cinema going in Llanidloes in the 1950s and 60s.
Still in Llanidloes, the annual exhibition of quilts is a great visitor attraction and Chris Shercliff, a trustee of The Quilt Association gives a fascinating account of its history and some of the exhibits. Diana Ashworth takes to the choppy waters on a brief visit to Bardsey Island, hunting the chough. Does she find one? You will have to read and out.The centenary of the 1st World War and its aftermath continues to affect our lives and in this edition Peter Francis takes a journey across mid Wales using the war memorials as markers. So many names on them, so many young lives taken.The life of the First Lord Davies of Llandinam was also touched by the 1914-18 World War, so much so that he was driven to campaign for the formation of the League of Nations to try and prevent a future war. This and his many other activities are touched on in this excerpt from Peter Lewis. Fishing is an integral part of life in rural mid Wales and Val Church looks at the impact of the Vyrnwy dam on the migration of trout and salmon at Dolanog.
Time was when every other vehicle you saw on the roads in mid Wales was a Land Rover. Not so now with a huge variety of 4x4s to choose from, Brian Poole has fond memories of the Land Rover and its workhorse capacity and he takes us through them with illustrations which will surely bring back memories to many of us as well. It was a magpie and a buzzard that stopped Lawrence Johnson in his tracks in the hills above Carno and Trefeglwys and he found himself musing how nature gets along very well, much better in fact, without us. This observation is certainly reinforced by Gareth Morgan’s account of the proposal in 1966 to make a reservoir out of the Dulas Valley with a dam at Tylwch to provide water for the south east of England. There was a vigorous campaign against it in which he, along with several other legal professionals, such as Emlyn Hooson, gave their services for free to ensure the project would not go ahead. Marian Harris, born and bred in the Dulas Valley, has written a book about it which was published in April this year and reviewed in this edition by Chris Barrett. Meanwhile Gareth himself has written a two-part article for PenCambria about the event and in this issue he looks briefly at the history behind flooding valleys of Wales to supply water to English towns and cities and the preliminary build up to the Public Enquiry, which will be the subject of his article in the October edition.
Phil Brachi discovered the magic of mid Wales some 40 years ago when he made a new life here for himself and his family. The Upper Cledan Valley is his special place and here he found many things that challenged his severely intellectual outlook on life, not the least being the Tylwyth Teg, those faerie phenomena that just catch your eye when you’re looking the other way… Life along the Montgomery Canal continues to thrive and Michael Limbrey has us a report on the progress of its restoration and the annual triathlon event held there and filmed for television in May this year. It is part of the Restore Montgomery Canal! Appeal, which in 2018 was enhanced by the appearance of Timothy West and Prunella Scales.
Mid Wales Arts Centre has a full programme of exhibitions of paintings and sculpture this summer, and sculpture, pottery and printing workshops for adults and children. A Poetry Party in September will be great fun, so do along if you can. The King’s Rent Hole and the Red Lady of Paviland are our topics from the Royal Commission this month. Read the article to find out what they are about.In the Dragon’s Crypt a surprise at the Show from Bruce Mawdesley, summer musings from Julia R. Francis and from Norma Allen, a story based on the tale of the man who was wrongfully hanged in Montgomery in 1821 and whose grave has been a source of mystery ever since. Enjoy your read. Gay Roberts PenCambria Editor and Founder
CONTENTS PenCambria 41
- Llanidloes Cinema Gaynor Waters
- The Quilt Association, Llanidloes Chris Shercliff
- Bardsey Island Chough Hunt Diana Ashworth
- How We Remembered: the War Memorials of Mid Wales Peter Francis
- The First Lord Davies of Llandinam: part II Peter LewiS
- Trout and Salmon in the River Vyrnwy above Dolanog Val Church
- Remembering the Land Rover Brian Poole
- We Do Not Belong Lawrence Johnson
- The Dulas Valley Victory and the Treweryn Factor – book review Chris Barrett
- Dam Tylwch and Flood the Dulas Valley Gareth Morgan
- A View from the Hills : Little Wing Zöe Spencer
- The Truth Fairy Phil Brachi
- Montgomery Waterway Restoration Trust
- The King’s Rent Hole; the Red Lady of Paviland Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales
Article in PC 41 selected by the Editor to be reproduced in full on this website:
DAM TYLWCH AND FLOOD THE DULAS VALLEY : The 1966 threat to build another reservoir in mid Wales: Part 1, by Gareth Morgan
As a solicitor, I found that once a case was closed and the decision made, it became a closed book. No more was heard of it. However, Tryweryn and the threats to flood the Dulas Valley do not to fit into that category. After 50 years or more they both still have a life of their own!
The year 2019 saw the publication of an excellent account of the campaign to save the Dulas Valley from being flooded. Entitled The Dulas Valley Victory, and the Tryweryn Factor. It has been written by Marian Harris, who was born and brought up in the Valley. The launch took place at Chatwood in Llanidloes on the 18th April 2019. It was a sell out. The story is still alive in the minds of many people. I doubt there has been a better book launch in Llanidloes; venue packed to the rafters, and many standing outside on the pavement.
The episode clearly still resonates with so many people. At the time I was often told that “all former attempts to stop the powerful machine preparing to flood your valley, had failed”. Mind you, I recollect someone telling me how David Lloyd George had been the only successful solicitor in this respect when an attempt was made to flood the Ceiriog Valley in an era lost in time. A part of our history never recorded in print. A big “Thank you” to Marian Harris for ensuring that the Dulas experience is recorded for posterity.
This publication seems to have revived raw memories of the many Welsh Valleys that had been flooded to supply water to English cities. The most celebrated was the drowning of the village of Capel Celyn in Merioneth in the 1950s to create the Tryweryn reservoir supplying water for the city of Liverpool. Prior to this there had been the construction of the Vyrnwy Reservoir in North Montgomeryshire to supply a city in England. Tryweryn, built in the 1950s, seems to have left the greatest hurt in the Welsh mind and memory. After 70 years it is still a sensitive point in Welsh history. I doubt it will ever heal. It has even prompted the construction of one of Wales’s most famous pieces of graffiti. On a roadside wall in Ceredigion near Llanrhystyd, there is painted on a lay-by wall the words “Cofiwch Dryweryn” “Remember Tryweryn”. These are poignant words, challenging everyone who passes on the main coast road never to forget how Capel Celyn was taken against the will of the people to satiate the needs of a large city in England.
Occasionally one sees film of the opening ceremony when a large crowd tried their best to disrupt the ceremony. Plaid Cymru had led and sustained a long campaign to try and stop the project. This was a period when Plaid was a rising political force even though it had not at that time seen anyone elected to Parliament as its representative. It also led to the seed being sown that enabled the founding of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Cymraeg, an organisation that has without doubt helped enormously to raise the cause for saving our language. It was against this background that we entered the 1960s and 70s in Wales. The Welsh conscience had been roused by Tryweryn. No other valley was to be flooded in Wales. If every Welsh Member of Parliament had voted against it, as was the case with Tryweryn, the huge majority of English M.P.s were more than enough to drive it through. Consider for a moment that all the Welsh M.P.s totalled a mere 36, in those days. Very small in number compared to the total of 650 members in the House of Commons. I mention this background, because it shows that political pressure alone was insufficient to stop the Parliamentary machine when it embarked on a programme to legislate enabling it to acquire the land to build a reservoir in Wales.
The early 1960s brought the news that the Severn River Authority, as it then was, had identified 24 sites in Montgomeryshire that were potential reservoir sites to supply water for the South East of England. There is some doubt as to whether this information had been made public at that stage. Later in 1966 it became publicly known that 29 sites in Montgomeryshire (including the Dulas Valley) were being examined as potential reservoir sites. These sites were being investigated on the instructions of the then Secretary of State for Wales the Rt. Hon. James Griffiths M.P. He was the first Secretary of State for Wales, a new office with a seat in the Cabinet, created by the Prime Minister Harold Wilson. He had set up a Welsh Water Committee to advise him on water matters. There also existed a Water Resources Board charged under the Water Resources Act 1963 with taking “all such action as they may from time to time consider necessary and expedient, or as they may be directed to take by virtue of this Act, for the purpose of conserving, redistributing or otherwise augmenting water resources in their area, or of transferring any such resources to the area of another authority”.
At this time industrial growth was expected to accelerate along with significant increases in population in the south east of England. The Central Electricity Generating Board was by now responsible for the investigation and selection of sites in both England and Wales for large sources of water to meet future demand for water abstraction from the river Severn to provide water for electricity generating purposes. At the time, demand for water was growing year by year for cooling purposes at power stations. It is believed that there was a need to double the daily flow of water over the measuring gauge on the Severn at Bewdley in Worcestershire. That gauge still plays a vital part in Severn river flows from the Clywedog reservoir outside Llanidloes. There is a statutory obligation in the Clywedog Reservoir Joint Authority Act of 1965 to maintain a minimum flow over the gauge. In 1966 it was stated that future demand as then estimated required a daily flow of 300 million gallons of an “unfailing supply” of cold water. The high rainfall in Montgomeryshire coupled with its topography, and low population, classified the County as a suitable area to conserve water to meet the future demands of England.
Publication of this information produced huge concern and considerable unrest in the County. The then M.P. was the Liberal Mr Emlyn Hooson Q.C. who had been elected in a by-election in 1962 following the death of his predecessor the Rt Hon. Clement Davies Q.C. who had been the Leader of the Liberal Party for many years. There was so much consternation, that a county wide defence committee was created comprising representatives of all the areas affected. The Secretary was Mr R.P. Davies the County Secretary of the Farmers Union of Wales all under the Chairmanship of Mr Leslie Morgan the owner of an agricultural engineering business and ironmongers in Llanfair Caereinion.
The Dulas site was not only situated in Montgomeryshire but it also extended into Radnorshire close to the village of Pantydwr. The main dam or buttress was proposed to be erected adjacent to Tylwch rocks. In view of the inclusion of part of Radnorshire, the Labour Member of Parliament for Brecon and Radnor, Mr Tudor Watkins was a member of the Defence Committee. Mr Watkins was the member from 1945 until the early 1970s when he retired and became the first Chair of Powys County Council. By this time he had been elevated to the peerage, becoming Lord Watkins of Glantawe. He was known for his diligence as an M.P. and for the care and attention he gave to his constituents.
The arrival of crisis point, that is the threat posed by 29 reservoir sites, led to Emlyn Hooson Q.C. the distinguished member for Montgomeryshire obtaining an emergency Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons on Friday the 27th May 1966. Mr Hooson delivered a masterful speech. A poignant sentence in his speech is worth quoting:
“ in response to a request of mine, the Authority (Severn River Authority) sent me a plan on the 8th April and I think that all who have seen it will agree that it is a horrific document in itself because it purports to show, by way of illustration, about one-third of the land surface of Montgomeryshire under water.”
He went on: “ In the hearts and minds of most of the people affected it was a preliminary step which would eventually lead to the submergence of their valleys. The production of the map and plan, more than anything else, had a deep psychological impact on the population of the area. I feel justified in saying that in many cases people have been caused needless anxiety and fear by these proposals.”
He concluded: “ It would be a great help if the Secretary of State (now The Rt. Hon Cledwyn Hughes Labour M.P. for Anglesey) were today to make the authoritative statement which I have asked for as to precisely what the Government’s policy is and what kind of proposal he would definitely not even consider on sociological and economic grounds. It might be possible for him to announce today the elimination of these sites from any further consideration. I hope he will do so.”
An English poet wrote:
“ Breathes there the man, with soul as dead, Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land!
Never was this matter so well expressed, even though it was expressed by an English poet. It expresses the feelings of many of hundreds of my constituents who are affected by this proposal.
The Member of Parliament for Denbigh Mr W.G. Morgan also spoke in support of Mr Hooson. In his reply the Secretary of State made some cogent comments for example “ I am quite sure that the Welsh Committee (the Water Committee) and the river authority will take the most careful account of the sociological objections before they make any final recommendations……. Let me say now, so that there may be no more misunderstanding or further misconception, that as Secretary of State for Wales I do not propose to consent to the drowning of any villages in Mid Wales ….. I can assure the hon and learned Gentleman and the hon. Gentleman the member for Denbigh that communities count as far as I am concerned. The need for preserving first-class agricultural land will also be very much in my mind”.. The Secretary of State concluded “I intend to see that the interests of our country and its people are fully safeguarded. This is my responsibility and privilege as Secretary of State for Wales.”
What was the result of this debate and these assurances extracted by Mr Emlyn Hooson? We know that Secretaries of State change from time to time and even though they have a seat in the Cabinet, they may not be there for too long. Cledwyn Hughes did in fact deliver good news. It did appear on reading the debate that some lessons might have been learnt following the Tryweryn debacle. In September 1966 it was announced that no less than 19 sites were eliminated, but this left a further 10 in the melting pot. Further investigations were carried out by Binnie and Partners Consulting Engineers who then reduced the number to 6.which still included the Dulas Valley. The latter was presented in the form of two different projects, still in the valley but differing in capacity.
After much deliberation by the promoting authorities ( there were several representing their area of benefit, with the Severn River Authority as lead authority supported by the Water Resources Board) the decision was made to publish an application for consent under section 67 of the Water Resources Act 1963 for compulsory powers to carry out trial borings at Tylwch near Llanidloes in connection with the proposed Dulas Regulating Reservoir. At this stage it was clear that 17 farmhouses and their outbuildings were to be inundated as well as 6 other residences and a further 20 farms were to be affected by land acquisitions. The Severn River Authority admitted “disturbance would be relatively high and disruption appreciable”. That was an understatement if ever there was one. In fact 50% of the valley with a total population of 380 persons was to be affected.
Shortly after this a draft Order was published by Severn River Authority, and the date of the Public Enquiry to consider the application was announced. At this the stage the Dulas Defence Committee had no legal representation and at most about 6 weeks before the hearing. This called for urgent action. This will be outlined in part 2 of the story.
EDITORIAL: INTRODUCTION TO PENCAMBRIA NUMBER 39 Winter 2018
Well I hope you have all managed to cool down after the hottest summer since 1976. I certainly never thought that I would have to be carrying drinking water to the house again, especially for so long. Luckily there is a laundrette in Llanidloes now so I didn’t have to go and stand in the river to do the laundry like I did then.
We have had a sad loss to the PenCambria team this month: Diana Brown, who was a stalwart of our local history and heritage articles, died quite suddenly in August. We will miss her greatly and you will find an appreciation of her beginning this month’s issue. We have had glimpses of the illustrious career another colleague; Reginald Massey, and earlier this year he received another accolade, the P.D. James Award, for which he receives our hearty congratulations. For centuries, leather and leather goods manufacturing were one of the staple means of income in Llanidloes. Alas most of that has now gone and Diana Ashworth has been talking Llanidloes leatherman, Len Davis, who is the last of his kind, and what an extraordinary career he had, too. Shivering around the coke stove, far from the heat of this summer, Norma Allen remembers her school days in Llandrindod Wells.
Ivor Davies has had a book on 18th century veterinary practices in his family’s possession for many generations and he and Brian Poole have written an article integrating a commentary on that and bilingualism in Aberhafesb over the centuries. The Davies family of Llandinam are well known for their philanthropic support for so many projects in mid Wales especially in the fields of culture and the arts. Their wealth came originally from David Davies’s enterprises in the south Wales coal fields and Barry docks. Peter wrote a biographical sketch chronicling the lives of David Davies and his grandson David Davies, the 1st Baron Davies, and this is will be serialised in the next few editions of PenCambria. This month’s chapter is all about the first David Davies, or Top Sawyer, as he was known.
Trust between man and bird, and a butterfly are the subjects of Bruce Mawdesley’s exquisite little pieces this month.Richard Meredith is in pursuit of the Manuels whose name he bears.
After Chris Barrett’s introduction to megaliths in mid Wales, Lawrence Johnson has been on a strenuous hunt for a stone circle high in the moorlands behind Carno. Michael Apichela, on the other hand, shows us the delights lower down in the seaside town that is Aberystwyth. Michael has a love of all things Aberystwyth and he just cannot keep his feelings in check with both a piece of prose and a poem celebrating this seaside resort and its traditions and introducing us to one of its artists, Karen Pearce.
In 2014 we began our commemoration of the centenary of the First Word War with Brian Lawrence’s account of the Home Front in Rhayader with a compilation of reports from the newspaper, council and other groups. This year sees the centenary of the end of this dreadful conflict and the documentary section of this magazine ends with his compilation of accounts relating to 1918 up to the armistice in November of that year.
Last year the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments in Wales began a project on place names in Wales. The history of Mid Wales, more so than north or south, can be said to be revealed in our place names so I have suggested to our writers that we could do something similar here. Jim French has started the ball rolling. If any of you would like to send me information about place names in your area I should be delighted to hear from you and perhaps we can add it to what we already have.
In the Dragon’s Crypt, thrills and chills for Hallowe’en from Norma Allen, Michael Apichela’s Ode to Aberystwyth and two beautiful poetic meditations on birth and death at the turn of the year from Paul Hodgon.
CONTENTS OF PENCAMBRIA 39
Diana Brown, 14th August 1932-13th August 2018, an appreciation compiled by Gay Robert
Reginald Massey awarded P.D. James Award
The PenCambria Quiz number 2
Last Leatherman in Llanidloes Diana Ashworth
Veterinary Practice and Bilingualism in 19th Century Aberhafesb Brian Poole
David Davies(Top Sawyer) 1818-1890 – a biographical sketch Peter Lewis
Walking the Old Ways of Radnorshire: book review Lawrence Johnson
What’s in a Name? Richard Meredith
The Butterfly Bruce Mawdesley
Will the Circle be Unbroken? Lawrence Johnson
Karen Pearce : a Welsh Artist of Many Hues Michael Apichela
From Coke Stoves to Computers Norma Allen
In Praise of Old Aberystwyth Michael Apichela
The End of the Great War – Rhayader 1918 Brian Lawrence
Fields and ‘Edges Jim French
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales – Latest Research into Abermagwr
AS USUAL THE EDITOR HAS CHOSEN ONE ARTICLE TO PUBLISH ON THE WEBSITE IN FULL
LAST LEATHERMAN IN LLANIDLOES by Diana Ashworth
In the 1549 record of the Court of Great Sessions there is a reference to Stryd Gwyr y Gloferiaid (Street of Glovers) suggesting a flourishing glove making trade in the town of Llanidloes. Leather working would seem to have been an obvious enterprise for a town like Llanidloes – an economy being an industrial ecology system with inter-dependant enterprises fuelling each other’s success. Leather working certainly fitted snuggly with all the other enterprise in the town and there was much enterprise during the industrial heyday of the town. A leather industry needs hides in plenty (a by-product of the meat produced from cows and sheep by local farms), bark for tanning from the oak trees felled for building and for pit props for mining. The hills around Llanidloes had been mined for lead since Roman times. Lead was mined at Bryntail from 1708 and the ore shipped down the Severn to the sea in small boats. A rich lead seam was discovered in the Van in 1865 and it became the boom industry – in 1876 it produced 6,840 tons of lead, more than the total production of the rest of Britain and supported hundreds of workers. A new light railway was built to link the mine with the rail network at Caersws. Oak bark was also a by-product of charcoal burning and charcoal was also important, before coke, to fuel the blast furnaces used to smelt the lead ore. The remains of blast furnaces can still be found along the footpath on the north bank of the Clywedog River as it enters the town.
For almost any industry you need power – it is no accident that the wool processing factories in Llanidloes were called mills – mills originally powered by water. Water crashed down over the paddles of the great water wheels that powered local industry before the extravagant days of steam. Even in the little settlement of Llawr-y-glyn the gardens of the present houses are criss-crossed by the earthworks of ancient mill leats. Water was needed for tanning and dyeing and to carry away the chemical effluent from the factories. Tanning continued in other places after it ceased in Llanidloes so there are still some people who can remember how every few days their river would run a different colour, according to the colour of leather in production that particular week!
There are three other things you need for a buoyant industry – investment, transport links and a skilled work force. With the success of the mines, the flannel mills, farming and the iron foundries (which grew up to support the mining and the railways and really took off in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century) the town was prosperous and there was no lack of investment. With plentiful work and railway links to the rest of Britain, the town grew and with a strong tradition of religious non-conformity there was a lively Welsh culture and a relatively sober, educated workforce with a strong work ethic. So Llanidloes was perfectly situated to have a thriving leather industry.
In 1878 there were three tanneries listed in the town: Thomas and Edward Davies, skinners, of Short Bridge Street of Crybine and Phoenix-stream mills; Robert T Foulkes of The Nant and David Swancott of Great Oak Street. Later in the century there were skinyards on Lower Green in Cwmdu and later still, Spring Mill flannel mill, over the Short Bridge, was bought by Edward Hamer and converted into a skinyard and tannery by his son T Pryce Hamer. When he was killed in the First World War the business was taken over by his brother George F. Hamer. In 1931 George Hamer acquired another defunct flannel mill, the Cambrian flannel mill, which he converted to a leather factory which he ran in conjunction with Spring Mill. These premises were large, impressive industrial buildings. The Cambrian Flannel Mill had two large three story blocks with an oblique chimney that voided the smoke from the steam boiler at a distance from the factory so that soot did not get deposited on the acres of flannel that used to be pegged, with tenter hooks, on frames on the nearby hillside to dry. These great mills and the foundry must have dominated the town landscape in a way that is hard to believe today.
By the second World War these works, now producing fine leather, employed more than 100 people, a quarter of them women. Rough hides were processed at Spring Mill, cleaned and de-greased and turned into leather which then went to the Cambrian Leather Works to by dyed and softened – a process known as finishing. There are still people who remember the drying rooms, where hides were pegged to dry on frames that slid into drying cabinets heated artificially. These were up on the hill, above Spring Mill and behind what until recently was Shirley Houson’s house. Gloves continued to be made in the town up until the Second World War and at that time there was still a tannery on the river at the rear of Victoria Avenue. Sandringham Leather Goods Ltd occupied the first floor of the Cambrian Works from 1939 making belts, wallets etc before moving to new premises in 1953. In that year there was a major fire at the Cambrian Leather Works but the factory was rebuilt and continued until the 1960’s although latterly, I am told, the premises were leased and run by at least one other leather producer before being sold to BSK who ran it as an engineering workshop. By 1970 leather production in the town had ceased. However there remained in the town many skilled leather workers, men who could handle and match hides by second nature and skilled machinists. One man who had been born in the town recognised this.
Enter Len Davies who was born in Cae Gwyn, Llanidloes, and left school in 1955 and went to work at Titley Evans in Cambrian Place. The company had been general dealers for over 100 years, buying goods and selling direct to the public. They had two salesmen — one for south and one for north Wales. They went from door to door and took orders from housewives (who were at home in those days), posted them back to Llanidloes where Edward Williams, the manager of the business and uncle of the two young women who had inherited it, ably assisted by Len, would make up the orders and deliver them. Len was interested in the fabrics and haberdashery and he was paid £2 per week. But those were the days when you could have a night out in Newtown, by train (cinema with friends and a bag of chips) for two shillings and six pence (2/6) — that’s 13p in today’s money! Len was born at just the right time; he missed the last call-up for National Service by a matter of weeks. Many of his friends from the new Llani High School, opened in 1951, had gone that year into the Welsh Guards who always recruited in Llanidloes. Len was ambitious and when, one day, he was stopped in Newtown by a man from the Youth Employment Department he was interested in the opportunities that were on offer. Before he knew it he had applied for a job at a famous department store on London’s Buckingham Palace Road. This was Gorringe’s, opened by Frederick Gorringe in 1858 though later taken over by Selfridges. This was a very exclusive emporium with several royal warrants – they were silk mercers to the Queen Mother and hatters to the Queen! To complete his application Len had to enclose a photograph of himself. That was a problem — these were the days before digital photography. One or two people might have a Kodak box camera with which they took tiny black and white snaps on holiday which took a couple of weeks to get developed, or you might have a studio photograph taken by a professional photographer in the nearest big town at great expense. There was a photographer in Llanidloes who took pictures at weddings, Len sought him out and explained his quandary – “I’m doing a wedding on Saturday – meet me outside the church and I’ll see what I can do.” Len got himself all dressed up in his Sunday best and was outside the church the following Saturday and a very respectable photograph was produced and duly sent off. Len got the job and off he went to London.
He presented himself at Gorringe’s — a very grand place indeed in a building not unlike the present Harrods building but just around the corner from Buckingham Palace, opposite the Royal Mews. He wore his new brown suit, a cream shirt, a splendid tie and new ox-blood shoes, of which he was very proud. “Oh dear! You won’t do at all,” said the floor manager at Gorringe’s shaking his head – there was a strict dress code for employees. They wore smart black or navy suits, black shoes and socks and the house tie. However they were accommodating to this innocent from the Welsh hills; they dressed him appropriately (deducting 2s 6d from his weekly pay for the hire of the suit while his own was made which in the end he got for free. They adjusted the way he spoke (I always wondered what had befallen his Welsh accent!) He lived in the staff hostel and was payed 24s 6d per week (£1.22½p in new money!) In London he earned a lot less than he had in Wales but they sent him to the College of Distributive Trades in Charring Cross Road in the evenings where he got a good sound grounding in retail and business (including window dressing) and was teased by the snooty young women who worked at Gorringe’s, Harrod’s, DH Evan’s, Derry and Tom’s and the like. These were young Mrs Slocombes and this time of his life was like finding himself in a scene from “Are You Being Served?” But if he felt homesick he could stand on the steps of Gorringe’s and watch the men of the Welsh Guards, stationed at Chelsea Barracks, marching past with their band and nod at 2 or 3 lads from home who he recognised as they went to change the guard at Buckingham Palace! He certainly cut a suave figure when he returned for his holidays to Llanidloes and from these sound foundations his career in the fashion industry blossomed. He trained as a buyer for Freeman’s, the mail order people. – travelling all over the world, to Paris, Milan, Madrid, Barcelona and Portugal – buying for the catalogue and spotting the latest trends at fashion shows and in the expensive shops all over Europe that could be copied and sold through Freeman’s catalogue – it was a fabulous job!
They were building a factory in Ireland but had to sell their product outside Ireland. Len went to work for Peter and learned the arts of selling. Later Len decided he would like to be involved with manufacturing leather clothing and where better to do this than in his own home town where as we have seen, the leather industry had run its course but where there remained so many skilled machinists and leather workers. In 1970 Len rented the old Cambrian Mill for £5 per week and set up Cambrian Fashions Ltd, manufacturing leather clothing, producing up to 1000 jackets per week and the Phil Read range of motor cycle racing leathers (Phil Read was the Grand Prix motor cycle road racer, World Champion and TT winner!) But he could turn their hands to other things – fulfilling one order for 24,000 pairs of pyjamas! At that time there was also a leather coat factory at the old station building.
The 70’s was a challenging time for business in Britain –it was the decade of high inflation, tight fiscal control, poor industrial relations, political instability, the three-day week with the downfall of Edward Heath’s government, the return of a Labour government with Harold Wilson succeeded by James Callaghan and in 1979, the winter of discontent with widespread industrial action. At the end of the decade Mrs Thatcher came to power and took on the power of the unions about which passions in Wales still run high. Whatever your politics it was undoubtedly a difficult decade! It proved the downfall of many businesses and heard the death knell of much manufacturing in Britain and many enterprising men and women found themselves in unenviable positions due to circumstances way out of their control. Leather clothes are no longer made in Llanidloes.
In 1975, 76 and 77 the workers at Cambrian Fashions Ltd took to the streets in paramilitary uniforms – not to protest — it was carnival! Llanidloes Carnival was in its heyday and Len and all the girls (for they were mainly girls at the factory) threw themselves wholeheartedly into the spirit of the thing. They were clothes manufacturers after all and their machines hummed with enterprise, making white trousers with black stripes down the sides and smart burgundy jackets with brass buttons, epaulets and gold lanyards. Hats were made –peeked flower pots with crossed sword cap badges. Brian Crisp was drum major and the girls were taught to march. Brian in his blue suit with white accessories wielded a baton made from the missing snooker cue to which an equally illicit knob had been fixed and sprayed with gold paint. The company flag was born by the factory manager and protected by armed guards with cardboard rifles and ammunition. There were 60 in the band – playing kazoos, disguised as bugles and with the boss playing the drum. They practised their music and their marching and on the day they went down a storm, marching out of the old Cambrian Mill, playing and twirling as they went through the town, passing all the crowds waiting for the floats, up to the station where they joined the back of the parade to do another whole circuit of the town – the Cambrian Fashions Marching Band!
Thanks are due to Len Davies for sharing some of his memories and acknowledgement to E. Ronald Morris, whose book Llanidloes Town and Parish – An Illustrated Account proved so fascinating and helpful in preparing this article.
“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.
EDITORIAL: INTRODUCTION TO PENCAMBRIA NUMBER 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|
|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
|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.
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
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.
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.
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,
but standing strong.
‘A weaker winter.’
the flower scoffs,
but perhaps it is,
A stronger flower
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
LINES FROM LLANI
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.