What was in PenCambria: Issue 30 Winter 2015?

Issue 30 Introduction and Contents at a glance


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

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

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

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

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

Gay Roberts


Introduction – The First Ten Years

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

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

Girls in Green Diana Brown

“We Have All Done Our Bit” Lawrence Johnson 11

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

The Royal Courts of Mid Wales Dr. David Stephenson

A Local Gladstone vs Disraeli Diana Brown

The Perennial Traffic Problems in Rhayader Brian Lawrence

BLAST! Bishops Castle Story Telling Group

Life on the Road in Wales: part 1 Chris Barrett

Oriel Davies Open Writing Competition

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

The Not So Humble Mince Pie Bruce Mawdesley

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

The Lost Arc Glenda and Paul Carter

Mid Wales Arts Centre

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales

Mid Wales Events Horizon

The Dragons Crypt

A Different Child Gaynor Jones

The Winter Garden Amber Louise Robinson

Mimosa Journal – a sequel Norma Allen

Existentiale Reginald Massey


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merry Christmas!

THE WINTER GARDEN by Amber Louise Robinson

The sugar-dusted petals

are blushing in the winter air,

cold and silent

yet so beautiful,

like snow crowning

a marble statue.

They are tired now,

wilting slightly

but standing strong.

‘A weaker winter.’

the flower scoffs,

but perhaps it is,


A stronger flower