EDITORIAL: INTRODUCTION TO PENCAMBRIA NUMBER 33 WINTER 2016
In this issue we are crossing a lot of bridges. Brian Poole has been musing on river crossings in Mid Wales, be they bridges or fords in both their Welsh (pont, rhyd) and English context, since we are so close to the crossing points both physically and culturally. Lawrence Johnson plunges us onto far more insecure crossing – Shaky Bridge, near Llandrindod Wells. Jim French meanwhile, avoids river crossings where he can by going down our ancient pathways.
This month sees the conclusion of E. Ronald Morris’s definitive booklet on the Chartist Riot in Llanidloes in 1839 with the sentences passed on the rioters, what became of the protagonists in all camps and the modern memorial erected to Thomas Powell in Newtown.
In a politically similar vein, after hearing about Chloris Mills from Brian Poole and her niece, Elizabeth Day in two recent editions of PenCambria, in this one we finally get a glimpse of Chloris herself speaking in a short memoir she wrote about a suffragette meeting she attended, and also her abiding affection for Mid Wales in a poem published in the Dragon’s Crypt. Brian also uncovers some more memories of her from Glyn Jerman of Oakley Park, who still thinks fondly of her.
100 years ago Rhayader, like everywhere else in the country, was deeply immersed in the war effort. The report of a local boy acting as a despatch rider in the Balkans was one of the gripping episodes Brian Lawrence has turned up in his extraordinary collection of data chronicling the Great War period in Rhayader.
With Powys County Council divesting itself of all responsibility for maintaining public health in the county in the form of a public lavatory network, Reginald Massey has written a paean of praise to the toilets in Llanidloes as he found them as they were lauded 30 years ago in places far beyond the boundaries of Mid Wales. What have we come to when the executive body of our elected representatives has chosen not to carry on providing such a basic essential of civilised society?
Mid Wales is a rural area with few major centres of population, consequently land use is a vital element in our economy and Chris Barrett has looked at the changes in agricultural practices as noted in a research project being conducted by the Farmers’ Union of Wales using the Tithe records from 175 years ago. On a totally different track, she has also come across Beatrix Potter’s early impressions of Mid Wales on a visit here in 1888. Hmm…
Our retired lady and gentleman in Llawryglyn enjoy the fruits of their country pursuits. Meanwhile Diana Brown has come across a delightful booklet recalling Richard Hughes of Efailrhyd, near Llansilin, Dyn Gwallt Mawr (the man with big hair) as he was known, who travelled the roads of north Montgomeryshire, working from farm to farm, never sleeping indoors, and remembered above all for his wonderful bass singing voice.
Continuing the musical theme, in the first of a series of pen portraits Richard Meredith provides us with more information about Y Millsiaid, that extraordinary family of music makers of whom he is a descendant, who put Mid Wales and Llanidloes in particular on the national musical map.
The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales has very lively and interesting programme of events which should certainly get you out and about during the dull days of November. They are also very busy settling in to their new premises in the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth and improving their national online catalogue and its availability.
What treats there in the Dragon’s Crypt this month! We have poems from our youngest contributors so far, although they are 25 years older than they were when they wrote these delightful verses for a compilation published to raise money for Llanidloes County Primary School in 1990. Chloris Mills sings of the beauties of Mid Wales. Bruce Mawdesley remembers days of his boyhood spent in church and the gift of a butterfly. Finally, strange things are discovered at Hallowe’en – read Norma Allen’s short story if you dare…
The Season’s Greetings to you all. Gay Roberts
Pontydd or Bridges? Brian Poole
Ancient Trackways – a Gentle Ramble Jim French
Chartism in Llanidloes: Chapters 6, 7 and Epilogue E. Ronald Morris
Memories Chloris Mills
Evan Mills and his Family Brian Poole
Rhayader, Life during World War One: November 1916
Over the Shaky Bridge Lawrence Johnson
“Not We from Kings but Kings from Us” Gay Roberts
The Llani Loo Reginald Massey
Letter from Andrew Dakin
Wales and Agricultural Land Use Chris Barrett
Beatrix Potter’s Wales Chris Barrett
Newtown Textile Museum
Put Out To Grass – Part 20: Festive Fish – Big Ones In Small Streams Diana Ashworth
In The Footsteps of Richard Hughes: a memoir reviewed by Diana Brown
Lesley Ann Dupré – an appreciation Gay Roberts
The Battle of the Somme – Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Living Memory Project Update
The Mills Family of Llanidloes Richard Meredith
Llandinam Village Hall; Montgomery Canal
Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales
The Dragons Crypt
Reflections: some children’s poetry on the theme of Water
Toccata and Fugue Bruce Mawdesley
A Song of Mid Wales Chloris Mills
The Hallowe’en Dare Norma Allen
OVER THE SHAKY BRIDGE
And they say you should never mix your drinks….
I decided on three “shots” in little plastic glasses – sulphur, magnesium and saline. A bargain at 30p each. Result? My system seized up for 48 hours as the competing minerals fizzed around my innards like a mad-scientist potion. I can only be thankful that the lithium and radium were no longer on offer – I would have glowed green, a Mid Wales Incredible Hulk. So my first visit to Llandrindod Wells, Pump Room and town was not a success. I found only one pub (my criteria for assessing places need expanding) and was put off by the Victorian and Edwardian hotels and shops, signs of the once booming spa. At 30-odd years of age I was old enough to think I knew what I liked but too young to appreciate experiences outside my comfort zone. Then September 2015. Better-travelled, relatively more open-minded and only the chalybeate well to assault my intestines. The town was now the capital of Powys and even boasted a micro-pub, the sun was shining and walking was a pleasure. Past the drive leading up to the County Hall, past the Welsh Assembly outpost, the lane climbs past Bailey Einon and swings to the right. The ground drops sharply to the looping River Ithon on its journey from the hills south of Dolfor. To the right a wooded top, Cwm-brith Bank. To the left a church and, rising steeply behind it, Castle Bank topped with earthworks above the bracken. A great view – almost a shame to come down into it and cross the Shaky Bridge.
A structure of the Smith and Joiner’s art
Of which the smith may claim the greater part
Chains thrown across secured to posts and trees
That swung aloft the acrobat’s trapeze
Arthur L. Davies of Upper House, Howey was moved to write this because the bridge was destroyed in a flood in 1940 and rebuilt 2 years later. The present model is shaky no longer – sturdy, no more fun and games crossing the planks held together by chains.
Emblem thou art of life’s tremendous span
The time on earth allotted unto man
This poem and a picture of the old Shaky Bridge can be viewed in St. Michael’s Church, below the Castle Bank. (There is a car park by the bridge.) This is all that remains of the borough of Cefn Llys other than grassy hummocks between the Ithon and the hillside. One of many churches in this part of Radnorshire dedicated to St. Michael the dragonslayer, the site shows clues to a pre-Norman origin, a circular llan with yew trees. (Northwest of Llandrindod Wells is Llanfihangel-helygen, St. Michael in the Willows, tiny and beautiful.) Seen from the church the Castle Bank is steep and forbidding but most strongholds have a weakness. From the churchyard gate go straight up to a bigger gate giving access to a track which climbs steadily up to the left. This eventually leads to a farm but a fence on the ridge before the farm can be followed up to the right where a short rise takes you on to the northern end of the hilltop. As you walk along the ridge the view takes in not only the meandering Ithon but also a panorama spoilt only by the conifers on top of Cwm Brith Bank. The strategic value of this site in the 12th century is clear. This is where the March, the eastern parts of Wales under English control, met Welsh Wales ruled by native princes.
Radnorshire is rightly loved for its rolling hills, tiny villages and small towns – for its tranquillity. In the years after 1066, however, it was a battleground with Norman lords pushing to seize control of the area then called Maelienydd, a Welsh cantref or hundred. The Mortimers, with estates in Hereford and Shropshire, played a huge part in these “private enterprise ventures” for centuries. The Kings in London had granted them land on the basis that they performed services – principally keeping the Welsh down and even better, pushing them back further west. (We might think of this today as a kind of “outsourcing” or a “public-private partnership”.) Ultimately, in the fifteenth century, a Mortimer became King of England, but as far as their Marcher activities were concerned there were many ups and downs before they could feel in control.
A splendid landscape long fought over. It is not always easy to read about, however. There was intrigue and treachery on both sides of the divide, with Wales especially prone to division between north and south leaving the central areas vulnerable. Marcher lords were fierce rivals too and the fifteenth century’s Wars of the Roses split the English aristocracy. Castles were built, destroyed, rebuilt and re-destroyed. The Ralph Mortimer you read about on one page is often not the same Ralph you were meeting a page or two earlier. This is why a visit to such a magnificent site as Cefn Llys is so important – it makes the dry words come alive.The whole stretch of the Ithon hereabouts was of strategic significance. The hilltop of Castle Bank shows grassy ramparts from the Iron Age which Norman castle builders were happy to use. To the north near the Alpine Bridge where the river has carved a narrow gorge, is a mound believed to be the site of an 11th century motte put up by Roger Mortimer as he established a toehold in Wales. (This area is accessible via a lane from Llanbadarn Fawr which goes on to Cefn Llys, but parking could be a problem). This family came over with William the Conqueror and prospered.
By the 13th century a sturdier stronghold was needed to defend against the rampages of Llywelyn the Great. From 1242 to 1246 a stone keep and bailey went up on the northern end of the Castle Bank. This made use of the Iron Age earthworks and the Ithon loop but was by no means impregnable as Llywelyn ap Grufydd (the Last) proved to Roger Mortimer twice in the 1260’s. Much of the work of twenty years earlier lay in ruins. Persistent Roger used the stone to build a new castle with tower at the southern end. Here, the slope down to the Ithon is very much steeper and though the flat top of the bank was a help to attackers, the new structure was reinforced by a ditch hewn out of the rock. This effort proved more durable and at some point the summit’s name went from Castell Glyn Ithon to Cefn Llys – the Ridge of the Court. The Mortimers were wielding much of their Marcher authority from here. One sign of this was the clearing of forest to ease travel and deny the Welsh cover. The castle was able to withstand Owain Glyndwr early in the fifteenth century and undergo some rebuilding.
The end of this history is full of ironies. When the direct male line of the Mortimers ended in 1425 the castle came under the control of a royally appointed constable, but in 1461 Edward, Earl of March, Lord Mortimer, became King Edward IV. Cefn Llys was now Mortimer and royal – “Not we from kings but kings from us”. This was their high point – but nothing lasts. The Wars of the Roses ended badly for the Mortimers with a Lancastrian triumph at Bosworth in 1485 and, supreme irony, Henry VII, born in Pembroke, founding the Tudor dynasty. Not only were many Mortimer lordships lost but the March came increasingly under royal control until, starting in 1536, England and Wales were united. The Marcher lordships were abolished as Wales was divided into counties. In any case, as Ludlow had advanced in importance so Cefn Llys castle had declined and was in ruins by the late 16th century. The long standing struggle between the Mortimers and the Welsh had ended in a way none could have predicted. Poetic justice if the Mortimers were indeed responsible for the death of Llywelyn the Last back in the 13th century.
Cefn Llys was more than just a castle. Down below by the church, 10th, 11th or 13th century according to sources, but possibly with those earlier origins indicated by its circular enclosure and yew trees, a borough had developed from the late 13th century to serve the rebuilt castle. Symbiosis – the castle got its provisions and services, the burgesses got a livelihood with protection. There was a market charter, a mill and 25 tenants. By 1332 there were 20 of them. As the castle lost its significance the borough declined. Its distance from major trade routes and lack of exploitable farmland sealed its fate. Nevertheless the Act of Union of 1536 that created Radnorshire also made it one of 7, later 5, contributing boroughs which together made up one Radnorshire boroughs seat in parliament. By 1831 the population was 31 and in the middle of the 19th century there were only 3 houses there. (That, however, is highly democratic compared to classic “rotten boroughs” like Old Sarum in Wiltshire and Dunwich in Suffolk which had no inhabitants at all but still sent members to Westminster.) Rotten or “pocket” boroughs were small enough to be easily exploited by rich landowners. The justification of such a system was that it gave those who had the largest stake in the well-being of the country the biggest say in it. This essentially medieval and rural mindset was challenged by the middle classes of the rising industrial and commercial centres like Manchester which had no MP. This pressure led to the 1832 Reform Act. However, between 1832 and 1885 there was never an electoral contest and from 1869 to 1880 the MP was the Marquess of Hartington, heir to the Duke of Devonshire. A further act of 1885 ended the Radnorshire Boroughs seat and it was merged into the County constituency.
I left Cefn Llys and followed the Ithon through the Bailey Einon Nature Reserve to the Alpine Bridge and on to Llanbadarn Fawr. The only drawback in a pleasant walk was arriving at Penybont station almost an hour early but even then there was a happy outcome. After about half an hour a spaniel trotted on to the platform and decided to keep me company in that unconditional way animals sometimes have. When the train came slowly around the bend, the guard considerately allowed him time to trot over the tracks back home – very much a non-corporate courtesy and all the more welcome.
Reflection as the train makes its steady way to Llandrindod. The castle on top of the hill, looming and ominous, was power at its starkest, enforced at sword point. Down below – the rotten borough is a much less direct but nevertheless pretty blatant exercise of authority by the landed classes who succeeded the Mortimers. Back down the lane just up from Fiveways are the Welsh Assembly buildings or, better still, turn off up the driveway to County Hall. Here you see a lake and trees with a remnant of old spa architecture adding to the modern structures. This is the modern source of power and authority but heavily disguised. Franz Kafka would have a lot to say. In the space of a couple of miles we can see how we have progressed from ruling first by naked force, then through pseudo-democratic dominance to control by forms and emails issued by the faceless.
‘NOT WE FROM KINGS BUT KINGS FROM US’
Gay Roberts with thanks to Lawrence Johnson for sending in Ian Mortimer’s article
According to Ian Mortimer in an article entitled ‘The Supposed Mortimer Family Motto’, written on 12th May 2015, there is no basis for the claim that the phrase ‘Not we from kings but kings from us’ was the motto of the Mortimers of Wigmore. This phrase is painted on the side of Upper Bryn, a house in the parish of Hendidley, just outside Newtown, but the house belonged to the Baxter family and following the phrase are the initials R.B. and the date 1660. R.B. probably refers to the then owner Richard Baxter who was a Puritan and the date is the year of the Restoration of King Charles II. The Baxters are not known to have any connection with the Mortimers of Wigmore. The attribution seems to have come about after E. R. Morris wrote in an article in Montgomeryshire Collections volume number 59 entitled G.R. Wythen Baxter, Upper Bryn, Newtown 1814-1854 “ – the proud motto of Ann Mortimer but which seems meaningless in the context of the Baxter family history.” Anne, last of the Mortimers of Wigmore, married Richard Earl of Cambridge and died in 1411.It should also be noted that family mottoes did not come into general use until long after the death of the last Mortimer of Wigmore in 1425, and the only Mortimer family with a motto being the 17th century Scottish family of Auchinbadie (Burke’s General Armoury)
Instead, bearing in mind the date on the house, it more than likely refers to the Restoration. It was occasionally used as a Stuart motto and as their name implies, Stuart/Stewart, they were stewards to the Scottish kings before rising to become the royal family itself. Thus it fits their trajectory perfectly. Although why a staunch Puritan should display a motto recognising a monarch from such a controversial family raises another very interesting question.