What was in PenCambria: Issue 31 Spring 2016?

 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.

CONTENTS

The Foundry, Llanidloes  Douglas Hurd

A Welsh Hero  Reginald Massey

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

A Harp for Rhiew Bechan School

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

Chartism in Llanidloes: Chapter 4 E. Ronald Morris

The Johnstown Flood Gay Roberts

Gregynog Festival : Eire

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

A Celebration of Welsh Gypsy Harping

The Lost Welsh Kingdom John Hughes

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

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

Mid Wales Arts Centre

Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales

  The Dragons Crypt

The Seasons Bruce Mawdesley

A Strange Encounter  Gaynor Jones

Leaving Home : 1962  Norma Allen

Hope  Amber Louise Robinson

Death of a Learner Val Church

 

LIFE ON THE ROAD by Chris Barrett 

Part 2: The Roberts Family

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

Welsh Triad (Stephens, 1901, p203)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Table 1: Musical ability of the family of John Roberts 

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

Played for the Empress of Austria

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

 *(Roberts, 1981 p67)

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

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

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

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

REFERENCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

What was in PenCambria: Issue 29 Summer 2015?

Issue 29 Introduction and Contents at a glance

INTRODUCTION 

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.

 CONTENTS

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.

Reginald Massey

 

 

What was in PenCambria: Issue 28 Spring 2015?

Issue 28 Introduction and Contents at a glance 

IN MEMORY OF MICHAEL BROWN

Dear PenCambrians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gay Roberts, Editor

 

CONTENTS 

Michael Mackenzie Brown – an appreciation Reginald Massey

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

Drowned Worlds Lawrence Johnson

Making Waves – Events along the Montgomery Canal

Trefeglwys: the 100th Eisteddfod (2015) Margaret Jones

Bryn Tail Cottage Invitation Richard Fryer

Clywedog Bus Services Brian Poole

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

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

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

A Very Special Day Brian Lawrence

The Welsh in Pennsylvania Michael Apichela

The School Bus Run from Y Fan to Staylittle Brian Poole

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

Stretching the Mind & Body

–        Gregynog Festival

–        Mid Wales Arts Centre

–        Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historic Monuments of Wales

–        Mid Wales Events Horizon

 

  The Dragons Crypt

Mimosa Journal  Norma Allen

A Song in Silence  Amber Luise Robinson

Trannon Bruce Mawdesley, illustration Jane Keay

Article submission

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

MIMOSA JOURNAL Part 1  by Norma Allen 

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

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

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

References

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

Pencambria, Issues 10 and 11.

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

Y Lolfa, Ceredigion ISBN: 9 78086243 952 3

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

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

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

Edith Pryce’s Journal 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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