Welcome to this and, I am sorry to say, the final edition of PenCambria. During the past couple of years I have had 2 major operations on a shattered elbow and a mild stroke; for these reasons among one or two other things, I have had to move house twice in the past year and to give up driving. As those of you who read this magazine regularly will know, I have lived in Tylwch for 48 years and on leaving there I felt that the time had also come to say good bye to PenCambria. Since there is no-one else who is willing to take it forward, with this edition, which is primarily to finish the episodic articles in number 42 and to publish the articles which were so kindly previously written for us, to tie up loose ends as it were, it will come to an end.
This will not be the end of our publications, however. There is a new project in the pipeline, Little Books of Llani, which you can read all about on page 36.
In issue NUMBER 43 Gareth Morgan tells of the verdict of the Public Local Inquiry into the feasibility of a dam at Tylwch flooding the Dulas Valley. I won’t spoil it for you.
Richard Meredith remembers that lost boyhood institution – the Saturday Job.
Andrew Dakin brings a philosopher’s eye to his reflections on his family and their historical movements.
Like so many landmark events, those of us who saw it or experienced it will always remember what we were doing on the day of the Queen’s coronation and Gaynor Waters recounts her particularly joyous memories.
Because of the Chartist Riot in Llanidloes it is rare for Chartists elsewhere in mid Wales to get a mention but David Peate has remedied this with his account of John Nicholls, a Newtown Chartist. And from the worthy to the disreputable he also tells us about a gang of burglars nabbed at Llanerfyl and given a sentence that magistrates could only dream of today.
In days gone by, when someone died they were usually laid out at home if possible. If not, there were institutions known as Dead Houses which served that purpose. Norma Allen has come across one at Boughrood and she tells us all about that. She also leaves us in the Dragon’s Crypt with two tales spooky enough to make your wings stand on end!
Methodism caught on like wild fire in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many of the preachers travelled around the country and some of their converts made local houses available to them. One such is Tyddyn at Oakley Park, where John Wesley stayed overnight in August 1769. It is now the family home of Elizabeth Day and she has written an account of it for this issue.
Staying with the religious theme, the Reverend John Davies gives us a history of the 300 years of the Rock Chapel and its Baptist congregation at Penybont.
Jessica Hawes finishes the memoir of her mother, Mary Janetta Buxton, who as the child, known as Nettie Griffiths, spent her idyllic early life until she was twelve in rural Kerry.
The name Woosnam is not unknown in the sporting world today; Ian Woosnam OBE from Oswestry is a major player on the golf course. Brian Poole has unearthed another major sportsman with the name of Woosnam, this time from Aberhafesp. Max Woosnam was a formidable tennis player who competed in the Olympic Games at Antwerp in 1922 and Brian tells us all about him and his family.
In 2015 Richard Fryer wrote an article about the history and heritage of Bryntail Cottage near the Clywedog Reservoir. It was used as an outdoor pursuits centre for the children of Birmingham. At the time of writing its future was uncertain. Things are looking up now, though, and Richard tells us how it is progressing.
As if sensing that this edition would be one of remembrance in some way Lawrence Johnson seems to be channelling Marcel Proust in his memoir La Recherche du Temps Perdue (Remembrance of Things Past). There are no madeleines to savour here but Lawrence clearly treasures his memories of walking the hills of mid Wales from the wild and rugged peaks and plains west of Plynlimon to the steep but gentler slopes of the hills around Llanidloes, a fitting end to the heritage part of PenCambria.
With his exquisite prose, Bruce Mawdesley fills the final pages of this edition and brings PenCambria itself to its final resting place.
Finally in the Valedictory published below I would like to thank everyone who has supported us over the years by way of writing or of purchase, to please forgive me if I have not been able to mention you all personally – you will be in my thoughts – and to wish you all health and happiness in pursuit of all you future wishes and endeavours.
When I first created PenCambria I had no idea where it would lead. As Bilbo Baggins cautions Frodo in JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, when you step out of your own front door you never knows where you might end up. But that has so often been my way in times in the past. I almost never plan anything; I just go with the flow. So it has been with PenCambria. The only remit was to provide a magazine of local history, heritage and creative writing relevant to mid Wales, especially to Llanidloes, Montgomeryshire and Radnorshire and then to see what came my way. I was lucky enough to find three supporters immediately, experts in their own fields of what might be described as both the sacred and the secular side of things.
– Dr. David Stephenson, now our resident specialist on the medieval history of mid Wales arrived in Llanidloes at the same time as I was planning this project and he was very keen to get involved on the writing side.
– Carol Davies, late of Pantydwr but a Llani boy born and bred and a gold mine of information about local life in Llanidloes, also desperately wanted to me to get this off the ground. We had talked about doing similar publications for years but the opportunity had never arisen. Like so many others he loved Llanidloes more than anything else in the world. Sadly he died just as we were getting the first issue together but luckily he had left me a wonderful piece on life in Llanidloes during WWII when he lived with his mother at the Trewythen Arms Hotel of which she was the owner, and this was published in issue no. 1.
– The third supporter who provided us with some wonderful reading was a Canadian, Tyler Keevil. He was studying creative writing at the University in Aberystwyth but living in Llanidloes. He had had one or two things published and favourably received and he wrote a beautiful short story set in Abbey Cwm Hir for our first issue. Then, at the suggestion of an old friend, Michael Worthington, he started a series about Murray the Hump, the right hand man to Al Capone, the notorious Chicago gangster of the mid twentieth century. Murray’s parents were from Carno and emigrated to America in the 1890s. This grew into a 12-part series on Murray’ life and the gangster world of Chicago. Tyler’s career has gone from strength to strength he is now a lecturer and director of the MA in Creative Writing at Cardiff University. It is pleasant to think that we gave him an opportunity to develop in his early days.
Over the 16 years and the 43 issues that we have published there have been close to 100 people who have written for us on all subjects and in all modes. Half of those will have sent one or two articles only. Others have written for us regularly or on an annual basis perhaps – the annual lunch was a great incentive! There are too many to mention individually but a few have been keen enough to write for nearly every issue and to those I express my special gratitude. It has been such a comfort knowing that there were those of you I could always rely on to fill a few pages. I should like to thank those of you who have been our stalwart regulars by name.
In giving us something interesting and off the beaten track in every issue since they first contacted me Lawrence Johnson and Brian Poole deserve a special thanks. Lawrence has trekked the uplands, downlands, hills and valleys of mid Wales tirelessly on our behalf and decorated his articles with all kinds of views and snippets of information and quotes from pop songs which I think give us an inkling of where his heart lies. Brian has a veritable treasure trove of information of that much neglected part of the history of mid Wales – its industry. Since his health has prevented him from doing field research he has turned his attention to other areas, notably people and aspects of life well known in their time but often neglected now such as a former bus run, a 19th century vet or an Olympic athlete.
Richard Meredith has been a keen contributor for many years ever since he told us about his renovation of the old jail in Llanidloes. His family is so integrated into the life of the town, having built so much of it in the late 19th and early 20th century that with every corner you turn you brush past a whisper of the Meredith family.
Some of the jewels of PenCambria are the essays by Bruce Mawdesley who has such an exquisite touch with the English language, so light and feathery yet so full of life that reading his works is like holding a songbird in your hand.
Joel Williams was always generous with excerpts from his book Voices of Llandrindod Wells. When I wanted something about Rhayader Brian Lawrence could always be relied on for something informative and interesting. When she was studying local history in the early days Rachel Jones was always keen to pass on her knowledge to us. Nick Venti’s passion is for the Napoleonic era and in the early days of PenCambria he managed to find a couple of local characters from that period who caught his attention, most notably General Valentine Jones who built the Trewythen Hotel in Llanidloes. He and his partner Nia Griffths also provided some very moving articles based on their World War One Memorial project. Val Church has an eye for the off beat and she has written some very entertaining articles on subjects as diverse as ladies fashion in Victorian mid Wales to salmon leaping in the river Vyrnwy.
Andrew Dakin has been a recent stalwart tracing his family history in Llanidloes mainly but other parts as well and making a diversion a couple of years ago to Tylwch and the Railway disaster there. In a similar vein David Burkhill Howarth tackled the subject of the 1921 Abermule train crash several years ago.
We have published quite a few booklets over the years on many subjects including Robert Owen and David Davies, also the Kimmel disaster at the end of WWI and David Jandrell’s The Hafren Circuit, a drive following the path of the River Severn from its location as the Hafren at Llanidloes around Montgomeryshire and back to the start of the circuit just outside Montgomery.
I met Cathy Knapp just after she started Mid Wales Art Centre in Caersws and it was always a great pleasure to publish reports of their activities and the calendar or events and it has been inspiring to see how the centre has developed over the years.
I was much intrigued one day to get an email from the Royal Commission on the Historic and Ancient Monuments of Wales inviting me to a book launch at the Arts Centre in Aberystwyth. I was even more flattered during the event when the director seemed keen to tell me himself that I should know all about the organisation and publicise its works. Since then I liaised with Nicola Roberts for many years when she always wrote or directed me to something special for PenCambria.
Sadly, we have lost quite a few of you to the Grim Reaper who always seemed to take you when you were just getting into your stride with us: Michael Brown with his unforgettable account of the installation of the Organ at the Calvinists Methodist Church in Llanidloes, his wife Diana with her keen interest in the politics of Montgomeryshire and her invaluable support on the PenCambria committee, Ronald Morris with his vast knowledge of local history, Bryn Ellis and his interest in historic documents, Malcolm Tudor and his pen portraits of various religious characters of interest, Michael Apichela and his love of Aberystwyth, Jim French whose love of forensic work in the police force stood him in good stead when it came to tackling among other subjects, Operation Julie, the great drugs bust at Carno, and latterly Roy Hayter whose account of his time at Lloyds Hotel in Llanidloes was one of the most entertaining pieces we have ever published.
The above mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg of topics covered over the years and my thanks go to all of you and to those who are not mentioned only for lack of space.
I should also like to thank all of you readers and especially those you who have been regular subscribers, many of you right from the beginning. Without your financial input PenCambria would never have made it to the shelves.
Thank you, too, to Woosnam and Davies Newsagents and The Great Oak Bookshop in Llanidloes for providing us with sales outlets right from the beginning and to those others around the county that also sold the magazine while their owners allowed – sadly these days many shops are only supplied by their owners national distribution warehouses and only large numbers of sales are considered.
A great big thank you to Eileen and her team at the Red Lion in Llanidloes who provided such a wonderful feast for us every year in November when we had our annual get-together. This was my thank-you occasion to all the writers who had that year with their articles provided us with a feast for the mind.
Finally, and never least, thank you to Chris Barrett, Diana Ashworth, Norma Allen and Reginald Massey, the committee whose staunch support has kept PenCambria and me going. Chris and Diana have been indefatigable keeping the web site up to date and contributing articles of any required length when necessary or when the fancy took them. Norma and Reginald both saw to the Dragon’s Crypt and could always be relied on to fill a page or two there, Norma with her dark imagination and Reginald, a professional writer with his unfailing appreciation of this modest publication about mid Wales.
Unfortunately, due to the events of the past three years I am no longer able to carry on producing PenCambria to the standard I would like to maintain and as it is always better to leave your audience wanting more rather than boot you off the stage, I have decided to bring it to an end with this issue. So to paraphrase Janet Webb who used to bring the Morecambe and Wise shows to an end, thank you all for reading and writing for my little magazine, if you’ve enjoyed it then it’s all been worthwhile. Good bye and I love you all.
OWEN DAVIES, Clockmaker
A cameo portrait by Ron Morris
Owen Davies 1777-1862 was born of very poor parents in Llangurig. He had no schooling and went to work on the farms. Eventually he came to Llanidloes and worked as a labouring at the New Inn, which stood where W.H. Price’s Universal Discount Store now stands on the corner of China Street and Shortbridge Street. He was mechanically minded and interested in watches and clocks, etc. As a result he gained some reputation in the district and became busy enough to open a small shop, with a cobbled floor, in Longbridge Street, the site of the present Lloyds Pharmacy. There he did well enough to extend his business and become an ironmonger. Coming from such a poverty stricken background, he loved making money, living simply, without a servant or housekeeper, as might have been expected in those days. Eventually he chose John Hamer to be some kind of ‘overseer’ in the business. Hamer was also interested in clocks, especially long-cased grandfather clocks.
Owen Davies died in a small house nearby his shop on 14th October 1862 aged 85 and was buried in Llangurig Churchyard where his box-type tomb can be still be seen. His business passed to John Hamer, who was one of his two executors. His name is inscribed on the dial of many long-cased clocks some of which still survive to this day.
See references to him in Edward Hamer’s ‘Account of Llangurig Parish’ in Montgomeryshire Collections volume 3.
Article from PenCambria number 9 page 22