Thursday, August 31, 2006
Friday, August 25, 2006
It seems to me that historians too often view the world from the perspective of their own time and place. Take London and Radnorshire, nowadays London has a population of millions while Radnorshire is around the 20000 mark. In the Fifteenth century things weren't like that, with London having about 50000 inhabitants and the various Marcher Lordships that went to make up our modern county having around 16000. Clearly East Central Wales was a lot more important in the great scheme of things then than it is today. We should also remember that the great majority of folk in what became Radnorshire belonged to the bonheddig class, people who were trained up for war. This again gave the area a far greater political significance than is imagined by many of the professional historians.
Another moan. We always talk about the English conquest of Wales, while failing to realise that a good portion of Wales, the March, was never conquered. While that part of Wales which was conquered, the Principality, was conquered by kings and captains who were French not English.
This leads me on to perspectives of place. The March was an area where three languages met. The area around New Radnor and Kington for example would have seen French, English and Welsh cultures interacting. From the perspective of a Welsh academic New Radnor and Kington is on the periphery of his world, and likewise for his English and French colleagues. Yet this tiny area is where the Red Book of Hergest and the Book of Taliesin were preserved, where an "English" writer like John Clanvowe originated and where tales such as Caradog Freichfras leaked into French literature.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
Ducky - seemingly that was Innes's nickname when he was skippering drifters out of Kirkcudbright harbour in the 1970s.
There are some good tales about this period in the Scotsman's life. About the time he spotted motoring journos Jenks and Alan Henry waiting to see him on the quayside and performed an elegant 360 degree handbrake turn in his trawler. On another occasion he flew to Norway to pick up a second hand boat, only to be told by the port authorities that he would need a crew before he could leave the harbour and sail back to Scotland. The quick thinking Innes retired to a local hostelry and persuaded a couple of drunken Norwegians to sleep off their hangovers on board while he proceeded back across the North Sea. Of course Innes was no great lover of officialdom and that Norwegian trawler soon got him into trouble. Having failed to paint out the boat's Norwegian registration number, Innes attracted the attention of a Navy patrol vessel which called on him to heave-to and explain what a Norwegian was doing fishing the North Sea. Innes then proceeded to try and out manouver the Navy vessel, until her captain finally had a sense of humour failure and put a round across the trawler's bows.
Now if anyone from Kirkcudbright who knew Innes reads this, please get in touch, - you can find my contact details on the Innes Ireland Web Biography link - I'd love to know how he came by that nickname Ducky Ireland.
Erwyd Howells' book Good Men and True, The lives of the shepherds of mid Wales is chock a block full of great stories by an author who really knows his subject. Mainly concerned with the Cardiganshire side of the Cambrian Mountains, there is still plenty of Radnorshire interest.
Richard Suggett's book should be purchased by anyone with an interest in the history of Radnorshire. One small mistake in the book is an underestimation of the population of the county at the end of the Nineteenth Century, it was 23000 not 16000 as Richard believes. I know exactly how this error came about because I have made the same mistake myself, some of the published population sources refer to the population of the Radnorshire Poor Law Unions rather than the county as a whole and parts of the county were included in the Builth and Hay Unions.
James or Siams Dwnn of Betws Cedewain, Montgomeryshire is hardly one of the better known Welsh bards, he merits only a few lines in the Dictionary of Welsh Biography and is noted in the Oxford Companion to Welsh Literature only under the entry of his father, the herald bard Lewis Dwnn. If I ever wondered about Siams Dwnn in the past it was because of his Mid Wales connections and the fact that he carried the bardic tradition deep into the Seventeenth Century.
Now four volumes of a work entitled Astudiaeth o Fywyd a Gwaith Siams Dwnn (C.1571- C. 1660): Cywyddwr o Fetws Cedewain yn Sir Drefaldwyn is being published by Dafydd Huw Evans and the Edward Mellen Press. The four volumes, detailing the work and life of James Dwnn, amount to over 1700 pages at a cost of nearly £310. In an age when so much that passes for scholarship is shallow and banal, I find the news of this project inspiring.
So do I buy these four volumes or ten years of sixties Autosports?
Tuesday, August 15, 2006
The Hereford Journal reported on the flash flood of 9th July 1853, that led to the loss of three lives in Howey, I guess if it happened today the “experts” would blame global warming. This event was still recalled in the village when I was a lad in the 1950s:
“At 1 o’clock the rain began to fall in torrents, and by 4 o’clock the usually peaceful little brook had risen to the almost incredible height of 15 feet. A little before 4 a cottage gave way to the devastating element, and soon afterwards the bridge fell in with a fearful crash. In a short time two other cottages gave way, and two lives were lost. A poor man, who has for a length of time has been unable to move from his bed, was swept out of one house, bed and all; his wife and a twin child belonging to another woman in the house were drowned. The mother, with the other child naked in her arms, stood for upwards of two hours upon the projecting point of an old-fashioned chimney-piece, when she was perilously rescued by her brother, who proceeded to her assistance with a rope fastened around his body and held by persons who succeeded in getting them into an adjoining garden.”
It’s sometimes forgotten that western Radnorshire was a centre of the Rebecca movement in the 1840’s. Here’s a typical report from the Times of 7th November 1843:
“A few nights ago a party in the usual disguise of Rebecca and her daughters, some of whom were on horseback, but the majority on foot destroyed the turnpike gate at Newbridge, Radnorshire ......... a detachment of the 4th Light Dragoon is now stationed at Newbridge, having been removed from Builth to that place at the request of the magistrate."
Finally a strange tale of middle class life from the Times of January 24th 1963:
“A boy, aged 13, travelled 140 miles in the boot of his father’s Bentley tonight before he was freed with the help of Automobile Association officers in Leicester. The father, Mr Barry Hutton of Builth Wells, had driven his son Peter to his school at Crawley, and as the boy was unpacking his suitcases he fell into the boot and the lid shut. Mr Hutton, thinking the boy was in the school, set off for Nottingham.”