Friday, July 31, 2009

Just in from the Windy City

Who won the contralto solo at the Chicago World's Fair Eisteddfod in 1893? Why none other than Bessie Evans of Radnor House, Builth Wells.

The daughter of local musical legend Llew Buallt, Miss Evans was a soloist with Madame Clara Novello Davies's all-conqueing Welsh Ladies Choir.

A lively lass Bessie, she was 19 at the time of the Fair, was showered with offers to stay in America. She did indeed return on a number of occasions, even singing for President McKinley at the WhiteHouse. She had already sung for Queen Victoria.

In 1903 Bessie married a Radnorian, Joseph Duggan and eventually moved to Edmonton, Alberta where she died, mourned by the local musical community in 1938.

Now the likes of Bessie didn't suddenly spring out of nowhere. Indeed there was something of a musical scene in the Builth/Llandrindod area in the late Victorian period, one that found success on a national scale. I'll return to it in a future post.

Meanwhile enjoy the cartoon of Dame Wales and this photo of the Ladies choir in 1897. Clich├ęd, certainly, but an important factor in maintaining a sense of national awareness during a period when the only state recognition of a separate Welsh identity came from the US Immigration Service.


Anonymous said...

Lived in Radnor House, married a Radnorian ... she's almost one of yours.

Jumpinjehoshephet said...

Bessie was born Llanafanfawrr, Brecon, Wales.
Evan Evans (Llew B) her father was born Dol Llinwydd Mill, Llandewi 'r Cwm, Brecon.
Joseph Duggan, Bessie's husband wrote a book (while living in Edmonton) about the "old country" called "The unforgettable valley."

old radnor said...

Thanks for this JJ, anymore info on the book? BTW I've posted a snippet about Llew Buallt and the great flood of 1853

Jumpinjehoshephet said...

The book is "The Unforgotten Valley, Studies of Life and Character on the Welsh Border" by Duggan, Joseph J. For some reason he changes the names of the towns in the book- to more anglo names- and his will lists a manuscript (apparently since lost) that might have been a second volume.
I've got a copy of the book (and have been in contact with some of his ancestors who were not aware of the manuscript).