Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The London Monster

Scares are nothing new, you know the hue and cry whipped up by axe grinders, newspapers and latched on to by politicians, who rush out laws to meet problems that, a few years down the line prove to have been nothing very much at all.

Back at the start of the 1790s London was beset by a fine panic concerning a fellow who went about the city stabbing fashionable ladies in the buttocks . He was christened the London Monster.

Eventually the finger of suspicion fell upon an unfortunate Welshman called Rhynwick Williams. Despite having some perfectly sound alibis, Williams stood trial twice and was eventually sentenced to six years in jail. Interestingly in the first trial he was charged with damaging clothing, which in those property obsessed days carried a heavier sentence than wounding.

The published accounts stress that Rhynwick was a Welshman, although they seem to have missed the Rhynwick Williams who was christened in Westminster in 1767. Whatever, both Rhynwicks had a father called Thomas and what is certain is that the Monster's family did indeed come from Wales, from Bugeildy in Radnorshire to be exact. Yes, the notorious London Monster was a Radnorian.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Rhayader Man Wins Sweepstake

Another Radnorian actress was Mary Jones (1915-1990), details of her career can be found here. Mary was born in Rhayader, the daughter of Captain Alban Jones of Dolgerddon Hall and his wife, local chemist's daughter Anne Elizabeth Roberts.

Alban Jones hit headlines around the world in 1921 when he won £69000 on the Calcutta Derby Sweepstake - perhaps £3 million in today's devalued currency. The Captain disapproved of gambling and claimed that he had been pressurised into the purchase by colleagues. He promptly lost the ticket, finding it later clipped to some office papers. Among other achievements, including being High Sheriff of the county in 1927, Alban Jones was the author of that 1906 page turner, Courses (true and Magnetic) Distances and Maritime Positions Round the British Isles, Norwegian Fiords, Baltic, the Continent Mediterranean, and Black Sea

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Forgotten Radnorian - Curigwen Lewis

I'm sure that everyone in the country over a certain age will remember the actor Andrew Cruickshank, who played Dr Cameron in the long-running BBC television programme Dr Finlay's Casebook. But when he married in 1939 in the little Radnorshire church of Evancoyd, it was his bride Curigwen who was the better know of the two actors, a leading lady with the Royal Shakespeare Company no less.

Curigwen was born in Llandrindod in 1905 and her grand-daughter has provided some illuminating biographical detail about this talented lady and her family here.

Unfortunately the 1911 census for Wales is still not available, although at the time of the 1901 census her parents lived at the Glansevern Arms, Llangurig. One remarkable thing about Miss Lewis, she appeared as Elizabeth Bennett in a BBC television adaptation of Pride and Prejudice as early as 1938!

Gone West

Pennsylvanian townships such as East and West Nantmeal and Radnor are a reminder that Radnorians were early migrants to North America. The Quaker and Baptist migrations from Radnorshire, for example, occurred as early as the 1680s.

This early presence means that many millions of Americans can no doubt claim some Radnorian ancestry. Let us look at the name Price for instance, the 76th most popular American surname with over 270,000 examples in the US census. In their important little book The Surnames of Wales, John and Sheila Rowlands show how even the most ubiquitous of Welsh surnames are subject to regional variation. There are districts in Wales, for example, where 30% of the population were called Jones but others where the name was virtually absent. Price is one of a group of names that is overwhelmingly centered on Radnorshire and North Breconshire, so that a goodly proportion of those American Prices will have their origin here in Mid Wales. Of course there will be just as many Americans with a mother called Price, so that 270,000 will be more like 540,000. Throw in one Price grandparent and the figure is over a million and so on up the generations. Do the math as our North American cousins would say.

Yes, millions of Americans will have Radnorian ancestry, which sounds a better bet for targeting tourism than Twm Sion Cati, the Western Mail's latest wheeze.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Fine Radnorshire Names

I've already posted about the young gypsy harpist Fred Melenydd Roberts, and of course that name Melenydd derives from the old cantref of Maelienydd that covered what is now Northern Radnorshire.

Anyway young Fred is not the only infant to have been landed with a forename based on the geography of the county. There are a few individuals who've been christened Radnor, one example would be Radnor Morgan born in Hendon in 1913. I wonder if Ithon Jones born in Corwen in 1901 had any Radnorshire connections or did his parents just like rivers? While the opening of the Claerwen reservoir made that particular river name a fairly popular girl's monicker with Claerwen Gibson-Watt, born in 1952, giving a lead.

The best Radnorshire name of all turns up in County Durham in 1982, boy or girl I don't know, but Rhayader Blues is certainly a name that stands out from the crowd.

NOTE: this post was commisioned on behalf of regular reader Mr Maldwyn Beaks, who was getting fed up checking the blog and finding nothing new. Get well soon Maldwyn.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Working Class Hero

In the good old days when Llanelli was spelt Llanelly, the authorities were always ready to send for the troops when things threatened to get out of hand in South Wales.

The long hot summer of 1911 was one such occasion, when a national rail strike led to militants in Llanelli blocking the main line to Ireland. Four hundred troops ensured that the Fishguard trains got through, but renewed trouble led to two rioters being shot dead by the military. At around the same time a goods train carrying detonators was set on fire and four more townsfolk were killed in the subsequent explosion. The Llanelli rioters took their revenge on the property of local magistrates, finally being dispersed after repeated bayonet charges by the stout fellows of the Sussex regiment.

What has this fracas involving the hot-blooded southerners to do with Radnorshire? Well a Private Spiers of the Worcestershire Regiment was ordered to shoot a man whom his officer had identified as a leader of the rioters. Private Spiers refused, was placed under arrest but managed to escape. A week later he was apprehended in New Radnor, gaining that sleepy Radnorshire village a brief mention in the papers of the day. Surprisingly Spiers was treated leniently at his subsequent court martial, being sentenced to a mere fourteen days imprisonment. No doubt the authorities wished to draw a line under the whole bloody business.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Dash for Cash

Back in the mid-Sixties a brilliant young driver, new to Grand Prix racing, invited Innes Ireland out to dinner, he wanted some advice. Innes's pleasure at the apparent compliment soon turned to disappointment, when he found that the newbie wanted to discuss money matters rather than race tactics. Innes had to point out that when it came to sponsorship deals, advertising contracts and the like, he really was the last person to give out advice. After all, hadn't he been sacked from Lotus for lending his Esso backed car to the BP sponsored Stirling Moss, in an effort to win the 1961 World Championship away from Ferrari.

Fellow Scot Jackie Stewart typified the new, business-like world of Formula One. Now Sir Jackie, we find that his old talent hasn't deserted him, indeed he's named in today's Sunday Times as one of the Royal Bank of Scotland's "global ambassadors", on the public payroll - in total - to the tune of £200 million. Just a suggestion but why doesn't JYS set an example to his young Royal pals, like Zara Phillips, by walking away from that RBS contract and saving the taxpayer a couple of million quid?

UPDATE: Seems like Sir JYS took my advice on this one.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Before the Computers Crashed

Don't suppose anyone's going to print a broadside singing the praises of ShropDoc.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Welsh in Abbeycwmhir, 1901

Before the recent publication of the 1891 and 1901 census figures, opinions as to the fate of the Welsh language in Radnorshire were often based on prejudice rather than fact. Today we have a surer basis for understanding the process of language shift, at least for the west of the county, although even now eminent professors can still publish statements that are clearly at odds with the evidence.

Looking at the 1901 Census figures, we find a handful of locally born Welsh speakers, mostly in their 70s and 80s, living in Abbeycwmhir parish. On closer examination of earlier census data, a couple of these individuals are seen to have actually been born in the neighbouring parish of St Harmon and another in Llangurig. This still leaves three folk who were born in the parish, to locally born parents, and who never seem to have lived anywhere else. At the onset of the Twentieth Century they were the last traditional speakers of Radnorshire Welsh in the Clywedog valley, a tributary of the upper Ithon, and the last, as well, in the ancient cantref of Maelienydd.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A Forgotten Radnorian

With Wales opening its 2009 Six Nations campaign at Murrayfield today, let's spare a thought for one of the few Radnorians to make an impact on the rugby field. Arthur ( A. F. ) Harding may have had the misfortune to be born in Shropshire, the son of a Welsh doctor, but by the age of two he was living at "The Laurels" New Radnor, where his father continued to practice medicine for the next forty years or more.

Winning 20 caps and captaining the British tour of Australia and New Zealand in 1908, Harding achieved something that none of the current Grand Slammers have done, playing a key role in the famous Welsh victory over the All Blacks in 1905.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

What's in a Name?

Still no sign of any Welsh counties being available from the 1911 Census, no doubt they will be the last to be done.

Never mind, there's a super new search facility on which lets you track down births 1837-2005 without any of the previous hastle. Hours of innocent enjoyment to be had searching out trivia, for example there were plenty of folk with the forename Elvis, even before the Tupelo hipster made it big. Worst name choice? Adolf Russell, born in the summer of 1939.