Thursday, August 26, 2010

Next Stop New Radnor

The current issue of MotorSport has this snap of Ferrari 250GTO chassis number 3505GT on the cover.

As I've mentioned before, as well as racing the car at Le Mans and winning the Tourist Trophy for BRP during the summer of 1962, Innes Ireland also used the machine as a roadcar, driving it up to the circuits from his home in Radnorshire. His wife even used it to do her shopping.

How much is the car worth? Well Radio Two DJ Chris Evans recently paid £12 million for a GTO with a lot less sporting history. There again it was red ......

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


Danzy Jones is a whisky liqueur named after its originator, a Builth stonemason, and seemingly sold until the 1940s in the town's Fountain Inn. The recipe has recently been revived by Danzy's grandson and is now sold in Harrods, although presumably not to the Duke of Edinburgh.

Like most Builth achievements there's a Radnorshire twist to the tale, since Danzy's father was from Aberedw and, although born in Maesmynis, Danzy himself was brought up in Llanfaredd. But hey, would I want to take anything away from Builth? Certainly not! I'm more interested in the forename Danzy, variously spelt Danzey, Danzie, Dansey, Dansy etc. etc.

If you were looking for a name that could only come from Radnorshire you could do worse than hit upon, say, Danzey Bufton. Although in truth the name is found mainly in the old Radnorshire family, the Sheens. Where there's a Dansey you'll more often than not find a Sheen somewhere in the family tree. A pity that notorious Radnorian murderer and Spitalfields bully Bill Sheen didn't carry the forename, who knows, one of Dickens' most famous characters might have been a Dansey.

The origins of the forename in Radnorshire probably date back to a marriage in Glasgwm in the first decade of the 18C between a Maria Dauntsey and a Thomas Sheen. They had a grandson christened Dantesy and the name, in it's numerous spelling variations, soon found favour in the Colwyn Hundred.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book Review - Elenydd

It might be an idea for some wealthy patriot to buy up all the copies of this pretty little book and pulp them. After all Gwasg Carreg Gwalch's volume will probably sell best to tourists, and before you know it our "last wilderness" will be gone.

Of course this is already happening, with 4x4s churning up mountain tracks and the industrialisation of the skyline with wind-farms of very little environmental benefit.

Anthony Griffiths' photographs prove that if you are prepared to get out and about early, in the morning, especially on bright days in winter, then you'll take excellent photographs. No doubt the pictures' impact are diminished a little by the small format (220x220mm) but the colour reproduction is excellent and at £12 the book is inexpensive.

Despite the bilingual format the further reading list contains no Welsh language books or articles, those by Cledwyn Fychan for example. It does have Erwyd Howells but misses out on Ruth Bidgood. Essentially Elenydd is a tourist book, there are seemingly no people in this wilderness, no ponies, no sheep and no rain. The text is that of an informative visitor's guidebook, there is little room for the old mountain communities and their story here.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

More Normans

Anyone notice this map used in last night's second episode of Robert Bartlett's The Normans?

Now I know that a few places in Gwent do appear in the Doomsday Book, likewise a handful in Radnorshire, but this can't be mapping that since Flintshire is included in Wales even though numerous places there are in Doomsday. No, this is an attempt to draw the modern border but with Monmouthshire placed in England. An accident or an agenda? Make up your own mind.

Bartlett's BBC2 efforts all seem a bit Arthur Mee, although I'd never heard of the homicidal Alice of Abergavenny, surely an ancestor of Goldie Lookin' Chain's Nutter Missus. The real joy of the series is in the various associated programmes - Nina Ramirez clumping up hillsides and over parquet floors in spiked heels. I know academics on the telly like to have a sartorial gimmick but wouldn't a bow-tie or a deerstalker be less damaging to the environment? Then we had Dan Snow tramping through the Southern March visiting sites chosen for their photogenic qualities rather than their connection with the Norman Invasion. A walk from Wigmore to Abbeycwmhir would have made for a more insightful program - although the perspicacious Radnorians have long-ago recycled the stone from the castles en route. Best bit of Snow's walk was Mrs Lucas-Scudamore of Kentchurch hurriedly directing Dan away from the front door to a gazebo for a chat. She was probably worried about her floors.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Blog Watch

Aficionados of women in motorsport should check out this new blog.

As someone who finds modern day rallying and racing about as pointless as bungee jumping, I'm obviously more interested in the old-timers. The pre-war competitors seem much more interesting than their present day sisters. and quite often this is because of their adventures away from the track.

Perhaps this new blog misses out a bit by focusing on the records rather than the characters of those determined individuals - yes, for example, Joan Richmond did compete in the 1932 Monte Carlo Rally, but more interestingly she drove her little Riley to the start ..... overland from Australia.

Have women made any progress at all in motorsport over the last few decades? Back then photographers insisted on taking snaps of the leading racers powdering their noses, nowadays it's soft porn. One group who do have something of the spirit of their predecessors are the female Arab rally drivers from the Middle East featured on the blog. They're certainly challenging the status quo.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Our French Neighbours

While trying to keep up with current events, I found this interesting quote in the 1873 Christmas Eve edition of the Western Mail, it's in a profile of the Breconshire MP Godfrey Morgan:

"It is almost a paradox, but it is, nevertheless, true that Breconshire, throughout the whole of which the Welsh language is constantly in use, is less essentially Welsh than Herefordshire, where the ancient tongue has almost entirely fallen into desuetude. The population of Breconshire consists, in a great measure, of a Norman colony, which has gradually adopted the language of the country in which its lot has been cast, while Herefordshire is a Welsh county whose inhabitants have lost the use of their native tongue."

The writer uses these "ethnological grounds" to explain the Brecknockians supposed aversion to political dissent and "the supremacy of the Conservative cause in the county." Of course the secret ballot soon put paid to that little theory as the Liberals won the seat when Morgan became the 2nd Lord Tredegar in 1875 and held on until it was abolished and merged with Radnorshire in 1918.

Party politics aside there is some truth in lowland Breconshire's French character, after all it was the bard Hywel Dafi who celebrated the French families of Brycheiniog, where he pointed out that "every tribe has the fruit of French blood" - bobllwyth gyda ffrwyth gwaed ffrainc. While French surnames like Havard are still common enough, others, the Bullens and Boys for example adopted the Welsh patronym system to eventually emerge with surnames such as Williams. That excellent little book The Surnames of Wales relates a sad tale of a woman named Walby who sought relief in Crickhowell in the 1880s, her real surname was the fine old Breconshire French name Walbeoff, but her husband had changed it "because people laughed."

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Normans

Ever the optimist I'm looking forward to the BBC's new series on the Normans, which starts tonight. Usually my optimism is misplaced, the most recent example being David Dimbleby's anglocentric series Seven Ages of Britain, which informed us that until a few Irish monks turned up in Scotland in the mid 500s, Britain was pagan ...... heaven knows where he thought St Patrick came from. I used to think that such nonsense was born of ignorance rather than deliberate falsification, now I'm not so sure. As Ieuan Brydydd Hir said of an earlier generation of English historians:

The false historians of a polished age
Show that the Saxon has not lost his rage,
Though tamed by arts his rancour still remains:
Beware of Saxons still, ye Cambrian swains.