Sunday, March 27, 2011

Last of the old school, first of the new

Surprised to see an article about Innes Ireland in today's Sunday Herald newspaper.

Also very surprised to find that my long deceased Innes Ireland website has reappeared on the web, albeit in zombie like form.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Brampton Bryan

Following on from the previous post, most of Sion Ceri's praise poems were composed to patrons living in Montgomeryshire although a few do concern Radnorshire folk. One example is a praise poem to Siams ap Rhys (James Price) of Mynachdy (Monaughty).

According to the editor of the 1996 edition of Sion Ceri's work there was a puzzle about whom and where one of the couplets in the poem referred:

Iarlles oedd i'r llys heddiw,
A'i braint o nen Brontyn yw.

No doubt this little mystery was cleared up long ago, but if not I'd say it refers to Siams' second wife Elsbedd Harley of Brampton Bryan.

If that's the case the Welsh name of the Herefordshire village must have been Brontyn.

UPDATE: Would just like to clarify that Brontyn would have been a Cymricised version of an original English name, just like Prestatyn and Rhyl.

The People's Castle

I'd quite forgotten about the moves to purchase the site of Knucklas Castle for the nation. Like most local castles, the perspicacious Radnorians have long ago plundered the stone here for other purposes. Anyway the group behind the move have a blog which, like myself, readers may have overlooked, see here.

Of course Knucklas - and isn't the name unusual this far east in Wales for being partly Irish in origin - was linked by the medieval bards with King Arthur and Guinevere. Nearby Heyop was also a place of some significance, the 16C bard Sion Ceri comparing the town of Oswestry to the former glories of Heiob. Perhaps a lost tale would have explained the comparison.

All very mysterious. The Cornish have built a tourist industry on less.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Just Saying

Look I'm no expert but why do Welsh language media and bloggers, including the BBC and Golwg, use the name Gaddafi, surely it should be Gadaffi? After all the guy himself spells/spelt his name القذافي and that should be transliterated according to the rules of the Welsh alphabet, not that of its next door neighbour.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Thought Police

Google frightens me, I just had a hit from a keyword search for Seven Ages of Britain Anglocentric and I hadn't even posted anything like that, although I was certainly thinking about it. So since I've already been outed, here goes. I really shouldn't watch history programmes since I just end up shouting at the screen, which was why I stopped watching Question Time about 20 years ago.

Bettany Hughes on Roman Britain in the Seven Ages of Britain series on C4 was a case in point. Ms H didn't mention Wales, which was fair enough, no such country existed during that period, although England and the English seemed to crop-up fairly often. There was no mention of Caratacus or the slaughter of the Druids in Anglesey although Boudica did feature, more as some frustrated proto-UKIP supporter opposed by all those right-thinking Brits who'd signed up for the European project. Although she didn't have much time for the locals Ms Hughes also slipped in another bit of modern day PCism by trumpeting the multi-cultural nature of Roman Britain ( I wonder where all these folk are in the DNA record, it would be fascinating if they turned up). Her quotes from the tomb of Regina, the British wife of a Syrian flag-seller were revealing. Ms H read out the, well she called it Palmirian, inscription in an all-purpose Middle-Eastern accent, but the Latin sections in her normal RP voice. Couldn't she have used a cod-Italian accent for the Latin? Maybe public-school types see themselves as successors to the Patricians and therefore in no need of a silly accent when mangling Latin? Anyway we never did find out why flag-selling was such a profitable business in Roman "England."

Meanwhile ......... the Western Mail announces "a month-long investigation by the top historians of Wales into those people and concepts viewed as saints and sinners throughout Welsh history." The announcement comes complete with pen-portraits of the top historians and examples of their own personal heroes and villains. These tend to be decidedly boring: Bush, Murdoch, Thatcher (yawn) . I think I could enjoy a pint with the fellow who lists Tom Pryce as a hero and a pair of "snivelling traitors" from 1283 as villains though. Pride of place in the eccentricity stakes must go to the historian who lists Mike German as a hero and Lloyd George as a villain.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Magnificent Mid Wales

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Chattering Classes

The usual crowd are up in arms because Midsomer Murders employs no Black actors and therefore doesn't reflect contemporary Britain. Oh yes it does reply the usual crowd, since there are certainly no blacks here in Scratchy Bottom or wherever.

Er .... haven't any of these people noticed that Midsomer is a fantasy? There are no Scots in Midsomer, no Irish, no Geordies or Brummies or Scousers. No working class characters, (OK you might glimpse the occasional cleaning lady) no council houses, no houses with unthatched roofs for that matter. Yet surely the English middle class should be allowed their magic realism? Costume dramas no, but after all foreigners seem to like John Nettles and it's made by ITV, so no poor people have been dragged through the courts in order to pay for it.

No, what I object to is the one ethnic minority who have been featured in Midsomer ...the Welsh. An episode that was actually filmed in North Wales, that starred Sharon Morgan - for my Builth readers, she's the one who played the topless French bird in Grand Slam. Good heavens the soundtrack even featured Myfanwy. This can only mean that the fantasy world of the English middle class encompasses the Welsh - Welsh scenery and male voice choirs at least. How wrong is that!

UPDATE: A spoilsport points out that DS Ben Jones was also Welsh, this is true but is rarely mentioned, also he was from Cardiff and hence only mildly exotic.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Is Batman Welsh?

Radnorians with an interest in family history are quite well served by the internet. As well as the collection of pre-1858 wills mentioned in the last post, there is also the huge collection of pre-1600 genealogies compiled by the late P C Bartrum - and yes it does seem as if Batman was Welsh. With the digitisation of the Radnorshire Transactions, the 1670 Hearth Tax return for the county is now available on-line, as is the Lay Subsidy of 1543-45, another record which lists hundreds of heads of households in the county at the time of its formation.

Looking at the Lay Subsidy the overwhelming majority of Radnorians alive when the Acts of Union were passed were still using the patronymic system. Surprisingly this is true even for Stanage in the far east of the county. Only in and around Presteigne do surnames predominate, some of very local origin. In the town itself we find the Welsh bard Morgan Elfael listed, as well as a harper and a crwth player. Apart from the occasional plague it must have been an interesting place with its mix of languages and probable bilingualism. Knighton, on the other hand is a smaller and much more Welsh place in 1543 compared to 1670. In the rest of the county surnames are rare and the occasional Tailer or Smyth is clearly a job description rather than an hereditary surname.

Around 200 of the heads of household listed in the county are women and some 90% use patronyms, mostly using the vz = ferch formula. Welsh forenames are still common, around 20% are called Gwenllian and versions of Angharad, Goleu, Tanglust and Dyddgu make the top ten of most popular names. Other Welsh names are Gwenhwyfar, Tudo, Lleucu and a name which one comes across in Radnorshire and only rarely elsewhere: Deili. Other popular female names are versions of (spelling wasn't formalised in the 16C) Margaret, Agnes, Maud, Elen and Catherine.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Roots in the Air

The 16th Century wills transcribed by the late Mr E J L Cole in numerous editions of the Radnorshire Society Transactions must have been an eye-opener to any member labouring under the misapprehension that the county was somehow not part and parcel of mainstream Wales. After all the likes of Angharad verch Lello Bedo ap Madock of Llanvihangell Rhidython (1563) or Jevan ap Hoell ap Gwallter of Nantmell (1587) were hardly likely to have sprung out of an anglicised society. Indeed for the majority of Radnorians, not able to grapple with the extensive bardic literature or the elegant prose of Mr Payne's book Crwydro Sir Faesyfed, these wills must have been a most obvious confirmation of the area's Cymric heritage.

As one of those for whom the word mañana suggests an unnecessary degree of urgency, I'm full of admiration for the likes of Mr Cole, beavering away in the archives during their leisure time, and long before the internet made most Radnorshire wills available at the click of a mouse. Mr Cole also had that tabloid sense for a good story which makes history more accessible, this for example.

What to make of this enigmatic article by Mr Cole in the Radnorshire Transactions? Radnorians should be able to guess the location of "the great rock that stands close to the church of Paternus" and with the census available on-line, at a price, it's now easy enough to identify the people, but what was Mr Cole's relationship to the old lady who in true Radnorshire fashion would not want to see her name in print "bringing shame and notoriety on her family."

Saturday, March 05, 2011

The Time Between

Here's Innes Ireland explaining to British Racing Partnership chief mechanic Tony Robinson how he has just crashed out of the 1964 French Grand Prix at 135 mph. This is from an old BP film, the full version of which also has some footage of Innes flying his plane and at home in Radnorshire.

A feature of the film I found interesting was that Innes and Graham Hill, neither of whom came from well-off backgrounds, speak with those posh 1950s accents you hear in films of that period, while Mike Hailwood, a millionaire's son, doesn't. Mike was ten years younger than Innes and Graham and, I guess, a product of the more egalitarian 1960s.

Motor sport fans can spot Bette Hill, Bruce McLaren, his wife Pattie is on the pit counter, Americans Phil Hill and race winner Dan Gurney, Jack Brabham, Stirling Moss, Raymond Mays, Tim Parnell and is the bearded mechanic jazz musician Owen Maddock? I'd like to know who the kohl-eyed lass in the BRP pit is though.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Elephant on the Doorstep

Well my fears for the referendum proved groundless with a resounding swing across all parts of Wales. People rightly complain about the turn-out but there's nothing to suggest that the stay-at-homes would have voted any differently.

This is the result we should have had in 1979, but which, thanks mainly to the Kinnockites, was delayed for a third of a century. The future belongs to those who have no memory of that defeat and the shrinking band who oppose Home Rule have to realise that there's a rather large elephant sat on their doorstep.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

A Sad Tale

WDL came from what was described as a respectable and well-connected Radnorshire family. Maybe it was this that landed the young clerk his job as a relieving officer with the Builth Poor Law Union in the early 1870s. Of course the Builth Union included the Colwyn District of Radnorshire, all except for WDL's home parish of Glascwm which was hived off to the Kington Union.

Young WDL, he was in his early twenties, married and proceeded to father a sizeable family. Yet somewhere along the way he started to go off the rails. At that time next of kin were expected to make a financial contribution towards the keep of their relatives in the newly built Builth workhouse . It was part of WDL's job to collect such funds. Unfortunately the money handed over by the likes of Mr Powell of Disserth, Mr Williams of Crossgates and Mr Worthing of Llanyre ended up in WDL's pocket rather than the coffers of the Union.

Worse was to come when WDL cashed a cheque for £50 at Builth's National Provincial Bank, money meant for distribution to the poor. Instead the relieving officer took to his heels, with Sergeant Flye and Constable Meade in hot pursuit. A month later he was apprehended on the streets of London. Sentence, at the Breconshire Sessions, 12 months imprisonment.

Unfortunately this was not the last time WDL's name appeared in the press. A year after being released he was back before the Breconshire courts charged with embezzling his employer, a local brewer. WDL conducted his own defence and so ably that the jury found him not guilty. This despite more that a dozen recent convictions for drunkenness, assaulting the police and damaging railway carriages. Leaving the Court a free man WDL was immediately rearrested on another charge.

This new charge was heard before the Cardiff police court, WDL - described as living at Pendre Villa, Builth - having borrowed £34 from a Cardiff moneylender, Solomon Blaiberg, by forging his father's signature on a promissory note. His father, by now living in Hundred House, explained to the court that he could not infact sign his name.

A few months later WDL was before the Bristol Quarter Session accused of stealing books from a local hotel. Again he defended himself and such was his eloquence in the face of overwhelming evidence that the jury found him not guilty. The judge somehow failed to notice this detail and sent the delinquent to jail. The next day his honour, having been made aware of his mistake, was forced to bring the newly shorn prisoner back from prison to be released.

WDL's unfortunate wife, together with her young family, had by this time been dispatched to Builth workhouse, where she was to spend the next 30 years or more, firstly as an inmate and then as an employee. What happened to WDL? By 1891 his wife was describing herself as a widow. Who knows, he may indeed have been dead.