Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Radnorshire Jury ..... to be continued

It seemed an open and shut case, Samuel Williams of Norton had stolen Richard Stephens' coat. There was surprise when the jury asked if they could retire to consider the verdict and incredulity when they returned three hours later with a not guilty verdict. They had been unable to agree the jurymen admitted, so in the end they had cast lots. One public spirited member having sacrificed his walking stick for the purpose.

The magistrates were outraged, the verdict was set aside and the matter sent forward to the next Assize. As for the jurymen they were fined £5 each, a sizeable sum in 1834.

Jo-Jo and the Chambermaid

In 1910 it seems that a husband was legally responsible for the slanderous words uttered by his wife, which is why Mr J found himself as a defendant in a slander case brought at Glamorgan Assizes by a former employee of his Llandrindod hotel.

The plaintiff, 25 year old Miss L, owed her French surname not to Paris but to her Jersey born father. Infact she was from Brynmelin in Swansea. Mary, the hotel management insisted on calling her Edith, had something of a chequered past, having been dismissed from previous posts for dishonesty. Still Mr J, a prominent Liberal politician in the county, had given the girl a second chance, although, no doubt, his wife kept a watchful eye on the new recruit.

One permanent resident of the hotel was the talented Mr B. He had previously been engaged to Mr J's daughter but she had tragically died. A favourite of the maids who christened him Jo-Jo, the young but sickly Mr B was manager of the town's Electric Light Company and chairman of its Steam Laundry Company.

One evening Mrs J suspected that Mr B was entertaining Miss L in his room and barged in, conducting a search by looking under the bed and in the wardrobe. Finding nothing Mrs J went to look for Miss L, only to catch a glimpse of the errant maid leaving the room she had just examined. Accusations were levelled and the maid dismissed from her employment. This it was that led the blameless Mr J and his accusatory spouse to be sat in Cardiff while the hotel's dirty washing was displayed before a courtroom audience populated, the papers sniggered, by a large number of ministers of religion.

Yes, said one witness, a couple of the maids at the hotel, let's call it Hill Breeze, did spend time in guests' rooms of an evening. Maggie and Hetty and Polly gave evidence that favoured their mistress, while Miss L's employment history was dissected by the hotel owners' counsel, the MP for Carmarthenshire East and the MP for Anglesey - I did mention that Mr J was a prominent local Liberal. Mind you the maid (a labourer's daughter, so hardly wealthy) was represented by a KC. It makes one think that there may have been some political skulduggery afoot.

Indeed it was the maid's counsel who won the day, producing a medical certificate which confirmed that Miss L was ........ well the newspapers didn't spell it out. In the light of this revelation Mrs J was forced to concede that her suspicions must have been ill-founded. Verdict £100 and costs to the plaintiff.

Nothing in the Papers

I bought this book - it's a general history of Britain up to the present day - a few years ago and I'd happily pass it on to Oxfam except for the fact I wouldn't want the unsuspecting to read nonsense like this:

"If she could speak, would her words be in Old English - a Germanic language - rather than the Gaelic and Latin used by the townspeople of Roman Dorchester."

It isn't an isolated example of the author - he was Chief Archaeologist with English Heritage - using Gaelic when he means Brythonic, the ancestral language of Welsh not Irish.

According to the Sunday Times this "massively informative" volume will help cure "our current identity crisis." If the English do have an identity crisis it might help if widely held prejudices be put aside and the Welsh/British contribution to their history be given a little more consideration.

All in all a book that suggests that archaeologists should stick to bonekicking.

Moving on .......... There are those who believe that the 15C bard Llawdden comes from Loughor while others maintain he was from Machynlleth. I think I'm correct in saying that the earliest manuscript reference to his origins says he was Maelienydd, which later went to contribute much of modern day Radnorshire. Certainly there is agreement that his poems show that he lived here, possibly in Cefnllys. It seems that Llawdden was a very rare Welsh forename, and here's an example from 16C Radnorshire. It's from the 1546 Lay Subsidy for that part of Llanddewi Ystradenni parish in Knighton hundred: Llowthen ap David. It's Lloyden in the 1543 version and in the Radnorshire Society's index to the Lay Subsidy, so I guess it could get overlooked. Who knows, maybe a grandson of the bard.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Hwntws or Gogs (part One)

If the Welsh dialect of St Harmon and Cwmteuddwr was similar to that of neighbouring Montgomeryshire and the lost dialects of places like Glasbury and Boughrood were similar to close at hand Breconshire parishes such as Talgarth, then somewhere within Radnorshire, south must have met with north.

As far as I know the dialectologists never managed to get hold of a speaker of Radnorian Welsh from the Rhayader area, even though some, doubtless as rare and unnoticed as pine martens, must have lived on well into the 20C. Fat chance of them interviewing folk who lived in parishes where Welsh had disappeared by the 19C then.

But hang on, riding to the rescue is Richard Suggett, the fellow who authored that splendid book on Radnorshire houses. Rotting away in the archives he discovered reports of slander cases where the words of long dead Radnorians come back to life. An example from Gladestry in 1726 "Di gyrn di dorrws y twlle sydd in di hatt di" - "Your horns tore the holes that are in your hat." Now the interesting thing here is the use of the verb ending ws rather than odd - dorrws not dorrodd - this is a feature of the dialects of South East Wales. The map shows the use of these two endings in Radnorshire slander cases from the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries - info from here.

From the look of things Elfael - at least the hundred of Painscastle and maybe Colwyn as well - seems more influenced by Gwenhwyseg (Gwentian Welsh) than do Maelienydd and Gwerthrynion - the hundreds of Knighton, Cefnllys and Rhayader.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Nothing to report

Just imagine what the BBC and its media pals would have made of this if it had been said by someone whose politics they didn't like, Condi Rice for example.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


It's always interesting to check out the keywords used to find the blog. Some provide ideas for a post, while others just leave you puzzled. Why for example should I get regular hits from searchers looking for "London transport bus found on the moon?"

I'm not sure what to make of the following search term that popped up a couple of days ago. I could understand if it originated in Builth, but this was from Lyon in France:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Spannerman's Tale

Maybe it's old age but even today's stars seem less interesting than the spannermen of the 1950s. I doubt for example if Button or Hamilton will ever inspire a volume as good as the 1957 autobiography (as told to Peter Lewis) Alf Francis, Racing Mechanic.

Someone who figured prominently in that book was Alf's youthful protege Tony Robinson. Now, getting on for 60 years after he first worked with the Polish-born Francis, we're promised an autobiography of Robinson himself (as told to Ian Wagstaff).

No doubt tales of Stirling Moss will dominate but hopefully Innes Ireland will get a look-in, Robinson was chief mechanic with the BRP team when the Scotsman led them on the track in 1962, 1963 and 1964. You can watch the pair around the 0.54 mark in this rather wonderful footage as Innes explains to a patient Tony how he's just bent the car.

Will it match up to the Francis book? With a promised 160 pages and 120 photographs compared to the dense, 300 plus information packed pages of the 1950s page-turner it's doubtful. But at least it's not another Hamilton bio.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"Died for England"

Above is the somewhat Gothic war memorial in the Radnorshire village of Norton, it was designed to serve as a horse trough and drinking fountain. The wording on the memorial is of interest since it was "erected by the grateful village of Norton to commemorate the names of its faithful sons who fought and died for England and liberty."

Should this wording annoy patriotic Cymry? There was a time when no sooner had some Welsh folk set foot on mainland Europe than they would boast, maddeningly, about England or how they had met "another English couple." As if their new found friends were saying the same about them! Nowadays I think we can excuse the good villagers of Norton for this historical anomaly. In any case the wording on the memorial is probably quite accurate. I did look-up the census records of the two First World War names on the monument and was surprised that the elder brother of one, a 20 year old born in Heyop, was listed as being able to speak Welsh. An error or perhaps the result of a period of work in a Welsh speaking area?

Mind you when I saw this during a Google search I did have a potentially dangerous rise in blood pressure, only saved by the realisation that it was a cock-up confusion with some place in Leicestershire rather than a plot to tweeify Radnorshire :

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Averse to acknowledge any Lord

In the early 1630s a strapped-for-cash King Charles sold the crown estate of Maelienydd to some rogues or other, much to the consternation of the citizenry of Radnorshire. Their solution was to make a collection, they raised £741 12s, which they then gave to the king as a gift, with the helpful suggestion that he might like to use the windfall to buy back what he had so recently sold. Charles did indeed re-purchase the lordship of Maelienydd but was soon in negotiation with Thomas Harley of Brampton Bryan to lease out the land. Harley's plan was to charge rent to the many hundreds of squatters on the commons. This caused such a kerfuffle that the plan was abandoned, although the Harleys were able to get their paws on the lordship during Cromwell's dictatorship.

Moving on to 1758 and King George leased out the wastes and commons of the lordship of Maelienydd - a substantial portion of the parishes of Llanddewi, Llanbister, Bugeildy, Heyop, Llanbadarn Fynydd, Llananno, Llanfihangel Rhydeithon, Llangynllo, Gladestry, Colfa, St Harmon, Cwmteuddwr and Nantmel. Again the plan was to squeeze the hundreds of squatter families by charging them rent. Such was the opposition both physical and legal, that the scheme was abandoned, the crown agent, John Lewis of Harpton, complaining of "'the natural dispositions of people being averse to turn tenants and acknowledge any Lord."

Of course the resistance of the cottagers to enclosure was to be a feature of 19C Radnorshire, just as it had been in the previous two centuries. Radnorshire had a larger percentage of freeholders than in some Welsh counties and these, together with the squatters, meant that there were a substantial number of folk who were indeed "averse to turn tenants and acknowledge any Lord." I wonder if they were the descendants of the troublesome class called manwyr in the works of the bard Sion Ceri, poor folk with a pedigree, the younger sons of younger sons. They certainly seem ready to use the law and even physical force to uphold their rights.

Perhaps these independently minded folk were responsible for the very rapid process of language shift in Radnorshire. Firstly they lived in proximity to England and so had the possiblity of picking up the English language through everyday discourse. Secondly they had every reason to learn English in order to protect themselves from men who would be their masters.

A 150 years before Saunders Lewis' lecture Tynged yr Iaith the Radnorshire historian Jonathan Williams discussed language shift in the border parish of Bugeildy. His analysis of why this had occured seems very modern:

"An increased intercourse with England, a more general interchange of the commodities and produce of these two countries respectively, and, above all, the introduction of that jurisprudence with which the inhabitants of Wales found it necessary to be familiarized, as well as the diction in which all legal pleadings, deeds, conveyances, processes, &c., are executed, soon undermined that predilection for their mother tongue which was before their distinguishing character, and rendered the study and acquisition of the English language necessary, not only as an accomplishment, but also as a matter of indispensable interest."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Well it made me laugh

An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman walked into a bar ............ the Welshman was still in New Zealand.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Forgotten Radnorian?

On the face of it Enoch Powell isn't a Forgotten Radnorian at all. His Radnorshire connections are mentioned in biographies written by competent authors and put out by reliable publishers.

Mr Powell would make a worthy addition to the list of those Radnorians who have made a contribution to Welsh scholarship. After all he was the joint editor of Llyfr Blegywryd, an edition of a version of the Laws of Hywel Dda published by the University Of Wales.

Unfortunately when we look for a Radnorian connection what do we find? It's easy enough to trace the Powells as far back as the mid 18C, they come from Somerset. Likewise his mother's family, the Breezes, are found in Newport, Shropshire. His other grandparents' lines show no recent Radnorshire roots either.

A case of authors repeating "a fact" for which they have no evidence?