Tuesday, May 29, 2012


Who knew that when the 15C bard Lewis Glyn Cothi thanked the men of Elfael for the gift of a horse by invoking the blessings of the cross of Tyfaelog, now in Llowes parish church, he was infact praising a symbol of white power?  This at least was the implication of last night's Panorama programme about soccer hooliganism in the Ukraine and Poland.

The Panorama programme did give the impression that Poland and Ukraine are hotbeds of neo-Nazism. While this doesn't appear to have had much impact in recent parliamentary elections, it certainly seems as if the two countries do have a problem with street graffiti and public order at soccer matches.  It is also true that these hooligans have adopted the Celtic cross as a symbol of their violent and xenophobic ideology, indeed the political use of the Keltenkreuz is banned in Germany. Hopefully even the assiduous centralists of the Brussels bureaucracy will not seek to extend the ban into Radnorshire.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Great British Story?

I think we can all agree that the Welsh, the Irish and the Picts inhabited the British Isles before the coming of the Romans.  DNA throws up new discoveries every week but even so there seems to be a consensus that the greater part of the English population can also trace its roots in these islands to pre-Roman times.  Given these facts why on earth would the new BBC television series The Great British Story presented by historian Michael Wood ignore all this and start a series about British* history with the Romans?

Now I usually enjoy Wood's TV work but the first episode of his new series was a mess.  It seemed to me that Wood's common sense had collided with the usual BBC agenda - patricianism, big-Europeanism and the virtues of multiculturalism: well cheap domestic labour, exotic restaurants and villas in Tuscany anyway.  No wonder they think British history began with Rome.

*Of course I mean British in the geographical sense, since as a political reality you'd have to wait until the 18C before Britishness was invented.

UPDATE:  The second part of this show was .....well another fine mess.  Basque is not a Celtic language as someone in a Llangrannog pub suggested and the Scots (AKA Irish) weren't from Strathclyde as Michael Wood said at one point.  Never mind, no-one noticed, not even on twitter, and the programme does fulfil its primary purpose - to push an agenda of the aptly named BBC.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Pause for thought

It was a Friday afternoon in June 1889 in Llandrindod's Bridge Hotel* as Mr Osborne, a Neath grocer, packed his bags in preparation for catching the evening train to South Wales. There was no mention of Mr Osborne's wife Ellen in the subsequent newspaper reports so the sudden appearance of a female through the open window of Mr Osborne's room might have set tongues wagging. Unfortunately the female in question was a full grown African lioness escaped from Wombwell's Travelling Menagerie, which was encamped on a nearby piece of waste ground.

Of course we need to take tales of big cats, both then and now, with a pinch of salt.  After all the escaped tiger myth of the 1890s was a Radnorshire joke at the expense of the big city journalists.  In this case, however, the story seems true enough.  The 50 year old defended himself stoutly with a chair and was soon rescued by the staff of the menagerie who eventually bundled the lioness back into captivity.

Lions aside, what I find interesting about Victorian Llandrindod is the number of local families with an entrepreneurial streak who built up the town.  The Wildings at the Bridge hotel or the Thomas family of Penybont who established the Central Wales Emporium for example. We could do with some of that get-up-and-go today ....... the expansive car park that is the modern-day county council, not so much.

 *Years later of course the Bridge Hotel would be renamed the Metropole, for the sensible reason that the then owner, Mrs Miles, had purchased some second-hand china resplendent with the letter M.  In 1889 the hotel was still owned by the local Wilding family who had named their business after the bridge over the nearby Arlais brook. It had originally been called Coleman's hotel after its first owner Mr Coleman, a Howey based grocer and draper.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Radnorshire Example

It's often said that the Irish hunger strikes of the 1980s were an unforeseen consequence of Gwynfor Evans' successful threat to starve himself to death if the Thatcher government failed to live up to its manifesto commitment to establish a Welsh language TV channel.  Perhaps another Welsh example, indeed in part a Radnorshire example, led to an earlier event which set Irish history on an equally tragic path.

I've argued before that Radnorshire Rebeccaism in the 19C is faintly reminiscent of events in rural Ireland.  Perhaps I was wrong, but not in the way one might think. Rather than Radnorshire echoing Ireland,  it was the rebellious Welsh peasantry who provided an example to their more timid Irish counterparts.

Writing in March 1846 in the Freeman's Journal - Ireland's leading newspaper of the day - T. M. Ray, the secretary of O'Connell's Repeal Association, highlighted the successes of the Welsh Rebeccaites, including those of Radnorshire.  In a long essay he mentions the destruction of the Newbridge gate and details the way in which 200 armed marchers advanced to the Lion Inn in Rhayader, in open challenge to a cowed authority.

The Welsh, Ray wrote, "did not spend years upon years supplicating the legislature; they made no appeal to popular opinion, but took the brief method of physical force. At once - they annihilated nuisances, wrecked dwellings, burned farmhouses, put the landlords to flight, organised arms, beat the police, beat the constables, met the military sword to sword and put them to flight."  And what was their reward for these open acts of rebellion?  Well "the public authorities entered into negotiations with the "rebels" for the reestablishment of peace.  Such occurrence will hardly be credited in Ireland.  The lieutenants and magistrates suing with the "delegates" of the Ribbonmen and Molly Maguires for the cessation of hostilities."

This was at the height of the famine years and Ray contrasted the position of small farmers in rebellious Wales, forced to live on barley bread and buttermilk, flummery and potatoes,  with those in the more law abiding Irish countryside.  "Alas! Alas! how happy would be the small farmers of Ireland if they had only the certainty of fare which the Welsh mountaineers despise."

Ray's article may have had little effect on the breakaway, a few months later, from O'Connells Association,  which would lead in 1848 to the Young Ireland rebellion.  A minor affair but with long term consequences and perhaps inspired in a small way by the example of the Rebeccaites assembled at Rhayader's Lion Hotel.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


My maternal grandmother was born in 1880 at the Clywedog Arms in Llanddewi Ystradenni.  Within a few months the family had moved to Fochriw in the industrial South.  Her subsequent movements were fairly typical of the Welsh working class - various mining villages, a return to Radnorshire in the 1930s, then on to Harrow and Watford during the wartime years.  Unlike the majority of her grandchildren she never made it to Australia, dying in Weston Super Mare in 1960.

You'd have a difficult job finding the Clywedog Arms in Llanddewi today, and not just because it lost its licence in 1910. It was actually located in a tiny, detached part of that parish, located where the Gravel Road meets the A44, between Crossgates and Gwystre.  Sixty years ago the good citizens of Llanbadarn Fawr were certainly aware that these few acres were not in their parish, they suggested Nantmel.  The burghers of Nantmel were equally convinced that it was part of Llanbadarn.  The end result was that your blogger was one of the few infants in Radnorshire publicly denied a Coronation mug.  An event which no doubt contributed to my agreeing with Ronnie Reagan's opinion that the most beautiful word in the English language is the word Republic.

Nothing in the Papers

Back in the 1950s Highland Moors on the outskirts of Llandrindod - you can just about make it out in this snap - was a residential school for pupils suffering with TB.  The B&R reports that at a recent reunion a former pupil, Welsh rugby legend Clive Griffiths, made a speech.  I think they meant Clive Rowlands.

If the B&R hasn't been the same since they took the advertisements off the front page then what about the Mid-Wales Journal?  They report that author Catrin Daffyd recently spoke to pupils at Builth High School.  Catrin Daffyd?  Ignorance or a joke?  Either way they should stop pretending to be a Welsh paper and go back to being called the Wellington Journal.

Meanwhile the Evening Standard manages a sly dig at Wales and the Eisteddfod in its review of the Indonesian martial arts epic The Raid*.  Now I'm no great fan of the Gorsedd but what about the Hay Festival.  The sight of the London glitterati being pursued by a bunch of Javanese kickboxers would be entertaining and socially useful.

* The film concerns a police team trapped in a tower block inhabited by homicidal criminals. Director Gareth Huw Evans is originally from Hirwaun.  Hirwaun, tower block?  That figures.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Radnorshire Bardic Poems 48

This is a translation of another bardic poem  - an awdl rather than a cywydd - addressed to Dafydd ap Maredudd Fychan of Garddfaelog, Llanbister thanking him for the gift of a stallion. This time by Lewis Glyn Cothi.  Usual health warnings - translated years ago without the benefit of GPC and, no, I'm not at all up to speed with some of the irregular verb endings.

No 175, Thanks for a stallion

Day and night, you are the Meirchion of the vale of Ithon,
A rib of Maelienydd;
I cannot leave home for a single day,
Without asking after Dafydd.

To you Dafydd, vine of the land of Cynan, blessings,
Son of Maredudd Fychan;
Grant to all from the three quarters, As a justice, the custom of Elystan.

To the world you are Elystan,
Monarch of Philip Dorddu;
May you live as long as a rock crystal,
And then an age with Jesus.

Mead fed prince, Jesus allows you
Garth Gynfyn, Gardd Faelog;
The magistrate of Hywel ap Madog,
To your cheek, my blessings for an age.

There is an age, grown son, to give food and wine,
From the high line of Meurig Llwyd;
The land insists on honouring
Your presence, you are brave.

You are not moody,
Or rough, by the hand of Curig,
Nor fierce, nor angry, seed of Cadwgan.

Nor feebly ignored,
Nor mean to your lands,
Nor a miser Dafydd, the face of talent.

To me you are twice as good
As any, near or far,
And with gifts even better, the race of Cadwallon.

Where you dwell, your word
Noble Dafydd, is equal
To that of Meurig in the land of Meirion.

You gave silk a hundred nights,
You gave unstintingly in the day,
Night and morning and every hour of the afternoon.

You gave me a three year old stallion,
Light and sure footed,
Your office is to give a steed to your simple bard.

His nature is to take hold
Of the bit in his nostril,
A passionate sort, one coloured, perfect,

Listening for the clarion
Or the tune of the gun stone,
At a thump jumping about, as far as Caereinion,

Baiting the sleeve
Of the bear despite his dung,
Bruising his bearess, throwing some.

Like a mountain hart,
This serpent is like a moorland stag
Across a flat field,
With the coat of a roebuck,
Like a boar, like a fat apple,
Like a clean, strong, wild beast, a well-fed lion.

On Sunday, Dafydd
I'll come with a cywydd
To give daily thanks for my horse-haired stag.

I'm your bard on your stallion
Come to greet you,
Your swan will win us respect from the host

By my cross,
I'm your man,
Generous one of Gardd Faelog, Who serves a knight like Meirchion.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Radnorshire Bardic Poems 47

Below is my poor translation of a 15C poem by the bard Llawdden, a man who once lived, by his own account, in the parish of Cefnllys. It is a request for a sallet - a type of helmet - made on behalf of Dafydd ap Maredudd Fychan of Garddfaelog, Llanbister (Caerfaelog on the OS map) to an uncle named Madog.

According to the modern day edition of Llawdden's work this Madog was one Madog ap Hywel ap Madog Fychan who according to Bartrum's genealogies was Dafydd's maternal grandfather rather than his uncle, see here.  It can also be seen that this Madog was not related by blood to Cadwgan ap Hywel Fychan of Elfael Uwch Mynydd, as line 13 suggests.

I would like to put forward another name, one Madog ap Maredudd ap Rhys whose pedigree can be found here (Elystan Glodrydd 10).  Like Dafydd, Madog was descended in the maternal line from Cadwgan.  His father Maredudd ap Rhys was also a first cousin of Glyndwr's lieutenant Rhys Gethin and therefore Madog was a second cousin of Sir Richard Gethin, a famous soldier in the 15C French Wars who, somehow or other, is ignored by the Dictionary of Welsh Biography.  While Dafydd was Cadwgan's great grandson, Madog was Cadwgan's grandson and a cousin to Dafydd of Garddfaelog's mother - what the old Radnorshire folk would have called a Welsh uncle.

The editor of Gwaith Llawdden makes a good case for the Llanfair of line 6 being Llanfair Trellwydion, a lost chapelry within Llanbister parish and fairly close to Garddfaelog.  If Madog ap Maredudd was the donor of the helmet then this Llanfair could instead be Builth, the descent group Elystan Glodrydd(10) holding land there and also in Diserth parish. This is just a suggestion but it would also solve the problem, identified by the editor, of the request poem starting, unusually, with a reference to the recipient of the gift rather than the donor.

Mae seiri yn mesuraw

Yonder the craftsmen
Measure out a mile of gold;
From fair houses it was worked
Heavenly colour on the river bank;
A place of good men beside the surge
The Land of Llanfair, behold a fair vale!

One of the goodmen of our island
Is the image of Maredudd ap Rhys
Who made the governance of the two lands
An advancement for Madog.
He's like a hawk or a falcon
He's a bird over Elfael.

Two kinsmen from the same Cadwgan,
Have made an exchange
For me there's  but a journey,
Rare purpose, between uncle and nephew.

This one has it, for me with his gift
A sallet like a swan's breast.
From the town a covering for the pate,
All blue like a young salmon's back.
A louver like the seven planets,
A lamp, lighting for my head.
A casket to be worn against a blow,
A bell that comes as far as the cheeks.
Round like a conqueror's crown,
A white bolster about a man's ears
I come with my poem and accompanying harp
Beaten steel through the crystal,
A sallet like St Silin's relic,
Shops of Sheen tassells,
Silver bordered burnished bar,
With a pennant like a fine banner.

The colour of ice on the sides,
Polished gold beside the jewel,
A moon fitted for the skull
Smoother than plate metal.
Sun or fire, it is thin,
A turned bowl set with a hat.
Its visor works as my shield
Like a box or a grey blue beast.
A place for the hair within a white cauldron,
A place to peep from an enemy's hand;
A visit seen, a man brought it,
Through two Ls sight penetrates.
A good gentle head like Dewi Mynyw,
Meugan's head, of silver.
Plate for the head against an ash spear,
A head-dress like an anchorite's white cap.

I'm a poet who dreams,
And a dream comes swiftly,
A ship for me or a white skillet,
Or Owain ab Urien's cauldron.
A cock's comb like a stone above the gro,
Or a scallop shell from Santiago.
It's bottom like a Maelor goblet,
With jaws like a great gun.
If it's to be had above my dark blue eyes
A steel head like St George's bonnet,
A hat of steel as broad as a plate,
A helmet in Madog's possession:
I name this for Dafydd
A helmet will be worn in Garddfaelog!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

A Radnorshire Scandal

After years of mainly Independent candidates, often elected unopposed, party politics is back with a bang in this Thursday's election of the Radnorshire members to Powys County Council.  Of course this is nothing new, since in the late Victorian period even the humblest parish contest would have witnessed Tories and Liberals battling for supremacy.

It was perhaps this bitter party rivalry which saw Abel Thomas QC, the Liberal MP for East Carmarthenshire, representing a Radnorshire farmer in a paternity dispute before the Merthyr Tydfil magistrates in 1895.  After all the farmer, let's call him Mr D, was a Liberal member of Radnorshire County Council, a Justice of the Peace and Chairman of the local Board of Guardians. No doubt party honour needed to be upheld.

Mary Ann, a farmer's daughter in her early 20s, had accused the councillor of fathering her illegitimate daughter.  The case had already been thrown out in Builth but perhaps the Merthyr court would take the opportunity of avoiding any financial charge to their ratepayers, the girl and her child now living in that town.

The councillor, a married man aged 35, was accused of familiarities - witnesses confirmed that he had once lifted the girl on to the cratch and kissed her during a sheep washing - though some declared that Mary Ann had removed his pipe to facilitate this intrusion.  On another occasion there had been a similar incident witnessed in Minton's shop. There were no witnesses, it was true, to the "familiarities" which had left her "enceinte."  Mr D insisted that he was blameless and that his waggoner was the father of the child.  Yes, he admitted, another paternity suit had recently been brought against him, it was opportunistic, and in the 25 years he had lived on his father's farm only two servants had left "in the family way."  After six hours of such testimony it was the lack of any corroborative evidence which led the court to dismiss the case.

So was this a Victorian melodrama featuring a poor unfortunate and a rouge?  Well perhaps, although within two years Mary Ann had indeed married Mr D's waggoner.  They would go on to have 12 children together..

Incidentally Abel Thomas QC was involved in another case of shenanigans involving a prominent Radnorshire politician, see here.