Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Forgotten Radnorian

"What about motor racing pioneer Rosemary Jones from Newbridge on Wye," the blog comment asked.  "She raced in the Monte Carlo in a Mini in the early 60s?"

The truth is I'd never heard of this Rosemary Jones and a check of some of the old entry lists for the Monte didn't help either.  But then people I spoke to agreed, "Rosemary Jones? Oh she was a daughter for Tom Jones from the garage in Newbridge.  Took part in the Monte Carlo rally. you know"

Well, I didn't know but then someone mentioned the fact that Rosemary was a dog-breeder and a possibility dawned, did she actually race as Elizabeth Jones (AKA Liz Jones) and did she drive a Mini-Cooper with the registration number LIZ 1?

Now this Liz Jones wasn't a run-of-the-mill club driver, along with her rivals Christabel Carlisle and Anita Taylor, she was one of the fastest saloon car racers in the country in the early Sixties, and I don't mean one of the fastest female racers either.

The you tube clip below is well worth watching for some elegant drifting from Jim Clark, but around the 40 second mark we get to see Liz burning up the track:

Mainly a track racer Liz certainly did enter the Monte Carlo rally.  In the 1964 event she took the rather unusual option of starting from behind the Iron Curtain in the Belorussian city of Minsk.

Elizabeth was one of the top half-dozen or so graduates from the Cooper Driving School entitled to an occasional outing in the school's FJ car during the 1960 season, she also competed in an Austin Healey 3000.  From 1962 through to 1964 Ms Jones - actually by this time she was Mrs Degerdon - drove Mini-Coopers, first for the Downton Engineering and then the Alexander Engineering teams.  Anyone who is interested can check out her record in the British Saloon Car Championship for those years here.  Ms Jones also competed in the RAC Rally; the 1963 Tour de France and the 1964 24 hour race at Spa.  A career highlight must have come in the 1963 Brands Hatch 6 Hour race where she finished 2nd in class, Her co-pilot was one Timo Mäkinen but Liz was actually the lead driver in that race.

So it seems that Rosemary Jones - Forgotten Radnorian - was also the Liz Jones who had quite a motor-racing career before dropping out of the sport in the mid-Sixties.  In later life as Mrs Degerdon she became a well-known but, if the forums are anything to go by, very controversial breeder of dogs - with talk of deportation from the United States amidst charges of animal cruelty.

Elizabeth Rosemary Degerdon, born 1930, died in 2010, she is buried in Newbridge churchyard.  Wyesiders who think they are related might wish to check out this site.

UPDATE:  For those who are interested in genealogical matters Ms Jones's father Thomas Irfon Jones was a son for Daniel Jones of Penrhiwmoch, Llanafan and his wife Flora Thomas - she was born in the gold mining town of Ballarat, Australia and in the 1891 census was working as a schoolteacher in Abergwesyn. Ms Jones's mother was Annie Alice Jones, daughter of George W. Jones, a Newbridge butcher and wool dealer and his wife Elizabeth Lloyd.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Furious Driving

Now I'm a fan of the new stretch of the A470 between Newbridge and Builth.  Some letter writers to the local press call it "the motorway to nowhere" but truthfully it is part of a project which will hopefully provide a decent link between North and South Wales.  Something that any self-respecting country would set as a priority.  Others predict that this fast, straight road will lead to accidents, although I would have thought that slow, winding roads were more of a hazard.

The old road certainly proved fatal for 69 year old James Bow as he led a horse he had purchased at Newbridge fair on the evening of 17th October 1873.  Unknown to Mr Bow two young farmers, Danzey Jones and David Pritchard had entered into a discussion as to which of their two mounts was the fastest.  The matter would be settled by a race from Newbridge to the Builth gate.  Pritchard led the way and Jones, in his efforts to catch up, collided with Mr Bow.  The incident being witnessed by Moore and Kelly, two other travellers from the fair.  Mr Bow did not die immediately, indeed he lingered on for a month before finally succumbing.

Both Jones and Pritchard were charged with manslaughter and brought to trial at the Breconshire Spring Assizes in 1874, where they were soon found guilty.  The jury recommended mercy and the two defendants - described by the judge as "hitherto well-conducted men and respectably connected" -  were sentenced to terms of two weeks and one week imprisonment.  The judge specifying that these sentences would not involve hard labour since this would involve the defendants mixing with "common felons."

After Cilmeri

After admitting below that I don't read much fiction, it's hardly surprising that I'd never heard of the after-Cilmeri novels of American author Sarah Woodbury.  Here we find her mooching around Aberedw Castle and almost revealing the location of the snap at the top of this blog.

A Radnorshire History Month?

Unlike a modern caravan, a gypsy vardo took up hardly any room on a grass verge and the numerous brick encased standpipes found, in those days, around every village, provided plenty of clean water.

I remember, towards the end of the 1950s, one such vardo encamped on the chapel turn in our Radnorshire hamlet, I got quite friendly with their children but for some reason ended up in a bout of fisticuffs with one lad in the disused blacksmith's shop we called the pentis. It must have been a good scrap as some of the loafers from the village pub came out to watch, including our respective fathers. Eventually I was well-trounced, rsf, I guess in today's less robust climate such parental behaviour would have seen me whisked off into care.

Now these reminiscences are brought to mind by the current GRT History Month and in particular this article in last Saturday's Western Mail.  Should these three groups be lumped together?  The complaints in the article against the Fat Gypsy Wedding television programmes surely stem from the cultural differences between Romanis and Irish travellers. While discrimination against Gypsies is real enough, as this quote, reportedly from the 1954 edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, illustrates:

“The mental age of the average adult Gypsy is thought to be about that of a child of ten. Gypsies have never accomplished anything of great significance in writing, painting, musical composition, science or social organisation. Quarrelsome, quick to anger or laughter, they are unthinkingly but not deliberately cruel. Loving bright colours, they are ostentatious and boastful, but lack bravery."

I do wonder if the eugenicist mentality at the root of such opinions, and which should have been buried along with Hitler, has merely taken on new and often politically correct forms. To such people minority histories can become another stick with which to beat the supposedly bigoted working class.

Back in the real world Radnorshire's gypsies have clearly made a contribution to the life of the county and not just in the preservation of the triple harp.  Incidentally the 1911 census finds the harp-playing family of young Fred Melenydd Roberts - I blogged about him here - living in a house called Melenydd Villa in Llandrindod's Tremont Road.  One wonders how the Roberts family felt when in August 1906 the "German" gypsies (I believe they could more accurately be described as Lovari) were escorted through the county under police guard, before being handed over to the Breconshire constabulary on Builth bridge?  The handover was watched by a crowd numbering in the hundreds before the group were allowed to camp off the Hay Road before being pushed on into Herefordshire the next morning, Today there are local businesses run by folk of gypsy origin, sometimes recognizable by the distinctive decoration on their vehicles.  Llandrindod natives may be interested in this reference to one such local family.

It seems that everyone has a history month nowadays: LGBT, Black, GRT, Irish, UK Disability,  - and that's just on the first page of Google.  So should Radnorshire join in the fun?  Not having a TV I can't be certain but I suspect that Welsh television has engaged more with Romani history than it has with that of Radnorshire.  After all I'm not entirely sure that the attitudes articulated by the following and rather typical Victorian comment have completely disappeared:
 "And if learning is greatest amongst English speakers in Wales, then we should of necessity look for it in Radnorshire. Instead, as everyone who knows Wales is aware, in this county just as much as the English parts of Wales, you will find the most uneducated, ill-informed, empty headed, immoral, uncivilized, and uncultured population of any part of the principality!"  (Translation)

Now it's quite understandable how comments like this arose.  When the haters of all things Welsh blamed the language for the ills of the country it was natural for patriotic voices to point to largely English speaking Radnorshire, which in some aspects - illegitimacy for example - had a "worse" record than its neighbours.

Although it would be amusing to hear television producers claiming their programmes were "an important way of redressing the many prejudices that have always existed against Radnorians" or to see the delightful Shân Cothi wandering the lanes of the border country, I don't really wish to see such a history month. It would be good though if Welsh historians and programme makers finally paid a little more attention to the history of East Central Wales.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Musical Interlude

This is a fascinating Welsh folk song since it was seemingly handed down in a single family from Cei Newydd in Ceredigion, with the warning that it should not be sung in public.  It's doubtful if such Marian verses could have been composed in Wales during the non-conformist period and therefore it's believed that the words date back at least as far as the Reformation.

It came to wider notice from schoolteacher Myra Evans 1883-1972 (born Jane Elmira Rees) who got it from her mother, who in turn learnt it from her grandfather David Williams.  Elmira Rees's father was a mariner, like many of the men in New Quay - you'll not find him in some of the census records since, presumably, he spent so much time at sea.  I wonder if the absence of husbands from the household accounted for the longevity of such an "old-fashioned" and matriarchal song.

There's a recording by Elen Manahan Thomas on youtube but this version is from Siwsann George.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Novel of Radnorshire Interest.

Now I'll be honest and admit that I don't read novels.  I might occasionally enjoy a page turner or read a book that gives an insight into a world I want to know more about, but that's it.  This novel, however, concerns two of the more interesting individuals who have lived in what later became Radnorshire, Gwenllian the daughter of Owain Glyndwr and her husband Philip ap Rhys of Cenarth in the parish of St Harmon. The novel, it says, was inspired by poems written by Lewis Glyn Cothi, Llawdden and Ieuan Gyfannedd.  Long-time readers of this blog will realise that this presses a lot of buttons for me, so it's a book that I had to buy.

After a couple of chapters I'm afraid I consigned it to the rather large box entitled books to be read later.  As I said I don't really like novels, I much prefer factual books.  Now obviously it is perfectly proper for an historical novel to make things up.  Not much is known about the lives of Gwenllian and Philip so the author is at liberty to imagine a great deal.  But why change the few facts that are known?  The book features a poet called Iolo, obviously Iolo Goch..  In reality it's doubtful if Iolo even lived to see Glyndwr take up arms.  The novel mentions Lewis Glyn Cothi's marvellous poem requesting a bed and sets it in 1402, Lewis was probably born in the 1420s. I found fact changes like this, and I could go on, annoying.  Obviously most readers wouldn't have the same problem.

I don't feel the book captures the spirit of the time and skimming through the unread chapters I found the plot a bit far-fetched. Gwenllian comes across as a worthy enough farmer's wife driving an ox-cart instead of a 4x4, rather than the aristocratic figure the bards describe.  She's a bit dim and, good heavens, wouldn't a married woman from St Harmon involved in secret assignations with a stranger in a Llanidloes tavern quickly find herself the talk of the town in 2012, never mind six hundred years earlier.

So is this book a good read and worth buying?  Judge for yourself, I'm afraid I'm the wrong person to ask.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Picture this

Last weekend's Sunday Times imagined what the Union Flag might be should Scotland vote for independence in the forthcoming referendum. Something like this:

A bit of a mess but actually a fair representation of a post-Scotland United Kingdom.  A flag and a state dominated by England with Northern Ireland gradually fading out of the picture and Wales tagged on as an out of place afterthought.

Radnorian wonders if this historic flag might be a better bet.

UPDATE:  And then there are the Olympic Games.  An event that interests me not a jot, except that the proposed opening ceremony promises to be a gloriously naff affair.  Following a "green and pleasant" theme it will feature ducks, geese, cricket, grazing sheep, artificial clouds, the Glastonbury festival and the Last Night of the Proms, oh and that ancient thorn tree that someone took a chainsaw to a few months ago.

Now I've no complaint that Wales is represented by a giant daffodil atop a maypole, but the ceremony seems a little light on "the dark satanic mills."  Of course it's the one thing that unites both the old and new British elites, their dislike of industry and, especially, the English working class.  For those of us who actually admire England's industrial genius, watching the arty crowd making an ass of themselves should be fun.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Latest Score

Back at the end of July in 1936 Scotland beat Wales 7-3 in an international sporting fixture held in Llandrindod.

Anyone care to guess which sport?  Not Bowls or even Hedging.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

World's Most Expensive Car

So the ex-Innes Ireland Ferrari 250 GTO has sold for $35 million, which may well be more than the total true asset value of the Spanish banking sector.

This is the car, owned by the British Racing Partnership, in which Innes won the 1962 Tourist Trophy race at Goodwood. Throughout the summer of that year he used it as his road car in Radnorshire, indeed his wife of the time, Norma, would drive it into Kington to do her shopping.

In the current financial climate I'd say it was a pretty sound investment and heaven knows how much it would be worth if it was actually red rather than duck-pond green.

UPDATE:  I'm amazed at the number of journals and websites who believe this car's competition record was restricted to the 1962 Le Mans race.  It just goes to show how many "experts" just copy each other's articles.  It would have been easy enough for them to check out the facts, here for example.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Reading Matters

I hadn't come across this blog before, but it has plenty of Radnorshire content.  Well worth delving into on a rainy day.