Sunday, December 29, 2013

Go West

Like any right-thinking Cymro I'm sure that America was named after the Bristol merchant Richard Amerike, a descendant of Hywel ap Meurig - who may have been a quisling, but at least was our very own Radnorian quisling.
Another early explorer of the North Atlantic was the Bristol customs officer Thomas Croft, whose ships sailed in 1481 - reportedly in search of the mythical Isle of Brasil.   Since his two vessels contained a cargo of salt it's more likely they intended to exploit the rich, and secret, Newfoundland fishing banks.  Whatever his intentions Croft could boast of a far more illustrious Welsh pedigree than Amerike since his great grandfather was none other than Owain Glyndwr.  As we know Glyndwr married-off his daughters to the leading lights in the strategic Central March - a Mortimer, a Scudamore and a Croft.  Thomas Croft's grandmother was Glyndwr's daughter Sioned.

It's sometimes said that in the aftermath of Glyndwr's war no-one in Wales wanted to be reminded of the great patriot.  This is clearly not the case in respect of his daughter Gwenllian of Cenarth, St Harmon - all the bardic poetry to her family boasts of the connection.  It's not even true of the Herefordshire Crofts.  When Thomas's great niece Margaret married Ieuan Gwyn of Llangynllo and Clun, a bard was on hand to remind the audience of the bride's ancestry:

Crofft, Glyndwr, milwr moliant

Of course an earlier Atlantic sea-farer was Madoc ab Owain Gwynedd, whose story and subsequent myth are told in a marvellous book by Gwyn Alf Williams.  Although Gwyn mentions the reference to Madoc in the poetry of the 15C bard Maredudd ap Rhys, even he - and most everyone else - miss another reference to the seafarer in the work of another 15C bard Deio ab Ieuan Du:

Fal Madog, marchog medd
Baun gwyn, ab Owain Gwynedd.
Y gwr, siwrneio a gai
Ar foroedd, yr arferai.

Clearly Madoc's exploits were common knowledge to the bards of the 15C and, no doubt, to the patrons they rubbed shoulders with.  Who knows if men like Croft and the Welsh captain John Lloyd ("the most expert shipmaster in all England") were inspired by such tales.  Certainly Wales - and Radnorshire for that matter - has never been a backwater.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Camp Bastion ar Ieithon

When Sir Richard Hoare visited Radnorshire in the early 1800s a local named John Williams informed him that the extensive Roman remains in Llanfihangel Helygen parish went by the name of Castell Collen.  This may have been news to some locals who, it's said and in common with folk up and down Wales, called such sites Y Gaer, but Castell Collen ended up in print and that was that.  What the unfortunate Roman auxiliaries sent to such a remote outpost of empire called the place is not recorded, although another John Williams, the county's 19C historian, believed it was Magos.

So you're a Sarmatian cavalryman newly drafted into the Roman army and where do they post you - with an entire empire to choose from, Camp Bastion ar Ieithon.  Not a small place, it had room for a 1000 troops, it must still have felt like drawing the short straw. OK there was a bath house and some fancy latrines, but the weather was miserable and the neighbourhood was troublesome.  That's the thing, away from the legion towns of Chester and Caerleon, the only places in third century Wales where you were likely to find the military were Cardiff, Caernarfon, Caersws, Forden, Castell Collen and, just over the modern border, Leintwardine.

If Cardiff and Caernarfon can be explained by the need to combat Irish pirates, what were the military bases in East Central Wales all about?  Well the archaeologists tell us they were to combat the Ordovices -  a tribe who just couldn't be trusted to behave in polite society.  Certainly those military forts did a fine job of encircling the later-day kingdom of Maelienydd - like we said troublesome neighbours.

The archaeologists seem pretty convinced that the Ordovices were a tribe of Central Wales while the historians tend to favour Gwynedd*.  T M Charles-Edwards, for example, plumps for Gwynedd because a tribe based on the upper Severn valley "would hardly have been so formidable a people as they appear in Tacitus's narrative."   Maybe so, although Central Wales would play a fairly pivotal role in resisting the later Saxon and Norman power.  I tend to think that Meirionnydd was the centre of Ordovician power and  there are certainly historic and linguistic ties between it and Arwystli, Gwerthrynion and Maelienydd.  Southern Radnorshire, especially Elfael Is Mynydd, may well have been part of Silurian territory.

I've been reading some informative online stuff from Cadw about developing a visitor experience package for, amongst other sites,  Castell Collen - yes I know - it seemingly appeals to cultural explorers.  I guess this means improving access and maybe putting up a few information boards.  The report also reminds us that some Welsh people might actually sympathise with the natives rather than the Romans and that this needs to be borne in mind when developing those visitor experience packages.

Well I'm certainly rather proud of the fact that our Radnorian forebears proved a bit of a handful for the Roman invader, so too later generations and their resistance to the Normans and their role in supporting Glyndwr at Bryn Glas.  Reading of how the 19C squirearchy stretched the law for fear of the Rebeccaites also makes me smile - the magistrate who dismissed a case against some locals engaged in midnight fisticuffs with the river bailiffs because the officials had failed to show their letters of appointment was a highlight.  As the franchise expanded Radnorians gradually took control of their own local governance - seeking to oppose the excesses of the Malthusian workhouses and trying to keep local lads away for the trenches of the Great War.  Of course it all came to an end with the ever increasing power of the centralised state and its bureaucracy, typified locally by the establishment of Powys and bodies like the DBRW.

I've also been reading a paper from that very county council, it's basically a justification for high pay for top officials - "large complex bodies with multi-million pound budgets."  All that 1970s talk about halting rural depopulation is summed up by a comment that the county has a low birth rate - Malthusians again - and a large outward migration of young people with a large inward migration of old people.  Depopulation solved by methods that might appeal to folk in the Balkans.

Never mind that Powys might "employ very few young people under the age of 21" the high pay for top officials will have "a beneficial impact on the quality of life in the community as well as on the local economy."  Oh and of course recruitment to those senior grades "will ideally include people from the private sector as well as the public sector and from outside as well as inside Wales."  Well of course it will.

Where are the Ordovices when you need them?

* Some, the BBC are an example,  mention that a mosaic map in the Forum at Rome does not include Gwynedd as part of the Empire, what they fail to tell us is that the mosaic was the work of Mussolini!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Patriots and Pacifists

Llandrindod's Baptist Tabernacle would hardly seem a likely setting for a mini-riot; but such was the case in the summer of 1917 when the Welsh branches of the Fellowship of Reconciliation - who had been holding a conference in the town - organised a public meeting entitled "The Church and the World after the War."

Word got about that the meeting might be of a pacifist nature, which soon attracted the interest of a sizeable party of "patriots" also visiting the town for a bowling tournament.  They were not disappointed because the first speaker - John Davies, the Dowlais miner's agent and a former Labour mayor of Merthyr Tydfil - was soon ranting about profiteers and "other gamblers in the lives and blood of their fellow men."

These sentiments naturally outraged the patriotic section of the audience who were soon singing Rule Britannia and God Save the King.  Faced with disorder the Llandrindod deacons hurriedly ran up the white flag and abandoned the meeting.  The mob, by now some hundreds strong, repaired to South Crescent to pass resolutions in favour of the war while Mr Davies and his friends were forced to beat a hasty retreat.

Handily the newspapers have left us the names of some of the more strident patriots, and with the help of the 1911 census we find:

Goodfellow, solicitor, born Devon, age 49, from Caerphilly
Errington, commercial traveller, born Durham, age 56, from Cardiff
Atkinson, agent, born Lancashire, age 53, from Swansea

Am I spotting something of a pattern here?

Of course this had little to do with Radnorshire, with both patriots and pacifists being mainly summer visitors to the town. What I think you can find in local attitudes to the war is the age-old Radnorian search for a modus vivendi, a means of quietly getting on with life alongside far more powerful outside forces.

We can see this in the frustrated work of that angel of death Captain Shrimpton, the county's  military recruiter.  Shrimpton had worked out that there were 2173 unstarred men in the county - males between the ages of 18 and 41, eligible for military service and not working in reserved occupations.  His job was to get these fellows into khaki.  It must have seemed to him that the job of the local appeals tribunal was to keep them safe at home.

Out of 1035 appeals heard in the summer months of 1916 only 35 had been disallowed (3.4%). Since the county tribunal system - it's members in the main were local councillors - had been set up in Radnorshire just 33% of appeals from those in urban districts had been disallowed, while in the rural districts only 13% had failed to get an exemption or a delay.

How long this reluctance to send local men to the colours was kept-up I'm not sure and most of the appeals allowed were in respect of perceived work and family commitments. There were a few Radnorshire conscientious objectors though - the three Jenkins boys from Penybont, who served with the Friends Ambulance Unit, for example.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

"My name is Manoa"

Wales may have some of the dullest children politicians in Europe but at least it has decent online-history resources - this one covering Wales and the First World War is a recent example.  Maybe the search could do with some tweaking but all is forgiven when you come across headlines like this, from the Brecon County Times of 25th February 1915:

The unfortunate individual imprisoned under the Defence of the Realm Act was a Bugeildy labourer, one Manoah Davies.  His employer - a local farmer - had passed on a recruiting card, which Davies then handed back, but not before adding the following pencilled comments:

Why should I serve in the Army?  I have no country - Germany for ever!
Let England be a German republic and not pay £1000 a week to King.

Soon Sergeant Bufton of the Radnorshire Constabulary was on Manoah's trail and his admission that "I can't disown my own writing" saw him up before the Knighton beaks.  Coltman Rogers, the chairman of the Court pointed out that Davies could easily have been court-martialed for his display of disaffection towards the king and that in Germany he would most certainly have been executed.  After a suitable amount of huffing and puffing Davies was imprisoned for a month.

I doubt if Manoah was a man of principle, after all he apologised to the court for his actions.  More likely he was a bit of a smart-aleck.  Just three months later Manoah was summoned by the Knighton Guardians, accused of being the father of an illegitimate child.  Davies did not attend the hearing but sent a note saying he would "pay nine pence a week, or as an alternative if the registrar will put up the banns free will take the lot."  Unimpressed by this unromantic proposal of marriage the Guardians ordered that he pay 3/6 a week until the child was fourteen.