Saturday, September 13, 2014

Radnorshire, some Scottish connections

Britishness died with the British Empire and the vote in Scotland is more about sorting out the estate of a recently departed and somewhat unloved relative.  While we await the long-delayed funeral arrangements of this increasingly putrid corpse, let's spare a thought for some of Radnorshire's Scottish connections.

When the racing driver Innes Ireland moved to Downton House near New Radnor in 1960 he claimed that it was the nearest place to London that reminded him of the Scottish Highlands and perhaps that has been the motivation for other Scots who made Radnorshire their home.  Despite his Caledonian baronetage there was precious little Scottish about a previous occupant of Downton, Sir William Cockburn of that Ilk.  Cockburn helpfully informed the authors of the Blue Books that "New Radnor was planted as a Saxon colony by Harold, after his victory here over the Britons, two years before his death at Hastings. This people have never since had any sympathies with the Welsh in language, nor many in habits." Hogwash of course but given the prejudices of the time perhaps he thought he was doing his neighbours a favour.  The current occupant of Downton, Sir Andrew Duff Gordon, might well be the last of the Lewises of Harpton, a family that once patronised the bards but which long ago declined into Britishness.

The most famous Scot to find a home in Radnorshire was, of course, James Watt - so famous that he graces the £50 note.  In 1801 he purchased Doldowlod, then a local farmhouse, to enjoy as his summer retreat. We cannot blame the elder Watt for the enmity his family subsequently engendered by their attempts to extract rent from the occupants of the tai un nos on their recently purchased crown manors.  It all led to a court case that had to be retried in Hereford, the local jury having "perversely" found in favour of the squatters.  A minor land war ensued with bailiffs battling the populace and the destruction of the Watt's property by Rebeccaite gangs.

Who knew that Walter Scott's novel The Betrothed had a Radnorshire setting.  It was based on the story of Moll Walbee and the disastrous Welsh attempt to lay siege to Painscastle in 1198.  Don't all rush out to get a copy though, it's been described as a work that "would score high marks in a competition to decide which was the dreariest and stupidest book ever produced by a writer of genius."

A few years ago Hugh Trevor-Roper wrote a tome called the Invention of Scotland, one of those "look what I've discovered works" that excite the metropolitan elites.  Much of what passed for a Scottish identity, the author claimed - including the Osian poems - was made-up. Of course Roper discovered nothing that wasn't well-know to anyone with even a cursory interest in Scotland.  The poems having long ago been exposed, not least by Radnorshire's Edward Davies (1756-1831) - he was born at Hendre Einion in Llanfaredd parish. You can read his book, published in 1825, demolishing the Ossian forgery here.

Scottish bailiffs and gamekeepers could always find employment with local landowners suspicious of devolving responsibility to the untrustworthy locals.  Julian Fellowes of Downton Abbey fame - beloved by arch-snobs everywhere - is descended from one such bailiff called Mackintosh employed by Lord Ormathwaite.  The bailiff's daughter, Fellowes' grandmother, regailed the youngster with tales of life at Penybont Hall where she worked as a maid.  Perhaps Radnorshire should claim a share of the export earnings?

Scottish shepherds also found employment on the Radnorshire hills, one such family by the name of Scott arrived in Cwmteuddwr in the early 1800s from Roxburghshire.  Look at a list of the last Radnorshire natives clinging on to a knowledge of Welsh well into the 20C and the surname Scott is one of the most striking.

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