Thursday, March 27, 2008

Book of the Month

Well this certainly isn't going to trouble the bestsellers list but on a number of counts it qualifies as my Book of the Month.

Firstly it's published, and very elegantly published, by Y Lolfa. The Ceredigion firm have been proving for decades that you can survive without the government handouts that so emasculate much of the Welsh publishing world. Oh and it is actually printed in Wales unlike many of the books published with tax payers money. Moving on we find that the author E A Rees is a professor of East European history in Florence, it's interesting how some of the most exciting works on Welsh history are being written by authors from outside the University of Wales.

The book itself is an attempt to write a biography of the fifteenth century bard and soldier Guto'r Glyn, based on the poet's own work and that of his contemporaries. As more and more bardic poetry is published in accessible editions and as the works of that amateur genealogist, Peter Bartram, makes sense of the family connections of the numerous aps and ferchs, we are surely going to see more books that use this astonishing source material to illuminate the past. The book is surely a harbinger of things to come. How fortunate Radnorshire is to have a wealth of such bardic material just waiting to be exploited by the historians of the future.

Does the book succeed as biography? I think it does. It may lack the fluidity of a modern work but the use of incisive poetry means that we get a far better insight into the character of Guto, his contemporaries and the society in which they lived, than would be available from the dry civil records available to traditional historians of the period. Having read Professor Rees's previous book about Welsh Rebels and Outlaws, I was pleased to see that this time he has opted for a comprehensive index to his work.

A reviewer is surely allowed to point out one mistake. The author says that no trace of the work of the bard Ieuan Gyfanedd survived but infact one poem did come down to us, a praise poem to Philip ap Rhys of St Harmon, I've attempted a translation here. Doubtless Rees was confused by the Dictionary of Welsh Biography's consigning of this poet to the wrong century! Professor Rees also deprives us of one of our local bards, Sion ap Phelpod of Brilley. He argues convincingly that Sion's poem to Hywel Dafi was infact written by Guto.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sir Charles Edwards, A Radnorian Chief Whip

The Ancestry sites seem to be in dispute with the banks over direct debits, all of which means that I can't use them at the moment. This is all a bit frustrating, although something of a money saver. Take Sir Charles Edwards for example, who knew that this Chief Whip and long-serving MP for Bedwellty was born and raised in the Radnorshire parish of Llangynllo. It would be interesting to check out his background in the various censuses, so if anyone does have an Ancestry account and wants to look him up, please post your findings in the comments here.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Radnorshire Bardic Poems, 45

Tomas ap Rhosier Fychan of Hergest was killed at the Battle of Banbury in 1469, this translation of an elegy by Lewis Glyn Cothi confirms how his wife Elen Gethin brought his body back home from the battlefield, the couples' tomb can still be seen in Kington parish church. The illustration shows Lewis Glyn Cothi's drawing of Tomas ap Rhosier's coat of arms, he belonged to the Wye valley tribe of Drymbenog, originating it seems from Cwrt Llechryd in the Radnorshire parish of Llanelwedd.

No. 124,
Elegy for Tomas ap Rhosier Fychan of Hergest

The most powerful field in Christendom,
And through defection it was lost;
In Banbury vengeance was taken
Upon fair Wales, a heavy payment.
There, were heard in a single hour
The cries of battle between great spearmen:
Some "Herbert!" some "Our Edward!"
"The Earl of Warwick!" others "Harry!"
Under the banner of the lord of Herast
There was slashing and bruising and grappling;
Tomas between the two maddened ranks,
The son of Rhosier with the bruising spear,
An Arthur in his breastplate,
Killed before the host of Camlan,
And he, himself, and not lightly,
With both hands avenged them.
Tomas was killed like Jesus,
He was killed when at the head of his host.
Tomas, in his white breastplate,
More than repaid the enemy.
If he were fighting fist to fist with
The three most singularly privileged in Banbury,
He did what nine might do,
After the charge, in the hand to hand,
He was not had, where the others were killed
In single combat with a man and another,
And if he were, where there were two
In single combat, he had the best of it.

Loud the battle with our enemy
In cruel Banbury, atop a hill,
Two men went, neither was spared,
An earl of Gwent, another of Kington.
The grandson of Moreiddig
Had many virtues and few vices,
He never allowed, in his manor
Through his exertions, any great tax,
Mostly they were avoided,
And all of them were shared in wine.
A wonder for the books of knowledge,
No-one lives who blames him.

Elen Gethin has been weeping
Drips of dew in drops of rain,
And after the brave weeping
She brought the dead one back,
She has made this feast
In Herast for his funeral.
Afterwards there shall awaken,
Three like St George or St Derfel.
Three with the skill to avenge her,
The true God will give me payment.
Master Watcyn, son of a sweet shoot,
Master Rhisiart and Master Rhosier.
The intention of the threes sons of Constantine
to be strong and to topple oppression,
These now will avenge their father
Upon England before sleep enters the eye,
And they before summer ends
Will share a field taken form the strongest,
Upon two new days, as one,
That Mary's son may grant them.
In the spot where he was killed
God will joust for Tomas.
The image of Mary will avenge him,
God, too, may take vengeance.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Forgotten War

The Sixties are supposed to have been a time of khaftans and flower power, but in Radnorshire the whiff of high explosives impacted more on the senses than cannabis.

Nowadays the bombing campaign against the Elan Valley pipeline has been largely forgotten or dismissed as part of the comic-book saga of the Free Wales Army. In reality it was a serious business, as this photograph of the results of an attack at West Hagley in 1968 shows. This after all was the main water supply to England's second city and followed less successful bombings within Radnorshire itself, at Nantmel and Crossgates.

Reading through old newspaper reports it comes as something of a surprise to discover that two convicted Welsh bombers were suspected of having learnt how to assembly their devices at a farm in Llandegle. Was Llandegle really such a hot bed of physical force nationalism, or was this an example of the activities of that familiar figure on the Sixties scene, the agent provocateur?


An earlier threat to the pipeline came during the IRA's futile mainland campaign of 1939. In January of that year the Birmingham Evening Dispatch received the following message from the bombers:

"WARNING: London, Manchester and Liverpool; Battersea, Rhyadder and Coventry are next, and there will be no mistakes next time."

Over 300 explosions occurred during the campaign but thankfully the Bwgyites remained untouched, perhaps the IRA's inability to spell the name of the town meant they failed to find it on the map.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Are They Mad?

According to the Guardian, Llandrindod Wells was recently named the best place to party in the whole of Britain. OK I know you don't believe me but here's the link. That must rate right-up alongside Llanwrtyd's bog-snorkelling championship being voted in the ten best events in the world. Any chance of Rhayader being the next European Capital of Culture?

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Radnorshire Bardic Poems, 44

This is a translation of a run of the mill praise poem by Lewis Glyn Cothi addressed to Bedo Chwith and his wife Gwenllian vz Gwilym of Bryn Pennardd, Cregrina. Bedo belonged to that sub-clan of the tribe of Rhys ap Tewdwr descended from Meilyr O Ddiserth. The poem was probably composed for a feast to celebrate David, the patron saint of Cregrina, it exhibits the usual bardic obsession with bonedd (descent) and the obligations (perchentyaeth) that this placed on the chieftain towards the wider community.

No 151, Praise of Bedo Chwith and Gwenllian vz Gwilym

The stag like Ifor Hael,
A great spending in Elfael,
Oh my, is Bedo Chwith
Not the shoot of the wheat?
He is one growth with Dafydd,
He'll be one mettle with Hywel,
One foundation, one body with Meilyr,
One look, one height, one long spear,
One dart with Ricart and Rhys,
One face throughout the fair island.

He has, as he pours mead,
Two names, they are not the same,
By Mary, he is Maredudd,
But he's Bedo to the world.
John the Baptist had
Two names for a single man:
He was John and Ioannes,
Names for a host that he benefited
A famous man lives in Cregrina,
And there he bears two good names.

Bedo it is who labours my hand,
A long life to him,
On it is placed from one share,
Three ploughs of silver,
And behind them the men sow,
A swarm of golden seed.
Golden reals were sown,
On the chosen men of fair Arthur.
The bright gold of Cologne,
Was given to Holy Mary.
Many men have placed fine gold
Upon the great image of Dublin;
And it is an honour for a poet
To be gilded by some man.
The grandson of Meilyr, with yellow gold,
Has gilded the fists of many folk.
His gift of gold from his right hand,
Gilded me at the feast of Dewi.
Gwenllian, on Dewi's feast night,
Gives food to the world, she shares
Tomorrow, the day after, the day after that,
Three days hence, more and more shalll come.
The hand of Gwilym ap Llywelyn,
Who was her father, did the same;
The hand of the girl from Malläen
Grinds out gold in fair Elafel.
The same girl who shares the mead
Is of an exalted line from Gwynedd;
Sir Gruffydd Llwyd was the lion,
Truly he was gilded;
Truly she with the great bearing
Of his hand, signals the feast.

She and Bedo, throughout the world,
Have been one word for some time.
Bedo and she are generous,
They are not enfeebled by meanness.
He has had a good share of wealth,
She is good, He is wise,
For him, good, for her two lives,
An age for her, a lifetime for him,
May sickness never visit her,
Let age come to his brow.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Holidays From Hell

Even in the pre-digital age bad publicity travelled fast, as this cutting from an 1873 New Zealand newspaper shows.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Nothing in the Papers

With more and more newspaper archives being digitalised, a few happy minutes can be passed searching out long-forgotten stories from Radnorshire's past.

Who, except perhaps in Ireland, now remembers this once prominent politician and his pride in his Llanbister forebears.

Has there ever been a more newsworthy road traffic accident on a Radnorshire road than that which occurred on August 8th 1906 when the Bishop of London's car was in collision with that of Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught.

Finally, does anyone still recall the heroic cycle ride of Miss Constance Clifton-Mogg of Brynwern Hall, through the great storm of 4th May 1904 - and yes they did have storms in pre-global warming days. Hearing an unusual noise, and with the aid of field glasses, Miss Mogg saw that the Builth-Newbridge railway line had been been swept away by a landslip. Mounting her bicycle Constance rode through the tempest and arrived at Newbridge station just as the Builth train was about to leave. A disaster was averted and the grateful directors of the Cambrian Railway presented the gallant lady with a silver tray. A Lady's Promptitude, the headline in the paper declared. Promptitude, now there's a word you're unlikely to read on the front page of the Daily Bugle any time soon.

An Early Sporting Motorist from Mid Wales

We mentioned Maud Manville a few posts below, but another Welsh competitor who competed on the Continent in the 1906 six day Herkomer Cup was Captain David Hughes Morgan of Talgarth in Breconshire. Hughes Morgan seems to have been a prominent pioneer in the early days of Welsh motor sport, you can check out a couple of his hillclimbing successes here. In 1907 he was competing against S F Edge in Cardiff Motor Club's first Caerphilly hillclimb event and in 1909 his Humber was leading the way in the Pendine beach races.

Does anyone know if Hughes Morgan later found fame as Sir David Hughes Morgan, publisher of the Western Mail and Echo? Although, unfortunately, not enough fame to find a place in the chapel obsessed pages of the Dictionary of Welsh Biography.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Trials and Tribulations of a Blogger

There's no point in regurgitating stuff that's readily available elsewhere on the web, which is why I try to go back to original sources in order to find fresh information for the posts on this blog.

Take Esme Stewart for example, there was a brief reference in Boddy's Brooklands book but otherwise nothing at all, even on the forums which occasionally interest themselves in motor sport's dim and distant past.

Esme's claim to fame was that in 1910 she attempted to break Felice Nazarro's 1908 Brooklands lap of 121.64 mph driving the same car in which he set the record, the frightening 18 litre Fiat Mephistopholes (see photo). Esme failed, but, hey, can you imagine driving such a beast at over 100 mph on the bumpy Brooklands banking?

Anyway reference to various online public records and newspaper archives soon identified that she was born in Scotland in 1887 and that she later married car manufacturer Noel Macklin, father of the similarly named 1950s racer and Stirling Moss team-mate. It turned out that Esme divorced Mr Macklin and that young Noel was the product of a second marriage.

How frustrating then to discover a copy of the November 1994 edition of The Automobile advertised on Ebay promising an in-depth article on Miss Stewart. There it was, my original research and "discovery" turned out to be common knowledge, although knowledge that hadn't, at the time, made it on to the internet.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Bardic Sign Language

There's plenty of evidence to show that the old Welsh bards had a sign language. No doubt this was useful in communicating information in the crowded great halls and taverns the bards frequented, it would have fitted in well with the esoteric nature of much of bardic learning.

Sion Ceri, the sixteenth century bard who operated a good deal in and around Radnorshire, has a poem in which he describes this bardic sign language. Rather than finger signing it is mainly based on touching various parts of the face and upper body. Here are a few examples:

A - thumb up, C - cheek, E - the eye, F - the wrist, FF - two fingers on the wrist, O - forehead T - the nose, Y - the elbow