Friday, June 27, 2008

Freddie Dixon

This biography of pre-war racer Freddie Dixon is due to be published by Haynes next month. I wonder if there is any chance of a few more such books, concerning the interesting characters who circulated around the tracks in the happy days BBCE, seeing the light of day.

It's surprising how little is really known about these old timers. Even the country's leading motor-sport historian was under the impression that Dixon's 1935 prison sentence followed a fatal accident whilst he was racing Luis Fontes on the public highway.

Infact Freddie was sentenced to three months imprisonment for dangerous and reckless driving on 4th October 1935, in Middlesborough. The incident in which Luis Fontes, a Manchester born ace of Brazilian extraction, killed a motor cyclist, and for which he was subsequently sentenced to three years imprisonment, occurred on 6th October 1935 in Coleshill, Warwickshire. The close proximity of the dates must have led to the subsequent confusion.

Motor Sport history has been dominated to an extent by the rivet counters, after all many of the cars still exist and historic authentication, leading to sales, is big business. Driver biographies haven't usually strayed very far from the race-track. They've also tended towards the hagiographic, with everyone being a bloody good chap. It will be interesting to see where this new biography of Dixon stands.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

When Radnor Showed The Way

Here's an interesting letter from the April 1969 edition of Motor Sport. Wonder how much petrol you'd get for a shilling today? About three tablespoons worth if you're lucky!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Y Ffasiynau Diweddaraf

At the beginning of the last century this Llandrindod business found it worthwhile to advertize its products in the Welsh language.

This would have been aimed not just at Welsh speaking visitors to the town, but also at the large market opened up in West Wales via the railway.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

More fun than a barrel-load of monkeys!

It seems that the new James Bond film Quantum of Solace (eh?) is going to include a car-chase around Italy's Lake Garda. Old time racing fans will perhaps remember that the lakeside circuit used to host races of the real, rather than the celluloid, variety.

Following the career ending Stirling Moss crash at Goodwood in 1962, Radnorshire based Innes Ireland picked up a number of the great man's scheduled drives. One of these was to compete in that year's Circuito del Garda, driving a works 1 litre Fiat-Abarth. The race saw Innes brushing aside the challenge of team-mate Ludovico Scarfiotti and with victory in the bag the two tiny Abarths cruised in convoy toward the chequered flag as team-orders demanded. A couple of miles from home Scarfiotti saw a chance of some hometown glory and scooted past the surprised Scotsman, hanging-on for a Pironi style victory. No doubt the film will see plenty of similar skulduggery!

Innes was placated somewhat by the cheers of the crowd, who thought he had made a magnanimous gesture to the Italian driver. His opinion of the Abarth provides the title for the post.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bryn Pennardd

This is a picture of Penarth Mount in the parish of Cregrina, there's a good aerial photograph here. Like most such sites it's classified as a motte and bailey castle, even when, as here, there is no bailey.

To me it seems just as likely to have been the site of Bryn Pennardd, the home of two of Lewis Glyn Cothi's patrons Bedo Chwith and Gwenllian vz Gwilym. It certainly fits the description of the place in Glyn Cothi's poetry.

Welsh history has been seen too much in terms of the Roman, the Norman and English invaders, perhaps there needs to be a reconsideration of such sites from a more native perspective.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Booze in Fifteenth Century Radnorshire

The feast was symbolic of the bardic world view. The man of power, the foundation stone of the civilised society, gives food and drink to his followers, and they repay his generosity with loyalty. Traditionally this drink was mead, and Lewis Glyn Cothi's poetry shows that this was still being drunk in Fifteenth Century Radnorshire. It is interesting to look at those men who served mead; Phelpod ap Rhys of Brilley was a cyfarwydd - a storyteller, Dafydd ap Rhys of New Radnor owned the Book of Taliesin and was able to discuss its archaic language. Ieuan ap Llywelyn Fychan of Llanfihangel Nant Melan enjoyed reading the tenth century poem Armes Prydain. These men were intellectuals, did Lewis trim his language to suit them, or were they traditionalists in terms of drink as well as literary taste?

The favoured drink of most of Lewis Glyn Cothi's poorer local patrons was ale, especially that produced in the nearby English towns of Ludlow and Weobley. Weobley, the more widely drunk of the two, must have been dark in colour as Lewis describes two dark milk cows, requested as a gift from two ladies of Aberedw, as being darker than the Weobley ale.

While ale and mead were native drinks, wine had to be imported. A common practice was for a local nobleman to buy a shipload of wine direct from the Continent, keeping some for his own consumption and selling the rest from a gwindy or winehouse. Lewis Glyn Cothi was born in the north Carmarthenshire parish of Caio. In the 1390s, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd of that parish was importing 16 tuns of wine per annum from Bordeaux through the port of Carmarthen, 55 bottles for every day of the year!

Less wine may have been drunk in Radnorshire than in some other parts of Wales, probably because of the distance from the sea. Thomas ap Rhys of Llangynllo is described as sending a wagon to Weobley to bring back barrels of ale. He also served bragget - a mixture of beer and honey and an unnamed spirit. His wine was Y Gien - either from the town of Gien on the Loire or Guyenne, the Bordeaux region. Morgan ap Hywel of Llanbister seems to have been an importer of wine. He bought Gwin Borgwin - Burgendy wine, which is dispensed from tunellau and pibau. A tun was a barrel containing 252 gallons, a pipe contained 105 gallons. Sioned vz Rhys of New Radnor had been given orange and claret since birth, she and her husband drank dwsed - doucet, a sweet wine. In Cefnllys Ieuan ap Philip served wine from the pipe and Gwin o Roeg ynys - a wine from a Greek island.

Lewis Glyn Cothi's poetry is full of the names of the wines his patrons served from France, Italy and Spain and even individual villages in France are singled out such as Sant Miliwn - St Emilion. All this goes to show that Fifteenth Century Wales and the districts that later became Radnorshire were far from being rural backwaters - they were part and parcel of a Europe wide economic and cultural order. A bard like Glyn Cothi, visiting the home of Rhys ap Phelpod and his wife Mallt in Llansantffraid yn Elfael, was charged with caring for his patrons mazer-cup, kissing the rim of the sparkling glass six hundred times during the feast. Nice work if you could get it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Pound in Your Pocket

Currently for sale on ebay is this £1 note issued by the Rhayader Bank in 1811, starting price is £43.

I can think of one or two Bwgeyites who probably still have a few of these in their wallets waiting to see the light of day.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Rural Housing

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation report into the housing scandal in Rural Wales should come as no surprise to anyone. What is disappointing are the half-hearted recommendations for addressing the crisis.

The public sector needs a revision of the points system to give priority to local working families. In the private sector a two-tier market should be created by ensuring that a substantial percentage of new builds can only be sold and subsequently sold-on to locally educated young people.

Our Friends From the North

Here's an interesting image from John Speed's General Description and Severall Divisions of the Principality of Wales published 1n 1676.

As you can see Gwarthrynion, by which Speed means that part of Radnorshire west of the Ithon and consisting in the main of the parishes of Nantmel, Llanyre, Rhayader and St Harmon, was considered to be a part of the cantref of Arwystli. Arwystli was one of the three cantrefs of Meirionydd, which itself was part of Gwynedd.

Now I don't want to upset any of our good friends raised along the banks of the Bwgey but doesn't this mean that Rhayader folk are actually Gogs?