Thursday, October 30, 2008

Musical Interlude

It's 1965 and Welsh girl Tawny Reed is pulling some Duffyesque dance moves to her cover of the Velvelettes' Needle in a Haystack.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Attack on the Police Station at Llanbadarn Fynydd

Although Victorian Radnorshire had a deserved reputation for being a district where common criminality was rare, at the same time the activities of the Rebeccaites saw the county being compared to the most rebellious parts of Ireland. Rebecca deliberately challenged the authority of the state with her open displays of law-breaking, her public ridicule of an impotent police force and her disdain for a court system that rarely brought any of her unruly children to book.

The month of November 1880 had seen large numbers of Rebeccaites openly taking salmon on the Wye, the Ithon and their tributaries. This activity culminated on the evening of December 6th 1880, when a blackened faced party of one hundred armed men took salmon from the Ithon in the North Radnorshire village of Llanbadarn Fynydd. The local police officer Frederick Cairns, a man with a reputation for brutality, was observing the activity from a distance when he heard a noise beside him. Swinging his torch he claimed to identify a local farmer William Davies, before being struck down with a spear that burst the policeman's nose and left him with a broken arm. Later in the evening, having left the river, the Rebeccaites launched a volley of stones and gunshots at the door and windows of Cairns' police station before disappearing into the night.

William Davies and another local man. John Williams, a farm servant at Llinwent, were brought to court in Penybont, but, as was so often the case in a county where sympathy for Rebecca and her daughters was so strong, both men were discharged.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Guinevere Came From Knucklas

Not having a television and with only sporadic reception available on my crystal ball, I haven't been able to watch the BBC's new Sunday series Merlin. I wonder how many Radnorians are aware that Gwenhwyfar, or Guinevere as our English neighbours call her, actually hailed from Cnwclas. Before anyone gets too excited I don't mean actress Angel Coulby (pictured) but Gwenhwyfar herself, King Arthur's queen.

This fact was well known to the bards and scholars of medieval Wales. Gwenhwyfar was the daughter of Cogfran Gawr of Caer Ochren - that's the hill which later became the site of Knucklas Castle. A fifteenth century local descent group even claimed this Cogfran as their founder, although they probably made it up.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Rebeccaism in Radnorshire

The anti-toll gate campaign of the 1840s was not the last Radnorshire saw of Rebecca and her daughters. Whenever the community felt a sense of injustice she seemed to reappear from the shadows, whether the concern were the game laws, the price of food or some other issue troubling the locality.

Rebeccaism flourished because Radnorians did not feel that they could get justice in the courts. The Rebeccaites openly challenged English law by breaking it in public and in such large numbers that the authorities could do nothing. They wore disguises so that individuals could not be prosecuted when the established order had been reasserted.

The photograph shows a party of Rebeccaites taking salmon on the Edw as late as December 1932. The fishery laws were a particular bone of contention in Radnorshire whose populace had long ago paid the English Crown for the right to fish and hunt in perpetuity, it was a bargain that the Crown had decided to forget. The picture was not grabbed by some intrepid photojournalist, it was posed deliberately and was later displayed in public and sent to the newspapers. It was an open challenge to the authority of the state, which infact failed to convict any of those involved.

It is a pity that the Assembly sponsored Gathering the Jewels website tries to diminish this political act with some half cocked story that attempts to portray these men as dim-wits.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lead Kindly Light

Good heavens, Powys County Council's decision to switch off some of its plethora of street lights has caused a furore. Never mind that the lights did very little to prevent the regular smashing of shop windows in our main streets, suddenly the citizenry - or at least some of them - are exercised by the prospects of vandalism. According to correspondents to the local papers, potential rapists now lurk around every corner and old aged pensioners have been forced to go out and buy torches.

Faced with such a cacophony of complaint our councillors are rapidly backtracking and blaming everything on their luckless officials, although hopefully a few thousand pounds of taxpayers money will have been saved before common sense finally throws in the towel. My favourite comment comes from Council Chairperson Margaret Morris who complained that the village of Boughrood had been left without a single light. "On Saturday night when people were leaving the pub they were almost falling into the River Wye", the councillor reported. Well yes, no doubt they were.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Book of the Month

Ruth Bidgood's Parishes of the Buzzard was originally published in 2000, although I'm told that the book has recently been reprinted. Ostensibly a history of the two Abergwesyn parishes, in many ways it is a history of a much wider swathe of Builth Hundred.

The book is an example of the very best kind of local history, wide ranging, well-written and full of fascinating detail and insights into life in this, nowadays, remote part of Mid Wales. There is much in this book to hold the reader, I was particularly taken with the contrast between the village schoolmistress Esther Morgan - stoically teaching her Welsh speaking pupils God Save the Queen and the virtues of English nationalism - and a later supply teacher, the brusque but patriotic Annie James.

The appointment of Owen M Edwards as Chief Inspector of Schools for Wales in 1907 led to a far more sympathetic attitude to the use of Welsh in the classroom. It is no surprise to find Miss Bidgood recording an HMI's report of 1911 critical of Miss Morgan's exclusion of the language. Edwards himself visited the school and complimented Miss Morgan on having kept up her own knowledge of Welsh. A quick search of the on-line records shows Miss Morgan being born in 1856 in Llanddetty in the east of Breconshire and having taught for many years in West Bromwich. The change in culture from one that wanted the Welsh language Englished out of Wales must have been difficult for the head teacher.

At £10 this book is a bargain and should be snapped up by everyone interested in the history of Mid Wales.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Dark Ages

When in the 1440s the folk of Bugeildy saw the newly built Bryndraenog, they asked Ai lleuad yw ai lliw dydd? - Is it the moon or the light of day? At least that's what the bard Ieuan ap Hywel Swrdwal reported, for the light that shone through it's new fangled windows brought: Golau dydd, mae'n glod iddi, i'w gweled nos i'n gwlad ni - Daylight, praise to it, seen at night in our land. Of course that was then. Today the good Radnorians are up in arms about Powys County Council's street light switch-off and the subsequent return to the dark ages.

According to Mr Howse gas street lights arrived in Knighton in 1852 with Presteigne following in 1859, while electricity came to Llandrindod in 1897. So the irate ratepayers do have a point. If the provision of street lighting was possible in the century before last, well ...... oh and of course the County Council's first reaction to any financial shortfall is cut services, rather than cut senior staff.

At the same time the Radnorian blog supports this return to the dark. The urbanisation of our county has surely gone too far and the return of so many stars to our night sky is to be welcomed. No doubt a little common sense could have been displayed as to which lights were switched off, but the principle is right. As to the pensioners complaining that they've had to buy a torch, is that such a hardship? The question of anti-social behaviour is more serious, but surely this is one that our police and courts should be addressing robustly and as a matter of urgency rather than relying on a few lights.