Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Flummery - A Recipe

Flummery was a mainstay of the Nineteenth Century Radnorians diet. It should not be confused with the arty-farty fruit puddings that masquerade under the name today. Here's a recipe provided by Alfred Wallace, the chap who came up with Darwin's theory of natural selection and who worked a good deal in Radnorshire:

"Another delicacy we first became acquainted with here was the true Welsh flummery, called here sucan blawd (steeped meal), in other places Llumruwd (sour sediment), whence our English word "flummery." It is formed of the husks of the oatmeal roughly sifted out, soaked in water till it becomes sour, then strained and boiled, when it forms a pale brown sub-gelatinous mass, usually eaten with abundance of new milk. It is a very delicious and very nourishing food, and frequently forms the supper in farmhouses. Most people get very fond of it, and there is no dish known to English cookery that is at all like it."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Miss Penn-Hughes

In the 50 years up to and including the First World War South Wales was the Persian Gulf of its day. Great fortunes were made in and around the coal, steel and tinplate industries of the valleys and it was hardly surprising when some of the heirs to this wealth decided to spend it on the racing tracks of 1930s Europe.

Welsh born toffs such as Charley Martin, Tim Rose-Richards, the Eccles brothers, Dudley Folland, Owen Saunders Davies, Clifford Penn-Hughes, as well as plausible rogues such as Donald Marendaz and Philip Turner were amongst the leading racers at Brooklands and beyond.

The pre-war period was also a time when women drivers often competed on equal terms with the men, Kay Petre and Gwenda Stewart for example were amongst the sixteen drivers who lapped Brooklands at more than 130mph. So surely there must have been plenty of Welsh born lasses amongst the fast ladies of the period. Well actually no ...... one I did find was 21 year old Elizabeth Penn-Hughes (don't worry that's her brother pictured) who co-drove Clifford's Frazer-Nash in the 1930 Double Twelve Hour race at Brooklands. A hairy moment later in the year at Shelsey Walsh seems to have ended her short-lived career behind the wheel.

Were there any more Welsh born girl racers on the pre-war tracks?

Welsh in Presteigne

How much Welsh was spoken in Presteigne in 1670, at the time of the Hearth Tax Return? Mr Howse thought that the language disappeared from the streets of the town soon after it became the administrative centre of the new county of Radnorshire in 1542. It is certainly the place in the county most likely to be anglicised. The town was close to historically English speaking parishes* and the 1670 return shows that more than half the population had English surnames. The English were particulary strong amongst the middle class:

Social Class based on Surnames and Hearths

Hearths% of total% Welsh% English
+ 5 Hearths5.55743
4-5 Hearths16.54357
2-3 Hearths19.73268
1 Hearth Charged13.44159
1 Hearth Uncharged44.95941
Total population


Mr Howse offers no evidence for his view and admits that sixteenth century wills from the town are "full of Welsh names, with their aps to the second and third generation back." Likewise the town's other historian Mr Parker notes that even in 1620 some 18% of Presteigne landowners were still using the patronymic system rather than surnames.

Even as late as 1675 there is a record of forty of "the poorest Welsh children" of the town being put to school to learn English. This would be around a third of the school age population and interestingly around a third of the town's population in the Hearth tax were poor and with Welsh surnames.

By 1800 the Welsh language was certainly gone from Presteigne, this would suggest that it finally disappeared from the lips of townsfolk during the first half of the eighteenth century, maybe 200 years after the demise accorded it by Mr Howse.

* Elsewhere along the border many parishes in England continued to be Welsh speaking long after the border between Wales and England was drawn in 1536, in Herefordshire south of the Wye for example or in the Oswestry district. The parishes east of Presteigne were nearly all English speaking and so Presteigne was truly a border town.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Book of the Month

I'm currently re-reading Keith Parker's Radnorshire Civil War book. It was originally published in 2000, by the excellent Logaston Press, but is still on sale in local bookshops.

This is a proper history book, lucidly written with a masterful command of primary sources. It essentially covers the period 1640 to 1660 - the dawn of the modern age as far as Radnorshire is concerned, with the bard Sion Cain's elegy for James Phillips of Llanddewi in 1633 perhaps marking the final death knell of the traditional society of the medieval period.

There is a great deal of interest here, the fact that 22% of Radnorians of military age were pressed into the King's service for example, although doubtless a good many had the sense to desert at the earliest opportunity. Mr Parker concedes the likelihood that Charles Price of Pilleth, the local MP and the major figure in Radnorshire military and political life of the day, was not killed in a duel on the streets of Presteigne. as previously believed. More likely he was killed in the ethnically inspired massacre following the surrender of Priors Hill Fort in Bristol in 1645. The troops slaughtered there were long thought to be Irish, although more recent research indicates they were Welsh, maybe some of the 400 Radnorshire men pressed into service at Bristol that summer.

No doubt most folk interested in Radnorshire history will have already have bought this book and be well acquainted with characters such as that local Boadicea, Lady Brilliana Harley and the roundhead colonel Howell Jones of Nantmel. Would that other periods of Radnorian history were as well served as this one.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Musical Interlude

Wonder if Phil would have been better off employing a decent barber rather than those expensive lawyers

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Nothing on the Telly

Much innocent fun to be had exploring Radnorian wills on the National Archives site.

Last example of a traditional patronym being used in a Radnorshire will seems to be James ap John of Llandeilo Graban in 1749 ...... last female patronym in a will is also from the same parish Anne vch Thomas in 1677.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Berwyn Baxter - Welshman?

Berwyn Baxter (1920-2005) was a secondline sportscar driver of the 1950s who made the occasional foray into open-wheel racing. A number of motor sport sites list Baxter as a Welshman, presumably because of his Welsh sounding forename and his close association with Kieft cars - Cyril Kieft, who was indeed Welsh - having sold the Kieft Sports Car Company to Baxter in 1954.

The fact is that Baxter was born in Kings Norton and his parents and grandparents were all from the Staffordshire/Warwickshire/Worcestershire area. That forename seems to be Baxter's only connection with Wales and using the same flawed logic, perhaps we should be claiming Lewis Hamilton as our first Welsh world champion, well the first since Alan Jones anyway.

Welsh in Llandrindod

In 1827 the correspondent of the monthly magazine Y Gwyliedydd left us an interesting description of the position of the Welsh language in and around Llandrindod - this was of course before the present-day spa town was inflicted on the county. Here's a translation of what he wrote:

"If it would be suitable for the writer to venture an opinion on a controversial topic which so many learned literary critics have long argued over, namely the districts where the purest and most beautiful Welsh is spoken, then I would say that Radnorshire can rightly take pride in its native tongue, one of the most splendid of the Welsh dialects. It appears that in this venerable dialect the peculiar elegances of Powys and the South are both encountered. On hearing the Welsh sayings of the Radnorshire elders in the neighbourhood of Llandrindod, the patriotic Welshman feels both enormous pleasure and sorrow. Pleasure because he is always happy to encounter the venerable, sparkling old language with some trace of its youthful beauty. But with sorrow when he thinks that English alone is spoken by the youth of this district, and after another generation passes there will be none of the natives who will understand the splendid language of their ancestors."

In a footnote the author asks readers to speculate as to the reason for the recent retreat of the language - he says it has retreated 20 miles in living memory. His own speculation is a lack of poets and literary figures.