Monday, November 29, 2010

Where Did You Get That Hat?

Innes Ireland's last two World Championship outings in 1966 were in privateer Bernard White's clapped out BRM P261. BRM seem to have been in the habit of selling on old bangers, talented faux Welshman Jack Lewis ran out of enthusiasm for the sport after he acquired one of the Owen Organisation's sell-ons.

Anyway Innes qualified 17th out of 19 starters in that year's US and Mexican races, both times having to retire with mechanical problems. A career that had promised so much certainly ended with a whimper.

Ages ago, on what was then the premier racing history forum on the net, I asked the question "Bernard White who he?" No-one really knew that much about him, which is rather typical of a scene where the history of cars takes precedence over people. There's gold in them thar cars after all. Well nearly eight years after posing the question my forum query was answered, Bernard was the brother of financial buccaneer Gordon White, the brains behind Hanson PLC.

One day we might get an answer to one or two other puzzlers. Was the first Yank to compete in F1, Robert O'Brien, actually a CIA operative? Did the Vicomtesse de Walchiers really exist or was her team a CIA front? Here we're harking back to the early 50s so I doubt anything is going to turn up on Wikileaks.

Anyway that's a rather chunky Innes with Bernard White, pictured at the 1966 Mexican Grand Prix. Hopefully Ireland was wearing the hat as a joke. A few months later and he would finally move out of Downton to leave New Radnor in peace. Any Ffransis Paine fans who have read this far may be interested to learn that Innes (or at least Innis) gets a couple of passing mentions in Crwydro Sir Faesyfed. I wonder if his name has been spelt correctly in the recent translation?

Friday, November 19, 2010

It's Our History

When I was a kid I don't think Radnorshire had a history at all. I guess someone must have been vaguely aware of one, since we pupils at the local high school wore a blue and yellow uniform, the colours of the Norman claimants to the county - the Mortimers. Come to think of it the school badge was the Mortimer coat of arms as well. A bit of a strange choice really.

Radnorshire didn't have a culture either, it's literary figures were all outsiders - Shelley's brief sojourn at Nantgwyllt, Wordsworth's distant connection with Hindwell. A few years later and Powys County Council was pushing the line that Radnorshire wasn't even Radnorshire, it was Kilvert Country.

Perhaps most insulting of all, Radnorshire in the eyes of many Welsh people from outside the county wasn't even Welsh. In the words of Iorwerth Peate we were: "a deracine people, a people fallen between two stools, a community of half-things." Nice.

Anyway that's the background from which I approach the recent Elystan Glodrydd jamboree in Llanbister. Reader Rob reproaches me for posting a link to that event, "please return to posting about the real Radnorshire of poaching, tai unnos and Rebecca, and ignore this sentimental crap." And of course what he says is true: toffs celebrating some remote link with a man who might never even have existed, God Bless the Prince of Wales toasts etc. But it's not the whole truth as the day seemingly also saw Dai Hawkins flogging copies of his translation of Ffransis Paine's Crwydro Sir Faesyfed and John Davies explaining that the Abbey at Cwmhir was founded by our local princes not the Mortimers. It's bound to have raised awareness of some actual history.

Since I was in school Radnorshire has certainly begun to rediscovered its own history and culture, a history and culture that is part and parcel of mainstream Wales. Our history doesn't have to be the sole possession of any foreign establishment, hyphenated or otherwise.

A Rebeccaite Attack

The Rebeccaite attack in the Claerwen valley on September 10th 1868 is retold in two must-have books, see here and here. At the same time we can add a few more facts with the help of a report in the newspaper Baner ac Amserau Cymru and the census returns.

The Nanteos estate had built a shepherd's cottage on Esgair-garthen in Llanwrthwl parish with the purpose, in part at least, of harassing the stock of local farmers who traditionally grazed sheep and cattle on the open mountain thereabouts. Perhaps the shepherd took his duties a little too seriously, for his home was soon subject to a visit by 15 or so Rebeccaites with blackened faces. As chance would have it the shepherd was away and the house was occupied by his wife, baby son and ten year-old sister-in-law. The family's furniture and clothing were taken out and the house demolished and burnt along with it's stacks of peat and hay. Ms Bidgood reports that the china was put on the dung heap, which seems a mean thing, although in reality it was probably the safest place for them.

Seven of the attackers later appeared in Builth magistrates' court and it is interesting to note that the five easily identifiable individuals all originated from Radnorshire - William Palfrey and his son John from Dyffryn, Llanwrthwl were a Nantmel family, while John Lewis of Dolifor and Thomas Hughes of Cefn were born in Cwmteuddwr. John Scott of Ciloerwynt was also a Cwmteuddwr man. Two others cannot be identified with certainty although David Davies, a servant at Cefn, was most likely a Radnorian while Thomas Jones, a carpenter, was probably a Cardi.

No doubt for the shepherd's family this was as terrifying an experience as for those legally evicted from their homes on the commons. The Esgair-garthen action was part of an on-going very low level insurgency against those members of the ruling class who were seen as over-stepping the mark. To a degree it was a threat that kept the majority of landlords a tad more honest.

The prosecutor in the Builth court complained about the "Irish" character of the attack and like most of the cases where Rebeccaites were brought before the bench, there were no convictions for lack of evidence.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

When We Were Kings

As Radnorians recover from the devastating news that Kate Middleton appears to have NO Radnorshire connections, readers can at least console themselves with this report on the recent Elystan Glodrydd celebration in Llanbister. See here.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Spot the Radnorian

Who is that seated behind charismatic President Herman van Rompuy on the European gravy train in today's Daily Mail? Why none other than Radnorshire MEP John Bufton. It's a puzzle as to why the Mail should shine the spotlight on the blameless Mr Bufton. I guess because their reporter spotted him signing the attendance register at 8am one Friday morning. Critics claim that this practice, which allows MEPs to pick up a £260 allowance, is a bit sharp as the MEPs then scoot off home without using the money for the purpose of subsidising an extra night in Brussels. But as Mr Bufton rightly points out, "That's our system."

Of course UKIP have been a bit unlucky, with a couple of their MEPs ending up in the slammer and, yes, their factions do seem to spend a good deal of time trading accusations of financial impropriety, but is that any excuse for the Mail to poke fun at one of the party's honest representatives?

No doubt UKIP will be ranting on about the cost of the Welsh Assembly during next year's votes. One might have a little respect for them if they refused to attend the European Parliament. It would save the taxpayer a fair sum and remove the temptation of these ardent Europhobes becoming part of "the system."

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Late Town Extra

The news that Llandod mayor Gary Price has joined Plaid Cymru roused the town's dormant blogger David Peter from his well-deserved slumber to aim a little dig at Plaid's "xenophobia."

Ex-Councillor Peter (Lib Dem) is also amazed that the BBC's Mid Wales site should find the item "remotely newsworthy". A bit of a puzzle this, as it was obviously newsworthy enough to get Mr Full Pelt blogging again.

Anyway good luck to the industrious Mr Price. He might like to pick up ex-MP Lembit Opik's recently published book (pictured) as a reminder that some Lib Dems, at least, have a sense of their own absurdity.

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Men of Elfael

In Brut y Tywysogion under the year 1252 there is an entry that Elfael - and if you don't know that the cantref of Elfael covered what later became the southern half of Radnorshire, then you should do - was despoiled because the men of Elfael had illegally used the pastures, and here there's some confusion, of either Maelienydd or Elenydd. A couple of centuries or more later and the bard Lewis Glyn Cothi was requesting the gift of a stallion from the men of Elfael.

So who were these men of Elfael? It seems to me that they must have constituted a legal body. If individuals in Elfael had illegally grazed animals on a neighbouring cantref then surely they would have been despoiled rather than a group punishment being imposed. A group punishment suggests a group transgression. Likewise Lewis Glyn Cothi requested gifts from plenty of named individuals in poems where he praises their bloodline. In the poem below he requests a gift from a group and praises their country. He also expects the gift to come from a pound, an institution that would have had to be administered, presumably, by these men of Elfael.

Anyway it makes sense that the men of Elfael constituted some kind of proto-democratic body, along the lines of a Swiss canton perhaps. It is probably the natural organic system of local government that suits Wales. Of course now we're blessed with Powys County Council.

Request For a Stallion from the Men of Elfael by Lewis Glyn Cothi

Blessed God, ‘til my last day,
To the generous land that chases a stag.
Once, long ago, I was young and cheerful,
That was then, today I’m old,
And with age comes bad temper,
I’m an unwelcome pedestrian.

Although I’ve had the gold of the fair lands of Elfael,
Now I desire something more.
I desire a stallion,
One with a coat as black as charcoal.
From the manor to the van, I’m not interested
In some wild-tempered bay,
A slim lion is what I desire,
A strong giant or a rounded stag,
As fair as that great stallion, his sire,
As tame towards me as a sheep.
Today it’s easy work to find him
In the pound of the two Elfaels;
And then like swan feathers,
A smooth saddle to cover the horse,
And a short bit in his nostril
To stop him from jumping.
I am as gentle as a swan,
My stallion is gentle on my backside.
Up top, my saddle is smooth,
Like the van, I’m bald.

The two best lands in all the world,
The cultivated lands of Elfael,
Idnerth Hir and Elystan turned them
Into a land of fields,
And then, full of riches,
They were Einion Clud’s yard.
Elfael has never lent her shoulder,
Like so many lands, to an English tune.
Elfael is greater than a thousand myriad,
More than the fair of Man and her roads.
Troy was broader than Greece,
Wide in one fair whorl,
Yet the Greeks and their turmoil
Broke through the walls of Troy;
The men of Elfael also go
Through the wide lands of the earth.

If there is a musician without
A share of silver or mead,
Let him drop his prices, let him search the Wye
For silver, as far as Clyro;
From Clyro, calling for strength
In his heels, back to Diserth;
From Diserth, and being honoured,
Let him come to the land of Aberedw.
In strength he will have cattle,
In minted gold, in kind words,
In corn, on the banks of the Edw,
In great stallions, in greater happiness.

Over Elfael, the Cross of Tyfaelog,
And the Virgin, and the Cross and the Holy Rood,
Let Dwynwen extend her cross
Over the land of Mael, over fair Elfael,
God’s will be done, below the land of Mael,
And Sulfedd bless Elfael!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Gone Tomorrow

When I started wilfing around the internet nine or ten years ago one of the few web resources for language shift in Wales and also the English counties of Herefordshire and Shropshire was a site called Gwefan Catalunya-Cymru, indeed it seems to have been on-line since 1995. As far as I can tell the tri-lingual site - Catalan, Welsh and English - has now disappeared except for the odd page and what has been preserved in Google cache.

From what remains of the site here's a letter writer to the journal Seren Gomer in 1845, describing a snippet of conversation illustrating the process of language shift in Newbridge-on-Wye:

“Evan,” meddai un hen ┼Ár wrth y Bontnewydd, yn swydd Faesyfed, ag oedd yn tybied ei fod yn gryn dalp mewn gwybodaeth Seisnig, “go and fetch me the bar harn from the beudy.”
“Daid,” meddai y bachgenyn, which shall I bring from the beudy, the bar harn bach or the bar harn mawr?”

"Evan," said one old man from by Newbridge, in Radnorshire, who believed he had a fair grasp of English, "go and fetch me the iron bar from the cowshed."
"Grandfather," said the lad, "which shall I bring from the cowshed, the little iron bar or the big iron bar?"

UPDATE: It seems the Catalunya-Cymru site is back on line. Good, hope it stays that way, a lot of interesting info there.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Forgotten Radnorians - Sir John Clanvowe

Look up the soldier, diplomat and Lollard Sir John Clanvowe of Hergest (1341-1391) on Wikipedia and it says that he came from a Herefordshire family - of course his part of the Welsh March did not become part of that county until 1535. In reality the Clanvowes hailed from the lands which later became Radnorshire.

The Clanvowes were an interesting family, harbingers of the kind of gentry family who, a couple of centuries later, would abandoned their loyalty Wales. Although descended from Rhys ap Tewdwr, the Clanvowes, from the time of Hywel ap Meurig of Gladestry who died in 1281, served foreign masters and married foreign brides. Hywel ap Meurig, for example, held Cefnllys Castle for the Mortimers, later he was constable of the castle at Builth. The surname Clanvowe itself - one of the earliest examples of a Welsh family abandoning the patronym system - came from Hywel ap Meurig's wife.

Sir John Clanvowe - if his authorship of the Cuckoo and the Nightingale is correct then he was the first Welshman to write poetry in English - was the great great grandson of Hywel ap Meurig. Recently Clanvowe has become a topic of interest to historians of homosexuality since in 1913, during restoration work at Istanbul's Arap Mosque, workers reportedly uncovered the floor of an earlier Dominican church. Among the gravestones was one in grey-white marble with pink and blue veins. Two helmets faced each other as if kissing, this was the tomb of Sir William Neville and Sir John Clanvowe. Neville died within four days of Clanvowe's death having starved himself, I guess that would mean refusing to drink. Below the helmets on the gravestone the two knights' shields rest on each other, their coats-of-arms are identical, half-Neville, half-Clanvowe, an ‘impalement’, usually used to show the arms of a married couple, with Neville’s saltire on the husband’s half. Not unreasonably this has been taken as evidence that the pair were lovers. There have even been recent claims that Clanvowe created the Robin Hood legend perhaps as some sort of gay propaganda.

It's an interesting place, this borderland with it's Mortimers, Clanvowes, Oldcastles, Cliffords, Crofts, Whitneys etc. and its three cultures - English, Welsh and Norman-French living side-by-side. It needs someone with the appropriate linguistic tools to tell its story.