Tuesday, May 31, 2011


If Dansey/Danzey is an unusual forename that often hints at a Radnorian origin then Gwlithyn might be considered its distaff equivalent. Certainly the name is to be found more commonly along the Upper Wye and its tributaries than anywhere else. I used to think this was because it was the made-up name of a character in a novel by a local author - something by Hilda Vaughan perhaps? But no, the first recorded use of the forename dates back a little earlier to the birth of Gwlithyn Pugh of Coedmynach, Cwmteuddwr in October 1877.

The child Gwlithyn was commemorated in a weak poem probably composed by a regular paying guest at Coedmynach, a retired solicitor from Bridgnorth called Hubert Smith. The poem was for many years pinned to the inside of a cupboard door at the farm and the tale written up in the Radnorshire Transactions for 1965, with a follow-up letter in the 1966 edition identifying the young girl's family. Gwlithyn's parents Llewelyn Pugh (1850-1899) born in St Harmon, and Catherine Evans (1857-1930) born in Cwmteuddwr, are both recorded as Welsh speakers in the Census returns, something which was not true for any of their fourteen children. What an impact on the linguistic position in the area if the parents of large families like this had chosen not to raise their children as English monoglots. In the Victorian period failure to pass on the language didn't neccessarily indicate a rejection of Welsh identity, the Pughs being quite happy to give Welsh names to some of their children - Gwlithyn, Llewelyn, Esyllt, Aneurin.

Hubert Smith was the author of a book Tent Life with English Gypsies in Norway and it was in that country in 1874 that the 51 year old town clerk married the teenage Romani juval Esmeralda Lock - photo, the groom proudly announcing the fact in the Times - in the Romani language. Smith and his bride spent a fortnight at Coedmynach in the autumn of 1874 but the spirited Esmeralda soon eloped to Cardiff with the young folklorist Francis Hindes Groome. The subsequent divorce case in 1876 was the subject of much hilarity in the popular press, with the cuckold Smith admitting that he occasionally boxed Esmeralda's ears, in self-defence, he claimed, and she always replied in kind. It's said, possibly in error, that Esmeralda Lock was a model for the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, she eventually left Groome and returned to the open road, dying in a traffic accident in Rhyl in 1939.

Who's That Girl?

There may not be much about Dame Annie in the press at the moment, but I did wonder about this 12" single cover.

It looks like a posed photo to me, for a start where are her goggles? Don't recognize the pilot or the voiturette. Maybe from an old film or a magazine, like this Vogue shoot from 1927 featuring actress Colette Salomon, who I believe may actually have competed in a race or two.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


See, see the wide horizons glorious blaze!
The setting sun descending low,
Beyond the fervid mountain's brow.
And high Carnedda's top reflects the lingering rays:
But now yon russet heath attracts our eyes,
Where sable Lingogidda's vapours rise.

Here oft 'tis said
The wand'ring spirits of the dead,
By magic's awful art confin'd,
Th' affrghted hind and rustic dame
See glowing in the lambent flame,
Hear howling in the wind.

These are the closing lines of the poem Petraeia by the artist Thomas Jones of Pencerrig and published in a book of 1791 "Picturesque Guide to the Beauties of South Wales."

Now the reference to the Carneddau hills is clear enough and on a late summer evening the sun certainly does reflect from its brow as the painter says, but can anyone tell me about Lingogidda? I guess the poem refers to corpse candles, the spontaneous combustion of methane and phosphane you get over bogland and, no doubt, bogland around Pencerrig. Lingogidda? Llyn Gogidda? There's a verb gogyddio - which refers to making millstones but who knows?

Friday, May 27, 2011

Comment is Free ..ish

It's always interesting when readers comment on posts that have disappeared off the front page months or even years before. Since they are moderated, unlike more immediate posts, I get to read them, but who else? I think this recent anonymous comment is the longest one the blog has ever received and it makes some good points. So rather than let it languish in the depths I'm reposting it here:

"I think what the Elystan Glodrydd event at Llanbister last year showed was that there is not enough knowledge of the area's history, and many people outside Wales had not realised how intimately connected they were to Radnorshire, not that this area had been a rich centre of welsh culture or that there had been any local welsh rulers and princes, but assumed it was just pure marcher territory.

This is one of the many reasons why Dai Hawkins' translation of Ffrancis Payne's work is of such importance - he has unlocked a treasure-trove of knowledge and rich welsh culture that was only otherwise available to those who could read Payne's work in Welsh.

The princes and kingdoms of Gwynedd, Powys and Deheubarth are all often quoted by historians, culture experts and tourism promoters, but Rhwng Gwy a Hafren, Mealienydd and Elfael are names almost completely unknown to the vast majority of people in Britain. Go into any major bookshop in Britain and look at the history section allotted to Wales - less than a dozen books are squeezed in, almost as an after-sight. Ireland and Scotland have overflowing shelves. This in part must speak to a lack of connectivity to Welsh roots. If you are a McTavish (etc), you know not only what clan you belong to but exactly where in the world your people came from - not just 'Scotland' but the precise locale. So, consciousness of Scottishness and kinship is easy to gain, and there is interest all over the world. Some may say "oh but its all such bunkum" etc. Some of it may be, but the numbers of people who came from across the planet to share in the celebration of the year of homecoming in Scotland is testament to the power of a sense of a belonging and identity, and the historical threads that bring people together. Each year in Scotland, clan gatherings occur, bringing people from the world to the place, powerfully harnessing history and family together in celebration, to enjoy the ties of kinship.

The day at Llanbister last October had a special quality about it, which only those who were there could fully appreciate. It was not designed to be mournful like the event at Cilmeri, nor nationalistic, but rather a simple celebration of a forgotten history and the bringing together of long-separated branches of a family to mark a thousand year anniversary. It was a chance for people to come from all over Britain, and places as far away as California to visit and learn about a place from where they sprung and have a great time doing so.

Most importantly it was a fun and thoroughly enjoyable warm-hearted, family gathering that connected people to a very old song that hadn't been sung for hundreds of years. When was the last time that the elegy to Cadwallon ap Madog, prince of Maelienydd, written by Cynddelw Brydydd Mawr had been read out in Welsh to such a gathering in Radnorshire? When else have any of the ‘5 Royal Tribes of Wales’ gathered happily together, without coming to blows! It was a quite historical gathering of related families, with a shared history.

We all had an enjoyable time and the day was full of smiles, pleasure, and joy at discovering how good it was to have a shared Welsh origin and a strong connection with a history that has been almost completely forgotten. It was positive, embracing and welcoming, leaving cheerful and pleasurable memories for people to hold forever. It enabled the misty history of the past to catch up with the present in a happy way.

In so doing, it played a part in bringing Radnorshire to the fore and the story of the place’s history to people from afar who had no idea how beautiful the place is, nor how fascinating its history and hospitable its local community.

I’m sure Rebecca didn’t mind that for just one day, the name of Elystan rang out joyfully in the hills around Llanbister, echoing along with the names of people like Cadwallon ap Madog, Einion Clud and Phylip Dorddu, and a wonderfully enjoyable and special day was shared by many."

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Aliz D'Eberveni

I wonder how many Welsh folk are like me and look up Wales in the index pages while browsing in bookshops. You'll rarely find anything, even when there is plenty to say, since English historians tend to block out Wales in much the same way as Salopians and Herefordians block out the Welsh element in their county histories. How many inhabitants of those border counties know that a Celtic language continued to be spoken in some of their parishes long after proud Cornwall had lost its native tongue?

The Irish are little better with their ghastly lumping together of their neighbours, even the inhabitants of the Gaelic Western Isles, under the catch-all term Brits - a term that historically would be better applied to the Welsh alone. Anyway I did manage to see a recent episode of the BBC series The Story of Ireland with Fergal Keane. Far from breaking new ground the episode that I saw resembled nothing more than a school textbook retelling, and a pretty dull and unquestioning textbook at that.

From a Welsh point of view the episode was particularly annoying - the Norman conquest of Ireland was seemingly achieved by the English or, at best, the Anglo-Normans. A better term for these half-Welsh conquerors, few of whom would have even been able to speak English, is Cambro-Normans. Frustrated by their failure to make progress in Wales these descendants of Princess Nest turned to a more profitable field of conquest. I suppose Irish pride is better served by blaming the English rather than admitting the role of men like Robert Fitz Stephen who boasted of his Trojan, that is his Welsh blood:

"We derive our descent, originally, in part from the blood of the Trojans, and partly we are of the French race. From the one we have our native courage, from the other the use of armour. Since, then, inheriting such generous blood on both sides, we are not only brave, but well armed."

If the Cambro-Norman element in the conquest of Ireland is ignored then I suppose it is not surprising that Keane gave a new name, Alice the Vicious, to the murderous lady who axed 70 Irish prisoners to death. Her story is found in the French verse chronicle Chanson de Dermot et du comte where she is know as Aliz D'Eberveni or Alice of Abergavenny. If only she had been called something like Alice of Guildford she might have more easily fitted the victim agenda that the BBC claim the series avoids.

By the way this is a lively discussion site for keeping up with Irish happenings, history, prejudices etc.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Brecon and Radnor - Regional List Vote

The Brecon and Radnor constituency voted as follows on the Regional List at the recent Assembly Elections:

Tory 9181 (32.5%), Lib Dem 8271 (29.3%), Labour 5091 (18%), Plaid 2071 (7.3%), UKIP 1371 (4.8%), Green 1251 (4.4%), Socialist Labour 471 (1.7%), BNP 291 (1%), Christian 193 (0.7%), Communist 75 (0.3%)

Not much change from 2007 when the Tories also won on the regional list - Tories down 0.4%, Liberals down 2.1%, Labour up 5.3%, Plaid down 0.6%, UKIP up 0.3%, Greens no change, BNP down 1.7%

Vote in the actual constituency vote is here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gummer or Gummey

I can't say that I'm a great fan of the politician John Selwyn Gummer although I did applaud when he encouraged his young daughter to eat a nourishing beefburger during the CJD panic a few years ago. It's well known that Gummer's father was a South Walian but how many are aware that his family originated on the Radnorshire/Herefordshire border? Gummer's grandfather was born in Kington and his great-grandfather in Lyonshall, although to agricultural labouring Radnorshire parents from Old Radnor, who sensibly moved back over the border.

So who were these Gummers or Gumma as it is sometimes recorded in the census returns? For although the name is found elsewhere in England there is certainly a hotspot in the Presteigne and Kington areas. The obvious answer would be that it is derived from the Gumma farm on the road between Discoed and Presteigne, after all there's a Ieuan Voghan Gumma mentioned in a document dated 1481 and brought to light in E J L Cole's article Clandestine Marriages, The Awful Evidence From A Consistory Court, which appeared in the Radnorshire Society Transactions for 1976. Of course you can't be sure of such a connection without a lot more evidence and it's true that there are no Gummers in subsequent records such as the 1670 Hearth Tax. What you do find are names like Gummey, Gommey etc. which could, I suppose, be derived from another local placename Combe - there's a Rees Combe mentioned in Mr Cole's article along with his wife Deylee Wythell (I used to imagine that could be translated as Irish Deylee but it's more likely to be another local placename Weythell). Mr Cole considers that the name Agomey indeed means "of Gumma" so perhaps Baron Deben's roots are to be found in that particular farm after all.

Ramblings aside it is clear that the eastern fringe of Radnorshire - and it is very much a fringe in a county where the Welsh patronymic system predominated - did give rise to hereditary surnames derived from local villages and farms. I'll look at some of them later.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Radnorshire Names - Introduction

I suppose the classic work on Welsh surnames is the book of that name by T J and Prys Morgan, the father and brother of the blessed Rhodri. Another book well worth purchasing is The Surnames of Wales by John and Sheila Rowlands. I particularly like this latter book, which maps the geographical distribution of surnames based on marriages from the period 1813-1837. The maps reveal overlooked facts and pose a variety of questions. For example surnames as supposedly ubiquitous as Jones and Davies are shown to have quite striking regional strengths and weaknesses, being comparatively absent from some administrative hundreds.

Radnorshire contributes its share of puzzles, it falls for example within the South Wales range of the surname Gwynn which disappears in North Wales to be replaced by Wynn. Meredith seems to be a particularly Radnorian surname although one which spreads north west into Montgomeryshire and Merioneth. Of course Radnorshire, along with North Breconshire, is also the heartland for surnames formed from AP - Powell, Price, Prosser, Probert etc.

One wonders if these local variations are purely random or whether they reveal some cultural difference. If you look at Christian names in the 1670 Hearth Tax for Radnorshire you find some distinct variations between Rhayader and Painscastle Hundreds. In Painscastle names like Roger and Robert are fairly common whereas they are rare in Rhayader. Conversely Edward is a common Christian name in Rhayader Hundred but virtually absent from Painscastle. Does it mean anything?

Anyone growing up in Radnorshire would be aware of local surnames that don't quite fit the usual pattern of those names derived from the Welsh patronymic system - the Joneses, Davieses, Evanses and so on. You could call them English surnames if you wished, although some would have originated in the east of the county or just across the modern day border - Knill, Hargest, Rodd, Gummey, Whitney etc. and many others - Jarman, Cleaton, Ingram, Kinsey, Bound etc. - spread into the county from Montgomeryshire. Certainly numbers of such surnames have been in Radnorshire for as long as the "Welsh" surnames, since these were only adopted by Radnorshire folk in the late 16th to 18th Centuries - tor example there were Mantles living in Llanbister by the end of the 16C and the Buftons appeared on the scene before the Civil War.

While most Radnorians will be familiar with surnames like Hamer, Bywater, Bumford, Wosencraft, Weale, Wilding and so forth, some old names might well have dipped beneath the radar. In my case I wasn't aware of the longevity of surnames like Minton, Boulter and Tudge. It seems to me that it would be well worth examining the story of various Radnorian surnames (and Christian names) on the blog, not forgetting the added spice of the surnames of the Presteigne area, which are somewhat different to the rest of the county. Expect more posts on these topics.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Union Jock

So I guess circa 2016 the Union flag could look something like this.